Part two in our series counting down the best players from the SPFL in 2015.
If you missed players 50 through to 41 then you can read about them here.
40. John McGinn (St Mirren/Hibernian)
When the youngster first looked down in horror at the corner flag protruding from the freshly opened gash in his leg, having been thrown by team-mate Steven Thompson who, in possibly his late 60s, should have known better, there’s little chance he envisioned finishing 2015 as one of the most promising young players in the country.
McGinn had such a tag applied to him before, having sparkled in his first two years in the St Mirren first-team as a 17 and 18-year-old, but he faded badly in the Paisley circus during his final year, during which the team were relegated. Thankfully for the player, Hibs knew a talent when they saw one and snapped up the Scotland under-21s captain on a four-year deal, one which is already paying dividends.
39. Alim Ozturk (Hearts)
Until his stunning last minute equaliser in a derby match at Easter Road last term, Ozturk was a centre back who looked destined to have the ‘bombscare’ tag attached to him. However, that goal, despite having nothing to do with his defensive qualities, seemed to be a real watershed moment in his Hearts career as his erratic play completely settled down afterwards.
He outplayed centre back partner Danny Wilson for the remainder of Hearts’ title-winning campaign and was rewarded with the captain’s armband this summer. Though Hearts were a little shaky in defence to start this season, it could be attributed to the defence as a whole struggling to adjust to a trio of new signings rather than an individual fault with Ozturk. Expect him to come back stronger after his injury.
38. Scott Allan (Hibernian/Celtic)
It didn’t take long for supporters to begin joking about Scott Allan disappearing from view after joining Celtic. Initially these jibes were a little disingenuous. He was injured after all and would not return to the side after almost three months out. However, the more Allan’s backside becomes splintered by the Celtic Park bench, the greater threat there is of his career momentum coming to a grinding halt after a superb 2014/15 campaign.
It is purely for his play between January and May that he appears on this list, and I have to admit, I wanted to place him higher. Here was a midfielder capable of dominating the opposition, with a terrific range of passing, tremendous vision and the confidence to take games by the scruff of the neck. Hopefully we get to see some of that in 2016, but in Celtic’s crowded attacking midfielder corps, I shan’t be holding my breath.
37. Josh Meekings (Inverness CT)
The centre back was forced to shepherd the defence in the Scottish Cup final without the suspended Gary Warren and this would act as a prelude for the opening half of 2015/16 after his regular partner was ruled out with a leg break. Instead of missing a beat he’s continued to grow as a player, while Caley Thistle fans were also surprisingly delighted that he penned a new deal earlier this year, keeping him until 2017 at the very least.
He’s also shown himself to be capable of filling in at goalkeeper, even when his team already have one on the park...
36. Paul Quinn (Ross County/Aberdeen)
While netting the winner against Celtic in Aberdeen’s ‘look at us, we can win the title’ victory over Celtic would undoubtedly be Quinn’s highlight, his inclusion in this list is more down to his form with Ross County in the second half of last season. County figure quite prominently on this list, which is unsurprising considering they won 18 league games across the year (at the time of writing), a tally good enough to make you the third best side in the country across the course of a full campaign.
Quinn played quite an important role in that turnaround as the defence was a complete joke prior to his signing. It was remain the source of much mirth for a while after too, mind, but once the rest of the team got up to speed in early February, it became clear that Quinn was one of the better players on a vastly improving side, hence Aberdeen’s capture of him this summer.
35. Craig Curran (Ross County)
The kind of footballer you’d want your daughter to marry. The striker’s strengths are all about his work rate, determination and making intelligent choices whenever the ball comes his way. If that sounds like damning with faint praise, it’s not supposed to be. Sure he may not have the skill of Raffaele De Vita, the physical prowess of Jackson Irvine, or even the goal threat of his partner-in-crime Liam Boyce, but it’s his constant chasing and harrying and running that sets the tempo for County’s workman-like style.
He also rocks a ginger beard in a manner few men can.
34. James Tavernier (Rangers)
There was a great quote I once heard from Tim Vickery on the World Football Phone-In. He was talking about the difference between Manchester United’s Brazilian brothers Rafael and Fabio when they played at youth level for their country. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, that while ‘Rafael played at full-back, Fabio played from full-back’. It’s a subtle but crucial distinction in differentiating the contrasting styles at the position, and one that can certainly apply to James Tavernier when comparing him to Rangers defenders of the past.
There are still question marks for Tavernier to answer. He’s been exposed defensively on a number of occasions and - while Mark Warburton’s expansive, attacking system plays a part - this deficiency could counter-act what he contributes further forward once he gets to the top flight level. But that’s a bridge to cross when it comes, because for the meantime he remains a huge part of Rangers’ attack, and it’s no coincidence the slight dip in form Rangers have endured came at the same time Tavernier’s performances dropped off a little.
When he’s at his best he’s an x-factor that other sides can’t deal with. After all, how do you plan for a defender that’s as deadly as a striker, and even takes up the positions of one, in an around the penalty area?
33. Igor Rossi (Hearts)
Any problems you had with Igor Rossi appearing in this list, he just headed them away.
Originally signed as cover at centre back and left back, Rossi has become the stand-out defender, and arguably the stand-out player, since Hearts’ return to the top flight. He’s the more reactive foil to the proactive style of defending preferred by both Blazej Augustyn and Alim Ozturk.
32. Scott Bain (Dundee)
The next Scotland No.1, we are led to believe. There’s a way to go before that becomes a reality, and a very good chance that either a wonder-kid will emerge or a late bloomer will blossom, but it does seem set-up for Bain to become the country’s future custodian once Craig Gordon, David Marshall and Allan McGregor decide to hang up their gloves (who hangs up gloves?).
Bain’s made a number of eye-catching saves throughout the year, but it’s likely his most cherished came in stoppage time during Dundee’s victory over Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup. It preserved a victory against the club that once cut him loose, forcing him to start again under Paul Hartley’s tutelage at Alloa Athletic in the Third Division.
31. Martyn Waghorn (Rangers)
Good lad to have about a penalty (box).
His inclusion is not just based on his goals this season, with 21 an impressive record before New Year, but rather his overall contribution to the Rangers team. Warburton’s pass-and-move style could easily become pedestrian if not for the terrific movement in the final third, to which Waghorn contributes greatly. He also has a incredible knack of starting play with a pass out wide 40 yards from goal before appearing in the six yard box to apply the finish.
Just like a team-mate mentioned three players ago, had he not only arrived in July then he would have been appearing higher on this list.
READ MORE - Rating Mark Warburton’s 11 signings at Rangers