Scotsmen to Watch in the EFL

It’s August 8th 2018 and Aston Villa announce the signing of Scotland International John McGinn on a four-year contract. It was a move that turned heads in Scotland as Celtic’s late interest was unable to sway the head of McGinn, who opted to pursue his career in a more competitive environment south of the border.

He won promotion and Aston Villa’s Player of the Season award in his first season at the club, the transfer dreams are made of. He’s now rated as a £30-40million player. It is a move like this that shows why so many Scottish players opt to try their luck across Hadrian’s Wall. 

Now we’re going to look at five players that could have significant impacts on the EFL this season after making similar moves in recent times.

Daniel Harvie

Harvie has joined former Scotland International Russell Martin’s revolution at MK Dons from Ayr United. The 22-year-old left-back has been a standout in the Scottish Championship with his consistent displays. The growth of Scotland under 21 alumni has seen Harvie improve in his play in the attacking phases, improving his ball-carrying ability and his entries in the opposition box make him more of a threat from wider areas. Defensively we have also seen improvements in his timing and understanding of the game which has seen his interceptions and successful tackles per 90 both increase in the last 12 months. Harvie has the physical attributes to be a success, and learning from an experienced defender such as Russell Martin will hopefully give us another quality left-back for the national team that we won’t be able to fit into the squad.

Michael Rose

The Pure Fitbaw favourite has gone from strength to strength down south. An excellent debut season where Rose formed a rock-solid partnership with fellow Scot Dominic Hyam (as detailed by Coventry City fan, Dominic Jerams, here). The pair finished second in clean sheets in League One last season with an incredible 14 games without conceding. This was one of the critical factors in how Coventry ended up as Champions, and this will now be the biggest test in the career of the former Ayr United centre back. In terms of skillset, Michael Rose is a very modern defender who has continued to grow. His underlying numbers of progressive passes, and forward pass accuracy have both increased since moving to England. Whilst there is still room to grow defensively, Rose does anticipate and read the game well and impressively last season he was intercepting the ball almost nine times per 90 minutes played. Finally, with Rose playing in a back three and seeing Steve Clarke’s recent experiment, could this be the year that we see the former Aberdeen academy product get a call up to the national team?

Lewis Macleod

Once upon a time MacLeod was considered one of the most exciting prospects to come out of the Rangers academy set up. He was given first-team minutes aged 18 and made his debut against Brechin as Rangers started their journey back to the top of Scottish Football. MacLeod’s performances then got him a move to Brentford, who are well known for their smart recruitment strategy. The most recent example being Ollie Watkins going to Aston Villa for a reported £28 million. Unfortunately, former Scotland under 21 cap MacLeod has seen his career blighted by injuries, and the hard-working midfielder has not played more than 20 games since the 2014/15 season. Now MacLeod gets the chance to prove himself again with Plymouth where he will be working with up and coming manager Ryan Lowe who has also brought in his former Rangers teammate Ryan Hardie as they look to survive in League One. MacLeod brings energy and hard work to the middle with interceptions, tackles and pressure to help win the ball back. Most importantly, MacLeod will be someone who will just want to make sure he can get regular minutes on the pitch.

Nicky Cadden

Who doesn’t love the sound of a wide forward with a cracking left foot who loves to run at players, beat them down the line, whip dangerous crosses into the box and get on the end of chances being created too? I tried to play down Cadden’s ability as much as I could while talking about him on last season’s Pure Championship Podcast. As a Greenock Morton fan, I didn’t want him to leave. I didn’t want anyone else to discover how brilliantly he was playing for us as our main danger going forward. Despite the club expressing their desire for him to sign on for another spell, he was announced by Forest Green Rovers after his one-year deal expired.

Despite missing a month of action through injury, the 23-year-old hit double figures for both goals and assists. His run of seven assists and two goals in the nine matches before the shutdown was talismanic form that looked as though it might have snuck Morton into the playoff reckoning. Alas, it wasn’t to be and he leaves as one of the best players we’ve seen at Cappielow in recent years and with the best wishes of the fans, who knew he was probably just a little bit too good for us anyway. An assist on his Forest Green Rovers debut in the EFL Cup has got their fans licking their lips at what is in store for the rest of his time at the club. 

Greg Docherty

Despite making his senior football debut almost seven years ago it feels as though the second chapter of new Hull City player Greg Docherty’s career is only just about to begin. His rise from youth player to the first team at Hamilton Academical saw Rangers snap him up in early 2018. Despite having the workmanlike attitude and physicality that it seemed Steven Gerrard would prize, the move didn’t work out. He was sent out on loan to Shrewsbury in League One for the 2018/19 season, played almost 4,000 minutes across the season and was voted as their fans Player of the Season. On his return to Rangers he was used sparingly and was ultimately sent on loan again to Hibs, impressing and fitting in brilliantly with his purposeful style of play before last season was cut short. 

Docherty may have reflected on a comment he made at the end of his Shrewsbury loan spell ahead of his move to Hull City in August, “I wanted to get out of my comfort zone. I wanted to get out of the bubble of Scotland where everyone knows who I am and start a blank canvas, show everyone what I’m capable of.”

He made his debut and was a standout as Hull beat Sunderland in the EFL Cup earlier this month. Playing as the box-to-box midfielder on the left of a midfield three, a role that could be difficult alongside completely new teammates in deciding when to push forward or anticipate the need to cover, Docherty played well. He made several ball carrying runs, he was sharp in the tackle and was constantly available and demanded quicker and smarter actions from his teammates in possession. The most promising aspect to his play however was the composure he showed in tight situations and his ability to retain possession with well executed passes while not always taking the safe option. The focus for much of Docherty’s career has been on his physicality, from his ability to post 5k times on his Insta story that most of his peers couldn’t come close to without cheating, to his supposed unsuitability to play for Rangers given how often they face a tough to break down low block which requires patient, crafty passing. Docherty does excel with space to drive into and has the sort of engine which means he’ll play over forty matches this season with no drop in intensity, but he might just surprise opponents and Hull City fans alike with his all-round game this season and demonstrate that chapter three of his career is likely to be at a higher level.

If this was not enough for you we managed to bring in EFL experts, Not The Top 20, for more recommendations. You can check their podcast on or Twitter for the best EFL updates, but for now, here’s what they had to say about the Scottish players they are excited to see this season.

James Scott

How’s this for a start to your time at a new club? You sign on deadline day in an attempt to replace two key performers who were Premier League level. The club are 14th, in poor form but 13 points clear of relegation and only 8 points off the playoffs. Not a bad position. You injure your ankle in your first week training before playing a minute – ruled out for the season. Except, then a global pandemic hits, and by the time the last 9 games of the season can be played, you’re back & fit. But the team have picked up 2 points in 8 games since you’ve been injured, conceding 25 goals. You score in your first start but the club is sliding one way, and are relegated. Not an ideal situation for James Scott but in a performance against Bristol City, and in scoring against Birmingham, I saw a few things I really like – especially an ability to go both ways to create his own shot, and a good striking technique. I’ve got an inkling he could tear it up in League One with Hull unless they are still completely all over the place as a club. He has a few rivals for minutes across the front line but his versatility should help, and I think his confidence will grow as his quality shows.

Theo Archibald

It’s not been a great few years for Archibald. From what I can tell his stock at Celtic fell spectacularly, Brentford’s punt on him didn’t bear fruit for either party, and a move to Macclesfield saw him part of a squad that was consistently paid late & deducted points despite performing well against the odds. In a tough situation, he still managed to show quality. Playing right wing-back in a 3atb system despite being a left footer, he was involved in most of Macclesfield’s attacking play, putting in a lot of crosses and cutting in to take a lot of long shots. He moves to Lincoln in League One to be part of a new look side under Michael Appleton. It’s a good club, a great manager for a player of his age and career situation – John Lundstram and Kemar Roofe thrived under his management. Hopefully with a settled situation, regular minutes in a decent team and with a good manager, Archibald can sparkle.

Ryan Hardie

I spoke to Simon Grayson about Ryan Hardie the other day, when tipping him up as a League One Top Goalscorer longshot at 80/1! He said that while Hardie did not force his way into his plans at Blackpool last season, it was mainly down to a bloated squad and the form of Gnanduillet; he admitted that Hardie is a great finisher with a true ‘striker’s instinct’. He proved that moving on loan to Plymouth. It was a great move, he was popular there and scored 7 goals in only 600 odd minutes on the way to promotion. He rejoins Plymouth on loan from the season. It’s the perfect team for a striker – they should create plenty of chances for him and Ryan Lowe is an excellent man manager who scored a ton of goals in the lower leagues. Like Archibald, I think he’s in the perfect spot and I expect him to find the net regularly. Also a potential star of the division,

Siriki Dembele

I’m not up-to-date on his international plans, but he’s uncapped! He’s a remarkable player, with the agility/balance/pace to make him tough to mark. Interestingly, he started playing up top in a 3-4-1-2 last season, with scope to drift all over the place and support Ivan Toney who was target man, goalscorer, playmaker all rolled into one. Reduced defensively responsibility brought out the best in him, it’s fair to say! If he can stay fit, if he’s motivated, and if Peterborough are as good as I think they’ll be this season, I predict big things for Dembele and some eye-catching skills, goals, performances. I’m sure the SFA have been on the phone…

As you can see, there’s plenty of Scottish talent to look out for down south. Will some of them go on to replicate John McGinn’s rise? Why don’t you keep an eye on them and wait and see.

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