Surprise Packages Of The Season So Far

By Rory West (@rorywest96)

We’re only four games into the new Scottish Premiership but there has already been plenty of surprises thrown up. Hibs’ victory over Rangers at Ibrox, then Hamilton going to Easter Road and thrashing Hibs, St Johnstone picking up a point away to Celtic and Aberdeen finishing the first set of fixtures top of the league. However, in this post I am focusing more on individual players who have surprised so far.

Olivier Ntcham – Celtic

Upon the midfielder’s arrival at Celtic Park from Manchester City, despite his £4 million transfer fee, not many expected him to slot straight into Celtic’s starting XI, especially in place of last season’s star man Stuart Armstrong.

While part of the reason behind Ntcham playing was Armstrong’s contractual situation, there was huge pressure on him for taking this spot. And he hasn’t disappointed. An unfamiliar player for many, he surprised with his style of play. As someone who has only ever been made aware of Ntcham through Football Manager, I never expected him to be as deep a midfield player than he is. His calming presence on the ball and ability to find forward players has masked the absence of Armstrong.

With Armstrong signing a contract extension and impressing on international duty for Scotland, it will be interesting to see who lines up in the Celtic midfield away to Hamilton this weekend.

Greg Docherty – Hamilton Accies

Hamilton Accies have been the complete surprise package of the season so far. As every season, many had tipped Accies to be automatically relegated but they have started superbly. Currently sitting in fourth with two wins and a draw from four games, it has been an impressive start. And much of this success has come from their new talisman, Greg Docherty.

The hero from last season’s playoff final, with his goal in the victory over Dundee United, Docherty has taken that form and replicated it so far this season. With four assists in the opening four games, it looks as though Docherty will overtake Ali Crawford as Accies’ hottest property. His performance in the victory over Hibs, was outstanding and one where he got fans around the country properly sitting up and beginning to take notice of his work.

Despite being a mainstay in the Hamilton midfield for two years now, it has taken him until now to step into the spotlight and attempt to pull Hamilton out of another relegation battle. What is even more impressive, on Accies’ part, is that he signed to the club until the summer of 2020. While this doesn’t guarantee him staying for that length of time, it does mean that a reasonable sized fee would be required to prize him away fro Hamilton.

Simon Murray – Hibernian

Eyebrows were raised when Hibs decided to bring Dundee United striker Simon Murray to Easter Road. With the departure of the previous season’s top goalscorer Jason Cummings, many questioned Murray as his replacement.

Murray responded to these questions with five goals in the League Cup group stages. He continued that form into the Premiership, hitting two goals from four games, including one in the 3-2 victory at Ibrox.

While the goals have dried up for Murray in the previous two games, the addition of Anthony Stokes will surely help Murray and take some of the pressure of goals off his shoulders. You can’t deny the effort that Murray puts in each week but if he is to further his performances that he’s made so far, then he can’t settle for hard working performances without goals.

Michael O’Halloran – St Johnstone

Deemed surplus to requirements at Rangers by Pedro Caixinha , O’Halloran has used that as inspiration and fired himself to the August player of the month award. With four goals in four games for the Saints, he is the league’s top goalscorer and looking like the player that he was during his first spell at St Johnstone.

Playing in a more central position, he is using his blistering pace to effect. His new teammates have immediately struck the same wavelength as him and allowed him almost a free role around the forward areas.

With his Rangers career seeming over and his loan to St Johnstone expiring in January it will be interesting to see where he will end up after the January transfer window has closed. It would be a wise decision from Tommy Wright and St Johnstone to push the boat out and try to sign him up permanently, however a contract until 2020 with Rangers might be an obstacle to large for their budget to dodge.

Alfredo Morelos – Rangers

Out of all the summer arrivals, few would have expected Morelos to be the one, coming into the international break, receiving all the plaudits. Signed for a fee of £1 million from HJK Helsinki, the Colombian striker has notched five goals in his seven games for the club.

He manages to pick up great positions in the penalty area, often sneaking in between opposition centre halves. For someone who isn’t overly tall, his aerial ability has impressed so far with two of his goals coming from headers.

What has made Morelos the surprise package for Rangers is the players who also arrived at the club around him. Bruno Alves, Graham Dorrans, Ryan Jack and Carlos Pena to name a few who have came through the doors at Ibrox but none of them have set the world alight so far. If Rangers are going to have any success this season, I can see Morelos being a big part of it.

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So Close Yet So Far

By Rory West (@rorywest96)

It will take a while to get over the heartache of Saturday’s result. Those two minutes or so where we genuinely thought we were going to get one over the Auld Enemy were unforgettable. Yet, Harry Kane’s equaliser has left us in a place that doesn’t quite favour us.

But before getting to the negatives, the massive positives need to be taken into account. As a nation, doom and gloom is a regular occurrence when it comes to the national team but the overall performance against England was outstanding. Players such as Charlie Mulgrew and Christophe Berra, who haven’t been great for the national team in the past, played out their skins in an attempt to keep the English Premier League’s top marksman quiet.

Kieran Tierney, despite not having his best game this season, showed why he’s better than any left back that England have to offer. Also showing his qualities, filing in as part of a back three when England had the ball. This allowed Andy Robertson to get forward and attack Kyle Walker and with a bit more luck and composure he could have given Scotland the lead midway through the second half. Ikechi Anya at times looked slightly out of his depth but his pace was crucial getting Scotland up the pitch and winning fouls.

The Celtic midfield duo of Scott Brown and Stuart Armstrong both proved pivotal in breaking up the play and transitioning defence to attack. While the pair weren’t as influential as they have been at times for Celtic this season they definitely played their part in this positive result.

One thing that has gone under the radar is, despite halting his usual game, Scott Brown’s early tackle on Dele Alli which he received a yellow card for, effect Alli’s performance as he was distinctly quiet and offered virtually nothing.

The only slight complaint on Armstrong’s front was, his highly talked about decision to not just blooter the ball clear when Scotland broke, in the build up to England’s goal. However in the heat of the moment, his body was facing the direction he passed the ball and for him it would have been the easiest ball to play. In Armstrong’s defence he wasn’t helped by his Celtic teammate in the sticks Craig Gordon.

Further up the park, Snodgrass and Morrison didn’t offer to much which was disappointing, especially on Snodgrass’ front. Since his hat-trick in Malta he hasn’t really kicked on as we all hoped he would and perhaps become the new James McFadden talisman we thought he might. He just never got involved and his lack of work rate never really suited the type of game Scotland were involved in. Scotland improved when Ryan Fraser came on for Snodgrass, making his Scotland debut. He offered more energy and a will to chase down balls, that Snodgrass wasn’t. He also won the free kick for the first goal by bravely going in for a challenge with Gary Cahill. Hopefully Fraser becomes more of a regular in this Scotland team. Morrison picked up an injury during the first half and had to be replaced but despite that he never offered much either. Often a passenger for Scotland, it may be time for James Morrison’s time in the national side to come to a close.

The main negative from the game was Craig Gordon’s performance in goals. Due to his constant run of games for Celtic it wasn’t a shock to see Gordon start over usual number one David Marshall but I can’t see many more appearances after this one. Gordon looked nervy throughout and was at fault for both the goals. Firstly he didn’t get a strong enough wrist behind Oxlade-Chamberlain’s shot and then his positioning was all wrong for Kane’s equaliser. It was disappointing to see from Gordon who has performed so well consistently for Celtic this season.

Last but no least, the man who almost wrote himself into Scottish Football folklore, without saying he already hasn’t. Leigh Griffiths. “Catch him if you can, catch Scotland if you can” was the cry from Martin Tyler after Griffiths fired home the second of his two excellent free kicks. Both efforts were close to perfect as they flew past Joe Hart in the England goal. It was some way for the Celtic man to break his duct for Scotland, but his overall performance was almost equal to his goals. Griffiths’ effort to chase down every ball and close down every player at every opportunity was admirable.

The question is now, where does this result leave us? At this stage, with not much hope. A draw was a very credible result but in the circumstances, it was a disappointment. A win would have left us in a much better position to where we are now and would have given us a slightly better chance of qualification. While it is still unlikely, 12 points out of the final four games is almost a must. That will be a difficult task, but if we play like we did on Saturday we should give ourselves a chance.

 

Most Disappointing XI of the Season

By Cameron Christie (@CammyChristie97) 4-3-3  GK – Scott Bain – Until the last few games of the season, Scott Bain has looked very uninterested. Seemingly devastated when friends, Greg Stewart and Kane Hemmings left the club, Bain has been a frustrated figure this season at Dens. Phoning it in this season, Bain has made a number […]

By Cameron Christie (@CammyChristie97)

4-3-3 
 
GK – Scott Bain –

Until the last few games of the season, Scott Bain has looked very uninterested. Seemingly devastated when friends, Greg Stewart and Kane Hemmings left the club, Bain has been a frustrated figure this season at Dens. Phoning it in this season, Bain has made a number of simple mistakes costing Dundee goals. For Bain to fulfil his potential, it seems like he needs a move from Dundee to motivate him again following rejecting a contract extension. Despite the poor season, there will still be plenty of interest in Bain 
 
RB – James Tavernier –

I called this last year that Tavernier wouldn’t be able to make the step up and I have been proved right. Whilst still very capable going forward, he hasn’t improved on the defence side of the game. Been caught out on a number of occasions, Tavernier is a weak link in the Rangers defence and needs replaced in the summer and it would appear that Pedro Caixinha would agree after he placed him on the transfer list. The asking price of around £1.25m is a bit high but thankfully for Rangers supporters Caixinha knows where he needs to improve the team. 
 
RCB – Tasos Avlonitis –

The Greek international signed for Hearts in January as part of Cathro’s, mostly ill-fated, signing spree. Coming in with a pretty decent pedigree, Avlonitis has been a massive flop and is already headed out the exit door at Tyncastle. A bomb scare at the heart of the Jambo’s defence, he was dropped for midfielder Prince Buaben which given his performances towards the end of the season, makes the big Greek look a right diddy. He hasn’t featured at all in the final 7 games of the season and could possibly go down as Cathro’s worst signing. 
 
LCB – Zak Jules

A podcast favourite for all the wrong reasons, Zak Jules has been a monumental failure at Motherwell. A comical excuse of a defender signed on loan from Reading by Mark McGhee has been woeful in his half a season at Fir Park. Somehow a Scotland U21 international ahead of Liam Lindsay, Jules has made a catalogue of errors this season such as being frequently out muscled by much smaller opponents, keeping the ball in play against Ross County and the incredible own goal against Dundee. When you think about Niall Keown at Thistle also coming up on loan from Reading, and Motherwell got Jules, it’s easy to see how bad he has been. 
 
LB – Faycal Rherras –

The second Hearts player to make this list, Rherras looked to fill the left back slot following Juwon Oshiniwa’s dismal displays last year. Rherras has not done so. Not the worst player under Neilson but he has seen very little game time following Iain Cathro’s arrival after he signed Leonard Sowah, who narrowly missed out on a place in this team. Rherras was rumoured to have malaria, causing him to miss out on games earlier in the season but the Moroccan cap has played just once in 2017 and wasn’t even in the squad for most games. This disappointment continued for Rherras as he was released from his contract with 3 games to go. Since leaving he has also liked a tweet which was critical of Iain Cathro’s poor record at Tynecastle.   
 
RCM – Alexandros Tziolis

This really should have worked out. The experienced Greek international midfielder was another one of Cathro’s January signings that disappointed. Tziolis came to the club with a good pedigree having player at Werder Bremen, Monaco and Panathinaikos but he didn’t live up to his reputation. A string of good performances early in his first few games lead to rave reviews for the midfielder capped 63 times by his country but he has not followed these up. He seems to want too much time on the ball, which in this league, doesn’t happen. You can see the talent is there with Tziolis but he is not suited to our league and it is probably the best for both Hearts and himself that he has left following the end of the season. 
 
CM – Joey Barton –

The banter years at Rangers returned with the Barton saga. I’m not going to get into it as everyone knows what happened. This isn’t a slating of Rangers by any means, majority of the team have been a disappointment but Barton tops the lot. Brought in on big wages and a big reputation, it never got going for Barton in Scotland. From being nutmegged by Ali Crawford, to losing his man at a set piece Dundee scored from, then the tackle from Taylor on him. His ill fated climax at Rangers was in the first old firm game of the season, which saw Scott Brown run rings round him in a 5-1 defeat at Parkhead. Things were said in the aftermath which saw Barton leave the club. Since he has left, he has received an 18 month ban for gambling offences, all but ending his career. 
 
LCM – Andy Halliday

The king of Staunch himself, Mr Rangers. Andy Halliday may have orange blood pumping round his veins and may have supported Rangers since he was a boy but that shouldn’t cover up that he hasn’t played well this season. People had high hopes for Halliday after he bossed Scott Brown in last year’s Scottish Cup semi final but he has failed to live up to the promise. A stubborn Mark Warburton stuck by Halliday despite some very poor performances but he has been rarely used by Pedro Caixinha since the Portuguese boss came in to the club. An exit would appear to be on the horizon for Halliday and had he not been a huge Rangers fan, I’m sure many would be pleased to see the back of him. 
 
CF- Miles Storey

It’s been a frustrating season for Miles Storey. Aberdeen signed him from Swindon following a successful loan spell at Inverness, of course, why else would Aberdeen sign him? Storey has seen very little game time this season and hasn’t played since he missed a sitter right on the goal line against his former club. Due to his contract situation with Swindon Storey was unable to join up with the Dons until the July 1st, when Aberdeen were well into their preseason. It was obvious in the early games he was off the pace and his first touch was all over the place. Starting just two games this season, none beyond match day 3, Miles Storey has failed to make an impact at Pittodrie and could be heading for the exit door in the summer. 
 
CF – Martin Waghorn

Another one of Rangers’ Championship winning side who has failed to step up a level. Waghorn was Rangers top goal scorer last season despite missing a large chunk of games towards the end of the campaign. He is also included on the list despite being Rangers top goal scorer in all competitions but that does include almost 40% against lower league clubs. The main problem with Waghorn is that he is so wasteful, squandering many chances he should have buried. Rumoured to be off back down south, whilst not the worst striker, Rangers really could do with an upgrade and that upgrade is not this next player… 
 
CF – Joe Garner –

Rangers spent near enough £2m on Garner, making him pound for pound, the worst signing this season. Garner isn’t and hasn’t been terrible, notching 10 goals from 37 appearances, It’s just not what you expect from a striker with that kind of price tag. More associated with his abrasive attributes, look no further than his bodying of Dougie Imrie, and his tussles with opposition defenders than his goals and link up play, Garner has had a tough time of it. The other issue with Garner is that he was signed for almost 4 times what Celtic paid for Moussa Dembele who has been in a much richer scoring form across the city. Another one on Caixinha’s “to go” list, Rangers are set to make a large loss from the sale of Garner if he is to leave the club, which would also mean this is a financially disappointment as well.  

Most Disappointing XI of the Season

By Cameron Christie (@CammyChristie97)

4-3-3 
 
GK – Scott Bain –

Until the last few games of the season, Scott Bain has looked very uninterested. Seemingly devastated when friends, Greg Stewart and Kane Hemmings left the club, Bain has been a frustrated figure this season at Dens. Phoning it in this season, Bain has made a number of simple mistakes costing Dundee goals. For Bain to fulfil his potential, it seems like he needs a move from Dundee to motivate him again following rejecting a contract extension. Despite the poor season, there will still be plenty of interest in Bain 
 
RB – James Tavernier –

I called this last year that Tavernier wouldn’t be able to make the step up and I have been proved right. Whilst still very capable going forward, he hasn’t improved on the defence side of the game. Been caught out on a number of occasions, Tavernier is a weak link in the Rangers defence and needs replaced in the summer and it would appear that Pedro Caixinha would agree after he placed him on the transfer list. The asking price of around £1.25m is a bit high but thankfully for Rangers supporters Caixinha knows where he needs to improve the team. 
 
RCB – Tasos Avlonitis –

The Greek international signed for Hearts in January as part of Cathro’s, mostly ill-fated, signing spree. Coming in with a pretty decent pedigree, Avlonitis has been a massive flop and is already headed out the exit door at Tyncastle. A bomb scare at the heart of the Jambo’s defence, he was dropped for midfielder Prince Buaben which given his performances towards the end of the season, makes the big Greek look a right diddy. He hasn’t featured at all in the final 7 games of the season and could possibly go down as Cathro’s worst signing. 
 
LCB – Zak Jules

A podcast favourite for all the wrong reasons, Zak Jules has been a monumental failure at Motherwell. A comical excuse of a defender signed on loan from Reading by Mark McGhee has been woeful in his half a season at Fir Park. Somehow a Scotland U21 international ahead of Liam Lindsay, Jules has made a catalogue of errors this season such as being frequently out muscled by much smaller opponents, keeping the ball in play against Ross County and the incredible own goal against Dundee. When you think about Niall Keown at Thistle also coming up on loan from Reading, and Motherwell got Jules, it’s easy to see how bad he has been. 
 
LB – Faycal Rherras –

The second Hearts player to make this list, Rherras looked to fill the left back slot following Juwon Oshiniwa’s dismal displays last year. Rherras has not done so. Not the worst player under Neilson but he has seen very little game time following Iain Cathro’s arrival after he signed Leonard Sowah, who narrowly missed out on a place in this team. Rherras was rumoured to have malaria, causing him to miss out on games earlier in the season but the Moroccan cap has played just once in 2017 and wasn’t even in the squad for most games. This disappointment continued for Rherras as he was released from his contract with 3 games to go. Since leaving he has also liked a tweet which was critical of Iain Cathro’s poor record at Tynecastle.   
 
RCM – Alexandros Tziolis

This really should have worked out. The experienced Greek international midfielder was another one of Cathro’s January signings that disappointed. Tziolis came to the club with a good pedigree having player at Werder Bremen, Monaco and Panathinaikos but he didn’t live up to his reputation. A string of good performances early in his first few games lead to rave reviews for the midfielder capped 63 times by his country but he has not followed these up. He seems to want too much time on the ball, which in this league, doesn’t happen. You can see the talent is there with Tziolis but he is not suited to our league and it is probably the best for both Hearts and himself that he has left following the end of the season. 
 
CM – Joey Barton –

The banter years at Rangers returned with the Barton saga. I’m not going to get into it as everyone knows what happened. This isn’t a slating of Rangers by any means, majority of the team have been a disappointment but Barton tops the lot. Brought in on big wages and a big reputation, it never got going for Barton in Scotland. From being nutmegged by Ali Crawford, to losing his man at a set piece Dundee scored from, then the tackle from Taylor on him. His ill fated climax at Rangers was in the first old firm game of the season, which saw Scott Brown run rings round him in a 5-1 defeat at Parkhead. Things were said in the aftermath which saw Barton leave the club. Since he has left, he has received an 18 month ban for gambling offences, all but ending his career. 
 
LCM – Andy Halliday

The king of Staunch himself, Mr Rangers. Andy Halliday may have orange blood pumping round his veins and may have supported Rangers since he was a boy but that shouldn’t cover up that he hasn’t played well this season. People had high hopes for Halliday after he bossed Scott Brown in last year’s Scottish Cup semi final but he has failed to live up to the promise. A stubborn Mark Warburton stuck by Halliday despite some very poor performances but he has been rarely used by Pedro Caixinha since the Portuguese boss came in to the club. An exit would appear to be on the horizon for Halliday and had he not been a huge Rangers fan, I’m sure many would be pleased to see the back of him. 
 
CF- Miles Storey

It’s been a frustrating season for Miles Storey. Aberdeen signed him from Swindon following a successful loan spell at Inverness, of course, why else would Aberdeen sign him? Storey has seen very little game time this season and hasn’t played since he missed a sitter right on the goal line against his former club. Due to his contract situation with Swindon Storey was unable to join up with the Dons until the July 1st, when Aberdeen were well into their preseason. It was obvious in the early games he was off the pace and his first touch was all over the place. Starting just two games this season, none beyond match day 3, Miles Storey has failed to make an impact at Pittodrie and could be heading for the exit door in the summer. 
 
CF – Martin Waghorn

Another one of Rangers’ Championship winning side who has failed to step up a level. Waghorn was Rangers top goal scorer last season despite missing a large chunk of games towards the end of the campaign. He is also included on the list despite being Rangers top goal scorer in all competitions but that does include almost 40% against lower league clubs. The main problem with Waghorn is that he is so wasteful, squandering many chances he should have buried. Rumoured to be off back down south, whilst not the worst striker, Rangers really could do with an upgrade and that upgrade is not this next player… 
 
CF – Joe Garner –

Rangers spent near enough £2m on Garner, making him pound for pound, the worst signing this season. Garner isn’t and hasn’t been terrible, notching 10 goals from 37 appearances, It’s just not what you expect from a striker with that kind of price tag. More associated with his abrasive attributes, look no further than his bodying of Dougie Imrie, and his tussles with opposition defenders than his goals and link up play, Garner has had a tough time of it. The other issue with Garner is that he was signed for almost 4 times what Celtic paid for Moussa Dembele who has been in a much richer scoring form across the city. Another one on Caixinha’s “to go” list, Rangers are set to make a large loss from the sale of Garner if he is to leave the club, which would also mean this is a financially disappointment as well.  

The Most Improved XI of the Season

By Cameron Christie (CammyChristie97)

4-2-3-1

GK – Wes Foderingham –

I wasn’t totally convinced on Foderingham last season and the early part of this season. In all honesty, before signing for Rangers in 2015 the only thing I knew him from was getting hooked in the first half of a game when at Swindon when they were managed by the Mediterranean mad man, Paulo Di Canio. However, this season he has proved me wrong. He had kept Matt Gilks out the team up until his departure for Wigan in January and has retained his place, even for the cup games, since Jak Alnwick was signed up until the last game of the campaign against St Johnstone. Foderingham is one of the few Rangers players who have made the step up to the top flight and performed well. There are still some question marks over his kicking but he has pulled off many great saves this season. Rangers need a big shake up in the summer but Foderingham’s place in the team should not be under threat.

RB – Richard Foster –

Personal hatred aside, Foster has had a very good season at St Johnstone. It seemed a strange move at the time coming from Ross County as a replacement for Saints legend Dave Mackay but Foster has been yet another solid addition to Tommy Wright’s side. The very versatile player suits St Johnstone to a tee. He also adds another dynamic the Saints that they didn’t really have before with his pace which can benefit in both attack and defence.  The one black mark on his season is the Danny Swanson incident which saw the too fighting with each other at half time which resulted in both players being sent off but on the whole, the move to St Johnstone has been a success for both the club and the player.

RCB – Jozo Simunovic –

It’s hard to believe now that the best centre half in the league was almost off in the summer to Torino but that move was blocked and he’s been excellent for Celtic this campaign. He’s overcome his injury problems from last season to be a mainstay in the Celtic team since he came back from injury in late September. Easily Celtic’s best centre half, he’s been partnered with many different players at centre half but that has not phased him. Solid in the tackle, look no further than his challenge on Miller, and very assured presence on the ball, the Celtic defence has looked a lot better when he’s in it. If there is any improvement that could be made, he could add a few more goals into his game as he’s only got one this campaign but that’s being very harsh. Celtic could have a tough time hanging on to him in the summer.

LCB – Liam Lindsay –

Lindsay was the only non Celtic or Aberdeen player to make TOTY for 2016/17 which would warrant his inclusion in the team alone. Liam Lindsay has played with a maturity beyond his age this season at the heart of the Thistle defence. At 21 years old, the future is bright for the defender who has been linked with 7 figure moves down south. Not only good at stopping the opposition from scoring, he’s also bagged a number of goals for himself, scoring 7 goals in all competitions including a fantastic strike against Hearts. It’s a testament to how good Lindsay has been that he’s had to adjust to many changes at Partick Thistle this season, from Thistle use of a lot of goalkeepers, the shift between 4 and 5 at the back, Lindsay has adapted and helped Thistle keep a very solid defensive record before the split to make the top 6.

LB – Andrew Considine –

Big Andy has really made the left back position his own this season. Winning both the Aberdeen fans and players player of the year, it’s been a very successful season for this second generation defender. He’s gone from a relatively dependable central defender to a very good full back over the past two years. Left back was seen as a weak link for the Dons for many years, but with Considine now playing there, it’s no longer the same. He still has all the defensive abilities, but he has added an attacking threat to his game this season scoring 6 goals, including a surreal hat trick against Dundee. He’s also turned provider for a number of goals this season with an improved delivery. He’s continued to improve year on year and Aberdeen will hope that progression continues.

RCM – Scott Brown –

Brown looked finished last year and I will admit I didn’t see this return to form coming. Brendan Rodgers has turned round the fortunes of plenty Celtic players careers and Brown is a prime example of it. Arguably one of his best seasons in green and white hoops, the midfielder has been ever present in the Celtic side, only missing out on two games that weren’t through suspension. The all action captain is a huge part of Celtic’s success this season. The skipper looks re-energised and much more motivated than last season. If there was a criticism for Scott Brown, it is that he doesn’t score many but with the goal scoring talent around him, he doesn’t really have to.

LCM – Kenny Mclean –

Since his transfer to Aberdeen in January 2015, it hadn’t properly clicked for McLean until this season. His role and position in the team was being changed around from week to week but Aberdeen’s team, especially since December when Aberdeen’s selection has been very consistent and McLean’s form has been reflected by that. Often the scapegoat for many Aberdeen fans in his time at the club, this season, it has changed. A consistent role has improved McLean’s form,  playing in every single game for the Dons this season. He has also begun to up his work rate, possibly influenced by the tireless Graeme Shinnie playing alongside him. His range of passing is superb too. Just like I mentioned above about Scott Brown, is that McLean should score more goals and his shooting is quite erratic but McLean has been rewarded for a good season with a place in the upcoming Scotland squad.

CAM – Stuart Armstrong –

The most improved player this season bar none. Stuart Armstrong has been a revelation for Celtic this season. Then turn around in his game since Brendan Rodgers came into the club has been nothing short of miraculous. Initially looking like he would pan out of Ronny Deila’s “we want him so you can’t have him” signings, this season he’s proved everyone wrong. Biton has largely dropped out the team, Henderson has struggled for game time and Christie has had to go out on loan to find games and its all testament to how good Armstrong has been. He has bagged a very impressive 16 goals this season and won his first Scotland cap with a man of the match performance against Slovenia. Unfortunately for Celtic, the vultures could come calling on Armstrong but it would take a hefty fee to prize him away from Parkhead.

RW – James Forrest –

The final Celtic player in this team is James Forrest. This has been is most effective season and the most he has played in his entire Celtic career. He has dropped off towards the end of the season as Patrick Roberts has taken his place but for a good chunk of the season Forrest was keeping the £12 million man on loan from Manchester City out of the team. Forrest has got himself 8 goals this season, the most memorable being the second goal in the Betfred Cup Final against Aberdeen. Forrest looks like he is finally beginning to fulfil his potential under the influence of Brendan Rodgers. Despite how good he has been in the green and white this season, his performances in the dark blue of Scotland still flatter to deceive. Often going hiding in games, if he wants to take his career to the next level, he really has to start performing on the international stage.

LW – Danny Swanson –

Danny Swanson has been terrific this season. Last season, he struggled to get games at Hearts so left for St Johnstone who he had been on loan at the previous year. Swanson didn’t quite have the same influence on the Saints team last year as he did this year. He only notched one goal last season whereas he hit the back of the net 15 times this year with the midfielder finishing the season as the clubs top goal scorer. Operating through the centre or an either wing, Swanson has been key to Saints success this season, whether it be from his direct running or his eye for a pass, he constantly has caused teams problems this season. Swanson is off to boyhood heroes Hibs in the summer and will be a great addition to their team, however will leave a hole in the St Johnstone side for Tommy Wright to find the right player to fill.

CF – Alex Fisher –

Feels odd putting a striker of a relegated club on this list, there wasn’t much choice for the centre forward position, but Fisher merits the inclusion for his end of season form. He scored 6 goals in his last 6 games but unfortunately it wasn’t enough for Inverness. Little known to myself, Fisher signed for Inverness in January 2016 but only played one league game between then and the end of the season due to an injury. He’s been Caley’s top scorer this season despite playing very few minutes until April. Fisher has missed a few sitters but he has been the man to get the goals for ICT at the tail end of this season. Foran somehow persisted with McKay and Anier in the second half of the season which didn’t work. It does make you think where Inverness could have finished had Foran inserted Fisher into his starting XI earlier on in the season given the goals he has scored at the end of it.

Patter of the Playoffs

By Rory West (@rorywest96)

With the relegation/promotion Playoffs kicking off around Scotland this week, I thought that I’d throw my worthless opinion into the hat about what has effectively changed the calendar for clubs around the country.

Prior to the playoffs being introduced as part of the new SPFL era, there were many a game across all 4 leagues that meant virtually nothing come the latter stages of the season.

Now, since the addition of the playoffs, there is all sorts of excitement at both ends of the stick. Whether its the battle to escape the relegation playoff spot, or the race to gain a promotion playoff spot. Since it’s introduction there hasn’t been a season were both have been sown up early on.

Take the first year for example, in the Championship it was taken right up until the last day of the season for even the title to be decided (albeit it was partly down to an incredible Hamilton scoreline). The race for 2nd however was crucial in the scheme of promotion as the less games played by Hamilton allowed their advantage over Falkirk who they would beat to face Hibs.

The Hibs side mentioned lost a crucial lose or bust game against Kilmarnock which saw the loser finish in the relegation playoff spot. Hibs would then go on to lose to Hamilton in the playoffs, resulting in relegation. Obviously catastrophic for Hibs and their supporters but the sense of excitement that the playoffs that year created was incredible.

The following year would see the Premiership side prevail and remain in the division but that wasn’t without creating one of the best feuds of the season. Motherwell defeating Rangers 6-1 on aggregate would create one of the moments of the season. Again the element of shock created such excitement and enjoyment from the playoff matches. Also worth mentioning the ties between Rangers and Hibs from that year, sending Rangers through to the final, where the overcame a Hibs side looking sure to return to the top flight at the first attempt versus Rangers looking to complete the clean sweep of consecutive promotions.

Granted the excitement of the playoffs can sometimes be dependent of the sides involved but fortunately there hasn’t been a case as of yet that none of the teams offered competition to the other.

This season offers up, yet again, incredible excitement. The first Championship tie being Morton vs Dundee United offers massive intrigue with the season’s overachievers in Morton versus the United side who many expected to challenge Hibs closer for the title. As I’m writing this United have just won the first leg at Cappielow 2-1, which is massive going into Friday’s tie at Tannadice, especially with United’s home record.

A win would set up a tie with Playoff veterans Falkirk who are always hanging around those positions and will feel that one year will eventually be theirs. Both Falkirk and Dundee United will look at Falkirk’s collapse at Kilmarnock last season were they let a 1-0 first leg lead slip to a 4-1 aggregate defeat, and learn from that with a view towards the final.

Talking of the final, that is another matter that is yet to be settled from the Premiership’s front. With Ross County steering themselves away from the dropzone, it looks as though it will be a battle between Hamilton and Motherwell for who will take up the playoff spot. Neither side have been overly impressive this season and both Championship sides will fancy their chances.

That being said, the number of games played from the Championship sides and the break that the Premiership sides get offer an advantage towards the Premiership side. However a week or so spent sitting on numerous defeats could also work against the Premiership side so it’s a double sided coin.

Either way, there will sure to be much more excitement to be had throughout the playoffs run, in what is the best addition (competition wise) to the Scottish game the governing body has ever made.

Is this really our time?

So the international fixtures beckon, over the years a time where Scotland supporters weren’t sure whether to get excited about or hide behind the sofa. From humiliating nights in Georgia, a 4-6-0 in the Czech Republic to ‘Faddymania’ in France, it really has been a frustrating past 18 years for the national side. However is this finally the time when Scotland return to the biggest stage of international football?

A revitalized squad

malta-v-scotland-world-cup-2018-qualifying

The Russia 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign couldn’t really have gotten off to a better start with a 5-1 win away to an “apparently” tricky opponent in Malta. Robert Snodgrass finally made his international return and left Malta with the match ball after notching three goals, could he be Scotland’s new talisman?

Elsewhere goals for Chris Martin (no not him from Coldplay) and Steven Fletcher will surely breathe confidence in both heading into this round of Fixtures versus Lithuania and Slovakia.

Not to be forgotten where the newbies with Hearts full back Callum Paterson finally getting the recognition of being his countries’ best right back and punting Alan Hutton from the spot he had nailed down for years. Also the first Scotland start for £13 million man Oliver Burke of RB Leipzig who looked to fit in comfortably on the wing.

The game also saw the first without long time captain Scott Brown who had recently retired from international football with Darren Fletcher stepping in as the new skipper. Brown bowed out amassing a total of 50 caps and four goals for his country.

The Manager

_91031832_strachan

Some were surprised to see Gordon Strachan remain in charge of the national side after failing to qualify for – the expanded – Euro 2016. Albeit wee Gordon is still in charge for what will surely be his final chance to become the first Scotland boss since Craig Brown to take his nation to a major finals.

Despite the optimism from above, there are still a few bug bears that supporters have with Strachan. His stubbornness to stick with the tried, tested and failed riles up sections of supporters. For example the inclusions of players like Alan Hutton, Gordon Greer, Steven Whittaker, Chris Martin and Steven Fletcher – who despite their goals vs Malta – aren’t quite cut for international football anymore.

In fairness to Strachan he has decided to call up some younger, hungrier players in the most recent squads with players like Oliver Burke, Callum Paterson, John McGinn and Kenny McLean all helping themselves to a piece of international action.

This is very likely going to be Strachan’s last shot at international success so there is a bit of pressure on his shoulders to provide the desperate Scotland supporters of a trip to Russia.

Bits ‘n’ Pieces

EURO 96 SOCCER - England v Scotland
Scotland fans at Wembley

On one final note, what are the SFA thinking by changing the iconic 500 miles by The Proclaimers to the dance tune Bits ‘n’ Pieces by GBX to Scotland’s goal scoring song. Hearing 500 miles belt around Hampden after a Scotland goal was synonymous with the national stadium.

So for the sake of tradition lets hope we score a sack full against Lithuania and hear the supporter’s disdain for the song and it gets changed back to 500 miles.