The 25 Best Players in the Championship - as voted for by you: Part 5 of 25
We are now one-fifth through our look at the 25 best players in the Championship, as voted for by you. The fifth in our list – which, it is worth mentioning again for any new readers, is not in any particular order – is a hero of the lower leagues.
Gary Taylor-Fletcher (Blackpool)
Blackpool’s unlikely ascent to the Premier League eighteen months ago carried many lower league journeymen into the limelight for ten memorable months. Perhaps the most “lower league” of them all, the former Northwich Victoria forward Gary Taylor-Fletcher, was half an hour from extending their stay in the top flight. Taylor-Fletcher netted at Old Trafford after an hour of the final league game of last season to give Blackpool a thrilling lead, only for Manchester United to equalise five minutes later before going on to win 4-2 and condemn the Tangerines to relegation.
If the scorers of United’s leveller, the inconsistent Brazilian Anderson, and their final goal, Carling Cup stalwart Michael Owen, often seem two of the players with which we are least able to empathise, Taylor-Fletcher is the polar opposite. He looked out of place in the Premier League, shambling around with a couple of days’ growth on his face and a couple of month’s growth on his stomach, but the empathy we summoned towards Blackpool’s likeable Liverpudlian ended there. Although he might not look like a stereotypical modern footballer, he certainly plays like one.
Taylor-Fletcher has adapted his game to play the role of the wide attacker in Ian Holloway’s 4-3-3 formation to what often amounts to perfection. It seemed fitting that, having played an important part in their promotion, he then scored the opening goal of the Football League season in August as Blackpool won 1-0 at Hull City. And what a goal it was. Taylor-Fletcher’s precise volley into the top corner announced Blackpool’s return to the Football League. They may have left the Championship as surprise candidates for the high-pressure atmosphere of the Premier League but they returned here with many players having gained invaluable experience from playing against English football’s elite each week.
Blackpool lost the likes of Charlie Adam, David Vaughan and DJ Campbell over the summer, lured back to the league they had just left behind, but they managed to retain some of their less immediately eye-catching talents – chief among them, Taylor-Fletcher. Currently sitting seventh in the table with 20 games gone, Holloway’s side go into the busy winter period in the same position they occupied for so much of the later stages of the 2009/10 season before overtaking Swansea in the final weeks and driving on through the play-offs. Taylor-Fletcher has four goals to his name and remains on course for double figures again.
“Possibly the most impressive thing about Taylor-Fletcher, his deceptively quick feet aside, is his flexibility”, says Blackpool fan Chris Walker from Up The Pool. “Initially brought in by Simon Grayson to play on the right of midfield in a 4-4-2, Taylor-Fletcher has lately been used by Ian Holloway to fill a gap at the tip of a midfield three, linking up Blackpool’s attacks. He has a clever football brain and the ‘#pitchintelligent’ moniker given to him by his wife on Twitter is spot on!”
That first goal of the season at the KC Stadium also gave a reminder of his past. Hull City, then playing at Boothferry Park, was one of Taylor-Fletcher’s loan destinations during the early part of his career. He also spent time at Grays Athletic and Dagenham and Redbridge during his time at parent club Leyton Orient before two fine years at Lincoln City and then a similar spell at Huddersfield Town. Fans of all of these clubs enjoyed watching Taylor-Fletcher on Match of the Day last season. And many will be delighted if they get the chance again.
Who else did you vote as one of the 25 best players in the Championship? Read about the rest so far here.