Part one in Craig Fowler’s list counting down the SPFL’s best players from the 2015/16 season.
50. Michael O’Halloran (St Johnstone/Rangers)
This inclusion is based heavily, though not exclusively, on his performances in a St Johnstone shirt earlier this season. He wasn’t bad after moving to Rangers, he just hasn’t lived up to the hype yet, with the defensive set up of opposing sides restricting his strengths. Next year is make or break for him at Ibrox but he should have a greater chance to make more of an impact as opponents come out a little more in attack, leaving O’Halloran the room to use his pace in behind.
There was a goal earlier this season, against Dundee, where just a simple five-yard movement backwards, without the ball, threw the entire away defence out of shape. That was the kind of threat he carried with his speed and close control. I’d like to see that O’Halloran again, whether at Rangers or elsewhere.
49. Liam Boyce (Ross County)
Had Craig Curran remained fit all season, it’s possible Boyce would have finished the year in the top 10. However, his form dropped off without his partner in crime, while a broken hand that saw him sit out a month didn’t do much to help his momentum either. 48th is probably still a little harsh, but I can’t really shake his performance in the League Cup final out of my head. He was easily the worst player on the park and deservedly hooked for Brian Graham who ended up swinging the game in County’s favour.
READ MORE - Top 50 Scottish football players in 2015 (10-1)
48. Dougie Imrie (Hamilton)
Imrie typifies Hamilton. Tough, industrious, plays as part of a team, annoys opposing fans, and yet somehow gets the job done. Accies will be playing their third season in the top flight next term. They’ve been the butt of many jokes this term, but few envisioned their survival at the outset.
47. Blair Alston (Falkirk)
His ungainly style belies a technically proficient midfielder with an eye for goal. I admit I’ll look foolish for this inclusion if he goes to a Ladbrokes Premiership side next year and his talents don’t translate to the top flight. Although, should he sign for St Johnstone, who’ve long been credited with an interest, then he’ll be fine in the hands of Tommy Wright.
46. Dylan McGeouch (Hibs)
This is the selection where, I’ll admit, I may be losing it a little. McGeouch missed a lot of Hibs campaign through injury, playing 20 fewer games than the Championship player of the year Lee Wallace, and yet Wallace misses out. Why? Because McGeouch was just such an integral part of the Hibs team and, as everyone saw, their form dropped off alarmingly when he went out. He’s such an intelligent player, always keeping possession, but also one with the passing and dribbling ability to commit opposing players and make things happen. I also didn’t understand the lavish praise for Wallace this season. He had a fine campaign, granted, but I didn’t even think he was the best full-back on his own team.
45. Abdul Osman (Partick Thistle)
Partick Thistle’s defence had a terrific campaign without having many stand-out defenders. The reason is the great big wall that stands in front of them, wearing a Thistle strip with ‘Osman’ on the back and the captain’s armband. The club’s skipper ended the 2014/15 season in top form and he continued it into this term. It’s huge for Thistle going forward that they managed to tie their enforcer down to a new deal.
44. John Baird (Falkirk)
When my top 50 players from 2015 list ended up on Pie and Bovril, the one selection that drew the most ire was that of the Falkirk hitman. Fans of Dundee and Partick Thistle, in particular, were incredulous. How could the player who’d contributed the square root of nothing in the top flight with them possibly be among the top 50 in the country? Well, sometimes a player needs the right environment in which to thrive and even Baird himself as been open about the fact he’s enjoyed his football at the Falkirk Stadium more than anywhere else. He makes it back on to the list this time for bagging 19 strikes across the season, even though he did go through a dry spell at the worst possible moment, failing to find the back of the net in any of Falkirk’s final eight matches. Maybe those scoffing on P&B were right all along...
43. Callum McGregor (Celtic)
There are more Rangers players than Celtic players on this list. I think it’s justifiable for one reason - well, other than the Scottish Cup semi-final demonstrating there wasn’t a massive gap between the top of the Premiership and the top of the Championship. Rangers relied heavily on a small group of players who played consistently well throughout the campaign, while Celtic had a massive squad full of inconsistent talents, with three or four stand-out players who were clearly among the country’s best. The one Celtic player who, I felt, fell between ‘terrific’ and ‘meh’ was McGregor.
Last season he was looked upon as a winger and, after an initial goal burst, not a very good one at that. It’s now clear that his future lies in the middle of the park. He’s got such terrific energy and it enables him to contribute at both ends. He can get into the faces of opposition players, harrying them on the ball and making crucial interceptions, and then he can turnaround, carry possession forward for his side and get in the penalty area to finish off moves. He’s gone from being favourite for the exit door to having a bright future at the club.
42. Stephen Pearson (Motherwell)
Pearson appeared in the top 15 of the 2015 list and could have been described as being one of the most valuable players in the country following his move back to Lanarkshire. Oddly, since Motherwell switched to the 4-3-3 and Pearson returned from injury, the same level of performance hasn’t quite been there, which is why he’s dropped this low. Still managed to get nine goals - and more impressively, nine yellow cards - to make the list.
41. Kenny Miller (Rangers)
Remember when everyone feared for Rangers after Martyn Waghorn went down with injury? Yeah, that turned out to be completely unnecessary. Having played the supporting role to Waghorn through the first half of the season, chipping in with a few goals as he switched between right wing and through the centre, Miller really stepped up for the Championship title winners thereafter, scoring nine goals and generally silencing all the doubters who felt, at 36, he was past it. During the first half in the Old Firm derby and throughout Saturday’s Scottish Cup final loss to Hibs, there can be little doubt he was Rangers’ best player.
40. Murray Davidson (St Johnstone)
It’s really heartening to see Davidson back to his best. For those unfamiliar with what happened: basically, Davidson had a stellar 2012-13 and wanted to test the waters regarding a move to England. Instead of taking the first offer that was on the table, Davidson decided to wait for the right club for him, all the while staying in touch with St Johnstone, who were happy to have him back when the right move didn’t materialise. However, due to their involvement in the Europa League, St Johnstone were already into their season, meaning Davidson had to play catch-up. He struggled for form and a place in the team and, just when he was getting fully up to speed around the turn of the year, suffered a dreadful injury that cost him the rest of the campaign and a decent chunk of the following one.
At 28, his hope of a big money move has faded away, but he’s back to being one of the best centre midfielders in this country, using his height and strength to dominate opponents in the physical battle.
39. Kris Doolan (Partick Thistle)
It’s highly likely Doolan will appear on my top 50 lists from now until a few years after he’s retired. He’s one of the most underrated players in Scottish football and, by far, the most underrated striker. He scores goals every year and yet is always forced to battle with another centre forward for the starting role in Thistle’s 4-2-3-1. That was fair enough when it was Lyle Taylor he was competing with, but Mathias Pogba, really? Despite this affront, Doolan still bagged 14 goals, encouraging me further to insist he’d bag at least 20 with more support from the attacking triumvirate behind him.
38. James Tavernier (Rangers)
Granted, he was poor in the cup final. Very poor. I’ve excused his defensive deficiencies previously, insisting the Rangers system was more at fault, but that performance was pretty inexcusable. He had no idea of how to deal with Anthony Stokes, and that became the key battle in the match. However, he scored 15 goals this season, and notched over 20 assists. I don’t care about his defensive qualities or lack thereof. 15 goals, over 20 assists. He deserves to be on this list. It’s a phenomenal return and deserves to be celebrated.
37. Jason Cummings (Hibs)
Though his form significantly dropped in the second half of the season, it wasn’t entirely his fault. He should never really have been partnered with Anthony Stokes. They just didn’t work together. They were too similar and, when Hibs go out this summer and get a replacement for Stokes, not to mention one for the perma-crocked Farid El Alagui, expect to see his goal numbers shoot up again. Divides opinion like no other, but he still bagged 25 goals this term and scored against Rangers, Hearts, Aberdeen and St Johnstone, showing he fan cut it against tougher opponents.
36. Josh Magennis (Kilmarnock)
Josh is no longer that “chaos factor” figure of fun who’s just as likely to balloon a chance 15 feet over the crossbar as he is to bury it. He’s just a good, competent striker who makes his team much better when he’s playing and noticeably weaker when he’s not. How boring.
35. Paul McGowan (Dundee)
Another player who is awfully underrated. Unlike the others, though, McGowan probably deserves to be. When you’re known more for a bizarre off-field, shall we say, dislike of police officers than for your football ability, you only have yourself to blame. When he is on the park, McGowan is a vital cog in the centre of the Dundee side. He plays the game with such energy, enthusiasm and a tigerish attitude that makes up for his small stature. There were even some Dundee fans who said he had a better campaign than Kane Hemmings. That’s insane, obviously, but it does show you in how much high regard he is held.