Part one in Craig Fowler’s list counting down the SPFL’s best players from the 2017/18 season.
50. Youssouf Mulumbu (Kilmarnock)
The Congolose midfielder is only in at No.50 for one specific reason: he didn’t play enough football. Full disclosure, it’s a nightmare trying to put together these lists. You end up with about 75 players you want to include and then agonise over which ones to chop. In order to make the process (slightly) easier I tend not to include players who’ve often featured in half a season. So if you’re hoping to find Curtis Main, Florian Kamberi or Jamie Maclaren you’ll be sorely disappointed. They won’t feature.
Mulumbu makes the list because, a) he signed in November, and b) he made such an impact that it was impossible not to include him, even though that would have made things simpler. Kilmarnock were already improved under Stevie Clarke, but Mulumbu took them to another level. Without him there would have been no victory over Celtic, no comeback against Rangers before Christmas or win at Ibrox in the new year. He gave his team-mates and the club a lift and he deserves to be recognised as a result.
49. Alan Lithgow (Livingston)
The lower league journeyman will get his first taste of Ladbrokes Premiership football after a terrific campaign with Livingston culminated in ascension to the top flight. The 30-year-old has often been viewed as one of the more talented players in the lower leagues and it’s likely he would have garnered at least some interest from the bigger clubs were it not for a much-publicised conviction ten years ago.
48. Alex Schalk (Ross County)
The Dutchman came close to not making the list, seeing as he spent parts of the campaign playing behind Thomas Mikkelsen, Billy Mckay and Inih Effiong in the pecking order. However, seeing as he scored 13 goals for the worst team in the top flight we can put his omission from the team down to a lack of competency from his various managers.
47. Scott Sinclair (Celtic)
Yes, yes, yes. I know. Sinclair has not been great this season. He started slow and got worse. However, he still finished as the top goalscorer on the best team in the country. Had he put in the exact same level of performance for any other club, especially one in the bottom six, we would probably have been hailing him rather than continually questioning how poor he was playing.
46. Murray Davidson (St Johnstone)
This is the only St Johnstone player to make the list. A few others came into consideration but didn’t quite achieve the required level of performance across the campaign, underlining how many of the Saints team struggled to live up to their previous standards.
Steven MacLean hit only nine goals, Joe Shaughnessy was at fault for more goals than the previous two seasons combined, Liam Craig was a creative outlet but overall he struggled in midfield, and Steven Anderson’s form fell off a cliff. Alan Mannus missed around half of his team’s games, and while Scott Tanser was a surprise positive filling in for Brian Easton at left-back, he didn’t quite have enough to make the list.
That leaves Davidson. While his displays may not have matched his contribution from previous seasons, he was Saints most consistent player across the campaign, which is all the more impressive when you consider he had about six different midfield partners along the way.
As an aside, young Fraser Kerr came close to a place after some excellent showings following his loan from Queen of the South in the first half of the campaign. If he keeps this up he’ll definitely make a top 50 in the near future.
45. Lewis Stevenson (Hibs)
The most curious Scotland selection since Ian Black he may be, but Stevenson certainly deserves to feel proud of his call-up after the best campaign of his career. Aside from the final two games, he was reliable defensively and improved his game going forward, particularly his crossing which was previously an issue for the left-back who, until recently, was regarded by many Hibs supporters as a natural central midfielder playing out of position.
44. Jamie MacDonald (Kilmarnock)
The best goalkeeper in the first half of the campaign. MacDonald didn’t make any glaring errors and managed to pull off about four outstanding saves. Once he (almost literally) threw one in the net against Hibs before the turn of the year, his form dropped off a bit with a couple of more (less obvious) gaffes creeping in. However, he continued to make some fine stops and was, in this writer’s opinion, the third best goalkeeper in the top flight this past season.
43. Gary Harkins (Morton)
Similar to Kris Boyd’s renaissance in the top flight. Harkins looked finished after a disappointing campaign with Ayr United, who managed to finish bottom of the second tier last term despite the best efforts of Gary Locke and John Hughes at relegation rivals Raith Rovers. His signing at Morton raised a few eyebrows, as many felt his next move would have been down a division and into part-time football. Harkins proved the doubters wrong with a terrific season. Playing largely in a deeper role than we’re used to seeing the mercurial magician perform, he was able to dictate games with his superior technique and passing. He also chipped in with eight goals as Morton looked certain to make the playoffs before a late season collapse cost Jim Duffy his job.
42. Tom Rogic (Celtic)
Another one of those Celtic players who very nearly didn’t make the list. Unsurprisingly given his track record, Rogic struggled with injury at times this past season. He also didn’t enjoy the brightest of starts before fitness problems caught up with him. However, there’s little doubt he’s one of the best players in the country - in terms of pure talent, he might be No.1 - and he’s shown it in the big matches, particularly against Rangers.
41. Cammy Smith (St Mirren)
The hipster selection as St Mirren’s player of the year. While Lewis Morgan provided the thrills with his trickery and direct running, Smith was the attacker who brought his A-game every single week. He netted 12 goals in all competitions, brought an additional source of creativity to the attack and consistently ran himself into the ground.
LAST SEASON’S TOP 50