As we approach the end of another eventful year in Scottish football, here is my look back on the things that stood out most in 2012.
MANAGER OF THE YEAR: Stuart McCall, with a nod to Celtic manager Neil Lennon for his sensational Champions League exploits. In terms of performance in relation to expectations and resources, McCall’s Motherwell side have been by far the best in Scotland this calendar year. McCall’s tight but vibrant squad proved strong enough to hold off Dundee United and Hearts – who both looked stronger on paper – last season to secure third place and a crack at the Champions League. That was expected to be as good as it got for the Fir Park side, but, remarkably, McCall has them up in second in the SPL this time round.
SPL PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Fraser Forster is the only obvious contender. Plenty Celtic players have looked the part in Europe, but the big goalkeeper is the only one who has consistently excelled both domestically and in the Champions League. Johnny Russell and Leigh Griffiths also merit acknowledgement, with Russell hitting 19 at Dundee United and Griffiths firing 20 for Hibs over the calendar year. If they can improve on those figures in 2013, more prominence with Scotland awaits.
‘ON THEIR DAY’ TEAM OF THE YEAR: When they’re in the mood, Kilmarnock have the beating of every team in the country, including Celtic. As well as their famous League Cup final victory over Neil Lennon’s men, Kenny Shiels’ at-times mesmerising side have enjoyed victories at Ibrox, Parkhead, Easter Road, Tynecastle and Pittodrie throughout 2012. Unplayable – certainly in SPL terms – on their day, they’d be some team if they could find even a modicum of consistency.
‘HIT THE GROUND RUNNING’ MANGER OF THE YEAR: Allan Johnston has enjoyed a dream start to his managerial career, with Queen of the South cruising nine points clear at the top of the Second Division after winning 12 of their first 15 games under the ex-Hearts player’s watch. ‘Magic’ has also enjoyed superb cup wins over Hibs and Rangers in his fledgling days as a boss.
MOST IMPROVED PLAYER: Billy McKay. The Northern Irishman could hardly hit a barn door in his first season in Scotland, notching just three goals in 24 appearances for Inverness. Already this term, he’s fired a sensational 16 in just 23 outings.
BEST SCOTLAND PLAYER: In what has been a grim year for the national team, Allan McGregor, the Besiktas goalkeeper, has been the only one who can hold his head high.
OCCASION OF THE YEAR: The all-Edinburgh Scottish Cup final. The build-up was frenzied and unrelenting, and for a month or so, Scotland’s capital city seemed like the centre of the universe as everyone clamoured to get a flavour of the biggest-ever Edinburgh derby. The game itself was too one-sided to be considered a Scottish Cup classic, but the magnitude of it ensures it will never be forgotten.
SPECIAL RECOGNITION: There can’t be too many men who have overseen the greatest results in the history of two different clubs in the space of just seven months, but Paulo Sergio earned legendary status at Tynecastle when he guided Hearts to their 5-1 Scottish Cup final win over Hibs in May and then led Romanian Champions League minnows Cluj to a famous victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford earlier this month.
TALE OF WOE: After making just one appearance all year, ex-Hearts keeper Craig Gordon, approaching his 30th birthday, is now without a club as he continues his ongoing battle to overcome serious injury. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be for a guy with an exemplary attitude who looked destined for the very top. Sad stuff, indeed.
WORST ADVERT FOR SCOTTISH FOOTBALL: The travails of Bristol Rovers. Managed by Mark McGhee, who was on the verge of the Scotland job just a few years ago, and with three highly-regarded SPL players in the shape of fairly-recent Scotland caps Garry Kenneth, David Clarkson and Derek Riordan in his squad, you might have expected the Gas to make reasonably light work of League Two. Instead, McGhee has been sacked with Rovers stuck in the second-lowest spot in English football.