10 hot shots: The unlikely lads who have made such a big impact this season

I was hoping to write my usual 'Weekend Watch' column, until the snow came down and the weather intervened. So instead, here are the players who have illuminated the season.

It's not my all-star XI, just the players who deserve recognition for the impact they have had this season. Memories of them might keep us all warm as it freezes outside.

CHARLIE ADAM (Blackpool)

He has been their quarterback and a player who has not been intimidated by the demands of the Barclays Premier League. Everything they do goes through him; he is a lovely passer who plays the game the way I like it to be played. He has been my favourite player to watch this season.

Charlie Adam

There were doubts about his lack of pace and questions about his weight. He is well built, but that kit does not help his look. Chelsea's kit is made to measure for the players, but Blackpool's shirts are baggy. It is not a flattering look, but he can play.

I first heard about him when he was a kid and one of those players who was making their way through the Scottish scene. He did not quite pull it off at Rangers, but how will they feel with the financial strains on the SPL... and they sold him for £500,000?

I picked him out as one of 10 to watch before the season kicked off, because I hoped he could continue his promotion form from the Championship and he has not let me down. A really good footballer.

KILLER STAT: Has had more shots than any other midfielder in the Premier League this season (45).


Johan Elmander

He has to get a mention after the spinning, twisting, turning goal against Wolves. He reminded me of Dennis Bergkamp ... and who would have thought that after his dismal start in English football?

He could not buy a goal when he first came to Bolton and spent three seasons struggling for anything more than mediocre form. He looked like a waste of money after Gary Megson paid £10million to sign him from Toulouse.

His partner, Kevin Davies, has to get a mention because he takes the attention of centre backs and Elmander has taken advantage of the space. Bolton are an improving team and his confidence has grown too.

He has scored goals and is a threat as a centre forward. He is available on a free in the summer, so it will be interesting to see what happens next. They might have to sell in January.

KILLER STAT: This season alone he has already equalled his Premier League tally from his two previous campaigns combined (eight).


If Gareth Bale has been the player of the season, dazzling Nasri is not far behind him.

The new Robert Pires for Arsenal has added goals to his creativity and the balance he showed in his two goals against Fulham showed him at his best.

He is another player who is pleasing on the eye and was also the star man when France won against England at Wembley. His confidence is high and his form has followed.

Samir Nasri

Samir Nasri

With Cesc Fabregas not yet back to his best, Nasri has been Arsenal's inspiration. He must be excited at the prospect of facing Barcelona. He will get the space to play, so can he do it against the most exciting team in the world?

KILLER STAT: Has scored a goal every 140 minutes in the Premier League this season, a faster rate than any other midfielder.

Andy Carroll

ANDY CARROLL (Newcastle)

He has been unplayable. If you lined up the top central defenders in the Premier League and asked them who is the player they would least like to face, I bet the answer would be Andy Carroll.

He has been a monster; terrific in the air and magnificent on the ground. The best centre forward in the league now. He deserved his England breakthrough and Alan Pardew will be working out ways to get more out of him.

His shot from distance against Liverpool last weekend showed he is more than just a battering ram. He will win plenty of headers, has a powerful leap, but I also like his movement and his sweet left foot.

Also seems to have a big heart and a good attitude when he's wearing that No 9 shirt. I hope life has calmed down for him off the pitch, too.

KILLER STAT: Second-top scorer in the leauge this season with 10 and no player has scored in more different matches than him (eight).

DANNY WELBECK (Sunderland)

Danny Welbeck

He scored again at the weekend in what was a big three points for Sunderland against Bolton that took them charging into the top six. They have had a terrific first half of the season under Steve Bruce and this lad has been a revelation.

He came from Manchester United on loan and I wasn't sure how much impact he could make.

Sir Alex Ferguson rates him highly - and that is surely a good pointer to his future. But he will have enjoyed his first-team chance under former Old Trafford skipper Bruce and will he be happy going back to the ranks at United next season?

He is quick and strong and has a difficult decision to make. He won't want to sit on the bench at United, but there is only one way from there - and that is down. He has had the taste and taken his chance. I wonder if an England chance might follow soon, too?

KILLER STAT: Has bagged five goals in his last six Premier League games. Prior to that, had netted one goal in 19 in the top flight.

BEN FOSTER (Birmingham)

He did not want to wait any longer for his chance at Old Trafford and took the gamble to move. Although Birmingham have had a tricky first half of the season, he has excelled.

I admire his decision. It can't have been easy to leave behind the biggest club in the country, but he wanted firstteam football. Welbeck may end up doing the same.

Ben Foster

It must have been difficult too to follow Joe Hart, who was on loan at Birmingham last season. But Foster has looked the part. His outstanding clean sheet against Chelsea in their recent 1-0 win was a big result for Alex McLeish and his team and Foster was man of the match.

He will challenge Hart for the England No1 shirt and has continued his development this season.

KILLER STAT: Most saves per game in the Premier League this season (4.35).

GARETH BALE (Tottenham)

Sorry if I keep giving him a mention, but I've really enjoyed watching him play. Remember, this is the player who looked to be a jinx on Spurs for a while - every time he played, they failed to win. They got over that, he soon began to settle and then became a match-winner.

Has there been a better performance than his destruction of Maicon when European champions Inter Milan were hammered at White Hart Lane? He has suffered from teams becoming more familiar with his threat and doubling up with two right-sided players. Now he has to show he can cope with that consistently.

Gareth Bale

AC Milan, who will play Spurs in the last 16 of the Champions League, will certainly know all about him, but he will thrive on that challenge. His fitness is excellent and he is getting stronger.

With his broad shoulders, you can't bully him out of games. His final ball has improved and he is scoring goals. Let us see how he copes with the second part of the season.

KILLER STAT: Has made the most crosses (136) and the second most successful dribbles (41). Has also already matched his Premier League goal tally from his previous three seasons combined (five).

Matthew Etherington


I played with Matty at Spurs and he has been through a lot for a young player, but this season he has been Stoke's crossing wizard. He must love playing with their giants, because he loves to stand up a ball and has a sweet delivery with that left foot of his.

Until now, his best form came at West Ham under Alan Pardew, but he lost his way and has needed Tony Pulis to put him back on the road.

Every time I see him play, he looks to be enjoying his football and has thrived as a key player for a Stoke team who are often accused of being one-dimensional. Etherington's dashing runs along the wing proves they are not.

KILLER STAT: Only four players (Malouda, Fabregas, Milner and Gerrard), have created more goalscoring chances per 90 minutes (2.73).


Stuart Holden

A second Bolton player in my 10 stand-out surprises and Holden looks like a manager's dream.

The United States international is a midfielder who will run all day for his team and scored an important goal in the derby against Blackburn to win the game for 10 men.

I don't know him, but he looks like he wants to learn and improve and is an important cog in their wheel. Looking at Owen Coyle's team, it seems to me that he is a manager who loves to improve players. He is good at that and Holden is thriving in his role in the side.

KILLER STAT: Has made the most tackles in the league this season (83).

CHEIK TIOTE (Newcastle)

Cheik Tiote

A terrific signing, who cost a bargain £3million from FC Twente and has made a huge impact in the Premier League. Some players need time to settle, but this strong and powerful midfielder has settled quickly.

He is an enforcer, who protects his back four and controls the central area. He looks like an Arsene Wenger player to me, because he can pass, too.

I wonder how long it is before Newcastle's board are tempted by the chance to make a a heavy return on a cheap investment, although Pardew will certainly want to keep him at the club.

KILLER STAT: Has completed 88 per cent of his passes, a higher proportion than any player outside of the current 'top four' teams.

...And one manager I want to mention

Ian Holloway

IAN HOLLOWAY (Blackpool)

I enjoy the football they play and I enjoy the welcome impact they have made. Ian Holloway and Blackpool look at home in the Premier League.

Holloway has been a revelation. I remember watching his team once when he was manager of Leicester and they were awful. They just lumped the ball. He admits that he took time away from the game after he was sacked and then came back with a different philosophy.

His Blackpool team have been bold; they have stood toe-to-toe with opponents in the top flight and they have really played football. They have not just booted the ball, they have been skilful and dangerous, with Charlie Adam as their playmaker.

Now they deserve all they get and I hope they stay up. There is more hard work ahead and I hope they don't fall away.

KILLER STAT: Only Manchester City and Arsenal have picked up more points away from home this season than Blackpool (14).

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