10 SPFL Players to Watch in 2021
With 2020 over and done with, fans of Scottish football have another 12 months of action, drama and suspense to look forward to. Ryan Stirling takes a look at 10 players across the different SPFL leagues that you should keep an eye on this year.
With COVID-19 postponements and statements galore, 2021 is already shaping up to be as hectic a year as 2020 was. Changes to the coronavirus guidelines has seen all football below the Championship postponed for a minimum of three weeks, while Celtic’s trip to Dubai has continued to cause stress and anger at the highest level. All the while, fans are no closer to returning to stadia to cheer their teams on and will have to make do by supporting their clubs from home. With streaming services being able to provide a wider audience with access to Scottish football, here are 10 players that you should look out for across the SPFL while watching the action from your living room this year.
Thomas Robert – Airdrie
As the son of former Newcastle and France player Laurent, Thomas Robert raised more than a few eyebrows in July when it was reported that he had turned down a new contract offer from then club Montpellier, as well as contracts from some of the top teams in Europe to sign for Airdrieonians in the Scottish League One. However, Europe’s loss has been Scottish football’s gain, as Robert has been lighting up the third tier.
The winger has been a standout player in the division this season, scoring two goals while also laying on two assists, picking up the League One Player of the Month award for October. His performances have warranted outside interest from some of the country’s top teams, with the likes of Rangers, Celtic and Hibernian all sending scouts to watch the Frenchman at work on more than one occasion. Currently still only 20 years old with plenty of potential with only five months remaining on his current deal in Airdrie, Robert may see himself climbing up the leagues very quickly as he settles on a new club in the summer.
Jack Hamilton – Livingston
Jack Hamilton hasn’t had the easiest run at life in the SPFL. The striker made his league debut for Livingston at the age of 18, but struggled to get any game time. As a result, he was sent on numerous loan spells, plying his trade at Berwick Rangers, Alloa Athletic and Queen of the South but unfortunately for the striker, he was unable to make much of a mark on any of the three clubs, averaging around two goals per season.
This season however, Hamilton seems to have finally found his feet. Once again shipped out on loan, Hamilton joined East Fife in September 2020. The spell itself lasted only three months – Hamilton was outstanding for the Fifers in League One, returning to Livingston with a tally of nine goals in 13 games. His goalscoring record had caught the attention of the higher-ups at Livingston, who clearly thought that his goalscoring touch could help their case for a European spot. Hamilton returned to action at the Tony Macaroni Arena on 10th January 2021, coming off the bench to score against a struggling Ross County. Hamilton is definitely a player to watch in 2021, with the striker aiming to challenge Scott Robinson and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas for a starting spot in this much-improved Livingston side.
Simon Murray – Queen’s Park
Following a spell at Bidvest Wits in South Africa, forward Simon Murray returned to his native Scotland to join Queen’s Park. The striker was a regular with Dundee United in the 2016/17 Championship season and earned a move to Hibernian, where fans will remember him fondly for scoring the winner in an Edinburgh Derby against Hearts. Murray only spent the first half of the season in Edinburgh, as he was loaned to former rivals Dundee in January 2018 – he returned to Hibs in the summer, before being sold to Bidvest Vits, where he remained until the summer of 2020, when he returned to Scottish football.
The signing of Murray was one that excited everyone involved with Queen’s Park, as the Spiders were putting together an almost entirely new squad, full of Championship-quality players, as they begin their mission of climbing through the Scottish league system. Due to a previously sustained injury, Murray has only played four games for Queen’s Park this season. Despite that, he is expected to be a key player for the remainder of the season, with the media tipping him to be one of the top scorers in the country as many believe he is playing well below his level in League Two.
Kai Kennedy – Raith Rovers
Currently on loan at Raith from Premiership-leading Rangers, Kai Kennedy is arguably the most exciting young player in the SPFL at the moment. The 18-year-old winger has spent the first half of the 20/21 season on loan at Inverness, and has now joined up with John McGlynn’s impressive Raith Rovers for the remainder of the campaign. He impressed in his short spell with the Highland side with fans admiring his willingness to take men on and bring his team up the park, creating good goal scoring chances in a defensive-minded Inverness side.
He looks to be a good fit for Raith, with their attacking style of play more than suited to his abilities. The players around him should help with his attacking development as well, with the likes of Reghan Hendry and Ross Matthews providing the creative spark for Raith so far this season – both players could be crucial in coaxing the full attacking potential out of the winger. While a look-in at Rangers next season seems unlikely, given the strength in depth that they have, a strong second half of the campaign could ensure a loan move to higher-level opposition to further develop Kennedy’s obvious talents.
Lewis Ferguson – Aberdeen
This season, Lewis Ferguson has been one of the best midfielders in the division. Since signing for Aberdeen from Hamilton in 2018, Ferguson has gone on to make over 100 appearances for the club by the age of 21. After winning the 2019/20 SFWA Young Player of the Year award, Ferguson has had a strong start to the new season, notching nine goals and four assists in 21 games, with the goal record in particular being especially impressive for a central midfielder.
Ferguson has shown he has what it takes to perform in the big games as well – he scored a fantastic bicycle kick away to Premier League side Burnley in 2018’s Europa League qualifiers, while also bagging the winner against Rangers in the 2019 Betfred Cup semi final. Earlier this season, he kept his cool and converted two penalties against champions Celtic, as Aberdeen snatched a point at Pittodrie. As one of the brightest players in a talented under-21 side, Ferguson has recently tipped for a call up to the senior team. The future certainly looks bright for the 21-year-old and he would be worth looking out for throughout the remainder of the season.
Aidan Keena – Falkirk
After being released from Hartlepool last summer, Aidan Keena joined Falkirk and hit the ground running during pre-season. The Irish striker scored four times in three games and would carry that form into the league season, as he opened the scoring against Clyde. However, things took a turn for the worst not long after, as Keena was the victim of a particularly bad challenge, which saw the striker sidelined for five months.
Understandably, the challenge and the lasting effects shook Keena, but Bairns fans will be hoping to see him back at his best. With the rest of Falkirk’s strikers underperforming this season and the lead at the top of the League One table getting smaller each week, Keena will need to start scoring regularly again if Falkirk are to stand any chance of gaining promotion to the Championship. If he can recapture that lost form, Keena will prove to be a valuable asset to Falkirk and fans should keep an eye on the striker, as there is a very decent striker to be found in the Irishman.
David Turnbull – Celtic
After David Turnbull’s dream move to Celtic was ruled out due to concerns with his medical in summer 2019, both parties will have been more than pleased to make the move a reality in 2020. After joining the champions from Motherwell with high opinions from fans and the media, many were surprised (and a bit confused) to see a lack of appearances from the young midfielder. However, in recent weeks, Turnbull has locked down a place in Neil Lennon’s starting 11 and fans are getting to see exactly why Celtic signed him.
Despite it being a poor season by Celtic’s standard, one positive that can be taken away is just how well Turnbull seems to be performing. He has been saving his new club through his goal contributions – most recently, an inch-perfect free kick against Hibernian, which looked to have been the game winner before Kevin Nisbet grabbed an equaliser in stoppage time. His form has Scotland fans clamouring for the midfielder to be brought into Steve Clarke’s squad and if he carries on in this vein, we may well see Turnbull in the navy blue at this summer’s European Championships.
Ruari Paton – Stranraer
After two successful seasons playing with Gala Fairydean and East Kilbride in the Lowland League, 20-year-old striker Ruari Paton signed for Stranraer on a free transfer in the summer, following their relegation to League Two. Thus far, Paton has been giving Blues fans plenty to be happy about, as he has already notched eight goals this season, while also starting every one of Stranraer’s games so far.
The highest compliment that the former Hibernian academy player can receive is that he looks more than capable of playing at a higher level. If he continues to get goals in this Stranraer team, they may well look to cash in on the striker and Paton may find himself at a bigger club soon.
Ethan Erhahon – St Mirren
Ethan Erhahon will be a familiar face to St. Mirren fans – the 19-year-old has been a first team regular since breaking into the team at the age of 17, and has already played 21 times this season. One of the youngster’s best attributes is his versatiliy. The Buddies have used him in a variety of different positions, including full back, wing back, left midfield and centre midfield.
It’s easy to forget that Erhahon is yet to turn 20 years old, as he looks more than comfortable playing alongside players much older than himself. Should he continue to have regular involvement in the first team, Erhahon could prove to be a real asset to St. Mirren in the future.
Roddy MacGregor – Inverness CT
Roddy MacGregor has had an impressive start to life in professional football. Only having recently graduated from the Inverness youth academy, the central midfielder has now cemented a place in John Robertson’s first team, starting in roughly 85% of Inverness’ games this season and putting in very impressive performances in the middle of the park.
His development has been rapid but MacGregor has shown he is more than capable of mixing with some of the Championship’s best. With Kai Kennedy’s loan deal ending at the start of the month, MacGregor will likely have a much more important role to play for Inverness over the next year, as they continue their push for a spot in the promotion playoffs, with Inverness looking to achieve their ultimate aim of playing Premiership football sooner rather than later.