11 lower league players who could step up to the Premiership

Plundering the lower leagues for the best talent can be a dicey game. For every Andy Robertson there are a handful who struggle badly with the step up in class and these unfortunate souls end up drifting back down from whence they came.

Barrie McKay has been excellent for Rangers. Picture: SNS
Barrie McKay has been excellent for Rangers. Picture: SNS

However, it is a completely undervalued market and a manager can really add something to his side if he picks carefully. With that in mind, we asked Shaughan McGuigan from the Terrace Scottish Football Podcast to choose a select XI of lower league talent who could make the step up. The one rule: he couldn’t choose anyone that had played in the top flight already. He would break said rule on three occasions, but seeing as they were guys who featured mainly as young substitutes some years ago, we allowed them to remain in the side.

Goalkeeper: Scott Gallacher (Alloa Athletic)

Choosing the goalkeeper who represented one of Scotland’s most porous clubs last term may be an odd choice, but there is method to this madness. At 26-years of age, Scott Gallacher has been on the books of some of Scotland’s biggest clubs in Rangers and Hearts, but had always played second or even third fiddle. His release from the Jambos coincided with Jack Ross’ arrival at Alloa Athletic, and the new Wasps boss was happy to bring him on board after releasing previous first-choice Andy McNeill. Gallacher’s excellent command of his area, allied with that old chestnut, good shot-stopping skills, gave Alloa a greater rigidity, although he was ultimately powerless to stave off Alloa’s eventual relegation. Premiership bound or not, Gallacher will surely be back in full-time football again next term.

The XI.

Right-back: Nicky Devlin (Ayr United)

While the Honest Men’s season ended in success with promotion via the play-offs, on a personal level, it was something of an up-and-down one for their 22-year-old captain Nicky Devlin. His performance arc was probably similar to the club’s, with his vibrant displays up and down the right-flank tapering off at roughly the same time that Ayr’s title challenge faltered. Both Devlin and Ayr put that to one side however, eventually eliminating Peterhead and Stranraer in the Championship play-offs confirming their place in the second-tier for the first time since the 2011/12 season. Devlin may be a long way from the finished article, but how he performs in a difficult looking Championship next term will be an excellent litmus test of his abilities.

Left-back: Jordan Marshall (Queen of the South)

After the Palmerston Park exodus last summer, it was always expected that the Doonhamers would be required to take a step or two backwards this term. However, even with realistically clipped ambition, the season was perched somewhere between ho-hum and turgid, culminating in the departure of manager James Fowler just before the season’s end. Part of the reasoning behind that change was that Fowler had fared poorly in terms of squad assembly, and that’s at least partly true, but not in the case of 19-year-old left-back Jordan Marshall. The defender impressed right from the get-go after signing from Carlisle, and while injury curtailed his finish to his season, he showed more than enough to suggest he could be an important facet of the new manager’s side next term.

The XI.

Central defender: Luca Gasparotto (Greenock Morton)

Canadian youth international, Luca Gasporotto has been a popular mainstay at whichever club he’s been at, with the notable exception of one. Unable to squeeze himself into the Ibrox starting line up, the talented 21-year-old has impressed on loan spells at Airdrieonians and most recently Greenock Morton, where the calm-beyond-his-years central defender played a key-role in keeping Jim Duffy’s team well clear of an expected dalliance with the relegation spots. With his summer departure from Rangers confirmed, the 21-year-old will be a free-agent in a few weeks. Considering the defender’s blossoming reputation however, that situation presumably won’t last long.

Central defender: Peter Grant (Falkirk)

It may be difficult for Falkirk central-defender Peter Grant to top-trump the career his namesake father had in the game, but Peter junior is giving it a damn good try. His Dad may have been lazy when it came to selecting a boy’s name, but there was nothing lackadaisical about his rambunctious performances in midfield for Celtic, during their down-in-the-dumps period of the late-eighties and early-nineties. Handily for his son, the tenaciousness he demonstrated in the hoops appears to have filtered down through the family D.N.A. In short, Grant has become something of a colossus for a Falkirk side who refuse to know when they’re beaten, and his importance to the side has been underlined by the increase in the number of goals they’ve conceded since he picked up an injury back in February. If Peter Houston’s Falkirk side can gain promotion to the Premiership by defeating Kilmarnock in the play-off final, then a fit again Grant could be key to keeping them there.

Left Midfield: Barrie McKay (Rangers)

Has any Scottish footballer in recent years undergone such a dramatic turnaround? From being groaned at in Greenock and castigated in Kirkcaldy, the winger now seems irreplaceable at Ibrox after a fantastic season under Mark Warburton. His ability to unlock defences made him one of Rangers most important players for a huge part of last season, and even after a blip in form he rebounded to score one of the goals of the season against Celtic in the 3-2 win in the Scottish Cup semi-final. With his form justifying his recent call-up to Gordon Strachan’s Scotland squad, becoming a permanent member of the national team isn’t beyond the capabilities of the ebullient 21-year-old.

Right Midfield: Kyle Wilkie (East Fife)

It was interesting to note that despite Nathan Austin’s fantastic goal-scoring form for East Fife, a goal-laden spree that won the forward a move to Falkirk, it was midfielder Kyle Wilkie who walked away with two of the club’s player-of-the-year awards. It may be a long shot that the 25-year-old could find himself in the Premsiership next season, but with nine goals and 12 assists to his name during last season’s League Two winning campaign, Gary Naysmith will face a tough task in holding on to the former Livingston player, who must have at least one eye on a move higher up the footballing food chain.

Central midfielder: Ross Callachan (Raith Rovers)

It’s been a somewhat back-from-the brink year-and-a-half for Ross Callachan, a player who appeared to be making a slow, inexorable move down the leagues when former manager Grant Murray sanctioned a loan move to Peterhead 18-months ago. Callachan decided to stay at Stark’s Park and fight for his place, and was rewarded by becoming one of their brightest buttons in the second half of the 2014/15 season, apparently attracting the eye of Ross County in the process. An injury affected season curtailed his development last time out, with his performances swinging from influential to infuriating. If he can stock up on the former and cut back on the latter, a move to brighter lights than Kirkcaldy wouldn’t be beyond him.

Central midfield: Marvin Bartley (Hibernian)

Hibernian’s midfield powerhouse is probably emblematic of the Leith’s side current malaise. On his day, Bartley can look like the destroyer of worlds, never mind opponents’ hopes, but on too many occasions he can look like a bystander in a team which appears pre-ordained to ultimately end in disaster or hilarity, depending on your point of view . Whilst players such as Liam Henderson, Dylan McGeough and Json Cummings command greater column inches than Bartley, the reason he’s often kept out the side by Fraser Fyvie is something only Alan Stubbs could possibly know. A match winner when on point, Bartley could be a key player in this weekend’s Scottish Cup Final.

Striker: Faissal El Bakhtaoui (Dunfermline Athletic)

Most people return from the beach with sand in their trainers or a touch of sunburn, but not grizzly galoot Jim Jefferies. He returned from his holidays in 2012 with the man they call the Moroccan magician, Faissal El Bakhtaoui. The forward remained a largely peripheral player until the 2013-14 campaign, but it was only the last season where he truly demonstrated what he’s capable of. Although he’d always shown an aptitude for hard work and clever, fast movement, he’d a lacked a genuine goal return, but the 30 he bagged in all competitions this past term ticked yet another box. With his deal now up at East End Park, and rumours abound of interest from Motherwell, El Bakhtaoui’s time in the Kingdom appears to be at an end.

Striker: Rory McAllister (Peterhead)

It’s disappointing that we’ll probably never get the opportunity to find out just how good the talented forward really is. After initially flaming out with ICT in the top flight, he rebuilt his career as a deadly goalscorer in League One with Brechin City and looked poised to use his career momentum to move back to the top flight. Instead, he decided to combine his plumbing apprenticeship with part-time football, denying a number of bigger clubs from snapping him up. But while that was their loss, it was very much Peterhead’s gain. Since then, McAllister has rifled in 118 goals in five seasons with the Balmoor club, and while the 29-year-old could possibly still do a job in the Premiership, it appears it would take a big offer to entice him away from u-bends, sinks and Jim McInally.