WITH the Grand National on the horizon, it is perhaps appropriate that Burnley’s player of the year contest has become a two-horse race.
Last year’s winner Jay Rodriguez was the runaway leader at one stage. After blazing a goal trail the striker looked a red hot favourite to retain his crown.
Rodriguez swept the board at last year’s awards nights – both the supporters’ and the club’s official event. He may have to share them around this time.
For the homegrown thorough-bred has been caught up by Mr Consistency, Kieran Trippier.
Whoever manager Eddie Howe adds to the ranks in the summer, he would be hard pressed to make a better signing in 2012 than the right back. If bringing him to the club on loan from Manchester City was a smart move last summer, sacrificing January additions to offer both Trippier and Ben Mee permanent deals was inspired.
Trippier, especially, has excelled in his first season at the club.
Fans feared what affect the departure of Tyrone Mears would have on the dynamics of their side.
For two years they had relished the quick-footed defen-der’s right wing raids.
Trippier hasn’t just picked up where the former West Ham man left off, he has arguably offered more in terms of attacking intent, without neglecting his defensive responsibilities.
The England Under 21 inter-national has already chipped in with twice the amount of goals that Mears managed, in half the time.
And whether the going is good to firm or heavy in places, Trippier is prepared to give his all.
Mears, struggling to come to terms with dropping down into the Champion-ship, went missing too often for too long.
Trippier has refused to hide at any stage this season – in good runs or bad.
Neither has Rodriguez. But for him, Burnley’s season could have been over a long time ago.
Important goals against Middles-brough, Nottingham Forest, Peter-borough, Barnsley and Crystal Palace since the turn of the year are proving their worth now as the Clarets stand just two wins away from the play-offs, with four games to go.
It’s a long shot, but it’s worth a punt.
Rodriguez may not be able to play any part in any of the remaining fixtures, but he has already done enough to warrant walking away with the silverware again.
Charlie Austin and Ross Wallace are posing a late challenge, coming up on the outside.
But neither will pip the two favourites at the post.