Award season is well underway with the Scottish PFA announcing the nominations for Player of the Year from each of the three lower league divisions yesterday.
It won’t be long now until the Scottish Premiership and Young Player of the Year candidates are announced. We’ve already looked at those most likely to earn a nomination for the top flight award, so now we turn our attentions to the brightest stars who were 21 or under when the season started.
Kieran Tierney (Celtic)
Ding! Ding! Ding! It’s over. Here is your 2015/16 SPFA Young Player of the Year. That is no slight on the players that shall follow in this list, it’s just a recognition of the almost undisputed fact that Tierney has been the best young player in the country. He’s played 30 games and deserved a match rating of 8/10 in at least 27 of them. Whenever there’s a poll on Celtic fans’ forums to find the supporters’ man of the match after any particular game, his name is always at or close to the top of the list.
Peter Grant and Will Vaulks (Falkirk)
The fact that no Falkirk players received (senior) Player of the Year nominations for the Championship means it’s unlikely that they’ll get one for the Young Player award, seeing as the competition for places is a lot stronger. That’s a shame because they deserve the extra recognition for what’s been a fabulous season. People say they’re greater than the sum of their parts and, while there may be something in it, it’s a completely back-handed compliment to what’s a very good, young side.
Vaulks is one of the most entertaining players to watch in the country with his all-action style and ferocious shot, while Grant was arguably the best defender in the second tier until his injury in late January. And for those who say he should be disqualified for not having played since then, let it be known that Martyn Waghorn (nominated for Championship Player of the Year yesterday) went down only two weeks after Grant.
Sam Nicholson and Callum Paterson (Hearts)
Yes, yes, I know. Callum Paterson is still eligible for the Young Player of the Year award. It’s very difficult to comprehend. Not only is he the size of two typical young Scottish players meshed together, he’s also been a first-team regular at Hearts since 2012. In fairness, the same can also be said of Nicholson, who graduated into the senior squad at Tynecastle only a year later. However, Nicholson still has a kind of boyish charm with that floppy hairstyle and cheeky grin. Paterson, meanwhile, sports deep, dark facial hair and the simmering threat that at any moment he may decide to run through a wall.
Nicholson has been typically inconsistent for a winger but has still played a big part in helping Hearts to third place in the top flight, especially during the time when Jamie Walker was absent through injury. Paterson, on the other hand, looked like the favourite for this award until his form dipped after the opening few months. He’s still been good, just not Kieran Tierney-good.
John McGinn and Jason Cummings (Hibs)
If there’s anyone likely to snatch the award from the Celtic full back it’s John McGinn. For the second season in succession, a Hibs midfielder has become the darling of the Scottish media and he’s almost certain to get a Young Player of the Year nomination after being named among the contenders to earn the senior award for the Championship. He’s looked upon as Hibs’ talisman and, while the club currently sit behind Falkirk, their exploits in both cup competitions means he’s been in the limelight quite a bit.
The same goes for Cummings who’s managed to score against Hearts, St Johnstone and Aberdeen in the cups. Since the Young Player award encompasses all four divisions, unlike the senior gong, it’s probable that cup exploits will count towards the voting. Even if they don’t, these strikes lend credence to his 17 Championship goals as it makes it more difficult to dismiss the tally just because it’s against lower tier opponents.
Liam Polworth (Inverness CT)
Young players are always expected to improve from one season to the next but there’s been a significant leap from the Caley Thistle midfielder this term. While injuries limited his input last campaign, fans weren’t exactly pining for his return having looked upon him as one of those players who tends to blend into the background, kind of like your nan’s curtains. He’s come to the fore this season with 38 appearances to his name and has established himself as one of the first names on John Hughes’ team-sheet. His fine form even pushed him into the under-21s last month for the first time in his young career.
Greg Kiltie (Kilmarnock)
Kiltie bucked the trend in January when he signed a new contract after his previous deal, bizarrely, expired on December 31. Usually when a young player rejects a new deal and doesn’t openly pledge his future to the club in public, it means they have eyes only for the exit door. However, after a heart-to-heart chat with then-manager Gary Locke, Kiltie decided the best thing for his career was to remain in a place where he’s guaranteed first-team football. This will likely be looked upon as Locke’s greatest achievement in his solitary year in charge at Rugby Park.
Liam Lindsay (Partick Thistle)
Thistle were a popular bet for relegation this season. Hamilton were the easy choice but, as no-one likes to be boring, a number of us “experts” grimly predicted that Alan Archibald’s side would slide towards the trap door. While few could have envisioned Dundee United being quite as bad, Thistle have still made us all look foolish by remaining comfortably clear of relegation since an October upturn in from
It’s the defence that’s been particularly impressive, ranking as one of the stingiest in the top flight. Lindsay has featured 24 times at the heart of the unit with a number of strong showings.
Barrie McKay (Rangers)
It feels like every week I’m writing about McKay so I’m going to keep this brief. He’s good, really, really good. There were some calls for him to be included in one of the Scotland squads for the recent friendly double-header. While they appeared fanciful at the time, they gained much greater credence after his performance against Celtic in the Scottish Cup semi-final. Yes, it’s a one-off game, though that is how he plays every week.
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