Edited to remove all the “it’ll be interesting to see how he handles the step up to Premiership level next season” references…
Danny Rogers – 8
A shaky start, culminating with a calamitous error at Alloa, had fans worried that we had taken on a young keeper not ready for first team full time football. However, he showed great mental strength to put the mistakes behind him and improved immensely throughout the season. He now commands his area, distributes the ball well and, as much as it’s a cliche, he is a tremendous shot stopper. Highlight reel saves against Rangers in televised matches garnered a lot of attention and I would imagine he’ll be back at Pittodrie as the first choice keeper next year. He’s been a clear upgrade on Jamie MacDonald and has all the tools to go on to be a cracking goalkeeper for Aberdeen.
Peter Grant – 9
Prior to his injury he was streets ahead as our Player of the Season and was the best centre back I’d seen in the league. He is a colossus in the air, strong in the tackle and reads the game well. By all accounts he is also a consummate professional. A lack of pace may hold him back should he ever reach the very highest level, but he plays like an experienced pro despite only just turning 22. If he continues his progress when returning from injury he won’t be a Falkirk player for long, and he’d likely have been snapped up this summer if he’d remained healthy.
Luke Leahy – 8
Originally signed as a striker, Leahy has been our first choice left back for about 18 months now. He is the only player in the squad who started every league game and has been a model of consistency throughout. Given our narrow midfield, Leahy is often the primary source of width in the side, and he’s combined well with Sibbald on the left. His goal against Hibs gained a lot of praise but he scored an even better goal away to Livingston early in the season which is well worth looking up (I’d write that Roberto Carlos would be proud but that seems a bit daft).
David McCracken – 5
I think it’s worth pointing out that McCracken isn’t a first choice – he’s been a regular in recent months but that’s only due to the injury to Peter Grant. He’s probably played more games this season than even he’s expected. However, the number of errors he’s made has been alarming. His lack of pace (Kris Boyd overtook him at one stage during the playoff final second leg) has left us exposed on a number of occasions, often resulting in rash challenges. He’s sound in the air and can generally be relied upon as long as he’s not having to turn. He’s come in for a lot of stick but has generally been competent. Next season would likely be one too far though for the level Falkirk should be aiming at.
Aaron Muirhead – 7
In contrast to Luke Leahy at left back, Muirhead was signed as a central defender, but has similarly made his new position on the right of defence his own. His defensive positioning and tackling are sound, and his aerial ability is a huge asset against some of the more agricultural teams in the league. At times this season he has looked slightly awkward in possession, which is understandable given his experience in the centre of defence, but it can be frustrating to watch him launching the ball the way he’s facing when he’s under pressure. I’m happy to see him continue in the starting XI next season, but there were definite question marks about a step up if we hadn’t imploded at Rugby Park.
Paul Watson – 7
Watson started the season slowly as he bedded in to the side, but as the season progressed he grew in confidence and has been a very reliable player for this level. His partnership with Peter Grant was beginning to flourish prior to Grant’s injury, and it will be good to see that pairing reunited next season. He offers an aerial threat from set pieces, with his goal against Morton securing second place on the last day of the season. He should be a first choice again next season.
Blair Alston – 8
I have been critical of Blair Alston in the past, solely because he showed flashes of ability without sustaining a level of consistency. This season he has been given a consistent run of games in the side and he has flourished. A place on the right of a narrow midfield four suits him perfectly, and he has thrived with the opportunity to get beyond the forwards, or collecting the ball on the edge of the box. He works hard off the ball to shut down opponents and tracks back like a conventional midfielder as opposed to a winger. He has produced big moments throughout his Falkirk career but this season he has done so with regularity. Rory Loy earned a move to Dundee following a 12 goal haul last season. Alston has matched that tally from midfield, with a stunning volley against Rangers the pick of the bunch. Falkirk have scored a number of goals from set pieces and Alston’s markedly improved delivery on corners has been a critical component of that. He entered the Hall of Fame this season as he passed the 200 appearance mark, which is an incredible achievement for a 24 year old. He continues to frustrate though – on the back of his best year, he’s taking his talents to Perth.
Ryan Blair – 3
Highly rated by fans who attend the Development team’s games, Ryan Blair was expected to be gradually phased into the first team throughout the season. He was largely anonymous in his fleeting appearances, and it was surprising to everyone when Swansea paid a decent fee for him in January. I have my doubts that he’ll replicate the success of Stephen Kingsley and Jay Fulton.
Myles Hippolyte – 5
Arriving in January from Livingston, I think it’s fair to say that Hippolyte has a lot of raw potential. He changed the game in our 3-2 game against Rangers through his direct running and pace, but the jury is still out on whether he can add consistency to his game. He often makes the wrong decision when in possession, or puts in a rash tackle when tracking back, but with experience this should hopefully improve. I’m not sure how he’d fit into the starting XI if Houston intends to continue with a narrow midfield four, but Hippolyte should be a useful impact substitute for next season if we’re looking to switch things up a bit.
Mark Kerr – 9
Kerr won the Supporters’ Player of the Year and it was richly deserved. I was happy enough to see him return from Queen of the South but he has exceeded any expectations I had for him. At this level I think it’s important that players acknowledge their limitations (they wouldn’t be in the Scottish Championship if they weren’t limited in some way), and Kerr has adapted his game to play to his own strengths as he’s grown older. His reading of the game is superb and this combined with his positioning allows him to slow down the opposition when they break or deny them possession completely. His use of the ball is simple yet effective, and he rarely makes an incorrect decision when in possession. He is a key part of allowing the likes of Alston, Leahy, Sibbald and Vaulks to support the attack as he can be relied upon to cover a number of positions. He’s a leader on the park and has strolled through the season. Despite a couple of poorer performances against Kilmarnock, I expect him to continue bossing games in the Championship next term.
Conor McGrandles – 5
I was delighted when we brought McGrandles back from Norwich on loan and viewed it as a real signal of intent. Just when he was starting to get up to speed and looking like the player who’d left 18 months before, he got an horrific injury which may put him out for up to a year. Hopefully he can heal up and come back to Falkirk to get his sharpness back.
Craig Sibbald – 7
Sibbald has, in my opinion, been played out of position all season. While he has done a decent job on the left of midfield, he’s at his best centrally behind the strikers. He is our most composed attacking player and there’s no one better in tight spaces given his close control. He’s my favourite player to watch at the club and undoubtedly our most technically gifted. He has bulked up over the last year or so and gets stuck in more than most Falkirk fans give him credit for, but it doesn’t make the most of his attributes, as well as exposing his lack of pace. He’s had a good season but hasn’t shone as much as some others around him. He’s passed the 200 appearance mark a day after his 21st birthday (which is mental when I see it written down), and could possibly do with a move to push him on to the next level. Regardless of whether it’s with Falkirk or not, next season is a big one for Sibbald.
David Smith – 2
I looked up our squad list for this season and was astounded that David Smith made 20 appearances this term. Aside from one excellent performance in an away win at St Mirren (which gets him an extra point), he was largely anonymous. I’ve never seen a player who fails to beat the first defender with a cross with such regularity. Raith fans are in for a treat when Gary Locke signs him to a three-year deal this summer.
Tom Taiwo – 6
Taiwo is a solid all rounder who’s pretty good at everything you’d expect of a midfielder. He’s got a good range of passing, he’s decent in the tackle and he gets up and down the park well. Unfortunately, he’s not particularly outstanding at anything, which will perhaps hold him back from playing at a higher level. He has been unfortunate with injury which has resulted in him being out of the side in recent months, but he is a useful asset to have in the squad.
Will Vaulks – 8
I’d imagine that most non-Falkirk fans would have Will Vaulks as our Player of the Year. He’s had an excellent season, looking solid when asked to fill in at centre back but really excelling in the centre of midfield. He is able to affect the game from the middle of the park due to his drive and tireless energy. At times he can attempt the spectacular too often as opposed to keeping it simple, but that leads to some stunning goals. His performance in the 2-1 win over Rangers was a perfect showcase of everything great about him, as he grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck and raised the tempo of the full side with his tireless desire to drive forward with the ball. He’s only 22 years old but is a natural leader and seems like a genuinely good guy who is at the forefront of any community initiatives the club promote. He is my pick for a big money transfer this summer – he’s big enough and strong enough to play at a higher level and his profile is high just now. It’d be tough to grudge him a move given he played for the club as an amateur for half a season living in a bedsit.
John Baird – 8
I like John Baird. He works his socks off every week, closing down the opposition and dropping into midfield, and is a much more intelligent player than he’s given credit for. When he’s got a strike partner next to him there aren’t many better forwards in the league, and his impressive tally of 19 goals reflects this. He links well with the likes of Alston and Sibbald when he runs the channels and brings others into the game. His penalty record is shockingly poor but I can overlook that. He’s one of a few players whose role may have changed if we’d been promoted, but he’s an excellent striker for the Championship again next season.
Bob McHugh – 7
Big Shot Bob. He took a while to get going due to some injury problems, but once he got up to speed he made a tremendous impact. He must be the most ‘clutch’ player in Scottish football, and his late goals have been some of the best moments supporting Falkirk in recent years. His close control in the box is a joy to behold and he finds ways to get shots off in difficult situations. His movement and hold up play are real assets in helping the entire side get up the park. With a full preseason under his belt I think he will be our best attacking option next season, and he should easily pass his 10 goals for this campaign.
Lee Miller – 7
I will admit that I was completely against the signing of Lee Miller. He looked done at Kilmarnock and I had fears that he’d come back to Falkirk and tarnish the memories of watching him rattling in goals at Brockville. It proved to be a masterstroke. His experience is vital and he is a leader on the park. There’s something weirdly enjoyable about watching him go down easily to win a free kick and take the pressure off the team when we’re defending a lead. His timing in the air is fantastic and offers a different option to any of our other strikers. He seems to have a real affinity to the club as well which is nice to see.
Kevin O’Hara – 5
I’m a bit of an O’Hara fan boy, I must admit. He has been a regular scorer in the Development league for a couple of years and made the team of the season for that league aged just 16. He was outstanding when thrown into the starting lineup out of nowhere for back to back matches against Hibs and Rangers, with his electric pace causing all sorts of problems. Since then his appearances have primarily been 5-10 minutes at the end of games from the bench. I think he needs a run of games to develop further and grow in confidence. The sectional League Cup could present a good opportunity for this, or alternatively a loan spell in League One may be a good move for all parties. Ideally he will be primed to be a starter at the start of 2017/18.
Scott Shepherd – 3
It’s been a strange season for Shepherd. A loan move to Brechin was supposed to give him game time to ascertain if he was good enough to play regularly. However, he was quickly benched at Brechin and didn’t really stand out. Houston then decided to use him as a substitute in key playoff games ahead of options such as O’Hara. It doesn’t look like he’ll make it at Falkirk unfortunately, which makes his use in the playoffs all the more curious.
Peter Houston – 9
To put it mildly, I was firmly on the fence regarding Peter Houston at the beginning of the season. A cup run in 2015 papered over the cracks of poor league form, and his signings were largely very poor. This season, however, he has massively outperformed versus budget. Four defeats in 36 league games is an incredible record, especially given that eight of those games were against Rangers or Hibs. His use of substitutions is arguably his biggest strength, and he’s changed the course of a number of games this season through being proactive in bringing on different options. He has brought a mental steel to the team, and the number of late goals we’ve scored has become a running joke. His signings this season have been successful for the most part, particularly in attacking positions. Some of his recruitment, however, has been slightly strange – Kevin McCann has unsurprisingly barely played, and his scattergun approach to reserve goalkeepers is a bit of a head scratcher. Cup results have been very poor but they can be glossed over when the league form has been so good. He seems to have a long term plan for the club, with signings like Nathan Austin indicating that he has an eye on the future. For my money he was the Manager of the Year in the Championship ahead of Warburton.
Written by Gordon Snedden