Player of the year: James Tavernier. But he can’t defend! At least that was the criticism often directed his way at Ibrox, even as recently as the beginning of this year, when Steven Gerrard’s side collapsed in alarming fashion. Not that that could be pinned on Tavernier alone. This season he has been outstanding, recently scoring his 17th goal of a remarkable campaign (he only scored three last season). Now in his sixth season at the club, he’s simply getting better and better. David Beckham or even Gerrard himself would have been proud to score a free-kick like the one the netted from around 30 yards at Tannadice in the 2-1 win over Dundee United earlier this month. Tavernier would swap all of this personal glory to be the Rangers skipper that lifts the Scottish title at the end of the season.
Young player: Aaron Hickey. He started off the year playing for Hearts in a 5-0 Scottish Cup win over Airdrie. His last match of 2020 was starting a Serie A clash in the San Siro for Bologna against Inter Milan. Not bad for someone who is still – still – just 18-years-old. Currently out of the team after contracting Covid 19, Hickey managed to fit in a £1.5m move to Bologna into a pandemic-interrupted year. He has performed well in Italy while dealing with the task of settling into a new environment. When he arrived in September, he targeted playing just one Serie A game before Christmas. In actual fact, he has played most weeks until his recent positive test.
Moment: There could only be one. Looking back from the safety of a few weeks, it was so much better than Scotland nearly ‘Scotlanded’ it by conceding in the final moments of the 90 minutes in the play-off final v Serbia, thereby securing another half an hour of heart-in-mouth action before a penalty shoot-out where Scotland continued their penchant for slotting home penalties - 12 out of 12 this year alone. The drama became unbearable. And just to add to it, there was that delay, as David Marshall paused to check with the referee that his save from Aleksandar Mitrovic’s decisive kick had been deemed legal, before his upturned thumbs signalled it was time for a whole country to lose their collective minds.
Manager: Steve Clarke. In light of the winner of the above award, it can really only be one person. The Scotland manager returned from lockdown with a plan. Clarke has done what no-one has done since Craig Brown in 1997 and led the Scottish men’s team to a major finals. He has been strong and sometimes stern but always completely dedicated to making Scotland better, sticking to his contention that a three-at-the-back system, which controversially included Scott McTominay at right centre-half, was the way forward. Not everyone agreed. In fact, after a turgid 1-1 draw with Israel and then lucky 2-1 win over a Czech Republic 3rd XI, the majority were actively willing him to think again. But Scotland improved and while perhaps fortunate at times in the semi-final play-off against Israel, absolutely deserved to progress at the expense of Serbia on a night of nights in Belgrade.
Signing: Charlie Adam. It was long the hope among Dundee fans that Adam might finish up his career at Dens Park, the ground where he grew up watching football. His release by Stoke City last summer provided the opportunity for Adam, then 34-year-old, to make an emotional homecoming. Things dragged on for a while but eventually Dundee managed to put in place the finances via club sponsors. Adam spoke movingly about his pride at signing at his unveiling as well as revealing an added factor in his desire to come home was his mother Ellie’s recent cancer diagnosis. She passed away just a few days ago, shortly after Adam scored one of the goals of the season at the home end at Dens Park against Dunfermline. His contribution has exceeded what Dundee supporters dared expect in an otherwise difficult season for the Dens Park club.
Most improved player: Declan Gallagher. The Motherwell – and Scotland – centre-half may not agree that he’s improved. At 29, he might feel he’s just doing what he’d done all along – defended consistently and with one main overriding objective: to stop strikers scoring. He has been immense since coming into the Scotland side again following the first two games of the year, and after Scott McKenna had withdrawn from the squad for the games v Israel, Slovakia and Czech Republic. He is now in poll position to be in the heart of the Scottish defence for the Euro 2020 group games against Czech Republic, England and Croatia this summer. Also deserving mention in this category is the Australian-born Lyndon Dykes, who has gone from a pretty decent forward for Livingston at the start of the year to leading the line for Scotland – via a quick trip to the passport office.
Biggest disappointment: There has been a series of them. In fact, every weekend right now, throughout grounds in Scotland, the disappointments are laid literally bare in the form of empty seats and deserted terraces. There have been no fans in to witness some very special occasions in Scottish football, including most recently the epic Scottish Cup final between Hearts and Celtic. It was particularly heartbreaking that when Scotland finally managed to qualify for a major finals in Serbia, there were no members of the redoubtable Tartan Army to witness it, nor were there at Hampden for the semi-final victory v Israel. One day, soon, the turnstiles will click again and the football landscape will be transformed.
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