Chris Kirkland’s nomination for the Sky Bet Championship Player of the Month award takes his comeback to a new level.
he Owls keeper began by regaining his place from Damian Martinez at Blackburn on Boxing Day.
Then he played so well that he kept the capable Martinez out of the League side.
Now he has been recognised by the League panel’s shortlist - and his re-emergence marks him as something of a survivor.
He, Anthony Gardner. Lewis Buxton and Michail Antonio were the main contenders for the Owls Player of the Year award last season.
But Gardner, Buxton and Antonio have seen their 2013-14 seasons marred by injuries.
Gardner played the first five games then tore his Achilles tendon in the sixth.
Buxton - the club’s winner of last season’s award - has been restricted to 10 appearances by muscle injuries.
Antonio played the first 16 games and then suffered a knee problem.
The trio’s absence may well have contributed to the team’s struggle for wins in the early part of the campaign.
But Liam Palmer has made a decent job of replacing Buxton at right back; various changes have helped to compensate for centre half Gardner’s absence, and it has been a similar story with Antonio’s forward spot.
Kirkland, who was the Owls winner in last season’s Star and Green’Un awards, has been different in that he lost his place this season because of what Dave Jones perceived to be a loss of form.
Stuart Gray brought him back after the team’s awful defeat by Bournemouth on December 21, in the belief that his experience and calming influence could help to steady the ship.
It was one of many decisions by Gray that have proved to be correct.
The head coach has kept Martinez active by playing him in FA Cup ties and resting Kirkland for these - not that the ex-England man wants to be sitting on the bench at all! He played in all four league games in January: 2-0 and 6-0 wins against Blackpool and Leeds respectively and 1-1 draws at Burnley and Milwall.
The League also recognised Connor Wickham’s form by shortlisting him for December’s Championship Player of the Month award. But that went to Leicester midfield player Danny Drinkwater.
Kirkland’s rivals are Doncaster winger Mark Duffy, Reading and former Rotherham striker Adam Le Fondre and Leicester striker David Nugent.
The official citations say:
“Chris Kirkland: His shot-stopping has been outstanding. Several brilliant saves preserved a point at Burnley and he was similarly defiant under intense pressure at Millwall.
“Mark Duffy: Has blossomed in his first season at Championship level. Given the freedom to attack, he spent January beating defenders on both wings and creating chances for others.
“Adam Le Fondre: Two predatory hat-tricks in successive home games underpinned 7-1 and 5-1 home wins against Bolton and Blackpool respectively.
“David Nugent: Led from the front to impressive effect as Leicester continued their winning ways. Of his side’s 12 January goals, he scored four.” The winner will be announced tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Milan Mandaric has confirmed that Massimo Cellino showed some interest in the Owls before firming up a bid to buy Leeds, and sat next to him at the FA Cup replay against Macclesfield at Hillsborough.
Mandaric said: “ He’s a football man. He wanted to see the game, He was interested. That’s all I can say.
“I’ve always said I won’t bother our supporters unless I have something very serious and very tangible. It’s no different now.”