Five Scottish Premiership performers who’ve flown under the radar so far this season
Aaron Tshibola (Kilmarnock)
Tshibola spent two loan spells at Kilmarnock prior to his return on a permanent basis this summer. While there was undoubtedly ‘a player in there’ a lot of the time he would flatter to deceive and certainly didn’t stand up to the consistency offered by Alan Power, Gary Dicker or Youssouf Mulumbu.
That has so far changed this campaign. He’s been excellent for the Rugby Park side, being voted Man of the Match by the leading fans’ forum in two of their eight games and finishing second in another. His performance have been so strong that he, and not Power or Dicker, should now be looked upon as the first name down on the teamsheet when it comes to the Kilmarnock engine room.
His quickness of mind and movement are what enables him to stand out. With crisp technique he passes the ball quickly and accurately and he’s quite an unselfish player; always willing to move it on and make runs to offer the option of a simple pass to a team-mate.
Paul Hanlon (Hibs)
Hanlon was a member of the over-30s Hibs defence last season that, although forever deservedly treated as legends for their part in the 2016 Scottish Cup final win, were seen as being over the hill by supporters. In fact, it was a little surprising to some that Hanlon started the campaign as the first-choice pick alongside promising centre-back Ryan Porteous in the heart of defence, and that the man many expected to play instead, Adam Jackson, was soon moved on.
But it seems Jack Ross definitely knew what he was doing. Hanlon has been in terrific form to start the campaign and a major reason why Hibs didn’t conceded a goal from open play prior to Sunday’s 2-2 draw with Rangers. Porteous has a huge future ahead of him and his, sometimes controversial, ‘up-and-at-them’ style means he’s going to get the recognition, but Hanlon’s performances should not be overlooked. He’s returning to the level he was at two years ago when people were calling for him to gain Scotland consideration.
Of course, there’s very little chance of that Scotland call ever coming, but his rejuvenation bodes well for Hibs in their attempt to finish ahead of Aberdeen as the ‘best of the rest’ in the top flight this season – a bid that will be made easier if Derek McInnes continues randomly trying to cram destructive midfield force Ross McCrorie into defence.
Hakeem Odoffin (Hamilton)
How do you fill a gaping hole at centre-back? Why, by sign a back-up right-back from Livingston, of course!
Odoffin was initially brought to New Douglas Park (or whatever the hell it’s called these days) to play in what was perceived to be his preferred position, but when Markus Fjortoft put in a couple of poor performances to begin the season (no a surprise there), Brian Rice decided to move the English defender inside, and he’s been a revelation.
Though he can leave space in behind when he charges out of defence to contest opposing fowards, his aggressive style of attacking the ball in the air has earned him appreciation from Accies supporters at both ends of the park. In addition to the being their stand-out defender this campaign, he’s also the biggest aerial threat in the opposition box and has netted twice already since his switch from West Lothian.
Bevis Mugabi (Motherwell)
The definition of a no-nonsense defender. Mugabi looks to use his strength and aerial prowess to get the better of attackers. When he retrieves possession he doesn’t try to do anything more than he has to: gets it, gives it to a team-mate, waits for the next attack to stop with his hulking frame.
The London-born defender, who is a 10-cap Ugandan international, was always looked upon as a project for Motherwell after they picked him up from Yeovil Town. Now their attempts to iron out the kinks in his game appear to be coming to fruition. Declan Gallagher got all the praise last season, but it’s been Mugabi who’s impressed most so far among the defensive ranks so far this term. Only Allan Campbell has really stood out more for the Steelmen.
Michael Gardyne (Ross County)
County are the surprise package of the Scottish Premiership season so far, sitting in fifth place with 11 points gained from eight matches. Talisman Ross Stewart, as expected, has been a big reason for that, but there have been other factors as well. The defence, a major issue last term, has been much improved this campaign, while Jordan Tillson and Harry Paton have continued their rise after promising endings to 2019/20.
They’ve also been thankful for the input of an old favourite. Gardyne may turn 35 this January but he certainly doesn’t look it. His rapid, lung-bursting runs up the park show little sign of slowing down. His ability to take the ball from defence into attack in an instant has been a major contributor to the attack, while he’s constantly asking questions of the opposing defence with 5.18 crossing per game, good enough for sixth most in the league. He’s also helped out on the defensive end by offering protection to young left-back Josh Reid, who’s been getting his first run in the starting XI.