By Brian P. Dunleavy
No, the season isn’t officially over, but with only the Scottish Cup final left to contest, we figure there’s no time like the present for our third (time flies!) Full Scottish First XI. So, let’s see who makes our squad for the 2016-2017 season:
Goalkeeper, Tomas Cerny, Partick Thistle: It’s hard to leave Celtic’s Craig Gordon, and his 17 clean sheets, out here, but Cerny has produced eight clean sheets and surrendered only 26 goals in 25 starts for a far inferior side.
Left Back, Kieran Tierney, Celtic:
Worried that our first team will be loaded with Hoops? Get used to it, what with the Bhoys in line for a domestic treble and a perfect season. Young Tierney, a former Celtic Park ball boy, has become a backline stalwart, responsible defensively and with a knack for creativity going forward. A star in the making.
Center Back, Dedryck Boyata, Celtic:
Out of the team to start the season, the Belgian worked his way into Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers’ plans, and has clearly learned a lot from the Irishman. Whereas a year ago he looked like the next Efe Ambrose, he’s become resolute in the back and even contributes the odd (big) goal on set pieces.
Right back, Callum Paterson, Hearts:
Paterson has played in just 20 matches for Hearts this season, missing the rest through injury—and his absence has been felt. When Paterson left the side in December, Hearts were fighting for third in the Prem. Now, Ian Cathro’s men are struggling to hold onto the fifth spot.
Midfielder, Scott Brown, Celtic:
Rodgers has also reinvigorated the Celtic skipper, who has had his best season in years. Evolving into a true “manager on the pitch,” Brown inspires and instructs, all while controlling the game in the center of the park.
Midfielder, Stuart Armstrong, Celtic:
Brought to Glasgow’s East End by former Hoops bench boss Ronny Deila, Armstrong soon fell out of favor—and the squad. Rodgers, however, saw something in him. Sound familiar? Armstrong has this season scored big goals and set up others on set pieces, and he earned his first Scotland cap. Not a bad turnaround for the Inverness-born lad.
Midfielder, Jonny Hayes, Aberdeen:
Speaking of earning international caps, Hayes has suddenly found himself in the Irish national team picture at 29, after successive outstanding seasons for the Dons. English clubs have been sniffing around, but Hayes might do well to stay in Scotland’s oil country, where he has been at the heart of everything Derek McInnes’ side does for a while now.
Midfielder, Niall McGinn, Aberdeen:
McGinn has already indicated his future lies south of the border this summer, but he is not leaving Pittodrie without, well, leaving a mark. With 11 goals in league play, the former Celt and Derry City man has proved he can orchestrate the attack.
Midfielder, Scott Sinclair, Celtic:
Yes, we’re going with a 3-5-2, but we couldn’t leave the Hoops’ Player of the Year off our team, could we? Sinclair says he has “found a home” in Glasgow, which has got to be good news for the Celtic support. The Englishman has scored 21 goals in league play.
Striker, Moussa Dembele, Celtic:
The Frenchman, signed for £500,000 from Fulham, has only scored 32 goals in all comps for the Hoops—and supplanted last season’s 40-goal-scorer Leigh Griffiths in Rodgers’ preferred starting XI. Not a bad bit of business.
Striker, Liam Boyce, Ross County:
Rangers’ Kenny Miller and Aberdeen’s Adam Rooney nearly made the cut but, as of this writing, Boyce has 20 goals in league play for the Staggies, who had a rough season. Without him, County would be battling Highlands rivals ICT for relegation, instead of challenging for the top six.