Aberdeen’s season could hinge on attacker Ryan Hedges remaining fit and at Pittodrie beyond the January transfer window.
The Dons rejected an offer of under £2 million for Lewis Ferguson from Watford in the summer and full-back Calvin Ramsay, 18, is on Everton’s transfer wish-list.
Everton had a bid of £8m rejected for Rangers’ teenage right-back Nathan Patterson.
However, Hedges is arguably Aberdeen’s most valuable player – not in monetary terms, but certainly in what he brings to the team.
Quite simply, when Hedges starts Aberdeen have more than double the chance of winning.
Since the beginning of the 2020-21 campaign, Hedges has started 33 games in all competitions with Aberdeen winning 19, drawing seven and losing seven.
That is a win percentage of 58%.
In the 26 games Hedges missed during that period due to two injuries, the win rate dropped dramatically to 27% with just seven victories, seven draws and 12 losses.
A win rate of 27% does not secure European qualification via the Premiership, nor does it deliver an extended cup run.
It will be hoped the Welsh international’s expected return for the trip to St Mirren on Sunday from a six-game absence due to hamstring injury will be the catalyst to end the Dons’ seven-game run without victory.
After the investment of a summer rebuild, it is a concern that Aberdeen are still struggling to click when Hedges is not available. That shouldn’t happen.
There should be enough cover and creativity to ensure there is no void.
There is further concern surrounding the reliance on Hedges as his Dons’ deal expires at the end of the season and boss Stephen Glass recently confirmed the attacker is keeping his ‘options open’.
It is fundamental to Aberdeen’s season that Hedges is not only fit and starting, but also remains beyond the January transfer window.
Aberdeen rejected an offer of under £500,000 from Blackburn Rovers for Hedges late on in the summer transfer window.
That the Pittodrie board rejected that money is testament to his worth to the team.
The stats scream out that Aberdeen must re-sign Hedges – and do everything possible to push a deal through.
The Reds are unlikely to find a replacement as influential for the budget they are working with or the money they would receive should they cash in on any interest in January.
Whenever Hedges has had an extended period out of the side due to injury, the Dons’ form has fallen off a cliff.
The Reds struggled to win and score when Hedges was side-lined for three months from February last season with a pectoral muscle injury.
In his absence, Aberdeen won three of 12 games with just six goals a win rate of 25%. Sound familiar?
With Hedges orchestrating and driving attacks, the Dons began this season with a bang, registering five wins from six and netting 14 goals – an 83% win return.
Then play-maker Hedges suffered a hamstring tear when featuring as a substitute in the 2-1 League Cup loss to Raith Rovers last month.
Hedges didn’t start at Starks Park and the Dons lost 2-1 to the Championship side.
It would prove to be a portent of what was to come with the 26-year-old sidelined.
His injury absence precipitated an immediate drop in form with no wins in seven and just four goals scored.
In his last Premiership match for the Dons, a 2-1 defeat of Livingston, Hedges’ influence was felt all over the pitch – in the opponent’s box, central, on both wings and also defensively with a goal-line clearance.
His attacking prowess, drives into the penalty areas, swift passing, defence-cutting vision and eye for goal will be a welcome tonic at St Mirren.
However, the other Dons players must step up to also deliver a creative spark.
An over reliance on Hedges is concerning particularly with his Pittodrie future still up in the air.
Positive first start for defender Bates
Recent signing David Bates made an impressive first start for Aberdeen since signing a three-year deal from German Bundesliga 2 side SV Hamburg.
The Scotland international forged a quick understanding with Ross McCrorie as a centre-back partnership in the loss to St Johnstone.
Bates was composed at the back, vocal and also willing to drive forward with the ball – and rarely lost possession.
At one point, he raced up field and delivered a superb cross field pass into St Johnstone’s box – but frustratingly no Don could capitalise.
He has clearly developed further as a player during his time at the former European champions and also whilst on a season-long loan at Cercle Bruges in the Belgian top flight.
Bates left the pitch in the 75th minute due to cramp with Aberdeen on course to register a first clean sheet for 10 games.
However, calamitous defending saw hopes of a shut-out evaporate. It was a catalogue of mistakes that ultimately led to Stevie May netting the late winner.
First Jonny Hayes lost possession in his own half, then Calvin Ramsay failed to control the ball with it bouncing off his thigh to May.
May was on the left flank and could have been ushered wide, but Declan Gallagher showed him the inside, which opened up the chance to shoot.
Gallagher and Ramsay were both in front of May, but didn’t close him down.
— Stevie may (@Stevie__may) September 20, 2021
When the former Don did shoot it was a trundler Ross McCrorie failed to clear, despite it going close to him in the box. Keeper Joe Lewis should also have done better.
Aberdeen must tighten up at the back against St Mirren – and sharpen up in attack.
Fury-Wilder part three is too much
Back to the Future, The Godfather, The Evil Dead III – trilogies are rarely needed and often disappoint.
And so it is with the Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder.
The heavyweights will fight for the third time in Las Vegas on October 9.
What’s the point? Fury dominated Wilder to such an extent in his devastating victory in the second fight there can be only one outcome.
Rematches are only viable and interesting if the previous fights were close.
The arbitration hearing which ordered Fury to fight Wilder for a third time has done the heavyweight division a disservice. Fury should be fighting Anthony Joshua.