Manager Derek McInnes is relieved to finally have the luxury of midfield selection options as Aberdeen’s season moves into the business end.
As the Dons step up the push for third place in the Premiership and head for a Scottish Cup semi-final with Celtic, all five central midfielders are now fully fit.
That has been a rarity this season for McInnes as summer signings Craig Bryson and Funso Ojo both spent extended spells sidelined due to injury.
Bryson has made just seven starts in 12 appearances, but is now fit again after recovering from ankle surgery in January.
Ojo was also ruled out for three months from September until December last year having injured both hamstrings.
Republic of Ireland international Stephen Gleeson managed only one minute of action this term following knee surgery during pre-season.
It was no surprise when Gleeson was released in January.
In the midst of the injury crisis McInnes was forced to play defenders Greg Leigh and Zak Vyner in midfield. The latter has returned to parent club Bristol City – due to injury.
At one point Lewis Ferguson, 20, and Dean Campbell, 18, were the only central midfielders fit.
With Bryson set to go under the knife in January, McInnes responded by signing Scotland international midfielder Dylan McGeouch from Sunderland on a two-and-a-half year contract.
All five central midfielders are finally fit and available for Friday’s pivotal clash with third-placed Motherwell at Fir Park.
The Dons boss now has a selection dilemma, a rarity this term.
McInnes said: “It is the midfield I wanted at the start of the season.
“Although we got McGeouch in January, truth be told I tried to get him in the summer as well.
“We are beginning to see the benefit of having these midfielders available now.
“We have a proper midfield which has helped protect the defence and we have been more controlled with our possession.
“McGeouch, Ojo, Ferguson, Bryson and Campbell … not only are they proper midfielders, they all know their roles within the team – rather than defenders or wingers having to be shoehorned in and asked to do a job.”
After almost three months out Bryson returned to action when introduced as a substitute in the recent 2-1 loss to Celtic.
He has yet to complete 90 minutes since that return but McInnes is confident Bryson is well placed to make an impact for the remainder of the season.
“It is great to have Bryson back,” said McInnes.
“There’s no doubt we have missed his influence.
“When we knew Graeme Shinnie was leaving, Bryson was the one we felt could help deal with that void.
“We have not had him really and even when he has been on the pitch we were only getting him at a certain level.
“He had been working through pain and that lack of sharpness.
“Now it is coming in at the business end of the season and that influence we wanted from Bryson will be there for the next three months.”
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Bryson was left out of the squad for the 2-2 draw at Kilmarnock last Wednesday due to the artificial surface, but will be available to face Motherwell.
McInnes said: “Bryson was working his way back and the games were coming thick and fast. If we were working Saturday to Saturday it might not be the same issues with Astroturf.
“I wouldn’t say he was ruled out for the Livingston game (on Astro on March 21). There would be two weeks to recover after due to the international break.”
The midfield injury problems in the first half of the season offered a window of opportunity for 18-year-old Pittodrie Youth Academy graduate Campbell. He grabbed it with solid performances. Despite the teen being sent off in the 2-1 loss to Ross County, McInnes retained faith for the Scottish Cup win at St Mirren.
He said: “I knew the importance of the game to the club, but I put young Dean in.
“He gives us good balance there and I trust him. He is only 18, but has played 40-odd games now for us.”