Part four in Craig Fowler’s list counting down the SPFL’s best players from the 2016/17 season.
20. Patrick Roberts (Celtic)
Had it not been for his form over the last couple of months, Roberts would have been lucky to make this list. But what a couple of months it’s been! This is exactly what Celtic fans were expecting coming into this season, but a combination of injury and James Forrest’s early season return to form, not to mention the speedy winger adding better balance to Celtic’s attack, meant they had to wait until the closing stages to see the real Roberts. Once he finally got his hands on the starting spot, he refused to let it go. In a stretch of games where Celtic clinched the league title, advanced to the Scottish Cup final, thumped Rangers 5-1 (again) and completed the treble, no-one played better than Roberts. That should count for something.
19. Steven MacLean (St Johnstone)
For many years, Steven Anderson was the most underrated player at St Johnstone, and perhaps in Scottish football. It wasn’t that pundits thought he was a bad player, they just never said anything about him. He had an unassuming style which coupled with the low profile of his club meant few even thought to mention his talents. Now, though, with St Johnstone’s well known reputation for being “difficult to beat”, Anderson and company have been getting the credit they deserve. Instead, it’s the attacking players who are now underrated, with many wrongly painting St Johnstone as a collection of kick-and-rush cloggers. When they are at their attacking best, they move the ball swiftly, on the deck, and get bodies in support around the penalty area. The fulcrum of this gameplan is MacLean. There is arguably no better striker in the league at holding up the ball and linking with his team-mates. He may have only tallied nine league goals this campaign, but his importance to St Johnstone is worth so much more than just goals and assists.
18. Darren McGregor (Hibs)
The lack of a Championship Player of the Year nomination for McGregor was astounding. He was the best player on the best team, and yet the members of PFA Scotland overlooked him in favour of John McGinn, who didn’t even have a particularly good season (and is NOT on this list). Excellent from start to finish at the centre of the Hibs back-line, including a couple of strong performances in the Scottish Cup Edinburgh derby matches, McGregor is the highest placing lower league player on this list.
17. Liam Lindsay (Partick Thistle)
Thistle fans want a seven-figure fee if another club comes in for Lindsay this summer, and it’s easy to see why. In his second full season as a regular member of the Thistle back-line, he’s already ironed out the numerous mistakes that tend to plague young defenders, allowing his qualities to shine through. Big, strong, quick and not a complete huddy on the football, the sky is the limit for the 21-year-old, who was robbed of a Young Player of the Year nomination.
16. Shay Logan (Aberdeen)
If he were a couple of inches taller, there’d be no arguing about it, Logan would be the best right back in Scottish football. As it stands, it’s an interesting debate to be had between the Aberdeen defender and his Celtic rival Mikael Lustig. Excellent in defence, a threat going forward, the only thing that goes against him is his lack of size. Even then he more than holds his own against the majority of bigger attackers in the league, showing a lot of heart and spirit to battle even when the odds are against him. Another fantastic campaign from the fans’ favourite.
15. Mikael Lustig (Celtic)
Remember those days when Lustig’s legs seemed to be made from digestive biscuits? For a period of two years he barely played through injuries, and it appeared they had taken their toll when he had an all right, but not great, 2015/16 campaign after establishing his fitness once more. Enter Brendan Rodgers. Like several other members of the Celtic first-team, the manager’s influence has improved Lustig, especially going forward where he attacks with real confidence now, even if he is often asked to play as a auxiliary centre-back when Kieran Tierney bombs forward on the other wing.
14. Joe Shaughnessy (St Johnstone)
It seems like a long time ago where Shaughnessy was the awkward looking right-back struggling to get through games at both Aberdeen and Falkirk. Playing at his natural centre-back has obviously aided his dramatic improvement, but even when he fills in on the right of the back four, as he’s had to do at various points this season, he still looks completely comfortable. This is the Tommy Wright effect. Consistently excellent throughout, Shaughnessy was named as the club’s Player of the Year.
13. Jozo Simunovic (Celtic)
Had prospective buyers Torino not tried to cut themselves an 11th hour discount at the conclusion of the summer transfer window, big Jozo would not have played a second of football in Scotland this season. Celtic had accepted a £3million bid and were ready to offload the seemingly injury-prone player they’d bought for a fee in excess of £5million the previous summer. A sliding doors moment if ever there was one. Instead of playing in Serie A, Simunovic forced his way back into the Celtic first-team, making himself their first-choice centre-back by the end of the season and, if reports are to be believed, attracting interest from several clubs in the English top flight. Sometimes Lady Luck smiles at you kindly.
12. Joe Lewis (Aberdeen)
The Dons desperately needed to improve at goalkeeper last summer and, boy, did they get themselves a good ‘un. In Scottish football terms, Lewis is pretty much the complete package. Capable of making outstanding, reflex saves, he compliments this necessary ability with strong communication and organisational skills. There’s also his size. In an era where smaller goalkeepers are becoming more fashionable, Lewis is a throw back to the old school. Simply put, he’s absolutely massive. 6ft 5in with broad shoulders, it benefits his desire to collect crosses, while making him an intimidating obstacle to try and navigate the ball beyond. The most impressive goalkeeper in Scottish football this season.
11. Louis Moult (Motherwell)
He suffered with injury problems earlier in the season, had to work with different formations and strike-partners throughout the campaign, and played on one of the weakest sides in the top division under two highly different managers. And yet, Moult was fabulous. His 15 league goals were probably the difference between Motherwell staying up or going down.