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May 24, 2011

SPL team of the season

The final curtain has only just been drawn on perhaps one of the most controversial Scottish Premier League campaigns in years.

There's little doubt the events over the past 10 months split opinion and further divided rival camps which is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

But will Andy Moir's ESPNsoccernet SPL team of the season court similar debate?

It's difficult to justify the inclusion of players who failed to complete an entire Scottish campaign although it would be amiss not to at least acknowledge the impact of three key individuals.

Kenny Miller netted 21 league goals between August and January, which is quite a feat, before he was lured away from Ibrox to Turkey where he accepted a lucrative invitation to join Bursaspor following a £400,000 transfer.

Conor Sammon quickly burst out of Kevin Kyle's shadow at Kilmarnock to make his mark at Rugby Park. Unfortunately his stunning form and 18 goal haul in 27 games in the first half of the campaign earned him a move to the Premier League as he joined Wigan Athletic in a deal believed to be worth £600,000.

Kris Commons reversed the trend as he opted to move north of the border during the January transfer window in a £300,000 deal from Derby County but is also worthy of praise following several stunning strikes for Celtic.

Team of the season:

Goalkeeper - Allan McGregor - Rangers

One of the most important players at Rangers during Walter Smith's final season in charge. McGregor displayed a new found maturity on the pitch and made countless vital saves whilst also establishing himself as Scotland's first choice keeper. His most memorable and important stop came in the Easter Sunday Old Firm showdown with Celtic where he saved a Georgios Samaras penalty kick to earn his side a crucial point.

Right back - Steven Whittaker - Rangers

The defender proved to be a mainstay in the title winners' defence enjoying a sustained run at right back whilst also occupying a more central role when required. Whittaker has also pitched in with a few goals as he established himself as the team's main penalty kick taker. The Scotland cap impressed not just with his defensive stability but also with his attacking prowess and determination to break forward.

Central defender - Marius Zaliukus - Hearts

The Lithuanian's future was cast into doubt earlier in the season when he initially refused to pen a new contract. However, since agreeing an extended deal he's quickly established himself as a key figure in the Hearts side again and played an influential role in helping the Tynecastle club finish third in the table. His impressive form also earned him the Scottish Premier League player of the month award in December although he'll face further competition for a slot in the side next season with Zander Diamond expected to complete a move to Hearts this summer.

Central defender - David Weir - Rangers

The fact he was still a regular at the heart of the Rangers back four at the age of 40 says a lot about Weir's character and determination. Although at times his advanced years meant he was caught out in certain situations his positional sense and all around awareness regularly made up for his lack of pace. The Scotland international is currently considering his future as new Rangers manager Ally McCoist works hard in a bid to convince the veteran to extend his career by another season.

Left back - Emilio Izaguirre - Celtic

The Honduran was a complete unknown in the British market before Neil Lennon lured him to the SPL from Motagua in his homeland in what can only be described as a real gamble. However, Lennon has been rewarded with a succession of stunning displays from the left back and his form is reported to have alerted even the likes of Manchester United. Celtic will be keen to retain his services and it was no surprise when he was named players' player of the year by his peers in Scotland and he also grabbed Scottish football writers' player of the year as well.

Right midfield - Chris Maguire - Aberdeen

The precocious talent initially burst on to the scene under Jimmy Calderwood but was a victim of his own versatility in the early years of his career. However, his displays both on the right flank and through the middle for Aberdeen last term have won him many admirers including Scotland boss Craig Levein who handed him his first cap earlier this year. But with Maguire now a free agent the race is on to land the 22-year-old with English sides Derby County and Nottingham Forest already reportedly interested.

Centre midfield - Beram Kayal - Celtic

The Israel international has emerged as a consistent performer at the heart of Celtic's midfield and produced a string of impressive displays in the Hoops engine room. Like Izaguirre he's also been at the centre of speculation linking him with a move to England away from Parkhead. However, Lennon will be keen to retain Kayal's services after an impressive first season in Glasgow and already has the midfielder signed to a long term contract.

Centre midfield - Alexei Eremenko - Kilmarnock

Former Rugby Park manager Mixu Paatelainen plucked Eremenko from the reserves at Ukrainian club Metalist Kharkiv on a loan deal and it proved to be a stunning capture. The Finnish international quickly established himself as a vital part of the Killie midfield and its little surprise his performances have already seen him linked with both Old Firm clubs and teams in England. The creative talent certainly helped to light up the SPL with his dazzling displays.

Left midfield - David Templeton - Hearts

The 22-year-old has the ability to operate on both flanks and his exciting performances were clearly a major factor in helping Hearts seal third spot in the league. Templeton also scored some memorable individual goals and it only seems like a matter of time before he claims a place in Craig Levein's Scotland plans. The diminutive winger will again prove to be a big player in Jim Jefferies' plans for next season.

Striker - David Goodwillie - Dundee United

The talented striker emulated Celtic's Izaguirre by completing a clean sweep of honours when he landed the league's young player of the year award along with the football writers' vote. Goodwillie has bounced back from a tough year on a personal level and netted an impressive 18 goals for his club to again underline his star quality. Both Rangers and Celtic have been linked with the 22-year-old and it will be interesting to see if United can resist any tempting offers.

Striker - Gary Hooper - Celtic

The 23-year-old has worked hard to establish himself in the professional game, especially when you consider it's just six years since he kicked off his career at Grays Athletic. But after arriving at Parkhead from Scunthorpe United for £2.4 million last summer he's made a big impact in Scotland. Hooper's goal ratio of 20 strikes in 26 games is particularly impressive and he'll be aiming to better that next term.

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