Craig Fowler looks at the many managers who’ve thoroughly impressed in Scottish football this season
There are seasons where trying to uncover a truly deserving Manager of the Year award winner is a laborious task. Nobody stands out and the PFA Scotland members end up voting for someone who wins the second tier with the biggest budget of any club to have ever played at that level because they won a semi-final or something.
Well, it’s safe to say that 2017/18 is not one of those seasons. The standard of management really seems to have risen in the Ladbrokes Premiership this term with a few teams playing well above their pre-season projections. But the coaching excellence is far from limited to the top flight, as you’ll soon see.
Brendan Rodgers (Celtic)
On the one hand, his side have not performed as well as last season. Unless they win the final four games, the Champions-elect will have gone through the entire league campaign without registering more than three consecutive wins. It’s quite the drop off from the Invincibles, and downturns are not typically rewarded with end-of-season individual accolades.
On the other hand, it’s quite likely Celtic are going to win back-to-back trebles, which would make them the first team in the history of Scottish football to have done so.
Yes, they haven’t been at their scintillating best. Yes, a number of players have regressed. Yes, there have been defensive issues Rodgers has failed to address all season. However, a treble is a treble.
Neil Lennon (Hibs)
When Lennon boasted, after a Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Aberdeen, that Hibs should be looking to finish second in the Ladbrokes Premiership in their first season back in the top flight, many would have been forgiven for allowing themselves a smirk at the bold ambition. This was a team that, while not stumbling to the Championship crown, certainly didn’t capture the second tier title with the flourish that Hearts and Rangers had the seasons prior. And yet, here we are. Four games are left and Lenny’s charges have a chance of pulling off such a feat.
Steve Clarke (Kilmarnock)
What else is there to say about Clarke that hasn’t been said already? Kilmarnock have been completely transformed under his stewardship, going from relegation candidates in October to contenders for Europe within six mid-season months. Last week’s results have probably pushed a top four spot just out of reach, but it’s still been a phenomenal turnaround nonetheless.
He’s been the most popular name associated with the award. Whether he wins it or not will depend on the voters and if they rate trophies above the most impressive league campaign.
Stephen Robinson (Motherwell)
Two cup finals for a provincial club is some achievement in itself. But if he manages to actually go and win one of them, well, then he should be seriously considered for the writers award having missed out on a spot in the PFA Scotland final four.
They still might only finish eighth in the league table - which would be only one spot higher than last year - which just goes to show that progress isn’t always marked by final standings. Motherwell are a club transformed. Not just in terms of production on the park, but the way in which the fans have bought into this team, the management staff and those charged with the day to day running of the club. Robinson, and his wily dealing in the transfer market, has been a huge reason why.
Jack Ross (St Mirren)
In January 2017 they looked certainties for relegation to the third tier of Scottish football. Less than 18 months later they confirmed their place back in the top flight. It’s safe to say that Ross has performed minor miracles with the Paisley side. His story has been such a popular one and, in any other season, he probably would have been a certainty for the award. This term he’ll be lucky to get in the top three.
David Hopkin (Livingston)
St Mirren, as champions, deserve their plaudits. However, forget the position Jack Ross initially found them in and focus just on this season. Yes, they still performed better than expected by romping to the title, but they were viewed as promotion challengers at the outset. Livingston, on the other hand, were expected to be the worst full-time team in the league. Instead, they have already secured second place and a spot in the playoff semi-finals with a game to play.
Hopkin has achieved the feat relying on a number of players who got them out of the third tier (Alan Lithgow, Craig Halkett, Scott Pittman) though not last season’s top goalscorer, Liam Buchanan, who left for Raith Rovers in the summer.
Stewart Petrie (Montrose)
The Gable Endies just require one point from their final match, a home fixture with Elgin, to be crowned League Two champions.
Similar to Jack Ross at St Mirren, this was a team that looked like serious candidates to drop out of the division (and the SPFL altogether) in the first half of last season. The hiring of Petrie immediately turned their fortunes. Not only were they able to secure their safety, they went on such a tear that they qualified for the playoffs in fourth spot, and the good form has continued right through the current campaign.
If they pick up the result they require on Saturday, it will be the first time in 22 years that Montrose have been out of the fourth tier.
Danny Lennon (Clyde)
Clyde for the title next season. You heard it here first.
It took a few weeks for Lennon to get to grips with his League Two squad after taking over from Jim Chapman. The former Annan boss had been recruited in the summer to lead their promotion charge, but they continued to struggle at the wrong end of the table and Chapman was soon handed his jotters.
Bringing in Lennon as his replacement didn’t seem like the wisest of decisions when Clyde failed to score in any of his first five games in charge, and failed to win any of his first seven. However, since then they’ve been in tremendous form. They’ve won 12 of their last 17 and, if the season lasted just a couple of weeks longer, would almost certainly finish in the playoffs. Instead they’re left hoping Stenhousemuir slip up in their match away to Stirling to sneak in on the final day.