It’s getting close to the time of year when the Scottish players’ association will announce the nominees for the much coveted PFA Scotland Players’ Player of the Year award.
The reigning champ is Stefan Johansen, but after a below par season in which he’s struggled with injury issues, we’re almost certain to have a new winner.
While one man is favoured above all others to earn a nomination and then scoop the award, the battle for the other three spots is wide open. We look at those in contention.
Jonny Hayes, Adam Rooney and Graeme Shinnie (Aberdeen)
In addition to those three, Niall McGinn could also be considered for a place. The attacker is likely to miss out due to his inconsistent form since the turn of the year. Had he been playing like he was before Christmas, where he racked up an incredible 11 assists to that point, then he would be certain to earn a nomination. While the Player of the Year voting should be about what a player’s done over the whole season, we all know it’s human nature to attach more weight to recent events.
The same could also be said for Rooney, seeing as he’s missed time through injury. What will set the striker apart from his team-mate, and potentially a couple of opposing attackers in contention, is that his contribution is measured easily in goals. Even though he’s not played since February 15, he remains the second highest scorer in the league with 19.
Hayes has been the opposite to McGinn in that he started with patchy form before growing into the campaign, while Shinnie has been consistently excellent over the piece, whether playing at left back or in the centre of the park.
You’d have to expect at least one Aberdeen player to get a nomination. However, don’t be too surprised if they all steal votes from each other and none of them make the final four.
Nir Bitton, Leigh Griffiths and Tom Rogic (Celtic)
Griffiths is going to win Player of the Year. There’s really no doubt about that. He’s the best player on the best team and he’s the league’s top goalscorer. The award is going to be his.
After that, it wouldn’t be too much of a shock if no other Celtic star made the list. Not only is there a general feeling of negativity surrounding the club – fairly or unfairly, it does exist – they’ve also had few individuals standing out despite their position atop the league table. Kieran Tierney would probably deserve a nomination, but with him receiving so many Young Player votes he’ll likely be forgotten about by many when it comes to casting the main winner.
Apart from Rogic and Bitton, few have even had a consistent run in the side, let alone played well enough to earn a nod. Stefan Johansen, Kris Commons, Gary Mackay-Steven, Stuart Armstrong, James Forrest, all of these guys have played well for stretches and then gone through noticeable periods of poor form.
Bitton’s tendency to drift through games has frustrated some fans, though he’s still a cut above in most matches, while Rogic has emerged as the best option for Ronny Deila in the No.10 role with his performances this term. That’s pretty impressive when you consider there are seven attacking midfielders on the books (eight if you include Liam Henderson at Hibs).
Kane Hemmings (Dundee)
After Greg Stewart got a surprise nomination last year, it’s possible that Dundee will have a player in the final four of the Scottish Premiership Player of the Year race for the second season in succession. It’s a nice thing for any club to have, though fans may prefer sneaking into the top six as Dundee look set to fall short on their efforts to build on last season’s success.
More signings like Hemmings, however, and they should get over their second season slump pretty quickly. The former Cowdenbeath and Rangers striker wasn’t even expected to start ahead of Rory Loy coming into the season. Then it became apparent that Paul Hartley planned on playing all three of Loy, Hemmings and Stewart together. While that didn’t work out, it allowed Hemmings the opportunity to establish himself as the leading striker. To this point he has 18 goals in the league, with the best shooting accuracy of any leading goalscorer in the top flight, as 75 per cent of his efforts have hit the target.
Arnaud Djoum (Hearts)
Hearts have been similar to Celtic in regards to stand-out players. Callum Paterson, Juanma and Jamie Walker were all excellent at the start. Then the former two fell away in terms of form (Juanma more than Paterson) and Walker got injured. Sam Nicholson’s played well but not quite at Player of the Year standard, while across the rest of the midfield there’s been a general rotation for the most part. The same goes for a defence that’s dealt with numerous injury problems. Then there’s Osman Sow’s sale in January, which likely robbed the club of their standout candidate. Overall, their rise to third place has been about the squad more than the individuals.
The exception is Djoum. By Scottish football standards, the Belgian is as close to the complete midfielder as any side outside of the Old Firm is going to get. He blends both hard graft with skilful technique, while he’s comfortable in both a deeper position keeping possession ticking over and as the No.10 supporting the strikers.
Igor Rossi is another player who should be considered, but defenders and goalkeepers outside of Glasgow really have to be something special to get Player of the Year votes and, as good as Rossi’s been, he’s not quite David Weir circa 1997.
Louis Moult (Motherwell)
This may be a controversial observation, but Moult has probably had a better season than either Hemmings or Rooney. Though his goal tally falls short (15) of those two, he’s had to do it on a weaker team for most of the season as Motherwell battled relegation until the last six weeks. He also does more work outside of the penalty area.
He won’t receive one for the simple reason that he’s not as high profile as the other two. Sure, there’s not a lot of difference between the amount of media coverage that Dundee get in comparison to Motherwell, but Hemmings has netted three goals in Dundee derbies, games that were live on the TV and the type of fixture casual fans (and therefore players with a casual interest in other teams) would tune in for.
At least Moult can console himself with a terrific debut season in Scotland’s top flight. He’s vastly exceeded expectations and become a firm fans’ favourite at Fir Park.
A final four of Leigh Griffiths, Nir Bitton, Jonny Hayes and Kane Hemmings, with Griffiths the runaway winner.
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