CELTIC legend Chris Sutton will SNUB Matt O’Riley for the PFA Scotland Player of the Year award.

The one-time Hoops goal hero has explained why the masterful midfielder fails to get his vote ahead of Hearts striker Lawrence Shankland.

O’Riley has been pivotal to everything the champions have achieved so far as they sit at the Premiership pinnacle with just four league games to play and a Scottish Cup to target to bring down the curtain on a potential league and Cup double in Brendan Rodgers’ second coming.

Skipper Callum McGregor and Reo Hatate have struggled with injuries, but the London-born Danish international playmaker has remained a pivotal figure while adding goals to his repertoire.

AIR WE GO…Matt O’Riley celebrates scoring Celtic’s third goal in the dramatic Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen at Hampden a fortnight ago.

O’Riley and Shankland are in combat this afternoon and Sutton will be interested to see who gets the upper hand.

The Scotland frontman has netted in the past two encounters between the teams as the Edinburgh club have won 2-0 on both occasions.

That form has impressed Sutton who admits: “Lawrence Shankland would win my vote for PFA Scotland Player of the Year.

“And, if Celtic don’t start defending cross balls properly, the Hearts striker might get to enjoy a double celebration this weekend.

“Shankland has already tortured my old club this season and you wouldn’t bet large sums of money on him not doing it again if Celtic don’t tighten it up at the back.

“He’s kept his head through all manner of chat over his future to continue scoring goals. Shankland’s club return of 28 so far this term is outstanding and the difference for his club throughout the campaign.

“That is, basically, where I came down on him. I have no issue at all with the other three candidates, all excellent.”

THE LAST POST…Lawrence Shankland is totally unmarked as he heads in Hearts’ opener in the Edinburgh club’s 2-0 win at Parkhead in December.

Ibrox pair Jack Butland and James Tavernier have also been listed alongside Shankland and O’Riley for the top award.

Sutton, speaking to the Daily Record continued: “If this decision was being made at the turn of the year, I’d have gone for Matt O’Riley.

“He was absolutely brilliant in all aspects of his work. His work-rate and creativity were up to a usual high standard and, crucially, he added goals into the mix from midfield.

“In the absence of Reo Hatate, O’Riley really stood and took on a major burden through that gruelling first half of the campaign. No wonder Atletico Madrid are looking at him. He’s got all the tools and is going to the top.

“But it was interesting to hear him say at the nominations unveiling that the initial interest from the Spaniards in January was tough at first on the mind.

“None of us know just how much it affected his form. Only he knows that. But he hasn’t been as vibrant since the resumption from the mid-winter break.

“Don’t get me wrong, he’d still be one of the first names on the team sheet today if I were Brendan Rodgers and him returning to his peak for the last five games would be massive for Celtic.”

SMILES BETTER…Celtic’s defensive rock Cameron Carter-Vickers hopes to have the last laugh against Lawrence Shankland and Co today.

Sutton added: “Shankland has a much better recent scoring record against Celtic than he does Rangers and my old team better be wary of him. Given what I am seeing from Celtic’s defence right now, makes you think he could be onto something again today.

“It’s hardly as if having trouble defending cross balls is a new thing for Celtic. It’s been an issue for long enough. Nonetheless, the last two games have been even more eye-opening.

“Two Aberdeen goals at Hampden in the Scottish Cup semi-final delivered from the same place to the same area almost ripped that trophy out of Celtic’s hands. Last weekend at Dens Park, wasn’t any better.

“Dundee won various balls into the box from Owen Dodgson’s delivery.

“Even in injury-time, young Michael Mellon was free at the back post and missed the target. There were other instances beforehand and Celtic didn’t get punished. But, if Shankland is in the mood, he won’t miss like young Mellon.

“Listen, Celtic have the firepower and the quality to blow Hearts away. They did it at Tynecastle last October and can easily do it again if they hit their stride.

“But, if they don’t and it becomes a tight and tense affair, they’ll need to be water-tight because Shankland can bust the dam. He can burst most dams. It’s why he’s my Player of the Year.”

*DON’T miss the unbeatable match report from Celtic v Hearts this afternoon – only in your champion CQN.

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