Danny Rogers – 7
Rogers didn’t quite hit the same highs as in the first season of his loan spell, where he made a number of spectacular and important saves in big games against the likes of Hibs and Rangers. His performances in this campaign, however, were solid and assured. His kicking, communication and command of his area have improved immeasurably since he first joined, and he will be a good addition for any side who are able to sign him this summer. Unlucky not to regain his place following an injury, but the form of his back up meant being immediately reinstated would have been unfair.
Robbie Thomson – 7
I wasn’t crazy about us using a wage to sign a back up keeper in January when other areas of the side were crying out for reinforcements, but Thomson seized his opportunity when Danny Rogers picked up a knock, and excelled. As cliched as it is, he’s a superb shot stopper and came up with some (ultimately futile) brilliant stops in the playoffs. Looks likely to be our No.1 for next season and I’m very comfortable with that, which is a not a sentence I thought I’d be writing six months ago.
Luke Leahy – 6
Leahy is the player that most non-Falkirk supporters seem to rate most highly. He seems to save his best performances for televised games which probably explains it. The reality is that Leahy has had a bit of a stop-start season. Signed as a winger before being converted to a left-back by Gary Holt, Leahy has always been at his best when he can get forward and support the attack. Craig Sibbald has benefited from being played more centrally in a majority of games this season, but Leahy’s effectiveness going forward has suffered as a result of playing behind a natural wide player in Hippolyte who is less prone to drift inside.
With less space to get to the byline and a player who left him more exposed defensively, Leahy was dropped for 17 year old Tony Gallacher due to poor form. He took this like a professional and put in solid performances for the remainder of the campaign, and looked back to his best in the final few games of the season when Sibbald was ahead of him once again on the left wing. Leahy will be moving on this summer and there is no doubt he will be a loss to the club. His attitude and dedication have been first class over the last five years and if he doesn’t make a success of things back in England it won’t be for a lack of trying.
Luca Gasparotto – 5
With David McCracken showing his age in the run-in of the previous season and Peter Grant out with a long term injury, it seemed to make sense to sign a young centre back who had performed well at this level. Gasparotto arrived with glowing recommendations from Morton fans, but his weaknesses were clear early on. He struggles when dealing with pace or crafty attackers, and has looked particularly shaky against Stephen Dobbie and Jason Cummings. He looks panicked in possession at times and is often guilty of adopting a ‘safety first’ approach when composure would be welcome. However, he is dominant in the air and performs to a far higher standard when he has a more traditional leader alongside him.
He has been a victim of recurring themes which have affected the side as a whole over the season – a lack of continuity at the back and the midfield leaving the defence exposed. If these issues are fixed for next season, it’s still feasible that Gasparotto’s faults can be hidden and his strengths accentuated.
Aaron Muirhead – 5
Many Falkirk fans viewed Muirhead as the weak-link in the team which had done so well in the previous campaign. He’s strong in the air and defensively sound but it would be fair to describe his ability with the ball at his feet as ‘agricultural’. Dropped at various points in the campaign for the disappointing Lewis Kidd, Muirhead was dependable if unspectacular throughout the season. He still looks like a centre back being played out of position despite spending two years at right back. Most Falkirk fans would agree that there are probably better options out there, but for me there are much bigger problems which need to be resolved ahead of Muirhead blasting clearances into the stand.
Peter Grant – 6
Came back from a serious knee injury and as a result didn’t get a preseason. It took Grant a few games to get up to speed and he failed to reach the heady heights of last season. He is a colossus in the air and a natural leader who will hopefully be better placed to come back stronger in 2017/2018. His lack of pace may hinder him at a higher level but he’s probably the best defender in the Championship when he’s fit. I still wouldn’t be massively surprised if he moves on this summer.
Paul Watson – 6
When Gasparotto signed, expectations were that Watson would be the odd man out when Peter Grant was back to fitness. However, with Gasparotto putting in some less than stellar performances, Watson found himself first choice before picking up an injury towards the end of the season. He is more of our more underrated players in my opinion – he doesn’t really have any standout attributes in either a positive or negative sense. He’s similar to Gasparotto in that both players look infinitely better next to a more natural leader (our worst defensive displays of the campaign came when Watson and Gasparotto were paired). Either player should be a competent partner for Grant, but it is key that Houston makes a decision and sticks to it as a lack of continuity at the back left us looking uncertain defensively all season.
Lewis Kidd – 3
Signed for a fee from Queen of the South, we were hopeful that Kidd would add more balance to the side as opposed to playing Muirhead out of position on the right. That Muirhead ended up playing so many games is testament to the success of Kidd this season. His lack of pace is a real issue for a full back, and often left the right hand side exposed when he pushed forward.
He scored a deflected free kick away to Queen of the South which seemed to turn him into a Juninho-esque dead ball specialist in the minds of our support. Set pieces aside, another highlight was tweeting that there was “no better feeling” than an Old Firm weekend, which was swiftly deleted following a barrage of abuse from Falkirk supporters.
David McCracken – 4
McCracken looked to be well and truly done at the end of last season, and if ITK blowhards on forums are to be believed, he was given a new contract because the number of appearances he made triggered a player option. Finding himself comfortably fourth choice, McCracken was recalled to the starting lineup in pretty short order following the disastrous early season performances of the Gasparotto-Watson tandem. For six or seven games, McCracken was arguably Falkirk’s most consistent performer, with his organisational skills a welcome boost to a backline which had been in disarray. However, he quickly began to fall apart and was quickly dropped when Peter Grant was approaching fitness.
He is likely to retire this summer and will probably be given a coaching role if he is able to find time in his busy schedule between exercising on motorways, running personal training sessions for middle aged women, and shilling synthetic nutrition products.
Tony Gallacher – 5
Whenever a highly rated young player comes through the youth setup at Falkirk, most supporters are conflicted. On one hand, there is a sense of excitement and intrigue. On the other, there is a feeling of dread that they’ll be sold before they’re legally old enough to buy a bottle of MD 20/20. Tony Gallacher captained Scotland at under-17 level and was viewed as “the best one yet” to come through a system which has produced Scott Arfield and Stephen Kingsley. Conspiracy theorists, however, viewed his introduction to the starting XI a couple of weeks before the January transfer window as being far from coincidental (in reality, Leahy’s poor form meant it was logical to make the switch). Gallacher acquitted himself well and didn’t look out of place in the first team, with newspaper reports claiming he was being scouted by Barcelona, Liverpool and Manchester United.
A horror show at Cappielow in the Scottish Cup was his final start of the campaign. It will be interesting to see if Houston is willing to give him the starting berth with Leahy on the way out. In terms of being the best youth product to come through the ranks, he certainly looks to be well ahead of Kingsley when he first broke into the first team, also aged 17. Kingsley is now a full internationalist and is starting games in the English Premier League.
Craig Sibbald – 8
Unquestionably our Player of the Season. Sibbald has finally spent the majority of a campaign in the centre of midfield and has flourished, giving his most consistent and effective performances to date. He is still more of a technical player than a natural athlete despite bulking up, and playing next to Kerr in a central two left us overrun at times, but a return of ten league goals meant Sibbald was the club’s top scorer as well as being our most influential player.
At his best, he controls games and is the classiest player on the park by some distance. Houston was still fond of shunting him to the left, but he linked well with Leahy in this position which added a new dimension to our attack.
Responsible for my favourite picture of the year when he put his finger to his lips at East End Park, causing some members of the home support to froth at the mouth while veins popped out of their necks, it remains unclear if he’ll be back at Falkirk again next season. Selfishly, I would be disappointed to see him leave, but it is a logical time to leave in terms of his own development.
Mark Kerr – 4
Mark Kerr went from being the Player of the Season in 2015/16 to looking his age in the following campaign. He wasn’t helped by the loss of Will Vaulks, whose athleticism meant Kerr was able to focus on what he does best – reading the game and pinging passes around the midfield. As we were soon to find out, John Rankin is many things, but he is not Will Vaulks. Sibbald has played more centrally for much of the season but his main weakness is a lack of pace. Kerr has looked slow and ponderous in possession for much of the year and, despite two outstanding performances in the playoffs, it would be best for all parties if he played a role off the bench when games need to be seen out. He has been fantastic for Falkirk over the years but his time as a key player is behind him.
Tom Taiwo – 7
I always feel a bit sorry for Tom Taiwo. He can do it all to a certain extent and is never less than 100% committed. However, for some reason, Houston seems to view him as a squad player who can be shoehorned in when injuries or suspensions mean other midfielders are missing. Too often, Taiwo will be played on the right wing for 60 minutes, before being shoved into the middle for half an hour the next week, before doing 15 minutes on the right side the next again week. He rarely let’s the team down and deserves a run in the team next to a more creative player in the centre of the park.
Myles Hippolyte – 7
At times this season Hippolyte was unplayable. Halfway through, most Falkirk supporters had him pegged as our Player of the Season. Despite fading slightly in the second half, he remained a key player, having been a bit part option in the previous season. When he’s on song he is quick, powerful and direct, which is a welcome change in a team which can often be functional and plodding. His goal and assist tallies for the season illustrate his effectiveness in the final third of the pitch.
He can be frustrating and inconsistent but he isn’t the only winger that can be said about. It’s easy to forget that he is only 22, and has come on leaps and bounds since signing 18 months ago. To coin a phrase, I am always happy for us to have some “chaos factor” in the side and Hippolyte gives us that in spades. The next stages of his development will hopefully be an increased defensive awareness and a more even temperament. I won’t pretend that I want him to cut out the diving – I enjoy it.
James Craigen – 5
A season of two halves for Craigen. In the first half of the season, he looked out of place on the right of midfield and didn’t offer much in either an attacking or defensive sense. He was quickly dropped to the bench, although he showed flashes of potential when played in a more natural central position. After the January window closed, Craigen was given further opportunities both on the right and in the middle. He scored some cracking goals and his set piece delivery has looked excellent at times. His playoff performances were one of the few bright spots over the two legs.
Supporter opinion has seesawed on Craigen – early in the campaign he was the devil incarnate, whilst some now view him as an integral player to build the team around. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. If Sibbald moves on as expected, Craigen should probably be given the chance to play centrally to add a creative spark to the side.
John Rankin – 1
I have scored Rankin based on a combination of his performances and the absurdity of the signing. Following the humbling defeat to Kilmarnock, Houston said the side needed more athleticism. When Will Vaulks predictably departed the club, Houston decided that the ideal replacement would be John Rankin. Rankin undoubtedly takes care of himself (for evidence, see the photo of his abs in the infamous hot tub), but he isn’t a six-foot-plus box-to-box midfielder who can take the game by the scruff of the neck. After some plodding performances he was dropped and left the club in January for first team football at Queen of the South. Further endeared himself to Falkirk supporters by saying he wanted old team Dundee United to win in the playoffs, which was nice of him.
Fraser Aird – 1
The love letter he wrote to Rangers supporters on Instagram on the day he signed for the club was a sign of things to come. He was more interested in posing in Rangers polo shirts in “The Bristol Bar” or tweeting his support for the club who rejected him for being rotten than he was in trying a lick for the club paying his wages.
These slaps in the face of the fans would’ve been slightly more palatable if he was anything approaching competent on the pitch for Falkirk. As it was, his time at the club will be as memorable for us as I’m sure it will be for him. He contributed nothing other than taking up a space in the squad.
A bizarrely good performance for Canada against Scotland means that he’ll probably get a decent move before continuing his descent into obscurity. Expect his Vladimir Weiss-like pandering to continue in years to come.
Joe McKee – 5
He’s been a useful asset when fit. The issue, though, has been getting him on the park. McKee turned in a great performance on his debut against Dunfermline, then picked up two injuries back-to-back before playing in the final four games of the season. He is similar to Taiwo in many ways, although I believe he is a better player going forward. His injury record would put me off but a contract extension would be the best move for all parties if he can stay out of the treatment room. His goal at Tannadice was probably the best moment of the season.
John Baird – 5
Baird is much maligned amongst many in the Falkirk support. He only scored eight goals this season despite starting the vast majority of games, and went on a horrible run at the end of the campaign without a goal. He does a lot of work off the ball and will run channels all day, but if we are looking to win the league a more prolific first choice striker is needed.
In previous years, Baird has produced the goods and scored all sorts of goals, but I have my doubts that he can reproduce that again in the future. He is a worker and hasn’t been quite as bad this year as many Falkirk fans would have you believe, but we need better than a bang average season from our main striker.
Bob McHugh – 4
Last summer whilst still basking in the euphoria of beating Hibs in the playoff, I put a bet on Bob McHugh to be the top scorer in the league. It is safe to say that McBookie’s cash was never in danger. McHugh was given plenty of opportunities this season, both from the start and off the bench, but he offered little in terms of changing games. He has no standout attribute but is generally fine as an all rounder. The decision to release him is a correct one, although I am sure that he could provide double figures for a club lower down the league.
He gave me some of my favourite memories as a Falkirk supporter in his time with the club and will be fondly remembered despite doing very little for approximately 20 of his 24 months in the navy blue.
Lee Miller – 7
Another season of Big Sexy changing games from the bench, winning cheap free kicks and scoring headers. On the face of things, nine league goals may not look too impressive, but in terms of goals per minute he was only bettered by five players in the league. He offers a completely different option to the smaller McHugh and Baird, and he uses his intelligence to bring others into play as well as scoring important goals of his own. If he spends next season coming off the bench and passing on his wisdom to our younger strikers, it looks like a great deal for all concerned.
Nathan Austin – 7
Injuries meant we didn’t see much of Nathan Austin until the latter part of the season. He quickly became a fan favourite through his work ethic, strength and raw potential. He is deceptively good with the ball at his feet and has knack for scoring goals – he only notched six in the league, but only Jason Cummings had a better goal-per-minute ratio in the Championship. It is difficult to say if we’d have made a better fist of keeping pace with Hibs if he had been fit all season, but we would certainly have been more entertaining to watch. A fully fit Austin is a must for 2017/2018.
Scott Shepherd – 2
Scott Shepherd continues to astound me. I was astounded when Houston gave him a couple of starts around Christmas time. I was astounded when he got a new two year contract this month. And I was astounded when writing this article to see that he made 13 appearances this season. I’m sure he’s a nice boy but he has shown nothing to suggest he’ll make it as a full time footballer over the numerous seasons he’s spent in the first team squad.
Peter Houston – 5
On the face of things, a second placed finish behind Hibs and a late playoff defeat to a Dundee United team with a bigger budget seems like a fairly good season for Falkirk. However, much of the campaign has been dull and predictable.
Some key themes have persisted throughout, and indeed throughout Houston’s time in charge as a whole. The chopping and changing of the defence helped no one and led to a lack of cohesiveness which led to some farcical goals being conceded. Houston’s transfer policy is also a cause for concern. Complaining about a lack of strength and athleticism following the pumping at Rugby Park, only to sign Lewis Kidd, James Craigen and John Rankin in the summer is bewildering. No signing came out of the blue, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the players signed weren’t largely mediocre.
A safety first, timid approach can often engulf Houston’s thinking at crucial times, with the deep defensive line in the playoff second leg against Dundee United a prime example of this. Cup defeats to Stirling Albion, Ayr and Morton meant that there was no opportunity for any excitement in three separate tournaments. Houston is, however, generally astute in his in-game management, with his substitutions winning more games than they lose.
It is true that his three seasons in the Championship have not been ‘normal’ in terms of the composition of the league, but it is hard to not view this year as a missed opportunity, particularly when I have written this while watching Hamilton and Dundee United play out a shocker of a playoff final.
Houston deserves another chance to take us up to the Premiership, but if he does not use his budget more effectively then it could be another frustrating season.
Written by Gordon Snedden