The heroes. Whenever we leave our respective houses and make the trip to our hallowed turfs, we all dream of glory, and these are the guys who largely deliver the indescribable moments of joy that we pine for.
With three top flight forwards netting over 20 goals this past season, and two others doing so from the Championship, we believe Scottish football to be blessed with a plethora of decent-to-great strikers. And it was this list, more than any other, where we had a hard time leaving off a couple of names who we felt sure deserved their place among the dozen, but just couldn’t find the room to squeeze them in.
Anyway, without further introduction, the contributors of The Terrace Scottish Football Podcast count down the list.
12. Alex Schalk (Ross County)
Much like one of his arching runs, Schalk just nipped in ahead of some who had performed more consistently across a longer part of the season.
The Dutchman signed outwith the transfer window and out of match fitness. After injuries to the deadly duo of Liam Boyce and Craig Curran, Schalk not only grasped his opportunity, he gave his side a new dimension to their attack.
None more so than in the semi-final of the League Cup. Before, we had become accustomed to Ross County working the ball wide and piling crosses into the box. For this match they lined up with Schalk as a lone striker who would drop deep to link with midfielders before making darting runs behind the defence.
He was involved in all three of his side’s goals that day: winning the penalty which saw Efe Ambrose dismissed; cheekily holding Craig Gordon for the second (which he thought about denying but admitted to when quizzed about it post-match); before slamming the third home and gesticulating with self-assuredness that the game was over.
A month later Schalk bundled in a last-minute winner in the final, cementing his legendary status. Moreover, the diminutive striker scored the goal that sealed the top six – despite not being fully fit. For a man who only scored nine goals across the season, he sure netted some important ones. (CC)
11. Kenny Miller (Rangers)
Barrie McKay’s rise to prominence wasn’t the only surprising turnaround tale to emanate from Ibrox last season. As recently as the turn-of-the-year, an appearance from the bench from Kenny Miller was greeted with polite applause by Rangers fans rather than a raucous roar. He seemed something of a busted-flush, an unpopular Plan B that was proof-positive that while Mark Warburton had recruited quality during his short tenure, he was well short of quantity.
Just like form however, opinions can be temporary, and after Miller was restored to the starting line-up for the final match of 2015, a vital 4-2 win over Hibernian, the vintage striker barely looked back, adding a much-needed top-up to a team who, at that point, had won just two league games from the previous six. Miller didn’t score in that match but he managed 10 in his next 10 starts, and perhaps more importantly, grasped the nettle when free-scoring forward Martyn Waghorn was ruled out through injury in February.
It says much about Miller’s form that Waghorn’s absence was barely noticed. The 36-year-old may not have been better than his injured team-mate, but he certainly provided something different, with his range of movement proving perplexing to opposition defences. It goes without saying that he’s lost a yard of pace, but he’s not exactly a slouch, while his speed of thought and awareness of where he needed to be gave him an advantage over some of the more leaden footed Championship defenders.
While plundering 21 goals in all competitions may be seen as a good, rather than exceptional, return at that level, his performances against Celtic and Hibernian in the latter two stages of the Scottish Cup suggest the wily old fox can be a handful to Premiership defences next season too. (SM)
10. Liam Boyce (Ross County)
It’s hard to categorise and refine Liam Boyce into just one mould of striker. For he isn’t merely a poacher who relies on scraps to get by and he isn’t just a target for route one football. He possesses many attributes that make him such a versatile option for Jim McIntyre up front.
Not only is he one of the best finishers in the league - showing great diversity in the manner in which he finds the net - but he is also capable of dropping deep and bringing others into play with his creativity and strength on the ball.
He also boasts a natural flair, rare for a striker of his physique, with neat flicks and touches rounding out his game.
Going into 2016 you’d have wagered that Boyce was almost a cert for selection in Michael O’Neill’s squad for the EUROs this summer, as a backup option at the very least. However, this wasn’t to be the case.
It’s safe to say that the striker’s form dropped emphatically at the turn of the year, with only three goals in 18 appearances in all competitions.
There’s no question that Boyce will be in contention for his country once again, especially if he reproduces the performances which commanded the attention of many suitors before County extended his contract for a further two seasons. (IW)
9. Miles Storey (Inverness CT/Soon to be Aberdeen)
Billy McKay. Jonny Hayes. Marley Watkins. Miles Storey. Inverness Caledonian Thistle love an attacking talisman to throw their hope upon only to see them painfully depart, often to Aberdeen. The latest in this chain is the latterly aforementioned Storey, who provided roughly 98 per cent of the ‘hit’ in an incredibly hit & miss season for the Caley Jags.
A worthy addition to the Terrace Top 12 Strikers list, Storey excited ICT fans with his pace, movement and goalscoring exploits throughout the season following his signing on loan from Swindon Town. His ability to trouble defences with his off-the-shoulder last-man demolition jobs turned a lot of heads and gained deserved plaudits for a mostly misfiring Caley Thistle team. Not only did his goals draw attention, his work-rate and team focused attitude allowed his colleagues breathing space further up the park and, unfortunately, earned himself a misjudged move onto the wing when Yogi’s men had to try something, anything to stop a bit of mid-season rot. Although occasionally wasteful in front of goal, 13 goals and four assists in all competitions for a 22-year-old playing his first full professional season is a very impressive return, and this has earned him a move to Europa League bound Aberdeen in the process.
If he can summon his early season form where he fired seven goals in 11 games, and if he can source himself a competent barber, there’s every chance Miles Storey could find himself near the top of this list in a years time. (RB)
8. Jason Cummings (Hibernian)
In just two full seasons, Jason Cummings has scored 46 goals. That is surely reason enough to include him in this list. But it’s his character that probably should be rewarded. Cummings, let’s not forgot, missed the penalty that resigned Hibs to the Championship. Lesser young strikers would have wilted.
Instead Cummings thrived. He’s a big game player with a big game mentality. Who else enjoys scoring so often against Rangers and Hearts (the team, lest we forget, that released him)? Who else would have panenka’d a penalty in a cup semi-final? Who else would hold up a cabbage on an open bus tour?
Questions remain about Cummings’ ceiling. Did we see shades of it during the second half of this season? His inability to form a relationship with Anthony Stokes was concerning, so much so that he was dropped to the bench for the second leg of the playoff match against Falkirk.
Rumours are circulating that Rangers are interested in him, as are Rotherham. Could a potential move there by Alan Stubbs seal that deal? One thing we know for sure is that he’ll always back himself. And confident, irrepressible strikers are exactly what football needs. And Jason Cummings has both by the shed load. (DM)
7. Kris Doolan (Partick Thistle)
Mr Partick Thistle - as he’ll no doubt one day be called - has continuously fought for his position as the club’s main striker during their time in the Scottish top flight. It’s an ongoing battle where Doolan must wait on the next competitor each transfer window and yet, when the final bell sounds, he continues to be the last man standing.
Perhaps manager Alan Archibald feels he needs an upgrade at striker to continue the club’s upward trajectory as they aim for an elusive spot in the top six. But then most teams within the elite half dozen would love to have a reliable goalscorer in the mould of Doolan.
Though he earns his crust inside the penalty area, netting in double figures in each of the last three seasons, he’s more than just a goalscorer. Doolan works tirelessly for the side, whether it’s dropping deep to link with team-mates, a must in Thistle’s 4-2-3-1, or chasing lost causes to put the opposing side under pressure.
Even though he has found himself on the bench at times - behind John Baird, Lyle Taylor and then Mathias Pogba - he’s never once complained or even looked like he’s sulking. Instead, he rises from the bench with the same determination regardless of circumstance. If all players had the professionalism of Kris Doolan, football would be a better sport. (CF)
6. Steven MacLean (St Johnstone)
Though he became a bonafide St Johnstone legend thanks to his game-clinching goal in the 2014 Scottish Cup final, MacLean was already an immensely popular player with the McDiarmid Park support and has been throughout his three-and-a-half-year stay in Perth.
Not only does he know his way to goal, MacLean has continuously been marvelled at by his supporters for his work outside the area. Few strikers in Scotland know how to link as effectively with team-mates in midfield or bring out the best in his strike-partner. As with many other players in the St Johnstone first team, his intelligence and hard work on the park allow him to perform to his full capabilities. Despite never being the quickest or strongest of strikers this has never been a problem against opposing defenders. He just knows where and how to put himself about.
The only real downside to his game, other than his advancing years, has been his problems with injuries. This past campaign he remained relatively healthy throughout after missing large chunks of the previous two seasons. So, as well as St Johnstone have played over that stretch, it’s safe to say Tommy Wright’s side could have accomplished even more with a little bit more luck. (CF)
5. Martyn Waghorn (Rangers)
The Ibrox striker is a walking penalty magnet. What’s not to like?
In all seriousness, Waghorn may have a reputation among cynical opposing fans as someone who bloats his goalscoring numbers from the spot, but he’s much more than just a opportunistic hitman.
In Rangers’ 4-3-3 system, the team need a central striker both capable of dropping deep to start attacks and getting into the box to finish off moves, and they found the perfect fit in Waghorn. His squatty frame, low centre of gravity and sound first-touch make him an ideal player with his back to goal. And once he moves possession on to another blue shirt, he turns and hungrily dashes into the area to get on the end of any final ball. In fact, one deficiency from his game is a tendency to miss a couple of great chances for everyone he scores. Although, as any manager would put it, you’d rather have him missing those opportunities than not getting them at all.
He perhaps could have featured higher on the list but without a top flight resume, for the time being, it felt only fair to place him a little lower down, especially as he missed two of Rangers’ cup ties against top flight opponents in Dundee and Celtic. (CF)
4. Louis Moult (Motherwell)
There cannot be many Motherwell players who have announced themselves on a Tuesday night in Methil. The former Wrexham hit-man arrived at Fir Park having scored forty goals in two seasons in the English Conference, and set a target of making that sixty. Despite falling just short of this lofty ambition (only two have managed it since the turn of the century in claret and amber), Moult has cemented himself as the Steelmen’s first choice centre-forward. Having started as under-study to Wes Fletcher, in amongst the myriad of striking options at Ian Baraclough’s disposal, Moult began slowly. An early goal against St Johnstone in a 2-1 loss hinted at potential, but it was his battling display against East Fife, when starved of service, he scrapped tooth and nail to bring Motherwell back into the tie.
Quite aside from his fantastic goal return, Moult has shown real flexibility in his play, popping up on the right, left and in the hole in Mark McGhee’s fluid front three. A vital part of Motherwell’s rise to finish top six, Moult slotted seven winning goals for the Fir Park men. Not only this, but Moult scored against every team he has come up against, including a wonderful double against Celtic at Parkhead, the first Motherwell player to achieve such a feat since Dougie Arnott 15 years previous. (GT)
3. Adam Rooney (Aberdeen)
Irishman Rooney has become a staple part of our Scottish football diet. He has been a part of two “eras”, firstly taking the old first division and SPL by storm with Inverness, scoring an outstanding 45 goals. He sadly left us to have another crack at English football before deciding to come back, doing what he does best by terrorising Scottish defences.
While Adam was thought of as a bit of a poacher in his Inverness days there is no doubt there is much more to his game this time around. His ability to run the channels and hold the ball up gives Aberdeen an extra dimension to their counter attacking play. When he does this it allows for McLean to take up Rooney’s role in the centre, while Niall McGinn can also get central to support. His awareness and crossing ability are also underrated, meaning when he gets the ball wide he can create genuine goal scoring opportunities for his team mates. Despite adding more to his game the goals have continued to flood in. Normally with that incredibly driven, laced and low controlled strike he likes. The way he hits his penalties is just the perfect example of how he loves to strike a ball the majority of the time.
With his current tally of 89 league goals in Scotland from only 141 starts, there can be no doubt in any fan, player or manager’s mind that Rooney deserves his position in the top 12 strikers. He will score his 100th league goal next season and at 28, with the improvement he has shown with age already, he can continue to get better and hit well over 150 goals if he stays at the Dons. (TA)
2. Kane Hemmings (Dundee)
Yes, he’s scored more goals this season than any bottom six striker should ever lay claim to, but don’t think that Kane Hemmings is a one trick pony - this total doesn’t solely come from route one tactics, penalty/free kick duties or a lack of competition up front.
Hemmings is that rare breed of striker whose game is actually pretty complete. He has pace to burn, the strength to hold off mountain trolls (let alone ICT centre backs) and is able to create space for a simple pass from Stewart and Harkins out of nothing.
His link-up play with the aforementioned playmakers is another string to his bow, and apart from when Dundee were down to ten men in the penultimate Dundee derby it’s hard to think of another game where he was isolated up front and incapable of dragging the game up the park.
His intuitive understanding with former Cowdenbeath team-mate Stewart has undoubtedly helped Hemmings settle in to Premiership life, and he does seem to operate better as the sole striker with support further back rather than as part of a front two; however, even with these caveats, his performances and contribution this season has been immeasurable and he’d be a big, big loss if he’s prised away this summer. (GC)
1. Leigh Griffiths (Celtic)
Very few people would disagree that Griffiths is currently the best striker in the SPFL. The Celtic hitman netted 40 goals in all competitions this season, which is the highest tally any player has managed since Henrik Larsson left the club.
However, it would seem that some take this strength for granted, as evidence by the sheer amount of doubters the striker attracts with regards to his ability to do so at a higher level, which then subtracts from the credit he gets for his goalscoring exploits in the domestic game. At the age of 25, Griffiths has already scored over 150 goals in Scottish football. And there are signs that he is just beginning to hit his peak - this season has been the most prolific of his career to date.
He’s already grown as a player substantially in the last 18 months. While a very good player with Hibs, his first-touch left a lot to be desired and, while it was exciting to watch, he would often get tunnel vision in some games, looking to win the match on his own rather than trusting his team-mates - although, admittedly, in that Hibernian team it maybe wasn’t a bad strategy. In addition to improving these deficiencies in his game, he’s fitter, more disciplined on and off the park, and has kept the ruthless shooting ability which has always marked him out as a player of great interest.
Assuming that he remains as Celtic’s main striker for the next few years, it’s entirely plausible that he’ll continue to grow with the rest of the team and become the force he is in the SPFL on the continent and for Scotland. (CA/CF)
Written by Craig Anderson, Tony Anderson, Robert Borthwick, Craig Cairns, Gary Cocker, Craig Fowler, Shaughan McGuigan, Duncan McKay, Graeme Thewliss and Ieuan Williams