At this level the Norwegian is a unique mix of old-school centre-back and a continental, carry-it-out-from-the-back type. He was third in the league for percentage of headers won (behind only Bruno Alves and Harry Souttar) and second for dribbles per 90 minutes (behind Efe Ambrose). Forget Moussa Dembele and Olivier Ntcham, this just might be the brightest prospect Celtic have. The fact he didn’t start playing regularly until December is the only reason he’s not in the top five.
For a lot of this past season it seemed like getting the ball to Naismith was the only plan of attack County had. It was a fair plan, sure – the statistics point to him being the third most accurate crosser in the top flight – but County needed a bit more, especially with their preference for playing the diminutive Alex Schalk and Billy Mckay through the middle as the campaign drew to a close. However, none of this should detract from the attacking force Naismith became this past year. Not only can he deliver, his mix of size and speed makes him an intimidating sight charging down the flank at an undersized opponent. County have him under contract for a further two years, but if a top-flight club can afford to prise him away this summer then they definitely should.
Both Hanlon and Efe Ambrose (No 21) were excellent across the season and it was difficult to separate the two. Ultimately, one distinctive difference came into it. While Ambrose looked uncomfortable whenever asked to play right-back, Hanlon didn’t need a second invitation to go careering down the left wing and join in the attack, even when he was still playing centre-back. If you ever get the chance, it’s worth watching the extended highlights of Hibs’ 2-1 win over Dundee in November. His Brandon Barker impression ultimately swung the game in Hibs’ favour.
The second-best goalkeeper in the Scottish top flight this past year and, overall, probably the one who made the fewest mistakes. He was steady if unspectacular in the opening couple of months, but as his confidence grew he would soon find himself on highlights reels, denying opponents with acrobatic stops and helping Motherwell to an excellent first full season under Stephen Robinson.
He still has his critics, most of whom exist among his own supporters. However, there’s no denying the improvement in Windass from one year to the next. He netted 18 goals in 41 games from midfield and became an integral member of the Ibrox starting XI. Admittedly, that in itself became a problem as he tended to shrink into the background when the chips were down. Coaxing a fiery competitor out of the playmaker will be high up the list of Steven Gerrard’s to-do list when he takes over.
The best defensive midfielder in the Scottish top flight this past season, bar none. Kamara was a complete unknown with only a handful of competitive appearances after arriving at Dens following his exit from Arsenal, but he soon showed himself to be a cut above his team-mates and most of those in the league. He is excellent on the ball, comfortable passing, carrying and manouvring around opponents, and he has a tenacity out of possession which belies his wiry frame. He would have easily been placed inside the top ten were it not for a dip in form between January and March, which this writer is putting down to the rest of the Dundee side (Paul McGowan aside) weighing heavily on his back.
Go ahead and laugh. Yes, admittedly, he does have such a bizarre aversion to scoring the easiest of chances against Celtic that it feels like a comedy cliche – like something you see in gross-out teen movies or E4 sitcoms. It has led to many fans and pundits completely writing him off. Now, of course, scoring is the most important thing a striker does, so some of the criticism is deserved. But we should also respect the strengths of his game: his tenacity, his link play and hold-up skills, and his ninja-like movement around the final third. Morelos is an absolute nightmare for any centre-back at this level. He needs to work on his composure in the penalty box. It is not just about the occasion or nerves getting to him. He tends to thrash at everything which comes his way, regardless of whether or not he has already netted in a match, so his finishing is wildly inconsistent. If he improves on that, and gets over his mental block, then he will silence the doubters once and for all.
The critics were spot on in their assessment of Tavernier last year. His attacking qualities did not translate to the top flight a year after decimating the Championship, and he was routinely exposed at the opposite end, particularly in his feeble attempts to defend the back post. He had to improve at both ends and, thankfully for Rangers, he did just that.
His hat-trick of goal-saving tackles in the 2-0 home win over Aberdeen is the best example of his defensive development. The game was pretty much done and it would have been easy for Tavernier to lose his concentration, but on three separate occasions he recognised the danger and got himself between the attacker and the ball. His improvement further forward can be typified by his crossing. He went from a 25.12 per cent accuracy (one of the worst in the league) to 33.25 (one of the best).
It is hard to measure the impact of a player who, whenever he gets the ball, makes opposing players, fans and coaches clench in fearful anticipation. No matter where he is on the park, Boyle’s rapid pace enables him to attack the open areas and can help a team go from defending deep in their own area to pinning the opposition back in theirs in the blinking of an eye. It has been a breakout season for the wide man, who wasn’t even a nailed-on starter for Hibs in the Championship.
What else is there to say about Scott McKenna which hasn’t already? From the bench at Ayr United to man of the match for Scotland in the space of one year. It’s fairytale stuff.