Scottish Premiership: Ones to watch in 2014

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes has high hopes for Craig Murray

As with most years for Scottish football fans, 2013 was packed with many highs and lows.

And among the most pleasing aspects of the last 12 months has been the emergence of several youngsters who look capable of long stints in the first team of top flight clubs.

An early example of that was John McGinn's excellent performances at St Mirren which included a sterling show as the Paisley club ended a 26-year wait for silverware in the League Cup final.

Jamie Walker and Kevin McHattie were first team players before Hearts entered administration and also played at Hampden that day.

Dundee United players haven't hogged the headlines this much since Jim McLean's side of the 1980s, with the likes of Ryan Gauld and John Souttar already being touted for big moves at the ages of 18 and 17, respectively.

Souttar made his debut at 16 at the turn of the year and has gone from from a bag of nerves that day at Pittodrie to the most promising defender in Scotland.

And Aberdeen have seen the likes of Peter Pawlett, Ryan Jack and Joe Shaughnessy become regulars in the top team.

But who will make the breakthrough in 2014?

Man-of-the-match when United's Souttar made his debut was Aberdeen's Cammy Smith. He was excellent that day and this looks like being a big year for the 18-year-old. His team-mate Nicky Low is also on the fringes of the top team having scored the winner against Ross County during the festive fixtures.

Two more to look out for down Pittodrie Street this year are right-back Craig Murray and midfielder Craig Storie.

Murray has been a regular on the Dons bench this season having made his debut last term with many fans keen to see him get his chance.

Storie is a player who manager Derek McInnes has extremely high hopes for and recently completed a short loan stint at Forfar Athletic.

The toughest side in the country to break into as a youngster is Celtic. Seldom do youth team players solidify places in the starting XI, with the recent exceptions being Aiden McGeady and James Forrest. Charlie Mulgrew had to leave the club for his talent to shine.

English defender Darnel Fisher has a chance.

He looks accomplished and, with Mikael Lustig ruled-out long-term, will get more opportunities to impress, although Adam Matthews is Neil Lennon's next choice at right-back.

One thing the Celtic youngsters can boast is European experience with many having taken part in the Champions League youth matches this season which ran concurrently with the senior side's games against Barcelona, Ajax and AC Milan.

Playing his part in that was midfielder Liam Henderson. The 17-year-old made his debut at Motherwell in the recent 5-0 win and is highly rated by youth coaches Stevie Frail, Chris McCart and indeed manager Neil Lennon.

Attempting to follow in the footsteps of Gauld and Souttar are the likes of youth team mainstays Aidan Connolly, Darren Petrie and Scott Fraser.

Connolly - whose father Paddy played over 100 games for the club - arrived from Queens Park at the same time as Spiders' team-mate Andrew Robertson, but is tipped to join him in the first team soon, with a loan spell at Brechin about to end.

Motherwell striker Craig Moore
Moore has made 12 appearances for Motherwell this season - mostly from the bench

The tough-tackling Petrie has already taken his first-team bow and is a Scotland under-17 international, with local lad Fraser back from an injury.

Centre-half Jordon Forster experienced the ups and downs of football within a few months. His debut came at Tynecastle as an injury-hit Hibs ended a long wait for a victory in Gorgie. He also played in the disappointing Scottish Cup final defeat to Celtic.

A record European defeat by Malmo then saw Forster drop out under Pat Fenlon but new manager Terry Butcher has restored the 20-year-old to his line-up and he has shown promise as a makeshift full-back.

Another Hibs youngster to have been given a lease of life by Butcher's arrival is striker Jason Cummings who was lively in his Edinburgh derby debut as his team won the New Year clash.

Hearts' fall into administration and subsequent transfer embargo has allowed almost an entire youth team to come to the fore, with Jordan McGhee and Calum Tapping among those to shine during largely dark times.

At 17, right-back McGhee scored the winner against Aberdeen and he will be keen to quickly forget the concession of a penalty that won Hibs the derby.

Tapping looks the real deal in midfield. A loan at Alloa last season appears to have done him the world of good and 2014 will be a big year for the 20-year-old whatever league the Jambos end up in.

Much has been made about Inverness Caley Thistle's successful transfer policy which has yielded results from the lower leagues south of the border. But, there are some hoping to follow the likes of Graeme Shinnie and Nick Ross through the ranks.

Midfielder Liam Polworth has been on the fringes for a while now but appears ready to make a real breakthrough, while 19-year-old defender Matthew Cooper is another to keep an eye on and who will be desperate to make the leap from the substitutes' bench.

Kilmarnock winger Chris Johnston exploded onto the scene last season and has been vying for the headlines with Gauld this campaign. He won the Under-19 player of the year award in May and is really exciting player who should enjoy a bright future.

His team-mate Mark O'Hara was 16 when he made his debut at Celtic Park in November 2012 and strolled it at right-back as Killie won in Glasgow's east end for the first time in more than half a century and then there is Craig Slater who has been holding down a starting place in central midfield for Allan Johnston's side.

Looking to follow in the footsteps of James McFadden and Shaun Hutchinson at Fir Park are midfielder Jack Leitch and striker Craig Moore. Indeed the latter has already found the net for the first team.

That came in spectacular fashion against Hearts with his first touch in the Premiership.

Leitch is the son of former Motherwell captain Scott who is now in charge of the club's youth academy. He has also featured for the top team albeit in arguably their worst ever result when they exited the Scottish Cup to Albion Rovers.

Jason Naismith and Sean Kelly signed new deals at St Mirren in November and have established themselves as first choice full-backs for boss Danny Lennon and St Johnstone midfielder Liam Caddis will hope a loan spell at Alloa will bear the same kind of fruit it did for prolific team-mate Stevie May.

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