Two of Aberdeen’s hottest rising stars were today reassured by boss Derek McInnes they will not be frozen out by the return of winger Niall McGinn.
Northern Ireland international McGinn re-joined the Reds after a four-month spell in South Korea, signing on at Pittodrie until summer 2021.
McGinn is in contention to make his competitive Dons return in the Scottish Cup fourth round clash against St Mirren on January 20.
With McGinn having rejected a new Dons contract last summer to move to Asia, Scott Wright was viewed as a potential successor to fill the void left by his exit.
Frank Ross has also shone in wide areas this season.
However, now McGinn, one of the most influential and consistent players during McInnes’ tenure at the club, is back.
The manager insists that doesn’t change the landscape for the two youngsters who he has every faith in.
He insists it is the same scenario for the two Scotland youth internationals as it was before McGinn returned – they will get their chance to impress and must grab it when it arrives.
McInnes said: “I still have every faith in the young players such as Scott Wright and Frank Ross.
“We will continue to work with them to try to get them that game-time and experience.
“The opportunities will be there for young players and the chance to stay in the team will be down to how they perform when they get that opportunity.”
Creative, pacey, potential game-changers and brimming with ability, wide players Wright and Ross are both seen as the future of the Reds and have broken into the first team over the last year.
Last summer, following the exit of McGinn and fellow winger Jonny Hayes to Celtic in a £1.3 million deal, McInnes had challenged Wright to make that wide slot his own.
Wright had announced his arrival in the first team in the final league game of last season with a hat-trick in the 6-0 demolition of Partick.
At the time, McInnes said: “Sometimes it has been tough for Scott but with Hayes and McGinn leaving, it naturally brings him closer to playing more regularly.
“The challenge is for him to go on and do that.”
Scotland U21 international Wright has made seven starts in 16 appearances this season and scored once, in a 4-3 league victory at Partick.
However, the Balmedie-raised starlet was ruled out for the early stages of the campaign with a hamstring injury sustained while on international duty with the Scotland Under-20 squad at the Toulon Tournament in France during the summer.
It wiped out a month of pre-season and he only came back into contention for the latter stages of the Europa League campaign, where the Dons crashed out to Cypriots Apollon Limassol.
Ellon-raised Ross netted a superb free-kick in a 2-1 loss to Rangers.
Following the loss of Hayes and McGinn, boss McInnes also landed Gary Mackay-Steven from Celtic in a £150,000 summer swoop and secured a season-long loan deal for Birmingham City’s Greg Stewart.
They were secured in a bid to replace the creativity and defensive cover of the exiting duo.
GMS produced a sensational display with a hat-trick and an assist in the 4-1 hammering of Hibs and Stewart has begun to rediscover the form that saw him twice shortlisted for PFA Scotland Player of the Year award while with Dundee. However, was some of that attacking threat on the wing missing with McGinn away?
“Potentially,” said McInnes.
“I don’t want to be too harsh on my own squad, though, because I have been really pleased with what they have given us.
“What Niall has got is 50-odd caps for his country.
“He is an experienced player and you cannot expect certain boys just to be like Niall McGinn.
“The new signings that have played off that side maybe play that role a bit differently from Niall.
“So it is not always like for like.
“Everyone is contributing.
“But when you have a good player of Niall’s capabilities available to you again then it definitely strengthens your squad.”
McInnes and assistant Tony Docherty had kept in contact with McGinn while he was in South Korea with Gwangju.
The winger terminated his contract early by mutual consent after a frustrating spell in Asia that saw the club relegated and a change in manager.
Premiership rivals Hearts and Hibs, along with MK Dons, who landed Peter Pawlett from Aberdeen in the summer, were keen on the now free agent.
However, McInnes won the battle to take McGinn back to Pittodrie just seven months after he left the club.
McInnes said: “Niall has always brought that quality and sometimes he has been the difference in the games.
“Whether that is from a cross, an assist, a pass, a shot or a goal, he has frequently been the one who has found a way through for us.”
Having officially rejoined the Reds on Monday, January 1, the first day of the transfer window, McGinn reported back to Pittodrie earlier than the rest of the squad.
He is working hard on gaining his match sharpness and will continue that graft at the Dons’ warm weather training camp in Dubai next week.
The Reds jet out to the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday and will face Lokomotiv Tashkent at the Jebel Ali Centre of Excellence in a closed doors friendly on Sunday.
McGinn could be in contention for a run out against the Uzbekistan side.
What can the winger bring to the Dons?
“He can play in the positions behind a main striker,” said McInnes.
“Niall can play off the right-hand side or play tucked in behind a striker.
“He does a lot of his best work in the central area – even when he starts wide.
“Niall is a crosser when he plays on the right and a goal threat when he plays on the left or centrally.
“He gives us that quality in the final third. The only thing down for us in stats is goals as we are six goals behind.
“Points and clean sheets are up. With the attacking threat we have, we want to show more of that and Niall will be a big part in trying to improve on those statistics.”