In praise of ... Ian Sharps

Last updated : 15 June 2010 By David R

With each relentless passing second, the chances of a third equaliser slip further and further away. The heat gnaws at the remaining dregs of the player's stamina, but there's a last sharp bout of frenetic energy, a burst of desperate activity designed to fill and extend the few moments left before a crushing wave of disappointment engulfes everything.

Marshall wriggles a yard of space for himself on the right, clips in a cross. It looks too long to trouble the Dagenham defence, looks to be heading behind for a goal kick, before Sharps, who's thrown himself into the attack as an emergency forward, launches himself through the air in a desperate bit to make something of it.

Freeze the frame, because that moment epitomises our former captain. Almost horizontal in the air as he hurls himself at the ball, he's doing everything he can to turn an increasingly hopeless situation around. Urging himself on to still greater effort, even as his and the team's dreams lie shattered around him. A monumental individual effort, made, ultimately, in vain, but made wholeheartedly nevertheless.

It's hard to imagine that any player on that Wembley pitch was more deserving of lifting the play-off final trophy. It's a testament to him that, in a career that has seen such turbulent times at the club (3 managers, a relegation, near oblivion, 37 points deducted in three seasons), for most games you'd work out the man of the match by starting from the assumption that it was Sharps and then seeing whether anyone deserved it more. A leader by example, a player who knows the boundaries of his abilities and plays to the limit of them, there are few defenders as consistently, reliably effective in this league.

To be sure, there are qualities that he lacks. Fleet-footed forwards discomfort him and a truly giant target man can beat him in the aerial battles. He makes too little of the chances that fall to him in front of the opposition's goal. Too often the opportunity to use the ball effectively becomes a generic clearance forward.

But a defender with some or all of those qualities - and who can actually defend, too - is rare in the lower two divisions of English football. We have lost - and a potential candidate for promotion has gained - an utterly dependable defender, positionally sound, whole-hearted and consistent. A player, especially given his position, who has a remarkable record of being available for selection by avoiding injury and suspension.

Sharps' departure gives Moore his biggest test since returning. He's not a player you really saw leaving, once we'd offered a contract, so there's a risk his departure catches us on the hop. Added to that, he's difficult to replace (at least, with someone as dependably good) and whoever comes in will be emblematic of Moore's rebuilt squad, especially given Moore's sharp criticism of the defence on occasion last season. A solid defence is fundamental and we now face starting a season with (at least) three new faces out in the back four.

That, though, is an issue for another day. For now, pause a second to salute a dependable, rugged captain, who served our club well in difficult times and who, you suspect, we'll miss next season. In an era of disappointment for this club, it's been nice to have someone around who never let us down.

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