When Kenny Shiels claimed the other day that Kilmarnock were “the club of the season”, he was effectively pleading for his team to be given the recognition they deserve.
In doing so, he was also making a back-handed attempt to talk up his own credentials as manager of the year, an award for which he wasn’t even shortlisted despite winning a cup and defying pre-season predictions of a relegation battle. Shiels’ claims have simply been ridiculed by some on the basis that his team finished in the SPL’s bottom six.
However, anyone adopting this type of attitude towards the Rugby Park manager and his achievements this term would be guilty of the type of narrow-mindedness that tends to make a mockery of these end-of-season awards. Too often, when player, manager and team of the year accolades are being doled out there is a rush to look straight towards the league champions and the runners-up and then maybe have a couple of token contenders from one or two other clubs who may have finished the season strongly and so are flavour of the month (ie. Dundee United). In short, the smaller teams who have punched above their weight (ie. St Johnstone, Kilmarnock and St Mirren) are overlooked because it’s easier for many to pick out a guy who starred for Celtic or Rangers than it is to identify the man who helped a far more limited St Mirren, St Johnstone or Kilmarnock side enjoy their best season in recent memory. This is why Shiels rightly felt compelled to blow his own team’s trumpet.
While Derek Adams was a worthy winner of the PFA manager of the year award, it can only be hoped that it was the relentless manner of Ross County’s First Division success rather than the mere fact they won the league that was the decisive factor. For all that Celtic did well to fight back and win the league, it seems a farce that Neil Lennon will pick up the Football Writers’ award next week. With a squad strong enough to put out two teams capable of winning the SPL, he should only really have been a genuine contender if he had managed to win the double or treble, or had some kind of record-breaking season.
If we judge manager of the year on achievements throughout the season in relation to pre-season expectations, then the likes of Danny Lennon (St Mirren), Shiels, Stuart McCall (Motherwell) and Steven Pressley (Falkirk) have all outperformed the Celtic manager. They have all finished higher up the league than would have been expected last summer, with each doing so in a manner that belies their budgets. If we’re simply going to hand awards out on the basis of who finishes highest in the league, then what’s the point of voting?
Other bemusing aspects of the end-of-season awards include Steven Davis’s nomination for player of the year. It seems only a couple of months ago that the Rangers captain’s poor form was being pinpointed as a reason for Celtic taking command of the title race. And how can there possibly be five players from Dundee United in the PFA team of the year and only one – the goalkeeper – from Motherwell and none from St Johnstone? It seems in the lazy eyes of the voters a strong finish to the season trumps season-long consistency.