Part three in Craig Fowler’s list counting down the SPFL’s best players from the 2017/18 season
30. Allan Campbell (Motherwell)
No doubt about it, Campbell is one of the most exciting young players in Scottish football right now. Even over the course of this last season his improvement was eye-catching. He began the campaign as a scrapper, always willing to dive into tackles and playing with the enthusiasm which you would expect from a youngster eager to make his mark. As the season has progressed, he became so much more than just a battler, becoming increasingly proficient at driving forward from midfield, either with or without the ball, and making things happen in the final third. He’s got a bright, bright future ahead of him.
29. Paul McGowan (Dundee)
Without McGowan and his midfield partner Glen Kamara, there is little doubt that Dundee would have been relegated from the Ladbrokes Premiership. Neil McCann wanted his side to adopt a passing philosophy and, especially after the loss of Jack Hendry and Scott Allan in January, the burden mainly fell on those two. It really brought out the best in McGowan, who would also propel attacks by driving forward from deep. Meanwhile, the pair did a commendable job of trying to protect a defensive unit which continually made a mess of things in almost slapstick fashion.
28. Graeme Shinnie (Aberdeen)
This is clearly the “combative midfielder” section of the top 50. The Aberdeen captain wasn’t quite at his best over the course – which is something that could be said of most players in red this campaign, despite them finishing second –though he was still an important presence in the centre of the park. He led the Scottish Premiership in defensive duels with 410 (almost 50 clear of the closest competitor) as his tenacity and driving runs from midfield continued to keep the Dons on the front foot even when the attack lacked cohesion.
27 Jordan Jones (Kilmarnock)
Who doesn’t love watching a winger who just wants to run at defenders? Jones led the league in dribbles this past campaign, clocking up a staggering 399 in the top flight, over 100 more than the player in second place. Not only does he possess real pace, his agility and elusiveness make him a nightmare for defenders, and it was little surprise to see him thriving in a No 10 role earlier this campaign when Killie were still struggling to get started and needed some thrust from central areas. Though he would suffer a drop-off in performance when reports linking him with a move to Rangers knocked his concentration, he soon picked it up again once the January window shut. Killie fans will be desperate to see him stick around next summer – when his contract expires – unless a suitor is willing to pay around £1 million to snatch him away.
26. Kenny McLean (Aberdeen)
Aberdeen could not have asked for a better deal when Kenny McLean was sold to Norwich City in January. They received money for a player on an expiring deal and they were allowed to keep said player for the rest of the season. And, rather than being distracted by an impending move, they got the best version of McLean after the deal was sealed.
Perhaps it was the confidence lift from knowing he was wanted by an English Championship club, maybe it was ridding himself of all the uncertainty. Whatever it was, McLean was transformed after January. He was undoubtedly the Dons’ best player down the stretch, dictating games from the centre, and, without him, there’s no chance they’d have finished best of the rest once more.
25. Stephen O’Donnell (Kilmarnock)
One theory for why Kilmarnock were such a team transformed under Steve Clarke was that a number of the new signings made by previous boss Lee McCulloch weren’t fully fit after arriving last summer. O’Donnell seemed to embody that. At first, he looked like a completely different player to the one who’d left Partick Thistle just two years previously. There were very few roving runs down the flank as he appeared cumbersome trying to move both with and without the ball. Then, gradually, his form picked up. Finding an extra gear, he was able to use his stamina, speed and size to continually motor past opponents. His Scotland call-up was a surprise to some, but not to those who had been watching him since November.
24. David Templeton (Hamilton)
The former Hearts and Rangers attacker was arguably the most valuable player in the top flight this term. Without his creativity playing just off the Hamilton forward line, it’s hard to imagine Martin Canning’s team remaining in the top flight.
He had some help in the first half of the season but, once Greg Docherty moved to Rangers in January, there wasn’t a lot else to Accies’ attack other than Templeton’s guile. He’ll be a huge miss next term.
23. Kyle Lafferty (Hearts)
He can often disappear from games and he only seems to give centre-backs a tough time physically when they’re wearing Celtic shirts, but how can you argue with 19 goals in all competitions? If Hearts are able to find a partner (or No 10) who can play alongside the Northern Irishman, then he could have an even better season next time around.
22. Olivier Ntcham (Celtic)
There are games where Ntcham dominates proceedings. He gets on the ball constantly and dictates the flow of the game, while also being a threat to pop up in the final third with a telling pass or thunderous shot from distance. Then there are some games where he is barely seen. Having made just 22 league starts prior to his arrival at Parkhead, and at 22 years of age, it’s something which shouldn’t bother Celtic right now. They’ll know that, if he learns to play every game with the same intensity as he greets an Old Firm derby at Ibrox, for example, then he will become the best player in the country.
21. Efe Ambrose (Hibs)
Ambrose came back into the top flight and proved he was better than the player we saw during the tail end of his spell with Celtic. He’s still made mistakes, though not as frequently, and he doesn’t look anywhere near as composed when he’s played out at right-back. However, for the most part, the Easter Road faithful were treated to a centre-back who epitomised cool by calmly taking the ball off opposing strikers before wandering down the field with it.
LAST SEASON’S TOP 50