There is a plethora of central midfield talent in the Championship this year.
Pivotal to a side's success, these individuals are trusted with not only wrestling possession from the opposition but creating opportunities for themselves and their team-mates.
Described as the engine room, the midfield minefield is often where games can be won or lost, so these players must have many different attributes and a great level of fitness, plus a real competitive edge, regardless of their size or stature.
I've picked out five, to highlight their brilliant first-halves of the season, taking into consideration form, productivity and their importance to their team...
Craig Bryson - Derby County
The brilliant Bryson is just one of the reasons Derby have thrilled us this season. A box-to-box midfielder with great athleticism, equally at home in a central two or three, his ability to break past County's strikers has produced a 12-goal haul so far, while his tendency to drift wide late in games has seen Craig also produce seven assists for his Rams team-mates. Once on trial at Derby during Billy Davies' tenure, he has flourished, firstly under Nigel Clough and now as the first name on Steve McClaren's team sheet.
Andy Reid - Nottingham Forest
Back to Forest and back to his mercurial best, Reid has produced some magical moments in the Championship this season. His wonderful wand of a left foot provides stunning power and culture in equal measure, expressing craft and guile, knowledge and know-how, and controlling the tempo of games for Billy Davies' boys. His vision and accuracy from dead balls or open play, while contributing nine goals and nine assists, underlines Reid's effectiveness and proves he's back to his brilliant best and fit enough to play wide when needed.
Henri Lansbury - Nottingham Forest
The former Arsenal man has made an impact wherever he has played. Very much the modern-day midfielder, he is able to cover the ground quickly and possesses a tenacious attitude. Henri has had promotions from the Championship while on loan to Norwich and West Ham and, secured by Nottingham Forest for a bargain £1m-plus, has become a real fans' favourite with his marauding forward, while his shoot-on-sight policy and late bursts into the box have seen him register seven goals already. Both he and Reid are accomplished enough and versatile enough to play in a two or three centrally, or at the attacking or defensive points of a diamond, with equal effect, which is a huge bonus for the Forest faithful.
Danny Drinkwater - Leicester City
With Leicester top of the table with an eight-point gap on second-placed QPR but more importantly 11 points ahead of third-placed Burnley, let's celebrate one of their unsung heroes in Drinkwater. Solid and responsible but also reliable, this young man has grown in stature and is far more than a continuity player who keeps things ticking over. He's been far more effective this season as he has played 20 yards further up the pitch, no doubt helped by the fact his two centre-halves have real pace and are not frightened to condense the play and leave space in behind them. He supplies both wide men, Lloyd Dyer and Anthony Knockaert, switching the play, displaying a great range of passing - short or long, quick or incisive - whilst troubling the scoreboard himself with his powerful right boot. Terrier-like in the tackle, he has matured this season and always seems to make himself available and to give options to whoever is on the ball, in whatever area of the pitch. A very important cog in Leicester's well-oiled machine, he complimented Andy King and unselfishly filled the holes the goal-getting King would leave, but now he has developed a great central-midfield partnership with Matty James, sharing both defensive and attacking responsibilities, and dominating oppositions' midfields.
Andrew Crofts - Brighton & Hove Albion
Crofts had played a starring role for Brighton but unfortunately suffered a ruptured cruciate ligament against Birmingham earlier this month. The tough-tackling, hard-working Crofts had played 24 games, contributing six goals, and was massively important, especially given the striking problems the Seagulls have encountered this term. Crofts influence cannot be underestimated as, for the first quarter of this campaign, Brighton were without holding midfielder Liam Bridcutt, putting extra pressure on Crofts to marshal his team's central area. With Bridcutt back fit now, but subject to much transfer speculation, Albion fans could see their play-off hopes dashed if they have to battle on without their two star midfielders.
Lest we not forget...
- The aforementioned Liam Bridcutt
- As a pair, good as any, David Jones and Dean Marney at Burnley
- Ben Watson, Wigan's warrior and Cup final hero
- Will Hughes, Derby's hugely talented playmaker
- Alex Mowatt, Leeds' own talented and tenacious teen
- QPR's management team are applauding Joey Barton's impact
Feel free to add shout-outs for your favourites using the comments box below...