As the Championship winds down, with just two matchdays left to go before England’s top tier calls time for summer break, recognition and awards are being dished out left, right and centre.
Middlesbrough marksman Patrick Bamford, leased to the Riverside for a season by Premier League champions-elect Chelsea, was recently anointed Player of the Year at the Football League Awards, and the young striker’s success speaks volumes about the Championship’s status.
Now a hotbed for promise and potential, the second tier has become an exciting stage on which fledgling players can flex their muscles, with talent spotters flocking to stadiums to catch a glimpse of the next generation being nurtured.
Leading the charge in the chase for the Championship title and coveted promotion play-off places is a smattering of talent tipped for the top, with Boro’s Bamford perhaps the pick of the bunch.
Just one point adrift of league leaders Watford, Blues-owned centre forward Bamford’s 17 league strikes have been integral to the Teesside team’s rise under adventurous tactician Aitor Karanka.
Fans have been thrilled by the Nottingham Forest academy graduate’s progress, as the nimble forward has developed into a lethal predator, with a taste for finding the net in crunch clashes.
With potential cannon-fodder Fulham up next, brilliant Bamford can be backed with bookies Coral to fire his club to the Championship summit.
However, while Bamford may have been deemed cream of the crop, the English attacker is far from the only youngster present with a sprinkling of stardust.
Manchester United-owned playmaker Jesse Lingard has embarked on his fourth stint in the Championship with ambitious Derby County, and could be another to have a say in the play-off places.
Lithe Lingard may not hit the headlines, or excite pundits, as much as clubmates like Tom Ince, but the 22-year-old’s talent has not gone unnoticed by Rams assistant manager Paul Simpson, who acknowledged that the Red Devil was “starting to come more and more into the fore.”
Two goals and two assists do not grab the attention, but it is Lingard’s intelligence, movement and link-up play that could see him become integral as Derby push for promotion.
Others such as ex-Arsenal and current Wolverhampton Wanderers wonderkid Benik Afobe have also impressed with their late impact, and the Wolves predator in particular has starred with 12 strikes in 19 outings.
Meanwhile, Czech attacker Matej Vydra is a relatively old hand at this level, having whipped up excitement at Watford with 34 league goals during his two separate stints at the club.
The Hornets hitman, now 22, certainly looks ready to cut his teeth at the top level in England, and therein lies the problem.
With the end of term edging closer, the Championship can expect to be plundered for its best performers yet again. If clubs like Derby and Wolves miss out on promotion, their prize assets could be plucked from them, while the likes of Bamford could return to their parent clubs regardless.
At the other end of the table, Championship strugglers face the same problem, with highly-rated players, including Leeds United midfield pair Lewis Cook and Alex Mowatt, both expected to be poached.
With such an open mind to providing a platform for young players, and the Premier League’s increasingly competitive nature often stifling potential, however, the Championship should continue to produce, and find a home for, prodigious talent.