Andy Harrow selects 11 stars from this season’s Scottish top flight who’ve flown under the radar
During the build-up to the 2016/17 PFA Player of the Year awards it’s easy to forget that, while those nominated may represent the very best Scottish football has to offer, a whole host of other Premiership players have performed at a consistently high level week-in, week-out. Unfashionable, un-showy, underappreciated; the group below haven’t made many headlines over the season, but that hasn’t made them any less important to their teams.
Joe Shaughnessy (St Johnstone)
Shaughnessy is so under-rated that even his manager admits that he’s surpassed expectations this season. Signed by Tommy Wright in the summer of 2015 after his release from Aberdeen, Shaughnessy joined St Johnstone with limited Premiership experience and question marks over his best position. While Shaughnessy is a competent performer for the Perth side whenever required to cover right-back – where he was usually deployed by Aberdeen – he’s made dramatic improvements as a centre half. It’s a sign of his reliability and assuredness against the league’s best strikers that he’s now ahead of even captain Steven Anderson in the pecking order. The 12 league clean sheets under his belt are a testament to his performances.
Adam Barton (Partick Thistle)
At the start of the season, few would have predicted that the Barton to have made the biggest impact in the Premiership would be named Adam, not Joey. Yet, while the Rangers midfielder was struggling to make a positive impression in Scottish football, Partick Thistle’s summer signing was winning the October Player of the Month award and generally impressing, both as a centre half and central midfielder. It was Barton’s move to the middle of a back three which initially improved Thistle, providing experience to a youthful backline and allowing Alan Archibald’s men to pass out from defence. Since Niall Keown’s arrival in January, Barton has quietly impressed in his natural position in midfield alongside Abdul Osman and Ryan Edwards.
Massimo Donati (Hamilton)
There were raised eyebrows when Donati returned to Scottish football in the summer. The Italian midfielder had spent a couple of seasons at Celtic between 2007 and 2009, where he was accomplished but unremarkable, before returning home to Serie A. Following spells at Bari, Palermo and Verona, Hamilton boss Martin Canning convinced Donati to return to Scotland in the summer and his left-field decision has been rewarded. The 36-year-old has provided guile and experience at the heart of a Hamilton team who have defied expectations as certain relegation fodder. While Donati’s talent as a tough tackling shield to the backline was never in doubt, the midfielder’s also been the base from which Hamilton’s attacks invariably start.
Louis Moult (Motherwell)
Where would Motherwell be without Louis Moult’s goals? Well fans might dread to think. The forward has struck 13 times in the league this term – a third of Motherwell’s total – and sits behind only Scott Sinclair, Moussa Dembele and Liam Boyce in the scoring charts. Despite that record, injury has hampered his season and without him, Motherwell struggled for a focal point to their attacks. With Moult involved – as proven when he returned from injury in a 4-2 victory over Inverness – Steve Robinson’s side look much more potent. His goals may yet be the reason that the Fir Park club stay in the division.
Andrew Considine (Aberdeen)
Reinvention is often a painful process, but Andrew Considine has made it look easy. Primarily a centre-half throughout his career, Derek McInnes has employed the defender as his go-to left-back this season. It’s a move that could have failed badly – the 30-year-old is not blessed with electric pace - but his clever positional sense and reliability have made him a perfect counter-point to the marauding Shay Logan on the opposite flank. He’s also provided the Dons with an additional target at set pieces, wading in with six league goals – a career best - including a first career hat-trick in the 7-0 rout of Dundee.
Alex D’Acol (Hamilton)
You’d have been forgiven for thinking Alex D’Acol was a new signing this season. Snapped up in 2015 from AEK Athens, the centre forward made only three league starts last campaign and didn’t score once, so his burst into prominence in 2016/17 has been somewhat unexpected. The Brazilian - who also holds Italian citizenship – has rewarded Martin Canning’s patience; he’s Hamilton’s joint-top league scorer with seven goals and those strikes have helped earn his side an impressive 15 points. Indeed, they’ve never lost when he’s found the net.
Don Cowie (Hearts)
After injuries hampered his initial few months at Tynecastle, Cowie has become a key member of Ian Cathro’s ever-evolving squad this season. With the most appearances of any outfield player, Cowie’s energy, industry and consistency has been crucial to Hearts’ best performances. The 34-year-old is an unflashy presence in the Hearts engine room – which has not always been appreciated by the home support - but he has become the primary link between midfield and attack, weighing in with a number of assists too.
Wes Foderingham (Rangers)
Not many of Rangers Championship-winning squad have made an entirely successful step-up this season, but goalkeeper Foderingham is one who has not only stepped-up, but improved. Guilty of occasional lapses in concentration last season, the Ibrox ‘keeper has been more consistent this term and, in a Rangers side conceding more chances, has also proven his worth as a shot stopper. His performances in the five games against Celtic, in particular, have been impressive.
Callum McGregor (Celtic)
McGregor’s fantastically composed finish in the Scottish Cup semi-final win highlighted the steps made by the youngster this season. Before Christmas he struggled to nudge his way into the first eleven on a consistent basis, but proved effective as a squad player, filling in across the middle five and even at left back. When Tom Rogic suffered an injury in December though, McGregor took his chance. He’s since been a reliable performer at the heart of the midfield and his performances have been such that he kept a fit-again Rogic out of the starting line-up at Hampden.
Gary Dicker (Kilmarnock)
Similar to Adam Barton, Dicker’s positional flexibility has been a defining reason for his inclusion in this list. Nominally a central midfielder, Dicker was a rare consistent presence during Lee Clark’s first-team roulette in the first half of the campaign, but it’s been his adaptation as a centre half under Lee McCulloch that’s highlighted his importance to the team. Positioned alongside fellow midfielder-turned-defender Kristoffer Ajer, he’s helped his young charge through fixtures, while bringing a greater solidity to the Kilmarnock backline and a base from which they can maintain possession.
Christie Elliot (Partick Thistle)
Fast becoming a fan’s favourite at Firhill, Christie Elliot has improved markedly this season. Not a regular starter at the beginning of the campaign – with Callum Booth often preferred – Elliot has provided dynamism and natural ability on the Thistle flank since getting his chance and his form was rewarded recently with a two-year contract extension.
UNDER-RATED XI (3-5-2)
GK - Wes Foderingham
DC - Joe Shaughnessy
DC - Adam Barton
DC - Andrew Considine
MR - Don Cowie
MC - Callum McGregor
MC - Massimo Donati
MC - Gary Dicker
ML - Christie Elliott
FC - Louis Moult
FC - Alex D’Acol