He may be in the elder statesman phase of his career but Jonny Hayes rolled back the years to show he remains a key attacking threat for Aberdeen as the Dons got their Premiership campaign off to a perfect start with a 2-0 win against Dundee United.
The first league game of the season brought a return to a familiar position for Hayes at Pittodrie.
With Ryan Hedges missing out after failing to shake off an injury he sustained against BK Hacken in Gothenburg in the Conference League on Thursday Jack Mackenzie came in for his first start of the season at left back.
The inclusion of Mackenzie freed up Hayes to revert to an attacking role and he took Hedges’ place in the front three alongside Jay Emmanuel-Thomas and Christian Ramirez.
He had a quiet start initially but once he got going there was no denying the considerable influence he had on proceedings for Stephen Glass’ side.
Hayes was wide left of a front three whenever Aberdeen were in possession. When the Dons didn’t have the ball he was neatly tucked in to make it a midfield four and help offer a defensive buffer for young team-mates Mackenzie and Calvin Ramsay.
The fact his sterling defensive work helped both Mackenzie and Ramsay depending on what flank he would pop up in showed Hayes can still offer the defensive cover required but not at the expense of his undoubted attacking qualities which ultimately helped the Dons get their Premiership campaign up and running in style.
As the first half progressed at Pittodrie it was those attacking instincts of old which not only stood out but proved defining in the opening day victory.
Hayes and Lewis Ferguson were the early targets of United with both fouled repeatedly in the opening exchanges. It was from the third foul on Hayes, 30 yards from goal, which led to Liam Smith becoming the first caution of the game.
Dons boss Glass had clearly given Hayes free rein to link-up with the front two of Ramirez and Emmanuel-Thomas and as Hayes grew into the game the neat flicks and one-touch passes stretched United’s defence.
Hayes’ pace remains a threat
But for all his deft flicks and passes the one quality which has been a highlight of Hayes’ career is pace and he used it to full effect in the key moment of the first half as he raced clear of the United backline after a Ferguson through ball.
With the visitors appealing for offside Hayes did not hang around as he beat United goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist in an old fashioned footrace before lifting the ball over the advancing Swiss into the net to give his side a deserved lead.
It was no less than the Dons deserve for their attacking play and Hayes just failed to connect with a Funso Ojo cross in the final minute of the first half when any connection would surely have doubled Aberdeen’s lead.
But the Dons were not to be denied and Hayes linked up with Calvin Ramsay to create the second goal at the start of the second half with the full back’s turn and cross from a Hayes pass finding Ramirez who headed past Siegrist from six yards to make it 2-0.
This was the Hayes Aberdeen fans have watched for years. The relentless pest of a player who did not give opposing defenders a minute’s piece.
The one who would chase a midfielder back, like he did while pursuing Jeando Fuchs, before making a sliding challenge to win possession, jumping to his feet and setting off on another run at pace down the left wing.
That is the Hayes who is at his most effective for a team, even at 34. The same Hayes who left the field to a rapturous round of applause having run himself into the ground for the cause.
Hayes has given his manager food for thought
The statistics back it up with 20 passes, 75% completion rate, four duels won and of course the all-important first goal of the game.
As Aberdeen now turn their focus to Thursday’s Conference League third qualifying round trip to Iceland to face Breidablik Hayes’ display against the Tangerines will have given his manager food for thought.
If Hedges has not recovered then you would assume Hayes will remain an attacking threat but if the Wales international is fit and available it will be interesting to see if Hayes is asked to revert to the defensive role on Thursday which he has played in both European ties so far.
Perhaps he will drop into midfield should Ojo, who limped off in the final minute, fail to recover for Iceland.
But what is abundantly clear is Hayes can still be a valuable tool in Glass’ attacking arsenal.