The 12 best full-backs in Scottish football right now

Share this article
0
Have your say

The top 12 full-backs currently playing in Scottish football at the moment, as voted by members of The Terrace Scottish Football Podcast

Keep up to date with all our sport news on The Scotsman’s Sport page on Facebook

Kieran Tierney, right, appears on the list, but does James Tavernier? Picture: John Devlin

Kieran Tierney, right, appears on the list, but does James Tavernier? Picture: John Devlin

The top six picked themselves and there were only a few squabbles over the order of that group behind the unanimous No.1.

After that, though, things began to get a little tricky. There were a number of fine full-backs and who could have made it in and just missed out.

Ricky Foster can feel hard done by due to his fine form for both Ross County and St Johnstone over the past two seasons, while Partick Thistle’s Mustapha Dumbuya was a harsh omission related to his injury problems.

There’s also an absence of one Graeme Shinnie. So as not to complicate the selection process too much, outfield players are designated one area. Shinnie may have started as a full-back and is viewed by many at his strongest in the position, but he’s a centre midfielder at Aberdeen.

Anyway, after much debate and deliberation, we’ve managed to put together this top 12. If you want to recall last season’s elite dozen, you can find that here.

Note: this is a selection of the 12 best overall and not just their form this season.

Click here to listen to the episode of The Terrace Scottish Football Podcast where the top 12 was debated.

12. Cammy Kerr (Dundee)

When being described as *something*-lite it is usually at best back-handed praise. However, in certain cases it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. One such case is Cammy Kerr. He is Kieran Tierney-lite.

Like one of his forays forward with those unconventional and slightly unorthodox gallops, he has taken great strides this campaign. Having spent the first half of last season on loan at Peterhead he emerged after the new year. If that was his breakout, this term has seen him blossom as both a full-back and wing-back.

Like the club as a whole he struggled in the opening months of the season. As time has gone he’s improved with the team, but gone a few paces further. He’s ironed out a number of crevices which existed and has added more to his game than simply boundless energy.

His pace has allowed him to keep on top of what the best wingers and wide men have to offer, namely Jonny Hayes and Scott Sinclair. But to do so on a consistent basis a defender needs more than the ability to run, otherwise he’d soon be found out. The 21-year-old is now better at reading the game, capable of sniffing out threats and not relying on his pace to bail him out.

Positivity emanates from the young defender. He is a player who is clearly coach-able. Give him a job and he’ll stick to it like the adhesive performance he gave against Barrie McKay in the Dens side’s recent 2-1 victory over Rangers. Then he followed it up by going toe-to-toe with Tierney. He has a wonderful attitude which fans respond to and is a threat going forward with his driving, headstrong runs and crossing.

11. Richard Tait (Motherwell)

Imagine the novelty of playing an actual right-back in the position. It’s just madness, surely. What kind of club would do such a thing?

That seemed to be the mindset Motherwell adopted for, well, a good few years anyway as they stationed midfielder (Tom Hateley), centre-back (Simon Ramsden) and attacker (Josh Law) in the position. Those three would all have periods of decent play in the position, but there’s nothing like having an actual real-life right-back, and that’s what they got themselves in Richard Tait this past summer.

The Scotsman’s main strength is his crossing ability. It’s fair to say, behind Louis Moult and Scott McDonald, he’s contributed more to the Motherwell attack than any other this campaign. Not only can he do the standard get-to-the-byline type stuff, he can also cross from deep and has shown himself capable of getting whip on the ball with either foot.

He gets up and down the wing at will, which is important for Motherwell’s gameplan as he provides the natural width with Chris Cadden, the young centre midfielder, often stationed in front of him.

Defensively there is a little work to be done. Like most full-backs in the league, he can be slow at closing down a cross - you’d think he’d know the dangers given his own strengths - but there’s a quickness and tenacity to his play which enables him to be a decent enough defender despite this weakness.

10. David Gray (Hibs)

A header from a right back may not have been the exact manner Hibs fans envisioned their side finally breaking the 114-year streak of not winning the Scottish Cup, but when you consider Gray’s strengths and his style of play, it shouldn’t be all that surprising.

This is a player who imposes himself on matches. He’s not the quickest or technically proficient, but he’s a threat from deep that other teams have to respect. You can see the determination perspiring out of him as he readily gets up and down the flank, often out of necessity because Hibs prefer the narrow 4-4-2 diamond. There’s real power in his drive, and the muscle memory from doing that thousands of times a season would have helped him charge through a ruck of bodies to meet Liam Henderson’s corner in the 91st minute of last year’s cup final.

As a defender he’s exactly as you’d imagine - sturdy and consistent. It’s also no surprise he wears the captain’s armband. He’s someone who both leads by example and barks orders to team-mates.

Having played consistently for three years now, and never looking out of place whenever Hibs meet top flight opposition in the cups - including both Edinburgh derbies this year, where Gray was flawless - he’s moved up a couple of places from last year’s list. He should have the chance to move up yet again when we revisit these lists in 12 months time, as Hibs look set to make their way back to the elite of Scottish football.

9. Emilio Izaguirre (Celtic)

For the second year running the Honduran remains on the list despite sitting behind Kieran Tierney in the Celtic Park pecking order. His inclusion may seem a little lazy or even ignorant, but if you think about it, take Izaguirre out of Celtic Park and drop him at another Scottish top flight club; chances are he’s going to be one of the first names down on the teamsheet for at least half of them.

While there was a noticeable drop off in quality when Tierney went down with an injury earlier in the season and missed two months, Izaguirre was still able to slot in ably on the left-side of the defence. Though their styles are different, he’s a similar kind of player to Tierney as both can get up and down the left flank at will.

Continuing to make comparisons with the teenager in the leading role would be unfair, but he’s a fine player in his own right. Even though his final ball is a bit suspect at times, he possesses terrific acceleration and his stocky frame enables him to get drive and power into his runs. He’s always looking to hit the byline and Celtic certainly benefit from his attacking instincts.

Defensively he’s prone to lapses in concentration and he’s often not as committed to racing back to stop an attack as he is to joining one. However, he’s still a solid one-on-one defender as he can use a low centre of gravity to win physical duels with opponents, as well as his recovery pace to chase down wingers who get a yard on him.

Despite talk of extending his contract, it’s still set to expire this summer. If Celtic can get the 30-year-old to agree to a one or two-year extension then they certainly could be doing a lot worse.

8. James Tavernier (Rangers)

Ok, stop laughing... *waits*... *looks at watch*... *exhales*... *waits more*... you done? Good.

Tavernier is often derided for his lack of defensive ability and, yes, it’s not that great. Last season it was excused because he was asked to basically play as a winger. Of course he’s out of position, he’s in the other team’s penalty area getting double-digits in goals and assists, those defending him would point out. As expected this season has saw a significant reduction in those raw attacking statistics, while he’s been exposed too often at the back. His positioning, particularly in the 2-0 loss at Tynecastle earlier in the campaign, where he was at fault for both goals, can be dreadful at times.

What he can do well is stop attackers in one-on-one scenarios. In fact, he’s one of the best in the league (per The SPFL radar) at winning duels with opposing wingers. The same, though, does not go for aerial duels. As Liam Henderson put it: “he can’t head the ball”.

All that being said, we now judge full-backs in the way we used to judge midfielders. How are they going forward and how are they defensively? With regards to the latter, Tavernier needs to improve. But there’s no doubt he remains a terrific weapon going forward. With the exception of Callum Paterson at Hearts, no full-back attacks with as much power as Tavernier, who can motor through people as well as going past them.

In the right instances, he’s one of the best and most valuable players on the pitch. Look back to last Saturday’s 4-0 destruction of Hamilton. Tavernier terrorised the visitors time and again in the opening half, creating the first, playing a part in the build-up to the second and almost adding a third before half-time with a curling free-kick. He has played the fourth most key passes in the league, behind Scott Sinclair, Niall McGinn and Jonny Hayes (per TheBackPassRule).

While he definitely played a part in the downfall of his own reputation, there’s no doubt Mark Warburton’s stubborn refusal to change formation and team shape did not do him any favours. If Pedro Caixinha can give the advancing full-back more protection then expect him to feature much higher next season.

7. Andrew Considine (Aberdeen)

Once upon a time there was this young defender at Aberdeen who routinely fell over the ball, made incredible bloopers and gifted goals to opponents. One-half of an inexperienced centre-back partnership, things wouldn’t get much better when he was moved out to left-back, as his ungainly frame would make him look painfully awkward whenever the ball came his way.

Thinking back to his early days, it’s a real credit to Considine how much he’s developed over the years, and continues to develop to this day.

Consistency and concentration, both missing from his first few seasons, became important facets of his game around 2011-12, when he played every match and won the club’s Player of the Year award. A leg break put his career trajectory back, and when he returned to action he soon found the rock-solid partnership of Russell Anderson and Mark Reynolds blocking his route to the first-team. So Considine had to coach himself up again, this time at full-back.

For many years he looked exactly what he was: a centre-half trying his best to adapt on the flank. This season, though, he is finally thriving in the wide role. There’s still an ungainly awkwardness to his movement when he charges down the wing with the ball at his feet, but forget the aesthetics, he’s now an effective full-back. He’s worked on his game going forward and, with teams usually granting him the space to operate on the flank, Aberdeen are better for it.

In defence he brings all the qualities you would imagine a bulky, tall full-back would: strong as an ox, good in the air and positions himself well. He was rightly granted another contract extension in February, keeping him at the club until 2019, his 15th year with the first-team.

SEE ALSO - The 12 best goalkeepers in Scottish football right now

6. Brian Easton (St Johnstone)

At one point this season St Johnstone had around ten first-team squad members heading towards the end of their deals, but one by one they’ve managed to get a number of contracts inked, with only four remaining.

One of the biggest and satisfying contract extensions was penned by Brian Easton. Along with Danny Swanson, the left-back would have been the most in-demand players, with everyone except Celtic and Rangers surely interested in his signature. Then, similar to Swanson, you have to take into account unfinished business in England, when he made fewer than 40 appearances for Burnley. And approaching 30, Easton would have seen his next contract as a particularly important one.

Since arriving on a free from Dundee he has made 140 appearances in three-and-a-half years and has grown into a key member of one of the best backlines in the league. His return of one goal and ten assists shows his function within the team.

Defending is his main responsibility. You want your defender to stop crosses? He does it. You want your full-back to cover your centre-back? He does it. You want your full-back to provide support to your winger? He does it.

He ticks all full-back cliches. Reliable, solid, robust. But more than that he provides leadership, which has led to him being handed the captain’s armband at points. He’s intelligent in his movements, appropriate to the game situation and he is one of the best tacklers in the league.

Baseball scouts talk about a player’s ‘body’. Transfer it to football and Easton doesn’t have what you would determine a good ‘body’. He looks ungainly and a bit podgy but the eye can be deceiving. He is deceptively quick and strong.

He’s bounced back from a slightly below-par season last campaign to deserve a high placing.

5. Lee Wallace (Rangers)

After four years outside the top flight, Wallace has come back to the big time and looks just as comfortable as he did in his mid-20s, even if he’s not doing it in a Rangers team quite as ferocious.

His form has been solid enough to finally convince Gordon Strachan that he deserves a place back in the Scotland squad. Considering there are two excellent left-backs in the camp, and Aberdeen’s Graeme Shinnie viewed as a natural in the position, it’s a massive compliment to his abilities and leadership skills.

Deceptively quick, Wallace’s top half and bottom half seem to move independently from each other. While his arms and torso take on the style of a conservative schoolmarm out for a casual jog, complete with perfect posture and arms swinging almost horizontally, his lower body is bounding away from defenders at top speed thanks to the giant strides his long, nimble legs allow him to produce.

And there is no better wide-player in Scottish football, whether a defender or midfielder, at timing the run in behind the opposing full-back. Wallace has turned this into an art form. Seemingly undetectable as he drifts on to the opponent’s blind side, he then kicks the motor into high gear once the pass is released. Once into the penalty area, he’ll always get his head up and try to pick out a man, rather than just smashing the ball across goal and hoping for the best. It’s arguably Rangers’ most consistent attacking move and has been for about three years.

While Tavernier has struggled badly with the step up on the defensive side, Wallace has been more at home in the top flight. He still suffers from a lack of concentration when defending the back post, and direct opponents have started to cause him problems in recent months, but he still holds up enough on that end to allow his attacking qualities to shine.

4. Mikael Lustig (Celtic)

The right-back can, perhaps, feel hard done to be sitting fourth in the list. After all, this is a player closing in on 200 Celtic appearances and has 55 caps for the Swedish national team.

This is a full-back who, in Scottish football, has few, if any, real deficiencies. His biggest flaw is nothing to do with his game but his body. During his five years at the club he has proved as robust, physically, as the Hurdal chest of drawers from Ikea put together by Eric after an all-dayer at the Clansman.

Despite injury issues he doesn’t play like he is constrained by his body. He is athletic and looks to be positive with the ball and his movement, important facets of a full-back’s game at Celtic Park. They are relied on as much for their attacking qualities as their defensive ones. In his time at Celtic he has provided a goal or an assist every 4.24 games. He even had the gallusness to pull off a rabona against St Johnstone in one of the most memorable goals of this campaign.

This season, however, has highlighted his defensive capabilities. Due to a tweak in the system, Lustig has played as a hybrid centre-back/right-back role. Tucking in on the right to allow Kieran Tierney to drive forward on the left. This has protected Celtic from being counter-attacked.

Defending one-on-one can prove problematic when he comes up against someone who is both quick and has a trick as witnessed against Barrie McKay in the New Year’s derby. But that was one blot on his copybook. He uses his lumbering frame well, making it awkward for opposition wide men to get round him. His height gives Celtic another option for defending and attacking set pieces.

3. Callum Paterson (Hearts)

Two days after Christmas, Heart of Midlothian defeated Kilmarnock 4-0. As the home fans serenaded Kris Boyd with a ditty about a laptop it should have been the turning point for Hearts under Ian Cathro after little to no honeymoon period. Instead, it was the end of the road for Hearts. Season 2016/2017 R.I.P.

Callum Paterson suffered a season-ending, and potentially career-defining, injury. An innocuous challenge with Nathan Tyson resulted in the right-back’s knee going KAPUT. It was a distressing injury on a number of levels. Paterson was the club’s talisman: the top goal scorer, the driving force, the player fans looked to when things were going tough. For Paterson it couldn’t have possibly come at a worse time with English side’s showing an interest and his contract soon to expire.

What they saw was an immensely talented athlete. One who was physically developed. One who would ‘heider his granny aff a bus’. A right-back which would need work but one which had a massive potential base.

He doesn’t play at right-back, he plays from right-back. With the ball at his feet and space in front of him it was like watching a rhino run the gauntlet on Gladiators. Mere humans bouncing off him as he charged forward. He brought chaos, created havoc, opening space for others. And if the ball was on the left in the attacking third he wasn’t far from the box, his aptitude for goals still there from when he played as a striker. Only now, he was more dangerous. Before injury his attacking qualities were constantly improving. From one in 25 crosses being good, that came down to one in ten to one in five.

However, defensively is where question marks remained. But ones which can be fixed. He can find it tough going into one v one duels with wingers, prone to diving in too easily. Then there was a reluctance to stop crosses coming into the box. But in the box, especially in the air... what a monster. He’d header a live grenade if it was there to be won. He’d dive in front of anything and everything.

It is this attitude which perhaps led to injury - his eagerness to get to the ball, to get the game moving - but it is one which will show potential clubs why he is worth signing and coaching. Wing-back, full-back, auxiliary striker, future centre back, bodyguard. He can be whatever he wants to be because he wants to learn and improve.

2. Shay Logan (Aberdeen)

Do you have any Scottish grandparents, Shay? Seriously, check it out. Maybe forge a few documents. Mould the ‘Eng’ into a ‘Scot’. Scotland needs a right-back. One which isn’t broken. One which will defend as well as he attacks. One who isn’t Steven Whittaker. Shay, Scotland needs you.

He arrived with no fanfare. Signed on loan from Brentford, he was chucked into a League Cup semi-final tie with St Johnstone a couple of days after putting pen to paper. Since that comfortable 4-0 win he has not looked back. A League Cup success followed, as well as 150 appearances for the Dons, marking the occasion with a goal against Hearts last Saturday.

It was surprising he signed a new deal until the end of next season. All noises emanating from the north east suggested he’d be moving down south following the end of the 2015/2016 campaign. The fact he did stay could be up there with Joe Lewis as the best business of the summer.

This is a defender who STILL appears to be underrated. Goalkeeper Lewis gets plaudits. Ryan Jack gets plaudits. McLean, Shinnie, Hayes, McGinn, Rooney, even Andy Considine, they all get plaudits. Logan doesn’t tend to get plaudits. It is a crying shame. He deserves his second place because he is reliable and balanced, versatile and influential.

The 29-year-old (what moisturising cream are you using, Shay?) takes his defensive responsibilities seriously. He is an attacking full-back but how often do you see him diving in or going to ground to recover? He plays intelligently, his frame meaning he is low to the ground, allowing him to turn and pivot when put in difficult situations.

Such is the nature of football in 2017 the players at the top of the lists will share one quality. Power. Logan clearly takes conditioning seriously, allowing him to match up physically. Then there is his leap. You can practice defending and attacking crosses but for someone so small to be so dominant in the air he has worked on his power.

Watch Logan closely. He is rarely beaten in the air, even if he gives up a few inches to an opponent, which is a massive bonus for defending the back post when crosses come deep. There are few better in the league. Then there is attacking crosses. He can scores goals because of the aforementioned as well as having a goalscorer’s instinct.

Such is his standing within the team he is rarely subbed when Derek McInnes shuffles his pack, both in terms of personnel and system. He’s played 42 games this season and only failed to complete the 90 minutes twice.

1. Kieran Tierney (Celtic)

Kieran Tierney is awesome. There is a temptation to just leave it as that. He is the most talented Scottish youngster to emerge this century.

With a lot of young players, you hear about them before you see them. This writer can’t remember any significant hype surrounding the left-back before being handed his first start by Ronny Deila in the penultimate game of the 2014-2015 season. Tierney played just under 70 minutes against St Johnstone and appeared relaxed and composed, at ease in his new surroundings. Still, there was no sense that what we had was a real treasure. It took only a few months of the following season for Tierney to lay down his claim and then cement his place as Celtic’s left-back, ousting 88-cap Honduran Emilio Izaguirre.

He was one of the few players who came out of that flat, mediocre, underwhelming season - Celtic still won the league, mind - with his head held high. For large parts of games, and the season, he was the driving force. His attitude, determination and other intangibles proving inspirational as others went through the motion. This was a player who was going places. Quick.

If he was playing in Italy he would be known as a predestinato. You can probably decipher what that means. A pre-destined talent. One who is going to the top. It is not a matter of if but how soon.

So what makes him so good? Well, everything. He is the prototype modern day full-back. To take a line or two from New Order’s World in Motion (England 1990 World Cup song), ‘you’ve got to hold and give but do it at the right time . . . defend and attack, there’s only one way to beat them, get round the back’. He offers Celtic so much in both defence and attack, he interprets the role like a full-back with more than 300 career appearances under his belt.

He is fantastic in one-v-one duels. He may look like he could do with a diet of Guinness and steak but he is tenacious and sturdy, powerful and aggressive. It is quality which isn’t really coached but he is an excellent tackler. Both in technique and timing, without having to desperately dive in. He doesn’t possess blistering pace but what he does have is acceleration which allows him to recover if needed and to take him past opponents with the ball.

Brendan Rodgers’ adjustments to the team’s structure has allowed him to play higher up the park and develop a frightening relationship with Scott Sinclair which has forced opponents to reinforce their right side. Plus, his crossing is better than most wingers. Perhaps only the Aberdeen duo of Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn deliver a ball better than him.

All in all he is just incredibly fun to watch.

READ MORE - Rumour Mill: King calls Warburton ‘thin-skinned’ | Rangers interview Rae | Deila on Caixinha