3 under-the-radar SPFL talents; Celtic could mine Premiership for squad depth

By Euan Davidson

February 19, 2021

Celtic have had some relative success mining the SPFL for talent.

The most obvious example is David Turnbull. If you haven’t noticed, we like the guy round here. Signed from Motherwell after a long, drawn-out transfer saga, Turnbull has already proved he was worth the bother.

In the past, the likes of Scott McDonald, Jackie McNamara, Didier Agathe, Scott Brown and a million others have been plundered from league rivals. Time and again, Celtic have optimised talent from the Scottish game. So many cult heroes and club legends alike have arrived from smaller teams in our league.

There are some obvious names: Kevin Nisbet, Ryan Porteous etc. However, looking beyond the names mooted in the papers, there are players who are either good squad options now, or players with excellent potential.

We’re not suggesting out-right that the Bhoys should sign these players, necessarily. At least, in some cases, not right now. Instead, we’re suggesting 3 names who have perhaps flown under the radar who are worth considering.

Lewis Neilson battles Greg Taylor / (Photo by Steve Welsh/Pool via Getty Images)

Lewis Neilson, Dundee United

It’d be fair to say that Celtic have had some joy signing players from Dundee United. The Taysiders have long enjoyed the fruits of an excellent youth set-up. Stuart Armstrong, Gary Mackay-Steven and, to a lesser degree, Nadir Ciftci have enjoyed spells at both the Terriers and Celtic.

The latest on that list is Lewis Neilson, a 17-year-old centre-back with fantastic potential. With limited appearances this season, Neilson has made a decent start to his professional career. Already linked with a move to the English Premier League [Courier], the defender is turning heads and it’s not hard to see why.

With his tender years in mind, and few opportunities, Neilson has averaged 1.1 tackle per 90 and 1 interception for an incredibly defensive United side [WhoScored?]. A Scotland youth international, the defender is already valued at around a quarter of a million pounds [Transfermarkt].

We don’t have a lot of squad depth at centre-back. Perhaps bringing in someone with Neilson’s potential would be a wise move. Certainly, before he’s snapped up by a club with more resources than Celtic.

McMann tries to get the ball off James Forrest / (Photo by Andrew Milligan/Pool via Getty Images)

Scott McMann, Hamilton Academical

At 24, Scott McMann plays for an incredibly unglamorous side in Hamilton Accies. Surely, though, it can’t be too long before his stock rises.

Particularly impressive in recent games, McMann starred in a solid draw with Rangers, grabbed an assist in a demolition of Motherwell, and has generally acquitted himself well in South Lanarkshire.

A versatile defender who primarily plays on the left, McMann could be a useful squad option. He can play either as a left-back or a left-midfielder, in the middle of defence or as a wing-back. Certainly, he’s not Paolo Maldini, but he’s a decent young talent who has performed admirably at a Hamilton side who have struggled for momentum in 20-21.

At a club that’s seemingly immune to relegation, it’d be fun to watch McMann play a similar role in a team which plays with more attacking freedom. True, he’s probably nowhere near Celtic-ready. At the very least, though, he’s a young-ish Premiership player who is worthy of more discussion.

Jon Guthrie has enjoyed a fantastic season / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Jon Guthrie, Livingston

There’s an argument that Jon Guthrie has been the best centre-back outside the top 2 this season.

It’s an argument based on the fact that David Martindale’s Livi side have exceeded any reasonable expectations. Guthrie and former Celt Efe Ambrose have been fantastic in a season that’s brought utter joy to the Tony Macaroni Arena.

Yes, not everyone likes stats, I get that. That said, Guthrie’s reading of the game is exemplified by numbers the leap off the page. 4.4 clearances, 2.2 interceptions per 90 [WhoScored?]. Those are impressive statistics which compare favourably with any of Celtic’s defenders.

At 28, Guthrie is in the second half of his career, but the Englishman has surely turned heads this season. The former Crewe and Walsall man is far from a continental or fashionable choice, sure. But his nous at Premiership level, and his contribution to a side that’s gone lightyears beyond expectation this season mean he’s at the very least someone to look at.

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