Ranked! The 10 best players in the ChampionshipIts awards season, so Mike Holden gets himself in the spirit and the crosshairs by running down the second tiers finest stars
10. Patrick Bamford (Middlesbrough)
The former Chelsea youngster has been thriving as a focal point over the past couple of months, scoring nine goals in seven matches as a lone striker following a season-ending injury to Rudy Gestede.
His game intelligence, close control and trickery have given Boro fresh impetus just when Adama Traore was beginning to tire in his Forrest Gump-like role of getting Boro high upfield quickly. Thankfully, Bamford's collision with Aden Flint at the weekend wasn't as bad as first feared.
9. Conor Coady (Wolves)
Versatility was said to be Coady’s biggest asset under previous managers, but the 25-year-old has benefited from a clear purpose under Nuno – and thrived at the heart of Wolves' three-man defence.
Conspicuous for his passion, the Liverpudlian has grown increasingly prominent this season, and has been vital when the table-toppers have been required to dig in and grind out results over recent months. An England call-up has even been mooted, although such lofty ambitions will have to wait until after the World Cup.
8. James Maddison (Norwich)
It's been a season to forget for Norwich, but the performances of their 21-year-old playmaker have gone a long way towards alleviating frustrations.
The £11m January sale of Alex Pritchard to Huddersfield was a no-brainer while Daniel Farke was struggling to accommodate both players in his starting line-up, and Maddison has been sensational since taking on sole responsibility. He's a crowd-pleaser with bags of end product, and 14 goals and eight assists isn't bad for a breakthrough season at this level.
Reports suggest early summer interest from Leicester, Tottenham and Liverpool.
7. Ryan Sessegnon (Fulham)
Sessegnon was recently crowned Championship Player of the Season and is among the six stars in contention for the PFA Young Player of the Year award – making him the first player from outside the top flight ever to be shortlisted.
Such impressive accolades follow a sensational season of 14 goals and six assists – so far – for a Fulham team sniffing automatic promotion, and all of those coming from various positions on the left flank. But the most impressive thing of all, bearing in mind all of the above? He doesn’t even turn 18 until mid-May. Scandalous.
6. Shaun Hutchinson (Millwall)
The chief policeman of a watertight Millwall defence. All too frequently strikers turn into space, only for Hutchinson to appear from nowhere and stick the handcuffs on.
Nine clean sheets in the last 15 matches have provided the platform from which the Lions have surged into surprise play-off contention – and even more impressive is that opponents have tested keeper Jordan Archer just once every 33 minutes over the past three months, with six of their last dozen opponents managing one or fewer shots on target.
5. Tom Cairney (Fulham)
It's mainly thanks to this Scotland international that Fulham dominate the possession stats – and it could be easily argued that he's their most important player. Nobody else in the division comes close to Cairney’s 91.6% pass accuracy, but he never shies away from the most incisive option when approaching the final third either.
Fulham averaged just 1.18 points per game in the first three months when Cairney was struggling with injury, but that output has nearly doubled to 2.31 points per game since the November break.
4. Sol Bamba (Cardiff)
Enigmatic isn't normally a word you associate with centre-backs, but it's a mystery why Bamba hasn't been a regular fixture at Premier League level for the past five or six years when you see him in this kind of imperious form.
A man mountain when defending his 18-yard box, the Ivorian goes to ground regularly but seldom without the conviction of winning the ball, and he's virtually impossible to shake off in running duels. If only other managers had believed in his ability as Neil Warnock clearly does.
3. Jack Grealish (Aston Villa)
It's been a rollercoaster few years in and out of the spotlight for the impish 22-year-old schemer, but his dazzling form in recent weeks is a product of his increasing maturity.
Grealish missed the first three months of the season, but his creative edge was the catalyst for a seven-match winning streak after Christmas and he's now driving Villa forward once again. If he stays fit for the next six weeks, Wembley joy might be in the offing for the Villans.
2. Aleksandar Mitrovic (Fulham)
The on-loan Newcastle striker is living up to his undoubted potential at Craven Cottage, having bagged 10 goals in a dozen starts to propel Fulham into automatic promotion contention.
But the Serbian offers much more than just firepower: he's a one-man strikeforce and brings a bit everything to the party. The Cottagers have consistently dominated matches for the past 18 months but Mitro is the final piece of the jigsaw; a custom fit for their biggest problem position.
1. Ruben Neves (Wolves)
We all suspected Neves would be good, but it's become increasingly apparent over the past nine months that we're witnessing a player of Premier League top-six calibre.
It's been a long season for many of the young cubs in the Jorge Mendes stable, but Wolves's dip in form since the turn of the year has been barely perceptible with this 21-year-old deep-lying playmaker pulling the strings.
His arcing thunderbolt against Derby last week was right out of the top drawer – one of six goals from outside the box this season.