Few would have had Funso Ojo as an automatic pick when predicting Aberdeen’s starting line-up before the new season started, but it is not hard to see why the Belgian has cemented his place in Stephen Glass’ team.
He was a player signed to great fanfare with the Dons fans revelling in the fact their club had pipped Hibernian to his signature.
But, 18 months later, he was a player seemingly heading for the exit door at Pittodrie after the man who signed him, Derek McInnes, sanctioned a loan move to Wigan Athletic.
No-one would have predicted his return from Wigan and arrival of Glass would result in a revitalised, reinvigorated and reborn Ojo taking to the field on a weekly basis, but here we are.
To use the managerial cliché – as far as Glass is concerned, it’s like having a new signing.
Ojo’s first goal for the club on Sunday was the latest step on his journey to becoming a reinvented attacking midfielder.
Deployed wide of a front three at Hearts by Glass, Ojo continued his impressive displays not only with a goal, but with another impressive 90 minute outing.
His one shot on target counted, but it was his neat and tidy play throughout which caught the eye. His passing accuracy was 84% from 38 passes made and he had 53 touches in total.
Ojo-Ferguson partnership is blooming
Lewis Ferguson remains the key cog in the Aberdeen midfield with so many passes going through him in a game, and with nine from Ojo to his team-mate at Tynecastle and six received from Ferguson in return, it is clear there is a strong understanding between the two Dons.
Ojo’s work was almost exclusively in the Hearts half with 21 of his completed passes being made in the opposition’s half, but perhaps the key number in his display was seven – the number of times he won possession back for his team.
Considering he only made two tackles in the game, it shows his ability to see play and intercept, two reasons why McInnes wanted him at Pittodrie two years ago, remain a viable and effective tool for Glass.
Compared those figures to the first league game of the season, the 2-0 win against Dundee United. Ojo, who was wide right of a four-man midfield, made 23 passes and had 37 touches in his 89 minutes before being forced off with an injury at Pittodrie.
It points to a player who is not only versatile, but growing in confidence and influence on proceedings, which is why Glass is finding it difficult to leave him out.
He tried that already for the Conference League third qualifying round tie against Breidablik at Pittodrie, starting the game with the Belgian on the bench.
His introduction for the second half was so important the manager felt the need to single him out.
He said: “Funso, when he came on at half-time, his energy, his quality, his pace were excellent. The crowd responded and backed us – it was a different atmosphere altogether and it needed to change.”
It seems unthinkable that Glass would leave Ojo out for Thursday’s must-win Conference League play-off at Pittodrie.
A place in the group stages beckons for Aberdeen if they can overcome Qarabag, who head for Pittodrie with a 1-0 lead from last week’s first leg in Baku.
If the Dons do pull it off, you can expect Ojo to be heavily involved.