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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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.