The first thought was ‘is there 12 goalkeepers good enough for the list?’. Of course, in the end there were, but with no representation from the Championship, Ross County or Dundee.
Last year the top three were Craig Gordon, Joe Lewis and Tomas Cerny. None of those three have enjoyed as strong a campaign but there is a few new entries with the second tier of goalkeepers impressing and the general standard across the top tier being ‘okay’.
Note: Putting these lists together is a fine balancing act, with current form, potential and previous seasons taken into consideration. Debate and criticise the selections at your leisure.
12. Scott Bain (Dundee/Hibs/Celtic)
The Celtic goalkeeper could make the case for having the most surreal season. Two starring matches for two different teams, a loan move to a third club, a fall-out with one manager and largely indifferent form. Since reaching a high point in his career two seasons back Bain has stagnated and even regressed.
At Dens Park there was the sense he was simply unhappy with how the club were progressing as two of the star players, Kane Hemmings and Greg Stewart, moved south. Bain didn’t lose his goalkeeping qualities, it appeared to be a mental factor which affected consistency and concentration. So just as he conjured up a world class denial he would soon let a regulation save go past him.
If it wasn’t for an injury to first Craig Gordon and then Dorus de Vries to start a strange series of events, he would have struggled to make the list. But the loan move to Hibs and then to Celtic has refocused a talented goalkeeper. He was pitched into the Old Firm clash at Ibrox in a sink or swim situation. He swam strongly, making a few timely interventions. From being the goalkeeper who was in goals as Dundee lost eight of their first 12 matches before being banished by Neil McCann, he is now resurgent and confident, not looking out of place in the Celtic team.
Best moment: A great performance against Hibs for Dundee would be the obvious answer, but the most impressive incident came in the Old Firm match. Having conceded very early on he was given a tricky back pass but took the ball calmly and played out from the back.
What the stats say: In Bain’s last 48 leagues games for Dundee, Bain conceded 85 goals.
11. Alan Mannus (St Johnstone)
The St Johnstone goalkeeper has been an ever-present in these lists, owing to his quality, consistency and longevity. The fact it was Derek McInnes who signed the Northern Irishman simply emphasises this.
In the past he has been described as the ‘Tony Pulis of SPFL goalkeepers’ and the ‘best back-up goalkeeper in Scotland’. That is because he is dependable, reaching second in the list back in 2014. He’s the only survivor from that particular top 12. And 12 months on from last year’s list he has won back the number one spot at McDiarmid Park.
It all comes back to his reliability. As Tommy Wright tried to arrest a slide from the top six he returned to Mannus who had started the season as first choice. There is been little regression in his game since arriving in Scotland. Now 35, he still has no glaring weakness and there is a feeling at the club that he could still do a job for Northern Ireland.
Zander Clark may have a higher ceiling with regards to his potential talent but if given the choice for right here, right now, Mannus is the main man.
Best moment: In the club’s first meeting with Hibs this season Mannus was in fine form with a string of saves, the stand-out coming from a Martin Boyle effort.
What the stats say: Only Wes Foderingham has conceded more goals from free-kicks.
10. Gary Woods (Hamilton Academical)
The Englishman has taken over Jamie MacDonald’s mantle of the most bemused goalkeeper in the country. It is understandable when you consider the backline in front of him. Watching back through the goals conceded by Hamilton this campaign and they follow one of three paths: 1) being beaten in the air at a corner or free-kick, 2) the opposition running into acres of space, or 3) a simple but ghastly error.
A familiar feature of Hamilton’s season has been Woods’ expression which has varied from disbelief to frustration to someone who just wants to laugh. He has, however, been a solid and reliable figure behind a dysfunctional and unreliable defence.
His signing and subsequent contract extension has been great business for Hamilton. He is someone who can be labelled a modern goalkeeper. He’s quick and athletic, competent at sweeping from his line in open play and able with the ball at his feet. Because he has been so busy, facing the third most shots, it has perhaps disguised some of his foibles. He could do with making himself bigger in 1v1 situations, while he could be more proactive in relieving pressure on the defence by collecting more set pieces.
He will be remembered most for his own bizarre error in a 5-3 defeat to Rangers. But such mistakes are rare for Woods who has been one of Hamilton’s most consistent players over the past two seasons.
Best moment: Hamilton had scored late to lead Partick Thistle 2-1 but deep in injury time Woods clawed a Chris Erskine header out from under the bar.
What the stats say: Accies’ win percentage without Woods this season is 0.00.
9. Freddie Woodman (Aberdeen)
It is rare a player with a World Cup golden glove award appears in Scotland, albeit one won at an Under-20 tournament. The Englishman was one of the players picked out for his performances in South Korea and earmarked for a bright future. He made the bench on a number of occasions for Newcastle this season, and played in the FA Cup.
Woodman has only played eight times in Scotland this season but still makes the list due to those performances and his back catalogue having ousted Jamie MacDonald at Kilmarnock last season and impressing. He comes from good stock, his dad Andy was a goalkeeper with Crystal Palace, and is giving himself the best chance of succeeding by seeking regular first-team football and approaching his career as best he can.
Like some on the list he is let down by his distribution with his kicking causing concern among Aberdeen fans. But he is still young enough to amend technique and build up the necessary strength to aid in him in improving. There can be few complaints with his hands. He is a strong, confident goalkeeper, and has a more robust build than Joe Lewis. Adept at making himself big and staying up long enough to unnerve attackers in 1v1 situations.
Best moment: Saving three penalties in the shoot-out against Kilmarnock to send Aberdeen into the semi-finals.
What the stats say: Despite the criticism over his kicking, Woodman has the fifth best accuracy for long passes (70.69 per cent).
8. Tomas Cerny (Partick Thistle)
In certain circles of Scottish football the very mention of the Czech provokes a mixture of disgruntlement and reluctant appreciation. One St Johnstone fan commented: “These boots of his must be absolute mud magnets... he’s forever kicking **** out of the posts at McDiarmid”. The Thistle No.1 is a master in the art of time wasting.
When he isn’t slogging over a goal-kick, however, he is normally performing admirably for the Jags. This has not been a good season for Partick Thistle but Cerny has not been brought down to the level of his team-mates. In fact, quite the opposite. When he has been required to provide a bit of inspiration or simply to keep the ball out of the net he has not been found wanting.
He’s stood behind a back three or four that has struggled for any sort of consistency, both in terms of selection and performance. That can be off-putting for a goalkeeper but Cerny has rarely let it affect him. While not being a fantastic season for him personally his presence has continued to provide reassurance.
Cerny is one of the better goalkeepers at making himself look like an unmovable square, using his frame to good advantage. Between now and the end of the season he is a player who could see Thistle to safety, especially when you compare his qualities to those lacking at both Ross County and Dundee.
Best moment: Cerny earned Thistle three points against Dundee in October which could prove crucial. Not only did he save a penalty but he produced a wonderful stop to deny Sofien Moussa.
What the stats say: No goalkeeper has faced more shots (142).
7. Jamie MacDonald (Kilmarnock)
The 31-year-old’s days at Rugby Park had seemed numbered. He was dropped for Freddie Woodman towards the end of last season then watched on as Killie signed former favourite Cammy Bell before the summer transfer window shut. It is testament, therefore, to MacDonald’s ability to get his head down and work his way back into the team and perform to a high standard when he is there.
He has done just that this season. Under both Lee McCulloch and Steve Clarke he has performed to a high standard. At one point this season MacDonald, it could be argued, was the best goalkeeper in the league. He had a whole portfolio of spectacular saves or crucial interventions to earn Killie points. There was a swift rebuke of Esmael Goncalves in a 2-1 over Hearts, an unbelievably strong wrist to thwart Josh Windass in a 1-1 draw at Ibrox or a reflex denial of a goalbound Kenny McLean volley.
Last season he was dropped unfairly, even if Woodman impressed. But there was no chance the same fate would befall him this season. It will likely be MacDonald’s favourite campaign since moving to Rugby Park. He has been one of the busiest keepers in the last few years but his shots against per 90 minutes as fallen from 5.58 to 4.03 since 2015/2016, while goals conceded per 90 has fallen from 1.64 to 1.21 in the same timeline. It us understandable then that no longer cuts such a disconsolate figure at times.
Best moment: His injury-time penalty save at Ibrox. It kept the scores at 1-0 and allowed Kilmarnock to go up the other end and snatch an equaliser deep into stoppage time.
What the stats say: Only Ross County’s Scott Fox (10) has conceded more headed goals than Jamie MacDonald (8).
6. Ofir Marciano (Hibs)
In the recent draw with St Johnstone, Marciano channelled his inner Zibi Malkowski when inexplicably hurtling out of his goal. Thankfully for the Israeli his misjudgment wasn’t during a game of the magnitude of a Scottish Cup semi-final, but it did hint at a goalkeeper who had been more erratic this season than last.
On last year’s list Marciano placed ninth after a debut season in the Championship. His profile included the phrase “clowns to comedians” referring to Hibs’ history with goalkeepers. He by no means falls into such a category, but he has had his comedic moments. There was a mix-up with Darren McGregor which could have allowed Hearts to score in the recent derby, an unexplainable mistake at home to Motherwell, and Neil Lennon called him “unprofessional” for his part Rangers’ win at Easter Road.
At the same time, the 28-year-old could have his own save of the season competition. There was the strong arm to beat away Demetri Mitchell’s goalbound effort in the Scottish Cup. The unbelievable moment to get down to turn away Faissal El Bakhtaoui’s volley, and a readjustment to tip over a deflected Youssef Mulumbu shot.
For a goalkeeper of such imposing physique, Marciano is so adept at getting down to low shots, or springing to tip over high ones. No stopper possesses a stronger arm than the Israeli. More than anything, what lets him down from being considered one of the best in the country is his decision making. He can get caught under crosses through indecision.
Best moment: The save from Faissal El Bakhtaoui. Incredible. Voted save of the season in a poll run by the SPFL.
What the stats say: Ofir Marciano is reluctant to kick long, playing only 180 long passes. Joe Lewis has played 323 despite playing 300 minutes fewer.
5. Trevor Carson (Motherwell)
The Steelmen have a habit of unearthing goalkeeping gems. In recent years they have had the likes of John Ruddy and Darren Randolph, who both went on to play Premier League football. Summer recruit Carson wasn’t expected to follow suit having arrived from Hartlepool United who had been relegated from England’s fourth tier. It’s a level where he has spent the majority of his career.
Similar to another goalkeeper on the list, his performances have suggested he should have been playing at a higher level after making the step up with ease. For Well fans he has been a significant improvement on Craig Samson.
At Scottish Premiership level you expect goalkeepers to have a weakness or two. So finding a goalkeeper who is reliable and consistent gives teams an advantage over most of their competitors. That is what Motherwell have found in Carson. His stocky, square figure gives him a wall-like presence between the sticks. There are few keepers better at making themselves as big a target as Carson. He is rarely beaten from an angle as he uses every sinew of his being to divert the ball away.
His development at the club has been such that Celtic had a six-figure offer rejected in the January transfer window, while he made his debut for Northern Ireland recently in a 2-1 win over South Korea.
Best moment: Carson has produced a variety of special moments but his sprawling save to thwart Kieran Tierney is arguably the best with the Celtic player’s disbelief adding to the moment.
What the stats say: Travor Carson’s 14 clean sheets are double the amount Motherwell kept last season.
4. Wes Foderingham (Rangers)
Since 2015, the Englishman has provided a semblance of stability at Ibrox among some turbulent times on and off the field. He’s been largely an ever-present in the league under three different managers. This season hasn’t been a particular standout, for either spectacular performances or a string of errors, but the current campaign has reaffirmed Forderingham’s standing as one of the better and most consistent goalkeepers in the Scotland.
Under Warburton there was so much focus on his use of the ball with his feet. He was awarded a lot of responsibility due to the style Rangers played and involved more than many other custodian in the country. His role invited pressure and he had to take risks. This led to criticism which was largely undue.
He no longer has as much pressure to play from the back, allowing him to focus on other aspects of goalkeeping. He continues to be the most athletic number one in the league, with a physique which is more akin to an MMA fighter than a footballer, able to get down quickly to shots and is not reluctant to use his feet as some goalkeepers are.
There is a concern, however, about the number of goals he concedes from the outside the box, which is surprising considering his ability to spring to either side. Yet, no matter what happens between now and the end of the season he will be most remembered for the Rangers TV commentary from the most recent league Old Firm fixture. ‘What’s the goalie daien’, Tom?!’
Best moment: Rangers defeated Aberdeen 2-0 in January but one of the key performers was Foderingham who made a number of point-blank saves.
What the stats say: Foderingham has conceded 10 goals from outside the penalty area, the most in the league.
3. Jon McLaughlin (Hearts)
Season 2016/2017 wasn’t enjoyable for Hearts fans. There were a number of on-field and off-field issues, but few frustrated more than the goalkeeping situation. Both Jack Hamilton and Viktor Noring produced moments which provoked reactions ranging from vehement anger to head-in-hands despair. The same emotions can still be found at Tynecastle, but the man between the sticks is not the guilty party.
McLaughlin has been a reliable, unflappable and all-together comforting presence since signing from Burton Albion. There was an egregious error against Partick Thistle which gave Hearts fans haunting memories of a Gilles Rousset mistake in the 1996 Scottish Cup final. But that was an exception, a mere blip.
There has not been a more drastic change in a club’s goalkeeping situation - well, maybe Ross County - from last season. Hamilton managed to squeeze into the top 12, now there is a strong case to be made that McLaughlin is the best in the league.
There is no obvious weakness. He has an imposing presence which he uses to take command of his box. Due to his size he covers a large area and is not required to constantly make spectacular saves due to it. His kicking rarely lets him down, nor does his decision making. But perhaps his best qualities are his handling and when does have to palm or parry a shot he gets the ball into non-dangerous areas. No goalkeeper has made more saves.
Best moment: A strong left hand to push a goalbound Adam Rooney shot past the post. It could be argued it was his best save of the season but it was a crucial save in a 0-0 draw which brought about a club record sixth clean sheet in a row.
What the stats say: McLaughlin went eight games without a conceding a goal. It took until the 95th minute of the ninth match before the run ended.
2. Joe Lewis (Aberdeen)
Last season there could have been an argument for Lewis to top this list. He played every single minute of his debut season for Aberdeen and was infallible. Dons fans were left rubbing their eyes at some of the blocks he was producing, while simultaneously lowering the collective blood pressure of the support. After enduring Scott Brown and Adam Collin, Aberdeen had found a goalkeeper who could enter the same revered company as Jim Leighton and Peter Kjaer.
Twelve months on, only the most ardent of Dons fans would make the case for Lewis as the best in the country. Prior to an injury which required a knee operation, Lewis’ season was punctuated by errors. One or two of which were glaring, while others were simply disappointing because of what is expected of him.
The 30-year-old was castigated for his role in Aberdeen’s league cup defeat to Motherwell. Former Aberdeen goalkeeper David Preece analysed the goals individually and noted they weren’t straightforward mistakes, there was more to each than simply ‘he should’ve done better’. But add in a howling error in allowing Michael Gardyne to score from far out plus Roarie Deacon slipping one under him with ease, it hasn’t been a great season for Lewis.
Yet, those are the high standards he is held to, simply because he has been so impressive since arriving at Aberdeen. Few goalkeepers put their defence at ease as much as he does, namely with his cross-collecting. He provides fast and accurate distribution with his arms also.
He can’t be classed as a modern goalkeeper. He would be more effective if he made more use of his feet to stop shots and will never be classed as a sweeper keeper. But the key goalkeeping qualities he has in abundance. And it says a lot that in a poll run by Aberdeen twitter account @ARedPOV, 85 per cent of voters want Lewis to come back into the team straight away when fit.
Best moment: An incredible man of the match performance in Aberdeen’s goalless draw with Hearts at Murrayfield. Hearts threw everything at him and he repelled it all.
What the stats say: Lewis made 83 consecutive appearances for Aberdeen.
1. Craig Gordon (Celtic)
The Celtic goalkeeper’s season has been defined by two games against Hibernian. In a 2-2 draw with Neil Lennon’s men in September he produced a world class point-blank stop, springing to thwart Steven Whittaker from a matter of inches. It was Craig Gordon at his best. Agility, shifting his weight quickly, making himself an imposing and unbeatable figure.
The following encounter with Hibs at Celtic Park in January saw Gordon replaced at half-time and it would emerge that a knee injury would keep him out for 12 weeks. The injury, strangely, was a relief. The knee was not the one which hampered his career for two-and-a-half years, playing just one game of first-team football in 1,278 days.
The three month lay-off should seem like a walk in the park for the 34-year-old after the trial and tribulations at simply returning to action. He was the forgotten man who not only returned to play football, but do so at a high level, winning a glut of trophies and reaching the 50-cap mark for Scotland.
It was a typical season for Craig Gordon. In terms of keeping the ball out of the net, there is no better in the league. His reflexes continue to be his biggest asset, alongside an ability to cover the goal like a more robust daddy-long legs as witnessed in the goalless draw with Rangers at Celtic Park. He continues to be at his most vulnerable when required to play football, especially when he opts against keeping it simple. Now in his mid-30s, it can be assumed it is a quality which is not going to improve a great deal. He has, however, eradicated a willingness to exit his box in an erratic manner.
The latest injury will have question marks over his reliability for a team looking to take the next step in Europe. But on the domestic front there is no better.
Best moment: Denying James Tavernier and Alfredo Morelos in the aforementioned Old Firm clash. It was Gordon at his best, in the safety of his six-yard box, reacting quickly to shots from close range.
What the stats say: 0.68 goals conceded per 90 minutes - the best figure for goalkeepers to have played more than 1,000 minutes in the Scottish Premiership.