The choice of number seemed apparent, but trying to separate the rest of the custodians was a difficult task with a number of able stoppers missing out on the final list – Mark Brown, Lee Hollis, Nicky Weaver, and Ryan Esson to name but a few. To avoid petty squabbling amid the serious business of football discussion, each member of the panel was to bring their own top 12 and then defend their selections. This finalised list is an average of where each keeper ranked.
12. Lukasz Zaluska (Celtic)
The forgotten man of Scottish football, Zaluska has made only fleeting appearances at Celtic since arriving as the back-up keeper in 2009. He’s never looked wholly comfortable in his part-time role - suffering little blips in concentration and looking unconvincing from cross balls from he has played. It would be unlikely that he’d be given the job long-term if Fraser Forster were ever sold. However, it should be remembered that during his time with Dundee United he was excellent at this level and there’s no denying he is one of the best back-ups in Scottish football. Any number of clubs would be lucky to have him as their starter.
11. Jamie Langfield (Aberdeen)
Often crucified by sections of the Aberdeen support whenever he makes a mistake, the truth is that Jamie Langfield is actually a solid Scottish football goalkeeper who just happens to suffer from a case of the yips at the worst possible time. A fine shot-stopper, when he’s switched on he can command the box in ways that many keepers in this league don’t have the ability to do. And nobody can grudge his heroic battle back from a life threatening illness to be continue playing football. It is certainly true that Aberdeen can do a lot worse between the sticks.
The reason why he appears so far down the list is that when his concentration slips he can make some horrendous errors, and, crucially, these often come in big matches.
10. Antonio Reguero (Kilmarnock)
Nobody on these shores had heard of the Spaniard when he arrived at the beginning of last season. The fact that Inverness embarked on an almost unimaginable run of results when he stepped into the first-team during the autumn was no coincidence. A poor man’s Hugo Lloris, his quick and agile style brought a continental approach to the position. Like the Frenchman at Spurs he allowed the rest of his team to push up the park, safe in the knowledge that they had a last-line of defence capable to getting to a loose ball before any attacker.
He would have featured higher up the list, but his year-and-a-half in Scotland has saw him play only six months of football. Even after his successful period in the Inverness team, Butcher still decided to bring back Esson in the later part of the campaign, while Allan Johnston has firmly stuck with Craig Samson as his number one this season. There must be something, working with him day-to-day, that his last two managers don’t like about his attributes that hasn’t become evident on the park yet.
9. Dean Brill (Inverness CT)
The journeyman did not arrive at Inverness with much of reputation and considering he was only on loan from Luton Town it was a most unexpected surprise when he defeated Ryan Esson to win the number one spot in Inverness this summer. Since then he’s proven Terry Butcher’s decision to be correct. Apart from one howler of a gaff against Partick Thistle, he’s been sure-handed all season and has pulled off a number of impressive saves.
What sets Brill apart from some of his peers is his ability to deny an opponent in a one-on-one situation; often spreading his body wide in a star-fish shape to reduce the gaps the opposing forward has to aim at. Someone who would have featured higher up the list if he had been in Scotland longer than just a few months.
8. Scott Fox (Partick Thistle)
The undersized Partick Thistle protector defied any notion that he couldn’t succeed in the top flight with a number of stunning saves to begin this season. His form was so good, in fact, that he earned himself a Scotland call up in November, becoming the first Thistle player to receive such an honour since Nicky Walker achieved the feat back in 1995. His and the club’s form has waned somewhat in the last couple of months but his performance at Easter Road proved that any upgrades Thistle want to make will not be including the goalkeeper position.
Another who isn’t all that commanding from set-pieces, but at least he doesn’t make any rash decisions that leave the goal gaping.
7. Craig Samson (Kilmarnock)
Samson has hopped between the sublime and ridiculous at different points throughout his career. Last term he suffered some dreadful displays in the opening part of the campaign, with the St Mirren crowd beginning to get vocal about his failings. Fast forward to the summer and he was a hero, having barely made a mistake in the time between and registering a crucial penalty stop from Charlie Mulgrew which helped the club reach the league cup final.
Since his move to Kilmarnock he has continued that narrative. Only a few weeks ago the home support were wondering if it were time for Antonio Reguero to get his chance, but after a couple of terrific displays against St Mirren and Aberdeen it seems inconceivable that anyone will displace him between the sticks this season. Incredibly talented, if he can just cut out the errors there is no denying he’ll be one of the league’s elite.
6. Radoslaw Cierzniak (Dundee United)
The Pole has continued the recent trend for Dundee United where by they pluck a goalkeeper from relative obscurity who then becomes an excellent player at this level.
Prone to rash decision making at times, particularly in his distribution, he’s a keeper than can cause apprehension in his own support, though he’ll often make up for the odd slip with a genuine top class save, and can provide great entertainment at the goalkeeping position with his unique character. He’s not shy of telling his teammates exactly what he thinks when mistakes are made. Watch any United goal conceded within the last year and you see a man engulfed in fury whenever an opposition player manages to get the ball past him. The stereotype of the goalkeeper is that they tend to be a bit mad. That is certainly true of Cierzniak.
5. Jamie MacDonald (Hearts)
A product of Hearts youth system, MacDonald had to be more patient than most as he sat behind Craig Gordon, Steve Banks and then Marian Kello in the pecking order over a number of years. When he finally did get his chance he didn’t do much to prove that Hearts had been wasting his talent all those years on the bench. Even by Scottish football standards he looked unsure of cross balls and rarely made up for his deficiencies with an outstanding save.
This season has been a completely different story. When it’s all said and done he’s the one Hearts player who can look back over this dire campaign and not have any regrets in his performances. He’s been simply outstanding. In fact, it wouldn’t be too much to say that, in terms of form, he’s been the best keeper in the league this term. Hibs fans are still reeling from the unbelievable stop he made from Scott Robertson which eventually proved to be a turning point in Hearts unlikely League Cup victory at Easter Road.
4. Ben Williams (Hibernian)
What sets Williams apart in the eyes of the Hibs fans isn’t just his performances, which are consistently excellent, it’s the fact that he’s managed to stop what was fast becoming a culture of inept goalkeeping at Easter Road. Whoever Hibs pushed between the posts it was inevitable that they would soon make a howler of epic proportions, usually in the biggest matches of the season against Hearts. That’s since died with the arrival of the Englishman.
Like the very best keepers, Williams is an undeniable match winner. There have been countless games within his time in Leith where he has singlehandedly kept Hibs in the game. That’s not even including the streak of penalty saves which defied logic and launched him into the Scottish football conciousness midway through his debut season. Only Fraser Forster can boast better shot-stopping abilities in Scottish football. He, like MacDonald before him, would have been higher on the list if it weren’t for their problems from cross balls.
3. Marian Kello (St Mirren)
Since leaving Hearts in April 2012, Kello had mainly sat on his backside before St Mirren came calling for his services in October. The Slovakian stopper had spent four years at Tynecastle and in the latter two of those campaigns he hoisted himself into the league’s best goalkeeper discussion with a string of stunning stops that included the award winning ‘Save of the Season’ for his 2010 denial of Steven Davis. However, since leaving Tynecastle he had spent the last 18 months warming the bench for Romanian club Astra Giurgiu and then Wolves. Had his powers rusted with time spent off the field?
Judging by the fact that St Mirren fans appreciatively chant his name at every match, it would appear not to be the case. He’s only been back three months but he’s once again proving himself to be among this country’s elite; making key stops in the recent win over Dundee United and draw with Hearts. His powers lie not only in his shot-stopping, but in his overall aura. Kello carries himself with that air of eccentricity that has defined many a great goalkeeper through the years, but he successfully straddles the line between unnerving opposing forwards and reassuring his own crowd. He, like Ben Williams, also has a penchant for penalty saves.
2. Alan Mannus (St Johnstone)
The Northern Irish international spent seven seasons at Linfield before moving south of the Irish border to play full-time professional football with Shamrock Rovers. Desperate to climb the football ladder, Mannus ensured that his Rovers contract included a clause which allowed him to leave the club if any British team club showed an interest. That moment occurred when Derek McInnes came searching for a back-up keeper to Peter Enckelman. When the Finn was culpable in a heavy defeat against Dundee United, Mannus was promoted into the starting eleven. At first his performances were shaky and St Johnstone fans were more than a little apprehensive when new boss Steve Lomas decided to enter last season with Mannus as the undoubted number one.
They needn’t have worried. Mannus produced a tremendous season and he’s continued that form into this campaign. Outside of the number one on this list, he’s the most dependable goalkeeper in the country. It is just so rare that he makes a mistake. Added to that is his tendency to pull off the occasional wonder-save, demonstrated by his brilliant denial of Kris Commons in the recent loss to Celtic, and an above-average kicking ability that helps the team move the ball from the back. The concern now for St Johnstone is that he’ll want take his talents to a higher platform, with his contract due to expire at the end of this season.
1. Fraser Forster (Celtic)
There was never any doubt. When Barcelona are describing your number one as “The Great Wall” you know that you’ve got one helluva goalkeeper on yours hands.
Forster arrived at Celtic Park as the short-term solution to the goalkeeping problems following Artur Boruc’s departure. On loan from Newcastle, the club were catch in what seemed a catch-22 scenario. If Forster proved himself a worthy replacement then his club would surely want him back; if he didn’t then Celtic would have regressed back to the mid-90s and early noughties where the goalkeeping position was of constant concern to the Parkhead side.
Incredibly, not only did Forster exceed all expectations, but Newcastle didn’t even want him back. Since his move became permanent he’s kept up the terrific form and drew praise from around the globe for his performances in Celtic’s Champions League run last season. His talents go beyond mere shot-stopping; Forster is intimidating as they come in one-on-one situations where he refuses to give the striker an easy option and puts every part of his bulky frame in front of the football. Even in matches where Celtic are beaten, as evidenced by the games against Milan and Barcelona at Celtic Park this season, he still manages to come out with his head held high. The undisputed best keeper in Scotland.