Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes has challenged Ryan Hedges to continue his red-hot form in Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final.
Welsh international Hedges netted in the 3-3 draw with Celtic at the weekend to take his season’s tally to six goals.
The 25-year-old also played a key role in the build-up to the award of the injury-time equalising penalty, which was converted by Lewis Ferguson.
McInnes hailed Hedges for bringing a dangerous goal threat through the middle against the Hoops.
Now the Dons boss wants the attacker to deliver again when facing cup holders Celtic in the semi at Hampden.
He said: “Ryan is in a good place at the moment and needs to keep that going.
“His impact in the team has been great and playing in the central area we get a lot of benefit from that.
“Against Celtic we needed Ryan’s workrate and threat more central and it paid off for us.
“When Ryan is played more central he carries a goal threat.
“Ryan makes those runs beyond, is a good counter-attacking player and is also a ball carrier.
“We wanted him to do that from a central area, running off whether it was (Olivier) Ntcham or (Scott) Brown.
“Ryan did that well against Celtic.”
Hedges has rediscovered his top form this season having fallen out of the regular starting line-up in the latter stages of last season.
McInnes made the call to utilise Hedges in a central attacking role instead of out wide against Celtic.
It paid off.
He said: “We wanted to play Ryan central when you see how high Celtic’s full-backs go.
“In certain games we can play him out wide.
“However, against Celtic what we didn’t want to do was play Ryan as a wide player and have him spend a lot of the game defending too far away from the opposition goal.
“Against Celtic I had a decision to make in terms of the set-up.
“We knew Celtic would have a lot of the ball and what I didn’t want to do with their full-backs playing so high, whether (Diego) Laxalt or (Greg) Taylor, I didn’t want Ryan to be too near to our goal.
“I wanted him to be nearer the opposition goal.
“Even in the first half I thought Ryan was the one that was doing what we were looking to try and do.
“In the second half he was more of a goal threat.”
Aberdeen received a timely boost for Sunday’s semi-final with the return from long-term injury of prolific striker Sam Cosgrove.
Last season’s leading scorer with 23 goals, Cosgrove had been ruled out since suffering a fractured cartilage in his knee in a pre-season game this summer.
He returned to action off the bench as a second half substitute in the 3-3 draw and had a key role in the Dons’ second goal.
McInnes praised Hedges, and substitute Scott Wright, for supporting Cosgrove in attack as the Dons pushed on to salvage a deserved point from the game.
He said: “With Sam coming on the ball stuck up there more and we started to get support quicker to him
“I thought Ryan and Scott Wright playing really close to Sam was really important in the later stages.”
Will substitutes Connor McLennan, Scott Wright and Sam Cosgrove feature from the start against Celtic at Hampden? Our panel discussed Derek McInnes’ Aberdeen selection dilemma on this week’s Northern Goal podcast:
McInnes will utilise Hedges wide this season, but it is expected the Welsh cap will retain that central role when the Dons go up against Celtic at Hampden on Sunday.
McInnes said: “Against certain opposition Ryan can play as that wide player.
“When we are the team that are going to dominate the ball he can be that wide right player and I think he is a goal threat from there as well.”