Zander Clark – 8
The St Johnstone loanee’s development this season has been massive. Despite being initially liked by the Queens support because he wasn’t Calum Antell, there were concerns about his aerial presence and often enjoying a dodgy punch or a flapped cross when it seemed easier to catch.
A noticeable howler occurred in the first game at Ibrox where he got nowhere near a looping header from Marius Zaliukas. But he has grown in confidence with every game and his 14 clean sheets, second behind a totally dominant Hearts team, is wonderful reflection on him and his defence.
His final game for us in the second leg at Ibrox was probably one of the best goalkeeping performances by a Queens’ goalkeeper that I’ve ever seen. It seems such a waste for him to be stuck behind Alan Mannus at St Johnstone considering the amount of terrible goalkeepers in the rest of the Premiership. You wonder if he is happy to play second fiddle after a tremendous season.
Jim Atkinson – 5
He has largely taken his chances whenever he has had to deputise due to injury or St Johnstone’s refusal to let Clark play in the cup. Atkinson, despite being very small for a goalkeeper, commands his box very well from crosses and is fantastic with his feet.
He came in against Livingston when Clark was injured once and made a series of smart stops before playing a fantastic through ball to Kevin Holt which led to Queens taking the lead. He also only conceded from a penalty against Falkirk with ten men as well as a very good clean sheet against the Scottish Cup Holders St Johnstone.
His main problem is that he is very rash when coming out to get the ball and taking out the striker. It happened against Dundee last year where he got sent off after fouling Martin Boyle and he did the same in our only defeat against Hibs. Next season he will compete with Robbie Thomson, formerly of Cowdenbeath, for the number one spot.
Andy Dowie – 9
My player of the season. He started the year covering for an injured Chris Mitchell and bombing forward as a right back but soon found his way back into his familiar central role in a back three. He was once again very impressive in the air, looked more assured with the ball at his feet (which at times he has struggled with in the past) and he, along with Durnan and Higgins, are all fantastic communicators which allowed for Fowler to be so tactically flexible. At times the transition from a three to a back four was incredibly seamless like they have been doing it four years. The only black mark against him this season was stamping on Iain Black and not getting away with it.
Mark Durnan – 7
Despite having another good season and still only being 22, it was felt that it wasn’t Durnan’s best season out of his three years at the club and was outshone to a degree by his more experienced partners. He committed more errors than before and his passing was a lot less assured than in previous years as rumours about where he was going next year started to swirl. But to cut him some slack, this was also the first time he had to play in a back three so it was an unfamiliar experience for him.
The fact that the fans are somewhat disappointed with a season where he still looked assured and dominant speaks volumes about how highly thought of he is. His time at Queens has been a great success and he displays a composure on the ball and a maturity that is almost unheard of in a young Scottish centre back.
Chris Higgins – 8
Another excellent season, Higgins went about his business quietly and without the attention that Dowie and Durnan get. He certainly has contributed to a very organised and intelligent backline and Higgins can occasionally fill in at left back if Holt is missing.
Higgins is superb in the air for an undersized player at his position and is terrific at putting in a key block. For all the credit Queens receive for their attacking play they are very good at shutting teams down and being very stuffy outfit that can either press high or sit in. This has made Fowlers job a lot easier as he is able to put his ideas across to a very receptive group of players who are largely in great condition.
Maintaining the veteran core at the back of Dowie and Higgins can hopefully ensure the transition next season with the various departures won’t be as bad as it could have been.
Kevin Holt – 9
Holt has had another fantastic season which has finally earned him a well deserved move to the Premiership with Dundee.
Holt is a fantastic all-action player to watch with constant bombing forward, mazy dribbles, huge defensive blocks and constant energy. Defensively he was a class act, being able to cover for the likes of Iain Russell in a back four and playing in his preferred wing back position for which he has shown a great discipline, especially against smaller and more agile wingers. He has managed to largely cut out the rash tackles which he was guilty of earlier in his career and be a very consistent presence in the team offering a regular threat going forward.
Out of the players likely to leave this summer, Holt is the one that has all the attributes to go to a higher level with a great attitude, freakish athleticism and a superb tactical awareness.
Lewis Kidd – 8
It was a breakthrough season for Kidd who played the most out of every player in the squad. At the start of the season there was a lot of debate about what exactly is his best position? He played at full back, centre midfield and on the wing and didn’t look especially comfortable in any position. He didn’t look confident on the ball and played safe passes and looked like an imposter at times. However McIntyre and Fowler’s faith him (like McIntyre with McShane last season) paid off as seemingly overnight he turned into a really positive wing back who loved to charge forward at will and could put in a really good cross.
His defensive side still needs work with the odd moment of poor positioning and rash tackling, but he has improved upon just about every aspect of his game. And with the exodus of the talented young players it is Kidd’s turn next season to shine and put himself into the spotlight.
Stephen McKenna – 6
Injury problems wiped out the first half the season but he came back into the side and provided toughness and a leadership that sometimes seems to be lacking. He may not be the prettiest player to watch but he is puts in the graft for the likes of Millar and McShane to play in a more advanced position. When the chips are down he’ll put in a strong performance as seen in the crucial week of the season where he featured in all of the wins against Hibs, Rangers and Falkirk as well as getting an assist in the cup game against St Johnstone.
In what could be his last season, with his future not certain, it was probably the most disciplined he’s ever been with only two yellows in 16 appearances compared to the 47 in the previous five seasons (2011 being the high point with 12). McKenna has been a terrific player who has stayed through Gus McPherson and a relegation so it will be sad to see him go. He is a player that you would love to have on your team and despise if was on the other side. Referees will be delighted to see the back him though.
Danny Carmichael – 9
This was finally the season where he seemed to put it all together. Last season he flitted in and out of the team and lack confidence at times. This campaign was a completely different story as the diminutive winger torched defences with bamboozling runs quick turns and has improved his crossing a lot. He also managed to start performing well in the middle which allowed for him to operate in a free role.
Danny brings a toughness that a lot of wingers lack and his durability and work rate is incredible. His main problem is that his finishing is frankly appalling and 12 goals in 180 appearances for an attacking player is nowhere near good enough for the talent that he possesses. However, he is a player that is loved by the Queens support: A unique talent that is a reminder of a bygone age of true skilful wingers rather than athletes who are limited technically but can run really quickly in a straight line.
He deserves his shot at a higher standard and hopefully Hibs warm to him as much as the Queens support did.
Mark Kerr – 5
Before his treacherous decision to desert Queens in favour of Falkirk, Kerr was having another tidy season in the second tier. Given time he will pick you apart with great ball retention and a superb footballing brain. His problem is that as soon as he has pressure on him he is awful with terrible decision making and attempts passes that he would normally never do. This seemed to occur against the better teams in the league and suggested that he is a bit of a flat track bully in some respects.
His departure from the club came out of nowhere. Baird you could tell was unhappy being on the bench whilst Kerr played every week. It is disappointing from one of the older players and the rumours about why are varied. I’d prefer to remember his Championship Manager performances rather than the Benedict Arnold figure that almost derailed the season
Mark Millar – 5
It was a massive gamble, bringing in someone who ate their way out of Peterhead to a team in the higher level despite what he has done in the past for Falkirk. Thankfully it worked out.
Millar is a talented player who helped to stabilise the midfield after the Kerr/Baird departures. He brings a great ball retention and calmness that the rest of the team lacks. The only real black mark was his sending off against Alloa which led to a three match ban at a very important stage in the season.
Hopefully next year he comes back a lot fitter. He’s got more potential and ability than Kerr which could hopefully give Queens its first chubby icon since Stephen Dobbie.
Iain Russell – 6
The main casualty of the mid-season change to a 3-5-2 to which Fowler prefers the wing backs of Kidd and Holt, he performed very well in a midfield four with 11 goals in the first half of the year but only two in 2015.
He hasn’t really been able to play up front after playing left wing for so long under McIntyre. An unfortunately timed knee injury kept him out of the team when he returned and was limited to late cameos. He has looked good and confident running at people and being a master of winning sneaky fouls on him whenever he has appeared, but due to the way the team was playing and the system he was the unlucky one that has had to miss out. He can definitely come back and play a larger role next season.
Michael Paton – 3
Talented but injury prone is a tag that has plagued his career. There is no denying that he is technically gifted but his hamstrings are, to put it lightly, a bit dodgy. He looked fantastic in the opening game of the season against Livingston but pulled up in extra time and then didn’t start a game until the end of January.
He didn’t look the same when he came back and was wasted playing out wide where he lacks the pace to be effective and disappeared when playing in the middle with his clever passes not being able to pull off effectively. He also doesn’t have the same work rate as the rest of the squad.
He could be a player worth taking a risk on as he can take over a game and hopefully with a good summer he’ll be back to a decent level of fitness. The question remains about how long you can rely on someone whose body is so unpredictable. There is a feeling that perhaps his time has ran out at Palmerston.
Iain McShane – 8
A divisive figure amongst the support despite being a mainstay of the squad over the past two seasons. He is a mercurial and frustrating talent who on his day looks superb. He certainly has a great range of passing and has done well to cover for Kerr, Millar and Carmichael at times.
Due to a lot of injuries and factors that have been previously discussed, he has been the only regular in the centre of midfield all season, playing with eight different partners in the middle (Fowler, Kerr, Millar, Paton, Burns, McKenna, Dzierzawski and Kidd). McShane’s best performances came against Hibs where he scored a fantastic goal from a burst forward in the first game at Palmerston and played like man possessed, snapping at heels and giving the Hibs midfield no time, n the 1-0 smash and grab at Easter Road.
He has other days where he doesn’t seem to ‘up for it’, playing lazy passes and sitting back letting the game pass him by. He draws ire from the support for his set piece ability (even if we score plenty from corners) either over hitting or being unable to beat the first man. The lack of midfield goals from Queens was poor and for a player like McShane, who can be so positive in his play, it feels like he should be doing more.
He is someone who likes to take chances on the ball and can create something out of very little. For that reason I think he’s a player that will be missed more than what people claim at present.
Gavin Reilly – 8
A very disappointing end to a fantastic season. Reilly continued his fast development with 15 goals but only scored one in the last ten games including a soul destroying one-on-one miss with the play-off tie in the balance at Ibrox.
Teams started defending deep which limited his opportunities significantly, while injuries also played their part. It’s a sad way for a fantastic three seasons as a first team regular to end but his work rate and intelligence off the ball will be missed. He also has the ability to score some fantastic goals such as a brilliant volley in the 2-0 win over Rangers as well as a lovely first time strike from outside the box early in the season against Alloa.
His development and experience for someone who has only just turned 22 is staggering. It shows that Rangers signed the wrong striker two years ago when they only looked at the 41 goals for Nicky Clark rather than the better overall contributor in Reilly. It’ll be interesting to see how he makes the step up if his deal with Hearts goes through.
Derek Lyle – 9
Derek Lyle in his second spell attained cult hero status a long time ago with his bronzed skin and pearly whites as well as being part of two promotions and two Challenge Cup wins. At the tender age of 34 he has enjoyed his best season of his 16 year career with 21 goals in all competitions.
Last season the majority of his goals came against weaker teams as he seemed to be on his last legs and it was felt that John Baird would replace him. But Lyle came back in fantastic shape and didn’t hide in the big games, scoring the winner to clinch the play-offs against Falkirk as well as netting in both legs against Rangers. His smart link up play as well as being willing to put his body on the line has seen him develop into something of a target man in his second spell despite not being especially tall.
Lyle at the present looks like he has a long way to go before calling it a day and when other older more established strikers in the Championship have failed to live up to expectations (Miller, Boyd, Daly and Nish), Lyle continues to smash expectations and confound those who would be looking at one last payday.
John Baird – 2
What offered so much with a proven championship goalscorer and a very promising pre-season fizzled out into him becoming a hate figure amongst the Queens support after his betrayal and joining our nearest rivals in the play-off place.
Baird picked up an injury just before the season started and when he came back he never looked very fit and didn’t ever have the starting spot nailed down with a resurgent Derek Lyle around. There were some flashes in games against Raith and the 3-0 win against Falkirk where he linked up very well with Reilly in what was the pinnacle of the Kerr/Baird era before he took the hump about not playing and joined Falkirk. He started scoring after the move but ultimately failed to beat Queens to fourth place.
Credit also goes to James Fowler for playing him for twenty minutes against Brora Rangers to unintentionally deny him a Scottish Cup Final appearance. Great foresight.
James Fowler – 9
In terms of playing it was certainly a lot busier season than what he expected after he was brought in mainly as a coach but due to the number of injuries he was forced into a regular role, particularly in the earlier part of the season. He performed well in a typical James Fowler way, being a quiet but effective player and surprised everyone with a rare goal, and a screamer at that, against Dumbarton.
When McIntyre departed, taking the entire backroom staff with him, Fowler was thrust into the manager’s position almost entirely on his own. He went the rest of the season without a proper assistant (commercial manager and club legend Jim Thomson briefly helped out for a few weeks) and yet still produced one of the best footballing teams we’ve seen at Palmerston in many years. He’s certainly one of the most tactically versatile managers in our history, experimenting with wing backs, midfield diamonds, free roles in a midfield three and a centre back as a rampaging full back. For a rather traditional support it was a pleasure seeing how Queens would play this season. Fowler’s strength has been in admitting he has made an error and changing the system very early even if there hasn’t been a goal.
He did a fantastic job in keeping the young squad going to the end in the face of a never-ending injury crisis and the departure of two senior players to a play-off rival. Queens performances in key games in the league were superb and a special week beating Hibs, comfortably strolling past Rangers and then grinding out a nervy 1-0 win against Falkirk to all but seal the playoffs is about as good a week as any Queen of the South supporter could have dreamed of.
The few disappointments have been the exit to Falkirk in the Scottish Cup quarters and the struggles against the weaker teams in the division but otherwise it was a special debut season. Unfortunately the big test comes this summer as he has a major rebuild job on his hands.
WRITTEN BY ADAM LAWRIE
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