The IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Award winners have been named for the month of November. After much debate, a judging panel consisting of respresentatives from the Scottish media decided upon the winners.
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal First Division Manager of the Month – Billy Reid (Hamilton Academical)
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Second Division Manager of the Month – Ray McKinnon (Brechin City)
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Third Division Manager of the Month – To be announced (Saturday December 15)
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Player of the Month – Nicky Clark (Queen of the South)
- IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Young Player of the Month – Lewis Macleod (Rangers)
- SFL Goal of the Month – to be announced
- Ginger Boot Winner – to be announced
IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal First Division Manager of the Month – Billy Reid (Hamilton Academical)
Hamilton Academical Manager, Billy Reid, has admitted that he has gone for substance over style recently and whilst it has brought him the success of winning the IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal First Division Manager of the Month for November, he is far from happy with the move.
Accies adopted a more robust defensive approach to squeeze out 1-0 wins over title chasing Morton and Partick Thistle and were just seven minutes away from doing the same at Falkirk until a late lapse.
Reid said: “It was good to win against two of the better sides in the League and teams that will not be far away come the end of the season but we did it in a way I don’t want us to play.
“We had to set up our stall to make us hard to beat and we did again at Falkirk. In terms of how I want the game to be played, it was terrible but we were seven minutes away from picking up nine points from nine.”
It is a case of needs must for the New Douglas Park boss as his side were getting sucked into relegation trouble with Reid saying: “We had to go down a different route to pick up points. That is where we are just now as a club. The players did their jobs well especially at Morton where they defended well and we rode our luck a bit against Thistle as they battered us in the second half.
“We dug in to win that one.”
Reid explained his move to a more pragmatic approach as he said: “We have played really well at times this season and not picked up points. In the first game of the season, we were at Raith Rovers and we were terrific but never scored. Then the referee’s assistant gave a penalty and we got nothing from the game.
“It was not an easy choice to make and it has not been pretty at times but we had to go down that route and pick up points as opposed to staying at the foot of the table.”
The longest serving Manager in Scottish football added: “The First Division is not an easy division to bleed players in and win games. Falkirk are seeing it this season as they have not won many games and whilst Livingston have a young side as well, a lot of them got a good grounding playing in the Third and Second Divisions.
“We are a young side with eight players that have been through our youth system and they have all been taught to go out and play football. They are being asked to do something different for the moment. For the last eight years, we have played a 4-3-3 formation and like to push our full-backs up and go two on two at the back but not at the moment.
“It is all about getting the balance right between getting points on board and being open.”
Reid is hopeful that the approach will not last long saying: “Winning games gives players confidence and beating Morton and Thistle for a second time this season was great for our confidence. We will get back to playing the way I want to again but that will be determined by the number of points we have.”
Another factor in Accies’ sluggish start to the season has been a constant chopping and changing of line-ups with Reid saying: “A continuity of selection would help us. Our captain, Alex Neil, is hugely important to us as he is a player that plays on the edge and is wholehearted. That has seen him sent off twice and that does not help.
“We have lost Jon McShane for the season due to a cruciate injury and last season he scored eight goals in 16 games. We had him down for 15 goals this season.”
Reid has turned to the loan market to bolster his numbers with mixed results as he said: “Stevie May has done brilliantly and we have made enquiries about keeping him. James Keatings has struggled to make an impact because of Stevie.
“Gary Fisher has had a couple of injuries and that has restricted the impact I thought he would have. Even the loan players are young and we only have Kevin Cuthbert, Martin Canning and Alex that have any experience.”
Motherwell’s Jonathan Page has had an impact with Reid saying: “Jonathan has settled in really well and we have him for another month. We need him as we are just so young and he has really steadied the ship at the back.
“We work from half season to half season but I have not thought of changes for January.”
IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Second Division Manager of the Month – Ray McKinnon (Brechin City)
The Scottish FA’s loss has certainly been Brechin City’s gain with the upward movement in the Glebe Park side’s season, which started when former Hampden employee, Ray McKinnon, was appointed Manager and has been recognised with the IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Second Division Manager of the Month Award for November.
A five game unbeaten run in the Second Division that contained four wins, has seen McKinnon transform the Angus side’s season to one of promotion hopes as opposed to relegation fears and he said: “I am only six weeks into the job so I am delighted with the award and it has come sooner than I ever expected to win it.
“I watched Brechin play against Arbroath after Jim Weir had left and they lost 3-1. It was their fifth straight defeat and I thought a major rebuild was on the cards. The team was conceding a lot of goals but the players have responded well to the work we have put into the defensive side of things.”
McKinnon, who has added only defender Graham Hay from the Lochee United Junior side he managed before becoming a National Stadium employee just over two years ago, added: “We are looking a lot tighter at the back, scoring goals at the other end and that is a great turnaround.
“Graham has added a bit of pace and to be honest, we needed that. I worked with him a few years ago at Lochee and he has been outstanding for us. He has matured since being released by Dundee as a kid and even coming in to play in the SFL at 24, I reckon he can go on and remain at this level.”
This is the 42-year-old former stylish midfielder’s first foray into senior management although he was not exactly champing at the bit for an opportunity.
McKinnon, who is best known for his playing days at Dundee United, Nottingham Forest and Aberdeen, explained: “I had not been looking for a Manager’s job. I had my time at Lochee and then I came to work with the SFA after a conversation with Jim Fleeting a few years ago.
“I had a great time with them and I completed my qualifications as a coach up to Pro-Licence level. I was also heavily involved in delivering coaching as well and I was enjoying my time doing that.”
McKinnon secured his Youth, A and B badges and was awaiting the results on his Pro-Licence exam when Jim Weir left Glebe Park.
“Ironically, on the day I was told I had my Pro-Licence, the Brechin job came up,” said McKinnon before adding, “I thought about it for 10 days and then decided to go for it and I think half the SFA were pleased for me and the other half weren’t so.
“Lochee had plenty of pitfalls in terms of learning how to work with part-time players. Going then to work with the SFA and getting steeped in coaching has been a great grounding for me.”
As well as a great grounding, McKinnon has experience of working with big figures in the world of football as he explained: “Obviously, I worked with Jim McLean at United and he worked us very hard but he got the best out of you. He was a very good coach and knew the technical side of the game really well. I learnt a lot under him.
“I moved to Forest where Brian Clough was in charge but he was at the end of his career then and he was suffering from his well documented problems with alcohol so I never saw him at his best.”
McKinnon’s next boss was to prove an inspiration as he explained: “I went to Aberdeen and learnt a lot from Willie Miller. He could do both sides of the job as he was a good man-manager and a good tactician. He was excellent as a person and a manager.
“I am surprised he never got another chance in management. He had a rebuilding job to do at Aberdeen after a good first season and whilst he got a bit of money to spend, he had lost a lot of experience with the likes of Alex McLeish, Jim Bett and Bobby Connor moving on.”
The duo still speak with McKinnon adding: “I can call Willie at any time and I see Jim in Broughty Ferry and when he is on the ball, he is still as sharp as ever. I can also call up Owen Coyle and there have been a lot of guys who are helpful.”
McKinnon will be speaking to his mentors about a changing set of priorities as he explained: “The objective when I went there was to stay up. We were joint second bottom and I was told that we had to stay up. I said we would take things one game at a time and see where that took us.”
That approach has worked with McKinnon saying: “We have moved from eighth to third and are now involved in the promotion Play-Offs. If we can keep that up then that would be fantastic.
“Queen of the South have certainly put themselves in a strong position in the League although Alloa narrowed the gap following their victory over them in midweek but hopefully, we can stay in the Play-Offs.”
McKinnon finished by saying: “This division is very competitive and outside of Queen of the South, there are very fine margins between the teams. No squad can be said to be much stronger than another. It is all about not losing goals and if you do that then you can win games.”
IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Player of the Month – Nicky Clark (Queen of the South)
Queen of the South striker Nicky Clark’s fine goalscoring form has been recognised with the 21-year-old picking up the IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Player of the Month for November after finding the net five times in four games.
Former Aberdeen and Peterhead frontman Clark scored in the Scottish Cup against Edinburgh City and followed that up with single goal strikes against Arbroath and Ayr United with a double notched in a 5-1 romp against Forfar Athletic at Station Park.
Clark is delighted to be involved at the top end of a League table after two years of battling at the foot with the Blue Toon and then The Doonhamers as he explained: “I was with the Peterhead team that was at the bottom of the Second Division and relegated and with Queens last season when they went down so this is unbelievably different.
“When you're at the top of the table, everything just seems to go right for you and that's much more enjoyable than fighting for points every week.”
Clark has found the net 17 times as the Dumfries side went 13 Second Division games without defeat (until Tuesday's defeat at Alloa) and he said: “It probably helps us that we are the only full-time team in the division but there's a lot of quality in our team as well. We have a lot of experienced players who have blended in well with a lot of young boys but we all work hard.
“When it comes to scoring goals, I have been lucky to be in the right place at the right time as the boys are creating a lot of chances for me. My previous best for a season was seven or eight so it has been a great start and long may it continue.
The Queens of the South Assistant Manager was a well known goalscorer as well and he also doubles up as Clark’s father, Sandy, with son Nicky saying this of the former Airdrieonians, West Ham United, Rangers and Heart of Midlothian frontman: “I have learned a lot from my Dad. He has done a lot in the game and it helps me that he's at the club as well. You do get the odd idiot who tells you that you are only there because your Dad's there but it doesn't bother me.
“It was the same when my Dad and I were both at Aberdeen, so I am used to it. It is a good set-up at Queens. My Dad had the gaffer, Allan Johnston, as a young boy at Hearts, so they've known each other for years and that has helped us as they work great together and it shows on the park.”
Second placed Alloa Athletic cut the lead Queen of the South had when the sides met on Tuesday and there is no complacency amongst The Doonhamers despite still having a six point lead.
Clark confirmed: “It would have been hard for anyone to catch us if we had won and gone 12 points clear. Alloa are the best team we have faced in the League this season. They have good players like Stephen Simmons, who I played with last season, and Darren Young. They have good experience.”
Clark added: “You can't say the title is sown up yet. Obviously, we are leading just now and done really well but we need to keep the momentum going. There are big games to come but we have had a lot of big games this season, including The Ramsdens Cup game against Rangers at Ibrox.
“I have scored 17 goals and the header I got at Ibrox is probably my favourite. That was an unbelievable night.”
IRN-BRU SFL Phenomenal Young Player of the Month – Lewis Macleod (Rangers)
Rangers youngster, Lewis Macleod, became the first Ibrox player to be voted for an IRN-BRU SFL monthly award this season and he was delighted to pop into Hampden to pick up his Phenomenal Young Player of the Month trophy for November.
For the 18-year-old, it was another surprise in a season of surprises as he explained: “I was not expecting to win an award but I am delighted I have. To be the first Rangers player voted to win one is pretty special and it would be great if I could go on and win a couple more.
“It has been a season of surprises for me as I have played in every game and played at a lot of locations and against teams I did not think I would be playing against this season. It has been a great learning curve for me and for all the young boys.”
Macleod added: “I think we have adapted to everything well and I am really looking forward to the rest of the season.”
To win more awards, Macleod knows that he will need to see off more emerging talent from Ibrox as he explained: “Barrie McKay has been great in our last couple of games and I am sure that if he carries on like that, he will be looking to win a monthly award. In fact, there are quite a few of the boys who will want to win one.”
Macleod is ahead of the schedule that he set himself to develop as a player as he explained: “At the start of the season, I was looking to play a few first team games and make an impact when I did. Thankfully, I have been consistent in the games I have played and the Gaffer has stuck by me.
“It is a good time to be a young player at Rangers and be about the first team. If we were still in the SPL, it would have been harder to play in so many games. The Third Division has been hard and physical, certainly a lot more physical than the Under-19 League but I cannot compare it to the SPL as I was only ever a substitute in a game once against Motherwell last season.”
The Wishaw born player's development has been enhanced by playing in front of huge crowds as he said: “Whilst it is enjoyable to be playing every week, it is incredible to play at home with the crowds we have been getting. They have been unbelievable.
“I was thrown straight in at the deep end a bit and in our first couple of games, I was nervous but that is lessening with the experience I am picking up. I have played in over 20 games so far and I am happier playing in the Third Division than playing reserve or youth team football.”
Macleod reckons he could have ended up in Scotland’s fourth tier in any case this season saying: “If Rangers were still in the SPL, I would have set myself the target of training with the first team but I would probably have gone out on loan to a First, Second or Third Division team to get game time.
“To get that experience with Rangers in front of the crowds we are getting is fantastic and hopefully, I can work my way up the divisions with them. It has been a difficult time for the club but on the pitch, it has worked out well for me and the other young players.”
Macleod has been with the Ibrox club since he was 10-years-old and added: “I am happy with how things have worked out so quickly for me and that I have adapted well. It would have been a lot harder if I had struggled in the first team.”
This weekend, Macleod comes across the side he broke his goalscoring duck against when Ally McCoist’s side head to Montrose and it will be another first for him as he said: “It was great to score against them at our place and it would be terrific to do it again. I have never been to Links Park before so it will be another new experience for me.
“At some of the smaller grounds, you can hear everything which is not always the best. I have played at some of the grounds with the youth team but when they are packed, they are very different.”
Macleod does have some experience to call on all the same as he added: “I have been to some of them to watch games as my big cousin, David McEwan, used to play in goal at Hamilton Accies and Dumbarton. I used to watch him in the Third Division and now he watches me.”
The youngster, who has represented Scotland at five different age groups, finished by saying: “We are getting more used to playing in the Third Division and we have won our last couple of away games and the plan is to now win every game between now and the end of the season.”