Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes wants his team to ask a few more questions of Hearts when they meet at Pittodrie tonight.
After getting their post-split Premiership fixtures off to a winning start against Kilmarnock, the Reds face a Hearts side they’ve yet to beat this term.
A win will move the Dons three points clear of Rangers in the coveted second place, with Hibernian six points behind in fourth, albeit temporarily.
Hibs meet Kilmarnock at Easter Road tomorrow, with Graeme Murty’s Gers set to visit Celtic Park on Sunday.
With the Ibrox side already set to hand old rivals Celtic the title at the weekend, McInnes’ men would pile on even more pressure with victory.
However, Aberdeen haven’t had it easy this term at Murrayfield, Pittodrie and then Tynecastle against Craig Levein’s Jambos, and haven’t scored in any of their meetings thus far.
A 2-0 pre-split drubbing in Edinburgh followed two goalless draws, with Hearts’ 3-5-2 overwhelming Aberdeen on the counter, but also proving impossible to break down while defending.
Reflecting on the game at Tynecastle, McInnes said: “For us, Hearts always set up very defensive and protect what they’ve got.
“They’re a counter-attacking team. For their players to be effective in a forward area it’s normally a consequence of what we do with the ball.
“That’s why we were disappointed with the goals we lost. I thought we played in the wrong areas, we gave up possession, we were too safe with possession, we weren’t positive enough with possession.
“Ultimately, we lost poor goals, which gave them something to hang on to, which actually helps how they want to play when they’ve got those goals.
“Hearts have good experience at the back and good numbers in front, but from an attacking point of view I’m looking more at what we do and trying to ask the question a bit more.”
Last weekend, Aberdeen bounced back from a devastating 3-0 defeat to Motherwell in the Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden to beat Steve Clarke’s in-form Kilmarnock team. The Reds have won four of their last five Premiership games, with the loss to Hearts their sole defeat.
McInnes is pleased with his side’s momentum in the league – long runs of form with short dips being a hallmark of his Dons reign – and feels it can help them achieve the aim of winning every post-split match.
He said: “I think last week was very important for loads of reasons. When you have a hugely disappointing result you feel that need to respond.
“The game couldn’t come round quick enough after the result at Hampden. But once it came round we were up against the in-form team in the league.
“Now, in the last five games, we’re the in-form team. We’ve won four and lost one of our last five, so we actually continued our league form with a positive result.
“It was a big performance and a big result for us.
“It’s all about winning the next game after a bad result, but the fact we won it scoring a couple of goals, getting a clean sheet, bringing a good performance as well was an added positive.
“Hopefully we can bring that into tonight’s game and that becomes more important than the last one.
“For us to have that importance on each and every game we have to keep winning and the intention for us is to do exactly that.
“Hopefully (we’ll) take the good from last week – I though the level of performance individually was far better and we got a good level of team performance.
“It’s not about character and the psychological part of the game, for me it’s all about bringing good performances now.
“When our better players turn up and play we normally get results. Hopefully we can get those individual performances again tonight and that helps us win the game.”
He added: “That’s always the way. I think at any point of the season you try to get that momentum and those unbeaten runs and try to keep disappointing results to a minimum.
“We’ve always been a team that does that and if we can go on that type of run now, between now and the end of the season, hopefully it can help us meet our objectives.
“There’s no doubting that at this stage draws and defeats aren’t going to get the job done for us. It’s important that we win games.
“Sometimes when it’s as clear as that it’s almost like playing cup football. We know the importance of three points in each and every game.”
The opportunity to end the weekend three points ahead of Rangers looms over tonight’s fixture for the Pittodrie men and fans will be all too aware the Dons can strike the first post-split blow.
It would surely be a psychological advantage – provided Aberdeen also beat Neil Lennon’s Hibs at Easter Road in a week – to meet the Gers in the Granite City on May 8 with this gap.
McInnes, however, was quick to play it down.
He said: “It isn’t something I see as hugely important. Come the end of the season we’ve all played the same amount of games, we’ve all played against each other.
“If it’s any psychological advantage, it’s normally only momentary.
“I’m not huge on that side of it. I don’t concentrate too much on that and just on getting the job done in this round of fixtures and moving on to the next game.”
Winger Niall McGinn should return to tonight’s squad after injury, having trained all week, while left-back Andy Considine returns from suspension.
However, the Reds gaffer has “one or two” doubts and on-loan Manchester City midfielder Chidi Nwakali is out with an ankle injury.