Part four in our series counting down the best players from the SPFL in 2015.
20. Marley Watkins (Inverness CT)
Having played through the centre a couple of times as 2014 drew to a close, Watkins was thrust into the role full-time following the sale of Billy Mckay to Wigan in January. While there may be a case to argue Watkins is better in his natural position on the wing, there’s no doubt his pace through the centre played a crucial role in Inverness CT winning the Scottish Cup. He notched a goal and a (kind of) assist in the final itself, along with a game changing moment in the semi against Celtic when his sprint through on goal drew a challenge from Craig Gordon, reducing Celtic to ten men.
Celtic later lamented the (non) decision from the match officials who missed Josh Meekings’ handball on the line. They could also have lamented their luck at it was Watkins, and not any other player in Scotland, running on to the aforementioned ball forward. The guy is lightning quick and it was a shame he made the dash back down south in the summer. He could have been part of an Aberdeen side (they tried to sign him) challenging Celtic for a title, or even stayed at Inverness to defend their Scottish Cup crown, but money talks and Barnsley were able to offer the player more cash to play in the lower half of England’s League One division.
God that’s depressing. Quick, who’s next?
19. Kris Commons (Celtic)
There is no doubt that Commons is slowing down, which is going to happen. He’s 32 years old, after all. But it’s not the only negative issue surrounding the midfielder.
Ronny Deila flits him in and out of the team when he’s fit; the rest of the time he picks up niggles and strains that forces him from contention. He’s never seemed to settle comfortably into Deila’s high pressing, high intensity system, while there’s continual talk that the pair don’t see eye-to-eye, though this could just be rumour fuelled by the spectacular outburst from the player in the Europa League defeat at Molde.
So it’s fair to say Commons hasn’t enjoyed best year in a Celtic shirt, right?
He’s still scored 18 goals.
Say what you want about his past, present or future. Kris Commons is one of the most devastating attackers to play in Scottish football in recent years.
18. Callum Paterson (Hearts)
Dr Funk’s form over 2015 has been a little unusual. When Hearts first dropped into the Championship it was expected the right back, who had a tremendous end to the relegation campaign, would dominate the division. While Paterson didn’t play badly, by any means, he didn’t quite reach those levels of anticipation.
Since Hearts have been promoted and are now playing at a higher, supposedly tougher level, he’s found a new gear and has been in better form, and must surely be one of the leading front runners for Young Player of the Year. Go figure.
As for his future, Paterson, more than any other young Scottish player around right now, has the potential to play at the highest level of the game. That is my opinion.
17. Jackson Irvine (Ross County)
It is my prediction that Celtic are going to one day regret not giving Jackson Irvine more of a chance at Parkhead. They did offer the Australian a new contract in the summer, but the player revealed this was nothing more than a move to ensure a compensation fee, and that he’d been told he had little future at the club.
Personally, Irvine seems well suited to playing one of the deeper roles in Ronny Deila’s 4-2-3-1, and given the Celtic manager’s obviously respect for the Ladbrokes Premiership given his signing policy, you’d have thought Deila might have been swayed by the player’s rapid improvement in the first half of 2015 as Ross County rocketed themselves up the league table.
Since signing for County permanently in the summer, you’ll be pleased to hear, Irvine has continued to develop and played a starring role in his team’s victory over rivals Inverness CT, which put them in their first ever League Cup semi-final, where they’ll meet Celtic, ironically enough.
16. Ryan Christie (Inverness CT)
2016 will be an interesting and, in some ways, crucial year in the career of Ryan Christie as he joins up with Celtic. He’s still only 20, so there’s no pressure on him to go into that first-team and make an impact right away. However, in terms of his development, you’d want him to at least finish the 12 months as a regular rotation player in the triumvirate behind the striker in Celtic’s 4-2-3-1.
Does he have the ability to succeed at Celtic? Abso-bloody-lutely. Already a player blessed with terrific technique, he took his performances up a level in the second half of 2015.
See, Christie always struck me as a very nice, humble boy, and this came across in his play. While it was good he never looked selfish, there were times, like with most youngsters, when I wanted him to demand the ball and try and dominant the opposing in the attacking third. Then Inverness lost most of their attack in the period from January to June and he was forced to be The Man this season, a challenge which he has more than met.
Can he do the same when he gets his chance in the Celtic team? We shall wait and see.
15. Stuart Armstrong (Dundee United/Celtic)
At first I wondered if my placing of Stuart Armstrong was too high. He’s not exactly set the heather on fire since joining Celtic, at least not in the manner that many fans would have hoped for, and his reputation remains around the same, if not lower, than it was when he left Dundee United.
But that’s the world Celtic players have to live in. When expectations are so high and the scrutiny so intense that playing pretty well, and not spectacularly, isn’t going to cut it.
The same goes for just about every other Celtic player who’s made this list so far, and a few others to come. There’s been a lot of negativity around the club, particularly since the Champions League exit in August. Therefore, when you see them included here, you’d be forgiven for asking ‘what have they done?’
Well, they won the league title in 2015 and are currently top of the table entering the following year. So these guys, the players who play most weeks and don’t disgrace themselves, must be pretty good regardless of whether the general narrative around the club is a positive or negative one.
14. Stephen Pearson (Motherwell)
The importance of Stephen Pearson to Motherwell, after he re-signed for the club in January earlier this year, can be defined in two statistics.
Motherwell’s record with Pearson in the side: Played 27, Won 13, Drew 4, Lost 10.
Motherwell’s record without Pearson in the side: Played 16, Won 1, Drew 5, Lost 10.
With him they are, easily, a top six side. Without him they are, statistically, just as bad as Dundee United.
I don’t think there’s anything more than needs to be said other than the obvious: even at 33, Pearson is still a very good footballer.
13. Ali Crawford (Hamilton)
What a year for the midfielder who emerged from the shadow of Anthony Andreu and is now, without doubt, the talisman of Hamilton Accies. He’s naturally a great fit for the manner in which Hamilton play, with a dynamic and energetic trio dashing around the lone striker. But even with Dougie Imrie and summer signing Gramoz Kurtaj in good form also, it’s Crawford who stands out above his team-mates.
This is in part thanks to a tremendous ability to shoot from distance. He’s rattled in eight over the course of the year, and I would wager a high percentage of them came from beyond the 18-yard line.
12. Scott Brown (Celtic)
See Stuart Armstrong - with the addition aspect that Brown has struggled with injuries throughout the year, which is the main reason he misses the top 10. Because, when he’s at his best, Brown is the best player in this country. Bar none.
The question is whether he will be able to get back to that level of play once he regains full fitness. At 30 you have to believe it’s possible, but then there is a lot of mileage on those legs - he’s played regular first-team football since he was 18 - and the injuries have been piling up these last 18 months.
11. Greg Stewart (Dundee)
If you’re a defender and you think it’s logical to allow this man to shoot from inside 25 yards, on his left foot, then you sir, are an idiot.
There’s an air of expectation when Stewart cuts inside and is granted the time to go for goal. You just expect it to nestle in the back of the net.
The problem for Dundee going into next year is the problem they have had - a win over Kilmarnock on opening day aside - since the season started: how do you fit Stewart, Kane Hemmings and Rory Loy into the same team? In fleeting moments it has worked, but overall the trio’s inclusion have left the team disjointed and they just haven’t meshed together in the manner Paul Hartley would have liked.
If the Dundee boss can solve this particular puzzle, expect the Dark Blues to bounce back in a big way from their disappointing end to 2015.