Picking the top two, even the top three, was a fairly straight-forward process. After that, things got a little murky. There are a number of good goalkeepers in Scottish football, but only a couple you would describe as excellent.
There are names who’ve been left off the list who, if you wanted to argue deserved to be in the top six, we wouldn’t argue too vehemently against. Much of a muchness, is a phrase that comes to mind.
Anyway, after much debate and deliberation, we’ve managed to put together this top 12. If you want to recall last season’s elite dozen, you can find that here.
Note: this is a selection of the 12 best overall and not just their form this season.
12. Jack Hamilton (Hearts)
Prior to the start of the 2016/17 season, Hearts told some pretty big fibs about what they had planned for the goalkeeping position. Initially, Neil Alexander was offered a new contract at the club. It was an offer that was withdrawn, coincidentally enough, when Matt Gilks started training at Riccarton. With the Gilks deal looking very much on, Alexander was allowed to join Aberdeen on a free transfer. At which point, Rangers arrived at Gilks’ door with a suitcase full of cash and the former Scottish international promptly bolted to Ibrox. Hearts then insisted the plan was to play Hamilton all along. Aye. Right.
In the end, however, Hearts might find this was the best course of action long-term. Hamilton needs experience. There’s still so much he’s got to learn about the game, and the best way to do that is by playing games. Some Hearts fans may complain their team needs a better goalkeeper for the present, but while they probably could have upgraded at the position, what would they have achieved this campaign? Would they be third? Second? Would they still be in the cup? None of those are particularly likely. Hamilton has had his shaky moments but for a 22-year-old stopper with only 31 games worth of experience coming into this season, he’s performed beyond expectations. Letting him develop may not have improved fortunes this term, though it might in the future.
We’ve seen enough of the goalkeeper to suggest he could grow into a real talent, with his agility and reactions improving as the campaign has progressed. He’s still a little slight for a starting goalkeeper. Opposing teams often load up the six-yard box against Hearts in an attempt to have Hamilton flap at a cross, though this problem will dissipate as he continues to bulk up. The major concern is his kicking, but he’s admitted himself it needs to be better and there’s plenty of time to work at improving that aspect of his game.
In 2004-05, Craig Gordon didn’t enjoy a particularly strong season. He then came back the following campaign and became Writer’s Player of the Year. Hamilton is not on the same scale, but he’s still going to get better, and patience from his club and fans will be a key factor in that.
11. Gary Woods (Hamilton Accies)
The Hamilton number one started the season as a reserve to Norwich City loanee Remi Matthews, taking his place on the bench for the first four league games before missing the next four through injury. By the time he returned, however, Matthews had wrecked his shoulder in a match against Inverness CT, sidelining the stopper for three months.
Since coming into the team he has performed admirably, as he did when replacing the injured Scott Fox last season, helping the Staggies win the League Cup. Unlike last season, when Fox replaced Woods for the run-in to the season, Woods has kept his place since Matthews’ return from injury.
It is understandable why. Statistically he has been one of the best performing goalkeepers in the league, conceding 6.52 less than is expected. The 26-year-old is one of, if not the most, underrated players in the division, perhaps due to the club he plays with. He is a goalkeeper with little weakness.
He is an all-rounded, reliable goalkeeper. One of the 15 players out of contact at Accies, he should be of interest to any number of Premiership clubs looking to upgrade and improve on what they already have.
• Click hereto listen to the episode of The Terrace Scottish Football Podcast where the top 12 was debated.
10. Alan Mannus (St Johnstone)
The best back-up goalkeeper in Scottish football, the Northern Irishman would improve the position at a number of teams and may still be No.1 at St Johnstone if the club weren’t so enthused with the potential of Zander Clark. Between February 2012 and the summer of 2016, Mannus was solid as a rock for Saints, but with his contract expiring and Clark having performed so well for Queen of the South for two years in the Championship, manager Tommy Wright was left with a decision to make. Stick with the 34-year-old with less than a year remaining on his deal, thereby running the risk of alienating or stagnating the development of Clark, or turn to the understudy ahead of schedule. In the end, some iffy performances at the tail end of last season and in the Betfred Cup group stages put paid to Mannus’ time as No.1.
There are concerns Mannus’ powers could be on the wane. Prior to losing his job to Clark, the 2015/16 season was unquestionably his worst in a Saints jersey. And while goalkeepers can go until they’re 40, it’s not unusual for the decline to start well before then. However, while it was a drop from his usual standards, Mannus still showed enough last term to suggest he would still have been a dependable starter this season if given the chance.
As goalkeepers go, Mannus is as sturdy as they come. Consistency and reliability are his two biggest strengths, and he’s very much a St Johnstone player in that regard. He’s got a large build that enables him to comfortably fight off opponents in crowded penalty areas, but still retains the flexibility to make the odd wonder-save. Saints supporters have been big admirers of Mannus during his time in Perth, and he’ll likely make another fanbase very happy next season.
9. Ofir Marciano (Hibernian)
The song, to the tune of Pilot’s Magic, ‘Oh it’s magic, you know, *insert club* and trophies don’t go’ has been heard from a variety of teams, directed towards rivals, up and down Britain. Replace trophies with goalkeepers, and for around eight years, since Daniel Andersson left Easter Road until Ben Williams arrived, it was a relevant song for Hibernian.
From clowns to comedians, Hibs have had a number of goalkeepers whose ability wasn’t suited to a life between the sticks. Williams was a steady figure, while Mark Oxley had the worrying instinct of being ‘seen’. Not a good quality for a goalkeeper, but he was still a decent stopper in the Championship. Conrad Logan? Well, let’s just say that superheroes don’t necessarily have to wear capes or sit on the healthy side of the BMI index.
Enter Ofir Marciano. Struggles in Belgium opened the door for Neil Lennon to make quite the coup. The 27-year-old was Israeli number one up until the end of 2015 but due to a lack of game time dropped out. He has found his feet again at Easter Road, playing an integral part in the club’s excellent defensive record.
This is a goalkeeper with stature who is playing at a level or two below his standing. He has been one of the least tested goalkeepers in the league, but when called upon, as he was against Dunfermline he has produced moments of excellence. He offers his backline an assuredness, his kicking is clean and handling safe.
8. Scott Fox (Ross County)
Let’s be honest. Scottish football is fantastic. For any number of reasons. In particular, the propensity to throw up outlandish moments on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. One such moment was singer Amy MacDonald’s touting of Scott Fox to play for Scotland on BBC Sportsound following an impressive display at Tynecastle.
No. Just, no.
Fox is a highlights goalkeeper. He can produce moments of brilliance with spectacular looking saves. But part of that has to do with his size. He is one of the smaller keepers in the top two divisions giving him larger areas to cover.
Another reason he shows up is that he is one of the busiest stoppers in the league. Until recently he was one of only two goalkeepers to make over a century of saves. However, stats compiled by The Back Pass Rule don’t paint the best picture. Figures show that the difference between what he has conceded and what he has been expected to concede is -1.56. Only Jack Hamilton and Owain Fon Williams are worse.
That being said, there is a reason why he has won a Scotland call-up previously. He is a decent Premiership goalkeeper. He also has an important function within the Ross County system. His passing is crisp and he’s confident building from the back.
7. Jamie MacDonald (Kilmarnock)
Jamie Mac losing his job to Freddie Woodman is one of the strangest selection choices in Scottish football this term. Woodman looks a fine prospect and had a decent showing against Ross County last time around, but there’s been little to suggest he’s an upgrade over MacDonald. Besides, of all the problems with Kilmarnock’s squad this season, goalkeeper was very far down the list.
After an excellent showing during Hearts’ relegation campaign, MacDonald underwhelmed in his only season with Championship promotion chasers Falkirk, including an error right at the end of the 2015 Scottish Cup final which allowed Inverness CT to win the trophy. He soon returned to the top flight with Kilmarnock, and bang! Suddenly his 2013-14 form was back again. It stands to reason that playing on a struggling side gets the best out of MacDonald. The more shots he has to face, the more his performance improves.
That’s probably because shot-stopping is the strongest aspect of his game. His kicking isn’t particularly great and he has a frustrating tendency to punch cross balls. However, when an opposing striker is presented with a gilt-edged chance inside the box, you can often expect MacDonald to pull off something pretty special. There have been numerous times throughout his time at Kilmarnock where fans have credited MacDonald with winning them points. Or, rather, credited MacDonald with stopping an even bigger hiding than the one they just suffered.
He’s contracted through the summer, so will get the chance to claim back the win the starter’s gloves next season. Whether this has soured his relationship with Kilmarnock, though, remains to be seen.
6. Zander Clark (St Johnstone)
Such is his standing at McDiarmid Park, the 24-year-old ousted Alan Mannus as St Johnstone’s number one goalkeeper. And it has been an archetypal rise to do so.
Earmarked as a player of potential, Clark spent two seasons on loan in the Championship, gaining game time, experience; learning and improving in a less pressured environment. His time at Queen of the South coincided with Hearts, Rangers and Hibs being in the division, aiding his development as a goalkeeper.
He then went back to Perth to work as the number two under a highly experienced and reliable individual in the aforementioned Mannus, getting top-flight experience at the end of last season. And he performed well, giving Tommy Wright a significant headache, one akin to that after a cracking night out. It was one worth having.
Mannus, returning from the European Championships, had a below par start to the season, opening the door for Clark. He kicked it off its hinges to rightly be seen as the club’s number one. For such a young goalkeeper he has a dominating stature. There can be no arguments about his build. An aspect of goalkeeping which is perhaps overlooked. When a striker bears down on goal or puts the ball on the penalty spot, doubts can creep in when staring back at them is a monster of a goalkeeper. ‘How can I get the ball past him?’
It’s not been plain sailing, however. Clark has had his moments, most recently in defeat to Kilmarnock. At times it can appear to seem that he’s too focused on where he is going to push the ball rather than concentrating first and foremost on saving the shot.
One thing that can’t be forgotten is that his manager himself is a former international goalkeeper who has played for Newcastle in the English top-flight. His development is in, pardon the pun, safe hands.
5. Scott Bain (Dundee)
It was joked on a recent episode of The Terrace that the Dundee goalkeeper spends the majority of his time at Dens silently fuming in the corner, interspersed with occasional outbursts of “YOU’RE NOT KANE HEMMINGS” towards messrs El Bakhtaoui and Haber. It’s a poorly kept secret that Bain was not happy with the sale of Dundee’s two best players and his two close friends, Hemmings and Greg Stewart, from the club last summer.
Perhaps as a result, the 25-year-old’s form has tailed off dramatically this campaign, which is why he now finds himself falling down this list (#2 last year). The reason he doesn’t drop out of the top 12 entirely, which he may have deserved if we were basing this purely on form, is because there’s still enough credit in the bank built up from his first two years at Dens.
Some of the saves Bain has made over his time with Dundee have been, quite frankly, ridiculous. The stop he pulled off in the dying embers of the first Dundee derby last season, when Simon Murray looked sure to secure three points, was one of the best in Scottish football over the last ten years. After Bain somehow managed to tip the point blank shot on to the crossbar, showing incredible reactions in the process, James McPake then tied it up for the visitors at the other end. It was a devastating one-two punch that would define United’s season. The miraculous stop at the end of Dundee’s 2-1 Scottish Cup victory over Aberdeen in 2014 is another example of his wizardry.
He may be on the small size for a goalkeeper, and it may stop him from reaching the very top, but at this level his reactionary ability to spring into the air at a split-second’s notice more than makes up for it. Rumours of MK Dons’ interest have circled for a few months now, and don’t be surprised if one or two Championship sides have a good look at him too.
4. Wes Foderingham (Rangers)
The Ibrox keeper is up four places from last year’s list, which saw him sit in the bottom six mainly due to the fact he’d yet to be tested in Scotland’s top flight. Unlike many of his Rangers’ team-mates, Foderingham’s form has stayed consistent since moving up to the Ladbrokes Premiership. If Rangers are going to get back to where they want to be - winning titles and qualifying for the Champions League - he may not be the required standard, but in the meantime there are several other areas to fix before they upgrade the custodian.
Foderingham gets a bad rap from observers and opposing fans for two reasons. One, he’s still prone to making the occasional error. And two, his work as a sweeper-keeper consistently shines a negative light on his play. We’re willing to forgive these issues because, in another situation, Foderingham would be hailed for the rest of his play. With the exception of a certain pair of goalkeepers we’ll get to, every other stopper on this list has made a few errors this season, but Foderingham’s are highlighted more than most because of the high-profile nature of being the Ibrox No.1. He’s not as good as Craig Gordon, but who is? And it’s not his fault he’s asked to play the ball with his feet so much. It’s clearly not his strong suit.
There isn’t a game that goes by where he doesn’t make an eye-catching save. Unlike other goalkeepers, who tend to be a bit wooden-legged, Foderingham uses his feet well to get across the goal and push away net-bound shots. A perfect example of this is his save from Jamie Walker in the 4-1 defeat by Hearts. No-one talks about it because it was a heavy defeat, and Foderingham had made an earlier error, but it was a textbook example of how goalkeepers should use their feet when trying to get across goal, rather than standing and throwing themselves in hope.
The fact that he kept Matt Gilks out of the side all season shows he’s not a bad goalkeeper. The veteran played with distinction during Rangers’ Betfred Cup run, but he left in January because he couldn’t get a look-in on league duty. The same happened to Cammy Bell and Maciej Gostomski before him, and could yet happen with January signing Jak Alnwick.
3. Tomas Cerny (Partick Thistle)
Following Partick Thistle’s 2-0 defeat of Heart of Midlothian, a win which took the Jags into the top six, Cerny was in celebratory mood. His fists were pumping and he was verbally expressing his joy. He decided that wasn’t enough so he went across to the North Stand and hugged some fans.
It is clear he is well liked at Firhill. His attitude plays a big part in that, but his displays since moving to Maryhill even more so. He was a key signing last season, an upgrade on Scott Fox who moved north to Ross County. However, the 2015/2016 season would end on a negative note when he missed the final six games of the campaign with a foot injury.
The injury played its part in a slow start to the season for the normally reliable custodian. On his fourth league outing he lasted 37 minutes in a defeat to St Johnstone after another foot injury. He wouldn’t play again until December.
The keen hiker - the next places on his travels are the Outer Hebridies and the Shetlands - has come back into the team, playing the last 16 games and has looked more like the Tomas Cerny that has so impressed in his time in Scotland, having surpassed 200 competitive matches in the country last month.
His consistency has been integral to Thistle’s rise up the league, away from relegation danger into the top six. He has only conceded more than one goal twice in the last 16 matches, keeping six clean sheets in his last eight leagues outings.
He is a stockier keeper than the two above him in the list but that doesn’t prevent him from producing the spectacular. He is a very powerful stopper and his handling of both shots and crosses is an important facet to his goalkeeping make-up.
It will forever remain unfathomable that Alan Stubbs overlooked the Czech for Mark Oxley.
2. Joe Lewis (Aberdeen)
Aberdeen’s title challenge faltered for a variety of reasons. There was Leigh Griffiths’ unrelenting scoring streak. There was a fallow period between the end of September and end of October. There was also Adam Rooney’s thigh injury which restricted him to 37 minutes of league action in the final 12 league games.
Then there was the goalkeeper situation. Up until the start of January, Aberdeen had one of the best goalkeepers to have played in the Scottish Premiership (i.e. since the rebrand) between the posts. Danny Ward, on loan from Liverpool, was excellent. Agile, elastic and a comforting presence for all those at Pittodrie. Then Liverpool recalled him.
It would have been no surprise to walk into Derek McInnes’ office, only to see Tommy Docherty crouched over in an inconsolable ball of tears. Poor Derek. He’d have every right to feel that way. Aberdeen had to make do with a couple of significantly worse goalkeepers for the remainder of the season (bonus points if you can name them*).
A new custodian for this season was a priority. Unbelievably McInnes and Aberdeen may have trumped the signing of Ward with the recruitment of 6ft 5in Joe Lewis.
The Englishman has perhaps not fulfilled his early promise when he was part of the national side despite playing at unfashionable Peterborough United. He’s spent the vast majority of his career in tiers two and three in England, playing only once in the Premier League.
However, his goalkeeping talent has been evident this season to the point that an argument can be made for him being the best number one in the country. He is a dominating figure, his build allowing him to cover vast areas, making saves that others simply couldn’t. Case in point: his finger tip denial of Scott Sinclair against Celtic. The save of the season.
He kicks well without necessarily wanting to pass it from the back. He’s a goalkeeper’s goalkeeper; commands his box, collects crosses and prevents goals.
*Scott Brown and Adam Collin.
1. Craig Gordon (Celtic)
It wasn’t so long ago where we all thought Gordon’s career at Celtic would be coming to an end. The writing was on the wall when Dorus de Vries was signed during the summer, and things went from bad to worse for the Scotland stopper when the recent arrival was quickly installed as the new No.1. Brendan Rodgers deserves credit for realising the mistake and quickly reverting back to the previous first-choice stopper. Many managers would have stubbornly stuck to their guns and continued to play de Vries despite the realisation that Gordon remained the better option.
While he may not have welcomed the move at the time, the de Vries situation could have been one of the best things to happen to Gordon at this late stage of his career. After a terrific first season at Celtic, his form dipped a little in his second campaign. It wasn’t enough to throw him from top position in our best 12 list last year, but it was still enough for Celtic fans to question his long-term future and whether another keeper should be brought in.
Since fighting his way back into the starting XI at the expense of de Vries, Gordon is back to his 2014/15 best. He’s cut out the errors and continued to make crucial saves, even when he’s tested the least of any stopper in the country.
His tall, wiry frame has always been a huge advantage, ever since his breakthrough days at Hearts. It allows Gordon to throw himself off the ground with reckless abandon. And while his bulk doesn’t shrink the goalmouth in the mind of an advancing attacker, his long limbs enable him to be a deceptively large obstacle to navigate the ball around. Though he often gets himself into trouble when advancing outside of the penalty area, inside the box you’ll often see him rushing out, throwing his appendages out in a star-like shape, and getting something on the shot. He doesn’t look particularly tough or intimidating, but when it comes to diving in front of the ball, he shows zero fear.
There’s also his kicking game, which has improved as the season has went along, something Rodgers has praised on a consistent basis. It’s still not a strong point of his game and, at 34 years old, likely never will be. But it’s now good enough that his manager can be content with having him between the sticks, where his other qualities will help Celtic win games until his newly minted contract expires in 2020.