Craig Fowler picks a select XI of Ladbrokes Premiership players who’ve performed above and beyond what as been expected of them - with back-ups thrown in as well
Disclaimer: These are not players who were necessarily bad prior to this season. There are plenty who were considered to be good players, we just didn’t expect them to perform as well as they have done.
GK - Jack Hamilton (Hearts)
Having pursued Matt Gilks and eventually signed Sweden international Viktor Noring, there were few onlookers who thought Jack Hamilton would remain as Hearts’ No.1 through the opening four months of the season. And yet, that’s the reality we’re facing as the 22-year-old has performed well beyond his years. Not only does he pull off the occasional stunning save, he’s been surprisingly dependable for a young stopper.
Deputy: Zander Clark (St Johnstone) - The 24-year-old has established himself as St Johnstone’s first choice goalkeeper at the expense of long-term custodian, and general fans favourite, Alan Mannus.
DR - Brad McKay (Inverness CT)
Having failed to establish himself at St Johnstone and forced down to League One to find regular first-team football in the latter half of the previous season, no-one was expecting much from McKay when he made the switch to Inverness. He’d find a place as a back-up, this time to Gary Warren and Josh Meekings, and that’d be about it. Instead, he’s emerged as a roving right-back. Safe to say, it’s a position few envisioned him undertaking, and yet he’s thrived on the right of the back four, where his natural athleticism makes him an asset in both attack and defence.
Deputy: Richard Tait (Motherwell) - The ex-Grimsby man has shown the Fir Park club the worth of having an actual right-back in the position after years of shoehorning unnatural fits into the role. He’s been involved in a large chunk of Motherwell’s goals this campaign.
DC - Clint Hill (Rangers)
Of the three big name, veteran signings made by Rangers early in the summer - Joey Barton and Niko Kranjcar being the others - Hill was supposed to be the one destined for failure. Here was a 38-year-old centre-back stepping into a defensive line that pushed high up the park. It was a recipe for disaster, and yet it’s actually worked. Hill has been one of the more consistent performers in the Ibrox side this season and his presence has improved a much derided defensive unit. Of Rangers’ five clean sheets in the Premiership, Hill has started in four of them.
Deputy: Massimo Donati (Hamilton) - Accies fans would have been expecting some classy midfield play from the former Celtic and Milan star, but they wouldn’t have envisioned him leading the defensive line as a libero at the heart of the back three.
DC - Anthony O’Connor (Aberdeen)
Initially expected to play a squad rotation role by providing some steel to the midfield when necessary or deputising for the centre-backs, O’Connor has emerged as Aberdeen’s first choice defender and is undoubtedly one of the signings of the summer. Solid in defence and composed with the ball at his feet, he’s exactly what the Dons were crying out for since centre-back became a problem position last season.
Deputy: John Souttar (Hearts) - Expected to play well after a strong start to his Hearts career after a January move from United. Not expected to be the No.1 centre-back and Hearts’ most consistent performer this point.
DL - Greg Taylor (Kilmarnock)
This selection is a bit of a cheat seeing as Taylor has looked at his best playing in midfield. Regardless, few expected a recently turned 19-year-old to emerge as one of the leading appearance makers at Kilmarnock. His energy and tenacity have enabled him to become one of Lee Clark’s most trusted generals, despite the massive influx of players brought in over the summer and him having only made his debut in mid-May.
Deputy: Carl Tremarco (Inverness CT) - Ended last season in great form and has continued it into 2016/17, showing it wasn’t a fluke.
MR - James Forrest (Celtic)
The Scottish winger wasn’t even supposed to be a Celtic player past the summer. Having rejected a new contract, Forrest looked to be heading out of the door. Even when he signed a new deal in August there were grumbles from fans, who were happy to see the back of him after six years of never quite living up to his initial promise. Instead, he’s left Patrick Roberts kicking his heels on the bench. Aside from turning in some impressive displays, he plays an important role by providing pace and a valuable out-ball on Celtic’s right flank.
Deputy: Liam Polworth (Inverness CT) - The midfielder has taken it up a notch after last season’s breakout campaign. He’s now one of the most important, if not the most important, players in the ICT side.
MC - Scott Brown (Celtic)
“Brown’s finished” became a Scottish football catchphrase last season, such was the frequency in which it was uttered by fans up and down the land. A horrendous display in Celtic’s first match against Lincoln Red Imps did little to appease the doubters, but even his harshest critics would have to admit he’s turned it around in spectacular fashion. Fit again and thriving under the guidance of Brendan Rodgers, Brown has starred for Celtic both in domestic football and on the continent. Were it not for a couple of his team-mates (Dembele and Sinclair) he’d be the leading candidate for the Premiership’s Player of the Year award.
Deputy: Jason Holt (Rangers) - The diminutive midfielder looked to be the forgotten man in the opening few weeks as injury, combined with an influx of centre midfielders, pushed him down the pecking order. He’s since restored himself as a mainstay of the Rangers midfield.
MC - Stuart Armstrong (Celtic)
Aside from the odd flash of brilliance, there was little evidence in the previous 18 months to suggest Armstrong was going to become a success at Celtic. Even in the opening games of this term, as he kept the role of back-up, doing little more than providing energy off the bench, it didn’t appear like he was going to emerge as an important member of the starting XI. And yet, ever since he helped Celtic motor away from Rangers in the first Old Firm game, including scoring the fifth goal, he’s managed to build himself up to the point where he’s now first choice as Scott Brown’s partner at the base of the midfield.
Deputy: Darian MacKinnon (Hamilton) - Though always combative, fans were often critical of the midfielder for letting his temper get the better of him. This season he’s channelled that aggression and it’s shown with a number of eye-catching performances in the middle of the park.
ML - Danny Swanson (St Johnstone)
We knew he was good, especially in a St Johnstone shirt, but nobody expected the kind of performances the well-travelled midfielder has put in this season. He’s netted 11 goals in all competitions so far and remains the most creative force in the Saints attack. Following the 4-2 defeat to Ross County, St Johnstone’s fans are currently lamenting their poor home form for the reason they’re not in second place. Although, you have to wonder where they’d be at the wrong end of the table if not for Swanson.
Deputy: Jordan Jones (Kilmarnock) - One of several unknowns that pitched up at Rugby Park in the summer, Jones has caught the eye with a few dazzling displays on the wing.
FC - Moussa Dembele (Celtic)
The expectation was that he would be good, perhaps even very good. After all, Spurs had courted him in January and it looked quite the coup for Celtic to have beaten various big clubs to his signature. However, nobody would expected what Celtic fans have been treated to thus far: a hat-trick against Rangers, against whom he also netted a semi-final winner, and two terrific showings in the Champions League, where he’s netted against Astana, Hapoel Beer-Sheva, Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach. He’s being talked of as a £20million player and the future of the French national team. Safe to say it’s been £500k well spent.
Deputy: Lonsana Doumbouya (Inverness CT) - Signed late in the transfer window, it took the striker a few games to get going but he’s now established himself as the leader of ICT’s attack and has netted five league goals already.
FC - Souleymane Coulibaly (Kilmarnock)
Having been described as “the next Didier Drogba” earlier in his career, there was always a chance he’d be good. But we never expected such an array of stunning goals just four months into his Kilmarnock career, including the 40-yard raker against Celtic. His somersault celebrations aren’t bad, either.
Deputy: Ade Azeez (Partick Thistle) – Signed to play understudy to Kris Doolan, Azeez has emerged as Alan Archibald’s preferred option in attack. Though he lacks composure in front of goal, his pace, strength and abilities on the ball have made him a real handful for defenders.