There will be some left out of this list who’ve made a noticeable improvement, but just not as huge a leap as the guys who were included
We’re talking about players that went from having a poor campaign to a great one, or an average one to a fantastic one. Going from good to great just wasn’t going to cut it.
16 of the 17 players have been placed in alphabetical order, before we name the single most improved player over the course of the season.
Scott Brown (Celtic)
He’s only narrowly defeated as the winner of this made-up award. Brown’s transformation has been remarkable. Make no mistake about it, he was poor in 2015-16. Approaching his 31st birthday, with injury issues interrupting recent seasons, he looked finished at the highest level. Even now, with the acclaim for his improvement having died down, he continues to shine in the centre of the park for Celtic. He’s actually unlucky to be on such a great team in terms of personal accolades, because the likes of Moussa Dembele have taken the limelight away from what’s been a memorable year for the club captain. Not that he’ll care about that too much if/when he completes the treble.
Alan Cook (Stenhousemuir)
A winger with the skills to win games by himself, Cook just needed to recognise how best to utilise his talents and do so on a consistent basis. While he may not be the finished article just yet, he’s taken massive strides this season. His inventive play has helped a struggling Stenhousemuir side who’ve needed his creative spark on more than a few occasions.
Liam Dick (Stranraer)
The full-back was solid for the Dumfries and Galloway club while on loan from Falkirk, and he’s really managed to take his performance up a couple of notches since making his move permanent this past summer. Capable of contributing in both attack and defence, it’s fair to say the 21-year-old has been his side’s best player this campaign as they fight to remain in the third tier.
Ryan Edwards (Partick Thistle)
It was clear to see last season that Edwards had the enthusiasm - he must be one of the fittest players in the league - he just needed to impose himself more on games when Thistle were in possession. This campaign he’s been more disciplined and it’s reflected in his performances. Instead of running around like a headless chicken, he’s letting his technique shine more, and brings a real drive from midfield whenever he’s in the side.
Ross Forbes (Morton)
Forbes has always been capable of producing moments of magic, even when he was a youngster at Motherwell. However, the reason he failed to continue playing at the highest level (and dropped from sight when promoted with Partick Thistle a few years later) was his lack of mobility. Last season it was beginning to become a problem even in the second tier with some Morton fans wondering if the 28-year-old had already reached his peak. Thankfully for them, they couldn’t have been more wrong. Forbes has been incredible this season, netting 12 times from midfield and should surely be awarded with a Player of the Year award nomination for his trouble.
James Forrest (Celtic)
This is probably the first season where Forrest has been consistent throughout the campaign - well, at least since his breakout year of 2011-12. There were flashes last season when he started off excellently under Ronny Deila, but the same issues returned to haunt him: he was injured, struggled to find his confidence upon returning and slipped out of the team. When Celtic signed him to a new contract in early August, fans were not best pleased. They expected to see more of the same from the academy graduate. Instead, he’s been in fine form, even managing to keep Patrick Roberts out of the team for long periods.
Myles Hippolyte (Falkirk)
He could produce moments of magic, such as his goalscoring contribution in Falkirk’s tremendous 3-2 comeback over Rangers. However, all in all, he was mainly used as an impact sub, and when he did get the chance to start he’d usually fail to impress. Like all good wingers he can still be a bit consistent, but when he’s on his game he’s a match-winner on his own, and has arguably been the club’s best attacker this term.
Cammy Kerr (Dundee)
The young right-back has went from promising youngster to arguably Dundee’s best player this season. He’s already among the country’s best full-backs. His foraging runs down the right provide his team with a consistent out-ball while he’s improved his defensive game as the campaign has gone on.
Liam Lindsay (Partick Thistle)
Improvement from a 20-year-old (as he was at the outset) was not entirely unexpected. Young defenders make mistakes, learn from them and become better players as a result. However, nobody foresaw the rapid rise the centre-back has experienced this campaign. He is, without question, among the ten best centre-halves in the country, arguably even in the top five. His continued omission from the Scotland under-21 set-up is simply ridiculous. In addition to his solid defensive play, he’s also banged in seven goals this term. The sky is the limit.
Darian McKinnon (Hamilton)
Often viewed as a liability due to a tendency for throwing himself into ill-advised challenges and generally get wound up by the opposition, McKinnon has managed to channel his aggression this season and Hamilton are much tougher in the middle of the park because of it. He’s gone from a divisive player among the fans to a near-unanimous choice for the club’s player of the year.
Kenny McLean (Aberdeen)
For the second year in a row McLean finds himself on this list. After improving on his sluggish start to his Aberdeen career last term, he’s kicked on further this campaign. Jonny Hayes called him the best player in Scottish football since the turn of the year, and it’s hard to argue too much with the assessment. He’s found an extra gear to his play, which is helping him dominate matches.
Mark O’Hara (Dundee)
Not only has O’Hara improved, we now look at him as a completely different player. Often used at right back or centre back at Kilmarnock (big lads play at the back) he’s been used exclusively by Dundee in midfield, usually in an attacking role. While he’s not yet one of the league’s top playmakers, he’s now a respected and recognised opponent, having played as a back-up defender for most of his time at Rugby Park.
Gary Oliver (Morton)
The ex-Hearts striker largely flattered to deceive during his year with Queen of the South last term, often used on the wing instead of through the centre as he wasn’t trusted by James Fowler to fire the club into the playoffs. His record for Morton this term, eight strikes in 33 games, is by no means a great record for a striker, though his contribution cannot be measured in pure goals. Oliver is a scrapper who works tirelessly for the team and has been the club’s most consistent performer this term.
Andy Ryan (Airdrieonians)
Having failed to set the heather alight in League Two last season, Airdrie fans were hardly bowled over by the addition of the former Hamilton youngster. Safe to say, any cynicism has since been proven wrong. Ryan has been a revelation. Easily the club’s best player, it’s hard to image where the inconsistent Diamonds would be were it not for their talismanic striker. He’s netted 20 goals in 34 games and continues to almost single-handedly lead the club’s promotion push.
Sam Stanton (Dumbarton)
Arguably the best player in the second half of Hibs’ relegation campaign, Stanton’s progression stalled at Easter Road and he didn’t do all that much to impress at Livingston last season either. Since signing for Dumbarton, though, Stanton has rediscovered his prior form. The attacking midfielder acts as the creative spark for the part-timers as they fight bravely against relegation.
Ross Stewart (Albion Rovers)
This entry is a bit of a cheat because Stewart didn’t play in the SPFL last season, but he did play in Scottish football. Stewart joined from Kilwinning Rangers in the summer, having helped the Ayrshire club to the West of Scotland Super League in junior football. It’s difficult to sometimes tell comparative levels between junior football and lower league clubs, but there’s definitely a gulf in quality between League One and the West of Scotland First Division. Knocking in 12 goals so far this campaign, the towering centre forward has impressed the Cliftonville faithful with his mix of size and technique. He’s been widely touted for a move into full-time football next season.
And the single most improved player of season 2016/17 is...
Stuart Armstrong (Celtic)
Armstrong made 39 appearances for Celtic last season. It’s a surprising and, quite frankly, damning statistic of his campaign, because it’s difficult to think of any highlights. With the exception of the famous double against Inter in the Europa League knockout stages, Armstrong underwhelmed in his first 18 months at Celtic Park. Although, in fairness to the former Dundee United hitman, he was played mostly on the left-wing. It is a role he was used to at United, but it’s clear from his form this campaign that using him in the centre is a far better use of his talents. He impacts the game so much more when playing at the heart of it. His ability to drive with the ball from deep, make late runs into the penalty area, and get after the opposition with his boundless energy all combine to make him one of the league’s better players. From someone Celtic fans would happily have driven to his next club to a Player of the Year candidate. It’s safe to say Armstrong has made the biggest leap of them all.