Although Rangers won the Third Division title with relative ease, only a handful of players performed to the levels expected of them. As such, only two players represent the champions. The league’s better players were found elsewhere amongst the part-time sides – Queen’s Park boast three, while Peterhead and Berwick Rangers have two representatives each. Elgin City, Montrose and Stirling Albion have one apiece.
Could this group of players perform together? Perhaps. But the nature of this article is not to pick the most complete team and compile a group with complimentary styles – instead, it aims to highlight the individuals who have excelled over the course of the season.
Goalkeeper: GRAEME SMITH (Peterhead)
There are few outstanding candidates for the Third Division’s best goalkeeper (indeed, it is probably the league’s weakest position) but Peterhead’s Graeme Smith is a worthy inclusion. Between making his debut in a 1-1 draw with Berwick Rangers in December and March’s 0-1 home defeat at Elgin City, Smith performed strongly, conceding 12 goals in 15 matches. But it was when the season entered its final quarter when he truly excelled.
As Peterhead embarked on a fantastic run, winning their final eight matches, Smith conceded just one goal (and that was during his side’s 2-1 victory over Rangers at Ibrox). Granted, his miserly defence were equally credible for this form, but on that run alone he merits his place within this side.
Right-back: GRAHAM SHARP (Peterhead)
Clyde’s Gavin Brown is perhaps unfortunate not to be included despite performing well throughout the first few months of the season, but with injury precluding his participation through the latter stages of the campaign, Graham Sharp of Peterhead is drafted in at right full-back instead. Sharp has played to the same dogged levels of consistency throughout the year.
Earlier in his career, Sharp was utilised as a winger but latterly the player has matured into a solid defender, capable of stopping opposing attackers as well as overlapping his team-mates down the right flank. Unfussy and understated, Sharp is a robust option.
Centre-back: RICKY LITTLE (Queen’s Park)
A thoughtful, intelligent player, Ricky Little has shown over the course of the season he is one of the division’s most cerebral centre-backs. Although not the most physical of competitors, Little is better utilised as a “B” defender, sweeping up second balls and looking to build play from the back. Such is composure and ability in possession, his partner James Brough was often tasked with dealing with the uglier stuff while Little linked with his midfield.
Despite failing to establish himself with previous clubs Ayr United and Partick Thistle, this season Little has proved he is capable of operating at a higher level.
Centre-back: DOUGIE BRYDON (Berwick Rangers)
There is little doubt that Dougie Brydon has been the league’s finest centre-back this year. Indeed, after his summer arrival from Duns the player quickly established himself as one of the best defenders in Berwick’s recent history. Brydon is tall and physical (he rarely loses aerial duels) and comfortable with the ball at his feet, playing it out of defence and into the midfield. Such is Brydon’s prowess, numerous clubs – some from the English Premier League – have scouted him over the season.
It seems remarkable that such a fine player has been largely unheralded until now but in truth, Brydon perhaps lacks the ambition to take his career further. A keen motor sport enthusiast, he appears reluctant to abandon his hobby in favour of competing at full-time level. Brydon might be at Berwick next term, or he could be in the SPL. He might even return to Duns. Regardless, his first season in the SFL has been an unqualified success.
Left-back: ANDY ROBERTSON (Queen’s Park)
Andy Robertson’s nomination at left full-back is perhaps the most contentious on this list. “But what of Lee Wallace?!” some might shout. Granted, Wallace has enjoyed a good season with Rangers and is one of the few players to have emerged from their campaign with credibility, but there are times when he has looked complacent and fed up with the rammy going on around him; he is a player operating a level far beneath his talent.
Robertson, meanwhile, has performed with aplomb on a consistent basis. At his best, his galloping raids down the left flank are tremendously exciting and with manager Garnder Speirs encouraging his full-backs to attack high up the pitch, the role within the team is crucial from both a defensive and an attacking perspective – Robertson is accomplished in fulfilling both duties.
As Queen’s Park’s best full-back since Barry Douglas, there is no doubt that with the requisite full-time coaching he will develop into an outstanding player.
Right wing: DAVID TEMPLETON (Rangers)
Simply put, David Templeton is better than anything else in the league. After leaving Stenhousemuir for Heart of Midlothian in January 2007, few would have imagined that such a prospect would ever reappear in the basement league. Regardless, Templeton has generally been excellent.
No-one else can match his trickery, guile and invention and when he plays well, Rangers look far more dynamic and energised. Ally McCoist has used Templeton in a number of positions (he operated as a second striker for a brief period), it is arguable that it is on the flanks where he is at his best, rampaging past full-backs before coming inside. Of all McCoist’s summer signings, he is the only player to have performed well on a consistent basis.
Central midfield: LEE CURRIE (Berwick Rangers)
Lee Currie, a former Hibernian academy player, is one of the league’s most technical footballers. He boasts an outstanding range of passing and his ability from dead-ball situations is unrivalled – few players hit freekicks with such vicious dip and arc. Currie is comfortable operating in a number of midfield roles, equally adept at performing high up the pitch or as a withdrawn playmaker. It is in the latter position where he has excelled this year.
An over-zealousness in the tackle and a lack of mobility have perhaps precluded Currie from genuinely making the most of his talents but for the meantime at least, Berwick’s quarterback fully deserves his place within this team.
Central midfield: DAVID ANDERSON (Queen’s Park)
Footballers carelessly throw the word “baller” at each other without fully understanding its meaning, adorning their team-mates with such a title on the back of their meagre abilities. And yet, for Queen’s Park’s David Anderson, baller is the most appropriate description: for the second consecutive season, Anderson was the best midfielder in the Third Division.
Tidy, neat, economical, shrewd – the player’s passing rarely exceeds 10 yards but there are few in the league with his intelligence and accuracy. Anderson almost exclusively stations himself in front of his defence, taking the ball from his centre-backs before quickly shuttling it upfield. His clever use of space and his assurance of touch – Anderson is a fine dribbler – is crucial to his team’s approach.
Another player who could no doubt perform at a higher level, his contentment at Queen’s Park will see him enter his fourth season with the Spiders.
Left wing: DANIEL MOORE (Elgin City)
With the continental fashion of deploying wide players on the “wrong flanks” as “inverted wingers”, it is refreshing to see the likes Elgin City’s Daniel Moore, an old school wide boy and the division’s best specialist left winger. A technically gifted crosser – his delivery is regularly well above Third Division standard – and a creative presence, Moore is a bright, energetic player.
At times, Elgin look as if they are built around his strengths, but there were too many occasions throughout the season where he was marginalised from the run of play. When used appropriately, his delivery can change games in a moment.
Striker: ANDY LITTLE (Rangers)
Released last from summer from Rangers before immediately rejoining them, Andy Little has enjoyed an outstanding season with the club. Although the Northern Ireland international is sometimes inexplicably deployed on the flanks, it is as a pure striker where he is most comfortable. Intelligent, confident and clinical, his return of 22 league goals was richly deserved. Without him, it is debatable if his team would have won the league by such a margin – Little aside, not one of Rangers’ strikers impressed this year.
As the club move into the Second Division, Little will be expected to maintain the same high level of performance next season.
Striker: JORDAN WHITE (Stirling Albion)
Some may crab that Rory McAllister’s inclusion has been overlooked but in honesty, the Peterhead forward only began to impress when his team did; Jordan White, meanwhile, has performed to a consistently high standard all season. Even when his club struggled through their troublesome period through the first half of the year, the former Falkirk striker looked bright and enthusiastic.
A change in system at the end of January – manager Greig McDonald dispensed with the trendy 4-2-3-1 system in favour of a traditional 4-4-2 – brought the best out of White and he was central to Stirling’s transformation into a competitive entity. In the New Year he scored eight times (four of which came in their 9-1 dismantling of East Stirlingshire) and assisted several more. Having yet to agree terms with the Binos for next season, White will surely be a highly sought-after commodity in the summer.
Manager: STUART GARDEN (Montrose)
So close, and yet so far. Stuart Garden’s inaugural season managing Montrose ultimately flatlined with just a handful of games remaining, but on the whole the campaign should be regarded as a success. The club were expected to finish the season scuttling around the bottom of the table but through a combination of shrewd loan signings, ambitious, progressive tactics and a fearless mentality, Garden’s team – until March, at least – flourished. His development as a manager will be keenly observed.