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Manager and Player of the Month Awards - October
Managers making it look easy, May in October and youngsters taking centre stage.
These monthly awards have been great fun to take on. There’s been enough contrast between our awards and the official EFL awards to make things interesting, but not so much that it appears as if we’re being wilfully obtuse!
It’s certainly an interesting exercise, with each month throwing up a few little quirks or trends. In this edition, our players and young players of the month are aged 19, 20, 21, 22, 22… and 30. Youngsters, eh?
Hopefully, our reasoning and write-ups provide the sort of enthusiasm, insight and opinion that we hope defines our coverage of the EFL. And if that’s the case, it would be fantastic if you joined us via a free or paid subscription. Free = one piece a week. Paid = three pieces a week, minimum, and a bonus podcast. Next week, we have a Big Data Dig focused on League Two. Juicy!
And the winners are…
Enzo Maresca - Leicester City
In August, we called Maresca’s appointment “high risk, high reward”. That theory has been borne out both in matches with his aggressive 3-2-5 tactical approach, and in the league table, where Leicester are breaking records with 39 points from 14 fixtures – video game levels of points-hoarding. They could smash the 100 points barrier this season without even going at 2ppg for the rest of it. Silly, really.
You might think 13 wins and one defeat would leave Maresca with little to criticise, but he knows when his players need a kick up the arse. Stephy Mavididi learned that much. After two goal contributions in September’s 4-1 crushing of Southampton, the winger would’ve turned on Sky Sports News in the gym to see his manager saying, “Stephy, for me, is still at 50%. I can see him [being] much better.”
So you might also think Maresca is a cold, aloof Pepbot 3000 who sacrifices humanity at the altar of footballing perfection. Not a bit of it. He’s trying to connect the team with a fanbase that switched off during last season’s malaise. Leicester’s October fixture away to QPR marked the five-year anniversary of the helicopter crash that claimed the lives of five people including City’s then-owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha. After a hard-fought win at Loftus Road, the travelling fans and players united. Maresca had this to say afterwards:
“Every time we celebrate a win with the fans, we stay far [away]. We always
stay outside the box. I just told them to go closer and enjoy it with them.
This has been an emotional week, so the fans deserve it.”
In their six consecutive victories across October – the latest six in a run of nine – Maresca’s men found different ways to win. Having been clinical in an open, attacking exchange with Blackburn (4-1), they completely shut out Preston (3-0) and Stoke (2-0) the following week, enjoying 75% possession in both games and facing a single shot on target in each, from just eight shots in total. Dominance, that. Then they returned from the international break to beat Swansea 3-1, and when performance levels did drop, points weren’t dropped with them: in recording single-goal victories against Sunderland and QPR (the latter secured with a worldie from Harry Winks, of all people), the Foxes very much ‘got the job done’.
As a result, they’re 14 points clear of 3rd – one point for every game played. Off the pitch, on the pitch, Maresca’s getting it right.
Crysencio Summerville - Leeds United
As British Summer Time ended, Championship Summerville Time really got going.
After scoring one of his first 22 shots this season, Summerville found his range in October with five goals in 340 minutes plus three assists on top of that.
He was the standout performer and protagonist in two Leeds United victories. Two magnificent goals in the last 15 minutes at Carrow Road inspire Leeds’ turnaround win, both of them breathtaking pieces of skill and execution.
After being rotated out for the defeat at Stoke, Summerville came back with a bang against Huddersfield. Two more fine individual goals? Coming right up. How about two assists on top of that? All in the first half? No problem at all.
Almost unstoppable 1v1 at this level, the 22-year-old isn’t selfish or myopic on the pitch - only two Championship players made more key passes in October, one of whom was team-mate Georginio Rutter. You get the feeling that he, Rutter, Dan James and Joël Piroe are having an absolute ball on the pitch, showing off their talents while combining brilliantly. It’s great to watch.
Also, how about this for an arty vignette of his performance vs Huddersfield? It’s like that film Zidane, A 21st Century Portrait… with extra sauce. We are loving Crysencio Jilbert Sylverio Cirro Summerville. He won’t be in the EFL for long.
Jaden Philogene - Hull City
Last month, our Championship award winners were Jack Clarke and Sam Bell, both wide forwards playing off the left side, albeit in different ways. In August’s awards, Jon Rowe was celebrated. It truly is the season of the wide forward.
Lighting up the Championship in a similar manner to Crysencio Summerville is Hull City’s Jaden Philogene. In loan spells at Stoke City and Cardiff City, Philogene looked very technical, smooth and confident on the ball. But the top-line numbers didn’t emerge - 0.17 goals and assists per 90 at Stoke became 0.20 per 90 at Cardiff. Meh.
But his profile was in vogue this summer. His parent club, Aston Villa, were open to offers. And Hull City were the ones that closed their eyes, took a deep breath and jumped…
In August, when praising Cardiff’s signing of Josh Bowler, I wrote:
Philogene is a great player and could become a fantastic one, but at times it felt like he had less confidence than he should do - I found myself wanting even more from him, wanting him to have the mindset of a killer. If you’ve just beaten one man and you’re bearing down on another, why check back and pass sideways? Why not try penetrating the box and cause further carnage amongst the opposition's defensive structure?
It’s fair to say that Jaden Philogene took that personally…
In October, Philogene starred against Millwall, Birmingham and, most of all, in an astounding individual display against Preston, the highlights of which are a bit like watching the recap of an old NBA game where Kobe goes off for 70 points. Philogene receives ball. Philogene dribbles against a helpless defender. Philogene shoots. Eventually, Philogene scores.
He already looks far too good for the level and has added that previously hidden killer instinct. He also made his England under-21 debut in October, scoring a brace against Serbia and winning Player of the Match.
Honestly, whoever you support, just make sure you watch Jaden Philogene play football. He was the standout young player in the Championship last month and it’s hard to see him stopping there.
Dino Maamria - Burton Albion
It wasn’t the most exciting month in League One.
September’s NTT20.com Manager of the Month, John Mousinho, motored on with Pompey. Still unbeaten, still winning from behind.
Bolton were almost perfect, but a 1-3 home defeat to Carlisle is a large blot on the copybook. Peterborough, Barnsley, Oxford, Derby and Charlton all picked up the level of points you would broadly expect from those looking to compete for promotion.
But who’s that at the top of the October tree?
Dino Maamria’s Burton Albion needed one more game than Portsmouth to pick up the joint-highest October tally, but in the context of where they were heading into the month, he is the standout candidate.
Like last season, Burton only had one win from their first ten league games. In October, that tally rose to five. Victories against Wigan, Cambridge, Lincoln and Bristol Rovers saw The Brewers rise from 20th to 13th, and build a six-point cushion between themselves and the relegation zone.
Defensive improvement is the bedrock of this leap. From 13 goals conceded in the first eight league games to just six in the last eight. Consistency in selection and defensive approach seems to have paid off. Individual players stepped up in October: Joe Powell as the team’s star player, Tom Hamer as a dependable, consistent performer, Kwadwo Baah, Mark Helm and Bez Lubala for the necessary moments of magic.
Dino Maamria is — in the good times and bad — full of self-belief, enthusiasm and positive energy. I believe that has a tangible impact particularly when it comes to dragging a team out of a bad spell. That’s exactly what Maamria did in October. A job well done.
Alfie May - Charlton Athletic
Seven league goals in October isn’t even Alfie May’s best monthly return - he scored eight in 19 days in February 2022 - but it was still the most impactful attacking performance in League One in October, edging out Jordan Rhodes (4G 2A) and May’s team-mate Corey Blackett-Taylor (3G 3A).
The most interesting thing about May’s October is the position he is playing under Michael Appleton. Is he a #10? A second striker? A false 9? It certainly looks and feels different to the role he fulfilled at Cheltenham, which was up top in a front two, 3-5-2, simple.
Within the Charlton fanbase, many were unconvinced by this new role. When you’re so used to seeing Alfie May’s stretching the back-line and running in behind, images like the below are a little perplexing.
But both of the above incidents ended with Alfie May scoring a goal. He has shown he can adapt. He has shown that, with a Miles Leaburn or a Chuks Aneke to occupy the centre backs, he can drift all over and still do what he does best: score goals.
And regardless of his positioning in build-up, six of his seven goals in October came from a position between the posts, between 4 and 12 yards out. He’s still taking shots from all over. He’s still doing poacher things inside the box. But he’s showing another side, too. It’s exciting to watch him do stuff we’ve not really seen from him before, picking the ball up in deep or wide positions, and combining with teammates before getting a shot off, as he did for his brilliant second goal vs Wigan (click below).
It’s a new role, but the same Alfie May. Seven goals in October, with no penalties, he goes level with Devante Cole at the top of the League One goalscoring charts. For the man who’s scored 54 goals in 99 League One games since the start of 2021/22, 25+ league goals are surely on the agenda.
Ronnie Edwards - Peterborough United
October 2023 was the month Ronnie Edwards went up a level.
For someone with so much hype around him, it’s been surprising that none of the Big Name Clubs have actually taken the plunge in the last few transfer windows.
There has never been any question that he is exceptionally talented and assured on the ball, for his age and his level. But he has not always convinced defensively, and without knowing the ins and outs of Peterborough’s asking price, that may have been a reason that a move hasn’t yet transpired.
However, Edwards has made strides this season to improve his defensive capabilities and has raised his ceiling massively as a result.
Aerial duels are not the be-all and end-all for a centre-back, but they are pretty important when it comes to defending your box and winning battles with a striker. While Edwards doesn’t compete for as many aerial duels as some of his League One peers, his aerial win percentage this season is at a respectable 59%, per Wyscout, up from 48% in 22/23 and 35% in the Championship in 21/22. It’s a sign that he is making the necessary improvements to become a stronger defender and continuing to develop physically, as you would expect from someone of his age.
This month, he made a match-winning goal-line block vs Port Vale. He also scored his first goal for the club, in his 84th league start, a header from a corner vs Carlisle.
On top of that, he’s Peterborough United’s playmaker. He plays the most passes in the team. In fact, he’s played the most passes in the whole division this season. He decides when Posh play short or long, he dictates the tempo. His long passing range and accuracy is excellent. He’s more than comfortable being pressed and loves carrying the ball forward when given the chance to do so. It’s a rare thing to say for a young centre-back, but he genuinely does have X Factor.
Edwards also captained England Under-20s in mid-October. A busy month, but also a highly impressive and successful one.
Dave Challinor - Stockport County
Stockport’s form under Challinor is so impressive that we can, and will, swat away arguments about our Manager of the Month reaping the benefits of some gentle fixtures. True, it doesn’t get much better than home games against Forest Green (currently 22nd), Doncaster (17th), Grimsby (21st) and Tranmere (23rd), with trips to Harrogate (18th) and Crewe (the outlier, in 5th, Alex having taken 17 points from their other seven home games). But it doesn’t get any better than six wins from six matches. Literally, it doesn’t. That’s just maths.
We’re up to ten league wins in a row for County now (11 if you include a Deep Crust Cup victory away to Salford). Stockport have scored at least twice in nine of those ten and won six of them by two goals or more. Indeed, they’ve scored in every game since a 1-0 loss on opening day. And you’d be hard-pushed to find one in October that they didn’t deserve to win, although Challinor is keeping his players in check by reminding them of a “lack of urgency at times” during their 2-0 pleasure cruise past Tranmere, a match Stockport won 2.6 to 0.35 on the old xG count. High standards.
Louie Barry’s long-term injury will provide a new challenge: Tanto Olaofe has been in unbelievable goalscoring form, but partly by working so well in tandem with Barry, our Young Player of the Month for September. Challinor has diverse attacking threats at his disposal, however, and the tactical nous to overcome the 20-year-old’s absence.
On the whole, Challinor’s managerial career is going so well, that nobody even mentions his long throw any more. With admittedly some financial help at Fylde and Stockport (not so much Hartlepool), he has won five promotions since 2011, and the COVID-curtailed 2019/20 campaign was the only one of his 12 seasons in management that didn’t end with a play-off place at worst.
The 48-year-old rarely comes up in vacancy conversations, mind. Maybe other clubs have realised there’s very little reason for him to leave Stockport, nor for Stockport to let him go – and certainly not until they’re in League One together.
Arthur Okonkwo - Wrexham (on loan from Arsenal)
A glimpse behind the curtain: there was a typo in this sentence, but Okonwko caught it first. Because Okonkwo catches everything, like a parent whose child has just started attending nursery. The 6ft 6in keeper’s composure, claiming crosses and holding onto shots that others might parry into danger, has endowed Wrexham’s defence with a calm assurance that they were seriously lacking prior to his September arrival – ironic, perhaps, that a 22-year-old could provide a calmer presence than a 40-year-old. Wake me up before you go-go; who needs Foster when you’ve got Okonkwo?
The Arsenal loanee made his league debut for Wrexham on September 30th, in a 3-3 draw with Crewe. Things have calmed down a bit since then, aside from a dramatic 3-2 win against Salford, and Okonkwo is a big – very big – reason why. In October, with the Londoner in nets, Wrexham conceded just four goals in six games, having let in a hardly promotion-like 23 in 10 before then.
That Okonkwo-inspired improvement included vital clean sheets away at free-scoring rivals Mansfield (five saves) and Notts County (six saves, five of them held). He also helped 10-man Wrexham to withstand a barrage down in Crawley, resulting in a 1-0 win, and to take an arguably undeserved point away at Bradford. He has a save percentage of 81%, has one of the division’s best rates of preventing goals – based on xGOT – and has saved 22 of his last 26 shots on target faced, for a team that had conceded 18 goals from 32 in the year 23/24 BO (Before Okonkwo).
After an extremely inconsistent start, Wrexham are now in the top three as expected. Their new, temporary No.1 is too good for this level, as we saw last season when Arsenal recalled him from a stellar half-season at Crewe in order to loan him to Sturm Graz, who were 2nd in the Austrian Bundesliga at the time, where he played regularly. If he continues his great start in North Wales, he won’t be down here again.
Frankly, the only mistake Okonkwo has made is being born in September rather than November, meaning he's just a couple of months too old to win Young Player of the Month as well.
Max Dean - MK Dons
There’s a good batch of 21-and-under attackers performing well in League Two. In October alone, Freddie Draper (on loan at Walsall from Lincoln) and Michael Mellon (on loan at Morecambe from Burnley) both scored league hat-tricks, as did JJ McKiernan (also of Morecambe). Mo Faal (on loan at Doncaster from West Brom) has come on leaps and bounds in the last few months and looked a handful all month. Wimbledon’s Ali Al-Hamadi is possibly the best all-round striker in the division, of any age, but doesn’t have the goals to show for it yet this season.
None had as big an impact as Max Dean in October.
Former boss Graham Alexander, desperate for a change in fortune, dropped Mo Eisa for the game against Barrow. His replacement, 19-year-old Max Dean, was making only his second-ever senior league start. He scored two goals.
With Alexander being sacked following MK’s late collapse, it was Mike Williamson Time. A manager with a brilliant record with strikers such as Macaulay Langstaff, Cedwyn Scott, and Marcus Dinanga: who would he want to lead the line?
MK Dons have Mo Eisa. They have Ellis Harrison (currently out injured) and Matthew Dennis. But it appears that Max Dean suits Williamson’s demands best.
He’s started all three games under Williamson. Goalless at Accrington, he stood out in home wins against Bradford City and Swindon, scoring in both.
What stands out? Dean’s determination. His energy and movement. He presses relentlessly, puts himself about, wins fouls and constantly makes clever runs that make him a nuisance for defenders. Dean’s provenance makes energetic pressing entirely unsurprising: he scored on his PL2 debut in 2020, aged 16, when playing for a Leeds U23 side that mirrored Marcelo Bielsa’s senior team.
The finishing has been good, too - from low crosses, cutbacks, slipped through balls, the confidence and execution have been fantastic.
Williamson might be the main catalyst for MK’s positivity, but it’s Max Dean’s goals that secured MK’s points to help turn the tide.
Agree with our picks? Disagree? Let us know, and as ever… go well!