The 10 best Scottish lower league players this week

February 1, 2018

10. Ashley Grimes (Edinburgh City)

Considering the standard at the foot of League Two, you really don’t have to be very good to stay in it. Just a shade over inept should be enough, and Edinburgh City appear to have reached those giddy heights once more with this 3-2 win over Annan, which gives them a handy cushion over a stricken-looking Cowdenbeath. At the start of the year, City looked to be in just as much of a jam as the Blue Brazil, but three wins in four has brought relief and breathing space to James McDonaugh’s team. It would be putting it mildly to suggest Ashley Grimes had been experiencing a lengthy barren spell, but his brace made it three in four for the frontman, as Annan slid out of the playoff positions.

9. Steven Thomson (Berwick Rangers)

Cowdenbeath were a penalty shoot-out away from the unwanted record of three successive relegations, and while that was averted against East Kilbride under a leaden Fife sky last May, it’s starting to look like it may only have been a temporary reprieve. Recently installed manager Gary Bollan hasn’t shown much to suggest he can stop the rot, with Saturday’s 3-1 home defeat to Berwick Rangers leaving them winless in the league since August 12th. Not exactly encouraging form. The win is almost certainly enough to keep the Wee Rangers in the division, and was secured thanks to a sterling performance from Steven Thomson, who hammered home the second goal from distance, before providing an assist for the third as Robbie Horn’s team eked out a much needed victory.

8. Angus Beith (Stranraer)

The Stair Park exodus shows no sign of stopping, with Cameron Belford joining Forrest Green in midweek, but curiously, it doesn’t seem to have knocked Stranraer off course. Steve Farrell’s side, which is now mostly made up of fresh-faced urchins and the absolutely not fresh-faced Jamie Hamill, moved up to third in the table with this 3-1 win over Albion Rovers at Cliftonhill, and while fans were vexed at the flurry of activity at the exit door, it’s a player who’s extended his stay who was again the key-man. Angus Beith scored a brace in this one, taking his total to eight in just 11 matches, and while a promotion tilt still seems fanciful, it’s becoming less so with each passing week.

7. Ryan Hardie (Livingston)

Ryan Hardie really is becoming the go-to-man when a Championship club requires a loan forward. He’s also ideal boyfriend material if you listen to John Hughes, but in fairness, we’d suggest you don’t. The 20-year-old began his fourth temporary transfer at the weekend, this time for Livingston, and he could barely have started in better fashion, snatching a goal and almost adding to it as the Livi Lions easily defeated a troubled looking Dumbarton. The Sons slipped to ninth with this defeat, and at this rate, you’d take long odds on them avoiding the uncertainty of the playoffs. David Hopkin’s side refuse to be budged from the upper echelons of the table though, with this win moving them up to third, four points behind United having played a game fewer.

6. Darren Lee Smith (Stirling Albion)

At the back end of October, halcyon days if you’re a Stirling Albion fan, it looked for all the world that both the Binos and Montrose, and probably those big spending sorts from up the road, Peterhead, would be involved in a League Two title stramash. Dave McKay’s men appeared to be the favourites at that point, piecing together seven wins from their first nine matches. Fast forward a few months however and they now reside sixth, with this 2-1 loss to Montrose surely ruling them out any champion equation, even with games in hand. They really should have won this one though, with Darren Lee Smith the best man on the park, spanking in an excellent finish to put the Albion one up, but they couldn’t hang on against a Montrose side who are doggedly keeping their noses in front of the Blue Toon.

5. Gary Harkins (Greenock Morton)

Bearing in mind they were annihilated by Falkirk just a few weeks ago, we really didn’t need any more evidence as to just how terrible this Dundee United side is, but we got it anyway. The 3-0 home defeat to Morton surely confirmed that United will be reliant on the playoffs to escape the second tier, but even that appears a forlorn hope for a side which lacks the nous to put together a semi-competent run against the Championship’s waits and strays. Morton too are hardly in sprightly form, but in Gary Harkins they have a player who can bend a match to his whim, if allowed. Csaba Laszlo’s powder-puffs certainly had no answer to him, and while second place is theirs for the taking, it’ll require a turnaround in form to secure it.

4. Jack Baird (St Mirren)

Judging by Friday evening’s events, it’s going to take a fairly sizeable collapse by the Buddies to not make off with the Championship title. This 2-1 win over Dunfermline at East End Park, coupled with United’s ignominious/funny (delete as applicable) defeat to Morton, leaves Jack Ross’ men 11 points clear as the season reaches its closing third. Dunfermline may have worked them hard at times, but the Pars were generally reliant on Jean Yves M’Voto’s cranium to provide chances, an attacking threat which St Mirren just about dealt with. Jack Baird capitalised on shoddy Dunfermline defensive work to grab the winner, as well as making two excellent blocks in the closing moments, as the Saints bounced back from their heavy cup defeat at Aberdeen.

3. Craig Sibbald (Falkirk)

Jake Mulraney? Mair like Joke Mulraney, snorted your old man, facilitating a slightly overcooked fake laugh from yourself as you look at your watch and work out the minimum time this visit requires so that leaving doesn’t appear impolite. This fictitious father probably has a point though, with John Robertson’s team enjoying the upper-hand until Mulraney decided he was hell-bent on being dismissed, with three wild tackles and two bookings in 120 first-half seconds. The dismissal completely changed the game, with Craig Sibbald grabbing proceedings by the scruff of its neck as Falkirk secured a 3-1 win. Paul Hartley’s new look scrappers might still be erratic at times, but they now look more than good enough to stay in the division.

2. Lawrence Shankland (Ayr United)

Ayr United produced two photo-shoots for their signing of Mark Kerr last week. One was the now traditional Ian-McCall-stands-unsmiling-like-a-disapproving-Victorian-father-in-an-ill-fitting-hat-next-to-a-three-bar-fire, while the other saw Kerr standing in front of Rabbie Burns cottage. Now, we can only speculate as to what the photographer was looking for, but if they did ask the midfielder to look confused and a little bewildered then they absolutely nailed it. Kerr started for his latest team in the 4-1 win over Queen’s Park, but it was Lawrence Shankland who was the centre of attention, getting involved in all four strikes as Ayr swapped places with Raith at the top of an ever-changing League One title picture.

1. Stephen Dobbie (Queen of the South)

It was all a bit confusing at Palmerston Park. Brechin started with Hearts loanee Calumn Morrison in the starting eleven, but presumably didn’t have enough time to get him a shirt, since he played the match wearing Elliot Ford’s top, leading some onlookers to talk positively about how much Ford had upped his ante since they’d last witnessed him play. While Morrison/Ford was impressive, there was no doubting the game’s best player, and there’s no prizes for guessing who it was (especially since this blurb is literally under his name.) Stephen Dobbie’s trio of finishes in this 3-1 win was his third hat-trick of the season, and despite most onlookers suggesting Queen’s campaign has been of the mediocre variety, their talismanic striker could very well be dragging them into the playoffs.


Written by Shaughan McGuigan

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