Part one in our series counting down the best players from the SPFL in 2015.
50. Liam Fontaine (Hibernian)
Before the Scott Allan circus started, Hibs’ biggest summer worry was the possibility Liam Fontaine could walk away after only one excellent campaign in a green-and-white shirt.
His agreement to a new two-year deal was greeted with adulation usually reserved for new signings, as the Easter Road support were delighted the classy centre back would remain the subject of their affections for at least another two years.
After continuing his strong partnership with Paul Hanlon in the first half of 2015, Fontaine has overcome an initial blip (namely, the Petrofac Cup nightmare against Rangers) and is one of the biggest reasons why the club have, at the time of writing, the second tier’s stingiest defence.
READ MORE - Hibs won’t wobble in title race - Liam Fontaine
49. Abdul Osman (Partick Thistle)
Not the type of player to appear on fans’ radars from other clubs, but Thistle supporters will happily wax lyrical about the efficient play of their captain.
After signing in the summer of 2014, Osman had impressed prior to getting the captain’s armband in February, but that honour spurred him on further and he was able to take his play to the next level as Thistle comfortably avoided the drop.
The Firhill club currently have the second-best defence outside of the top three, with the back four earning protection from Osman’s effective screening play in front of them.
48. Sam Nicholson (Hearts)
After starting last season brightly, Nicholson’s form tailed off a little in the opening months of 2016, which could be attributed to a slow recovery after taking a sweet chin music to the face from Livingston’s Jason Talbot.
Since the club began life back in the Premiership, however, the winger seems to have got his mojo back and has been a near constant on a team which currently sits in third place.
He needs to work on his consistency and composure in front of goal, but there’s no doubt he’s a match-winner on his day.
47. Alan Mannus (St Johnstone)
The Saints defence has so far suffered through an unusually poor start to this season. A porous back four is what St Johnstone built their identity on in the top flight. Now their victories come via outscoring the opposition.
Very little of the blame can be placed at the door of the Northern Irish goalkeeper, however, who continues to shine in his fifth season for the club.
Next summer he’ll travel with his country to the European Championships. At present, Mannus is back-up to Hamilton’s Michael McGovern at international level, though he did outperform the Hamilton stopper in the last meeting between the sides, which Saints won 4-2.
46. Kris Doolan (Partick Thistle)
The most unappreciated and, perhaps, underrated player in Scottish football.
Though he may not have netted at a Leigh Griffiths or Adam Rooney type level, Doolan’s continually proven himself to be a good top-flight goalscorer since Partick Thistle’s ascension back to the big time. He also works tirelessly, links well with team-mates and allows the attack to move fluidly with his excellent movement. And yet Thistle always seem to be trying to find his replacement. Go figure.
His goals in recent weeks have provided the catalyst for the turnaround in Thistle’s fortunes. The Jags went from relegation favourites to joint-sixth in the blinking of an eye.
45. Michael McGovern (Hamilton)
Outside of Craig Gordon, McGovern was the best goalkeeper in Scottish football last term as he showed the doubters, if there were any, that he could cut it at the top flight level after making a name for himself at Ross County and Falkirk.
It was thus a disappointment to see the Northern Ireland No.1 go through a rough patch at the beginning of the 2015/16 campaign, though he is now beginning to find his best form again.
One of the best shot stoppers out there, McGovern is also commanding inside his six-yard box, which is a rare skill for a Scottish football goalkeeper to have these days.
44. Jason Holt (Hearts/Rangers)
‘Holty’, aside from being the owner of the worst/best Scottish football nickname, is a terrifically talented midfield player. His touch is flawless, his passing accurate and he can play the game with a dynamism that allows him to control the tempo and dash into the box to get on the end of a move.
He played three times for Hearts after the turn of the year before moving to Sheffield United for the rest of the 2014/15 campaign, which is part of the reason why he’s so low down in this list. Because there’s no doubting he’s been excellent since signing for Rangers this year.
Amid all the hype surrounding Martyn Waghorn and James Tavernier, it might actually be Holt who’s been Rangers best player this season.
43. Will Vaulks (Falkirk)
A player you cannot help but love. Over his Falkirk career, Vaulks has spent time at right back, centre half and the centre of midfield, and he’s excelled in every position. Though it does appear to be his move into the middle of the park that’s getting the best out of him.
He natural athleticism gives him terrific power and drive with or without the football. His tackling is the scourge of many an attacker, while it is also advisable not to allow the Englishman room to shoot within 30 yards of goal.
His celebration isn’t bad, either.
42. Josh Magennis (Kilmarnock)
2015 represented the best season of Magennis’ career to this point - it’s just a shame he’s enjoying his best form on a poor Kilmarnock side that (spoiler alert - as if you needed it) don’t have any other players appearing in this list.
Magennis has always harboured the physical attributes to succeed in the Scottish top flight. It was just his technique, decision making and composure that were always the problem.
He’s enjoyed terrific improvement in all three this year, with 10 goals scored amid a transformation to an effective lone striker. One who is capable of bullying centre back and holding the play up for team-mates.
Even when used on the wing he remains one of the more potent weapons in the side.
41. Kenny McLean (St Mirren/Aberdeen)
The midfielder looked set to single-handedly keep St Mirren in the top flight before the Paisley club’s board decided to cash in on an expiring contract and off he went to Aberdeen.
McLean took a while to settle at Pittodrie, with fans wondering whether the £300,000 investment had brought nothing more than a cut-price Paul Bernard.
Preferred further forward in Aberdeen’s 4-2-3-1 for the majority of this campaign, McLean has since looked back to his best with an impressive six-goal return on half a season’s work.
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