Kris Boyd has topped the Premiership scoring charts on four previous occasions but those scoring feats have never earned him the ultimate recognition from his peers.
But, now, with a two-goal lead over his nearest rival, the Kilmarnock striker has been included in the four-man shortlist, nominated by his fellow professionals, for the PFA Scotland Player of the Year. The award will be announced at the annual dinner on Sunday evening, and could cap an incredible season that once promised nothing but misery but has ultimately over-delivered.
“It’s been some turnaround for me, there’s no doubt about it,” said the player who contemplated retirement earlier in the campaign, as injuries and poor results left both the 34-year-old and the Rugby Park side in the doldrums. But the arrival of Steve Clarke in October has rejuvenated both.
From relegation fodder to a top-five finish, the upturn in fortunes has been marked and Boyd, who has netted 21 goals in all competitions, 16 of them in the league, believes that has contributed to his place on the final list of nominees.
“I haven’t been nominated many times,” he added. “When you score goals it becomes the norm and people only start talking about you when you don’t score 20 or 25 goals a season.
“There was a lot of expectation on me when I was younger to do that season after season and I don’t really think people took much notice of me but it wasn’t as easy as it looked to do.
“I think with the age I am and from where I was six months ago and the start of the season we had, to turn it around and be sitting here is something I’m proud of. But it wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for my team-mates and the gaffer.
“I don’t want to keep harping back to the start of the season when we were all over the place. Things weren’t working out the way that Lee McCulloch had imagined. If you go back and look at it then you see that Lee made a lot of good signings. He brought in a lot of players who had played at a high level but they hadn’t been playing a lot of football the previous season and anyone who’s played will tell you it usually takes until about September or October to get up to speed if you’ve missed pre-season or not been playing much.
“I was frustrated, I felt I was finished as well as I was carrying niggly injuries and I didn’t feel I was giving 100 per cent to the team because of injuries. But it was a match made in heaven when the manager came in. The way he spoke to me gave me a chance to go and showcase what I am to a team in terms of scoring goals.”
Boyd has often been criticised for his workrate and self-deprecating when discussing weight, even joking that if the nomination was the proverbial cherry on top, he might be tempted to eat it. But while others pick holes in his game, his manager was more positive, preferring instead to hone in on his attributes.
“He seems to understand my role in the team,” Boyd said of Clarke. “He does understand what I can do and what I can’t do and that’s why, and he has said it openly, he’s gone out to get players round about me who can do things I won’t be able to. At 34, I’m not going to start dropping back into midfield, taking people on, chasing people down. I’ve never done that in my career and I’m not going to start now.
“In a football team, you are part of a jigsaw. Since the manager came in, you’ve seen all the pieces fit together. That’s why we’ve done so well this season – and why I’m up for Player of the Year. It’s a credit to all the team-mates and staff.”
The lack of recognition while he was regularly skelping in between 20 and 30-odd goals during his Rangers tenure sums up the different level of expectations when it comes to Old Firm frontmen.
“I think, when you are part of an Old Firm squad, you’ve got to be looking to score 20, 25 goals a season. I think that is a must and with the amount of chances you get, anything less than that is a failure.”
Current Rangers player Alfredo Morelos has made it into the final four in the Young Player of the Year category and while he has had some high-profile misses against Celtic, Boyd believes the young pretender, who is currently second to him in the Premiership scoring charts, is a quality prospect and is backing him to show that when the two Glasgow giants square up again this weekend.
“I look at Alfredo Morelos and see someone who has been a handful for defenders. There are a lot of things he can add to his game but there is a player in there who can mature and become a top, top striker. Even if he does miss chances, he is prepared to go back again. That’s the sign of a good striker.”