Craig Priest’s Mansfield Town column: Why Ryan Tafazolli is my player of the season


Saturday’s encounter with relegation threatened Torquay United marks the penultimate match of the season with only a trip to Bristol Rovers remaining thereafter, writes Craig Priest.

With the Torquay game being the last on home soil this term, my attention wonders to the end of season awards and who will take the ‘Player of the season’ gong.

Not being in the commentary box this term has hit me hard, I won’t lie.

Before this season kicked off, I’d missed one game in nine seasons – work commitments this season and financial restraints have meant missing a fair share of games this time around, I like to be honest with my work so my six contenders are judged from the matches I have seen.

Alan Marriott

The clubs joint longest serving player was magnificent last term in getting us into the Football League and has been a solid performer again this time around, especially in the recent upturn of form, making vital saves when called upon to ensure the stiching on the hard work hasn’t come undone.

The popular shot-stopper maybe on the sidelines with injury at the minute giving Crystal Palace loanee Lewis Price a chance in the shop window, but Marriott always remains a fans favourite and a reliable source between the sticks. His efforts and long service put him in contention.

Ritchie Sutton

Whenever I have a conversation about the adaptable defender, the other person always replies with ‘yes you’re right but his distribution is shocking’.

I agree that Sutton’s distribution is often direct, but I argue that if you strip back what he does, what you get is a no-nonsense out and out defender that looks comfortable in whatever position you place him across the back line.

His tough nature has evolved since his arrival in the summer of 2011 and this term he’s often been on hand to make crunching challenges and goal-line clearances.

He’s like marmite to some supporters but personally, I don’t think you can overlook his influence or importance to the side.

Martin Riley

Back for a second spell at the club following a year’s “holiday” in Wrexham whilst we clinched the title last term, Riley has been a consistent performer and of late, a fashion icon with the trusty headband.

We’ve lacked inspiration up top and, as such, the pressure has been piled onto the defence – something Riley has soaked up like a sponge and dealt with.

Chipping in with two goals in 31 starts in all competitions, the popular centre-back deserves recognition for his work along with a contract for next season.

Adam Murray

Muz, Muz, Muz! If there was an award for total legend then he’d get it hands down. His treatment by Cox early on in the season when he was left out in the cold with loan spells at Rainworth and Worksop was nothing short of disgraceful, many players would have been out of the club at the first opportunity but not Adam Murray.

Murray fought his way back into the club, asserted himself back into the assistant manager role which, when you’ve been loaned out to low-ranked non-league sides, can’t have been easy. Murray also forced his way back into the starting line-up, had the captain’s armband glued back onto his sleeve and carried on regardless.

Some displays I grant you have been below the usual standard we come to expect from Murray but sometimes you have to look past performance and look at what else he brings to the table – a commanding presence which demands never giving up, would we have eventually turned the good ship Mansfield away from the iceberg had Murray not returned? Perhaps not.

Ryan Tafazolli

The former Southampton youngster came to us last term and, to be fair, didn’t get the look in he wanted.

Many youngsters would have looked elsewhere for the chance to shine but Tafazolli stuck by Mansfield and eventually, his chance came.

Twenty-three appearances and two goals later and we have a fine young player on our books who looks a solid choice at the back.

His ability will continue to develop and he will go onto play at a higher level that’s for sure, fingers crossed it’s with us.

Why should he get player of the season though, well because he’s waited patiently for his chance and subsequently taken it, turning in impressive displays making challenges that others were reluctant too, winning headers against experienced opposition and remaining calm in possession looking to get the side moving.

Sam Clucas

No doubt he’ll be everyone’s first choice to take the award having seemingly handled the pressure of providing the goals following the departure of Matt Green to Birmingham.

Thirteen goals in forty appearances isn’t a bad return for the former Hereford man whose always linked to a move elsewhere, which I guess is reason enough for him to be player of the season.

Now for that controversial sentence or two, If I were giving the award it wouldn’t goto Clucas! Nothing against his ability as a player, but I just think he’s been average although through no fault of his own – had Paul Cox played him as an out and out left winger rather than on the right or through the middle, this may have been a different story!

My Winner

For those of you that are still reading and aren’t wanting my head on a pitch fork following the Clucas comments, It’s time for me to pick my winner.

It’s tough to choose between three (Sutton, Tafazolli and Riley), but my winner for his evolvement and consistent efforts of the season is Ryan Tafazolli! Who will yours be?

Fingers crossed for a decent end to the season, hopefully some more game time for the youngsters Liam Marsden and Jack Thomas and players out of contract to say to Paul Cox, here I am, this is what I can do, have you got a pen?