It is not hard to see why Aberdeen manager Stephen Glass was grinning from ear to ear after seeing Ryan Hedges mark his return to duty in style with a goal in Saturday’s 2-1 win at Livingston.
Forget the debate about the identity of H on Line of Duty, when it comes to the Dons this season, Hedges has been Aberdeen’s main man.
The highest compliment you can pay the Wales international is by looking at how much the Dons have missed him.
That is why his return from a pectoral injury, one day short of three months out, was significant at Livingston on Saturday.
It’s not just his goal but his presence on the pitch which seems to bring so much more out of Aberdeen. It may have been only a 20-minute cameo, but it served as a reminder of what he adds to the team.
No wonder his manager was delighted to have him back.
Glass said: “The club and the team has missed Ryan. He came on and showed instantly how important he is to the group. I’m sure they medical staff and physios are happy with their work.
“Ryan is like a new signing. We have a couple of games left and we are also looking forward to having him next season. You can’t underestimate how much the group has missed him and the impact he made showed his importance to us.
“He has looked good in training, but with the amount of time he has been out we have to keep an eye on him. He’s almost been a little bit forgotten, but he is a player who will add a lot to the group.”
Hedges has been blessed with two qualities in short supply at Pittodrie – pace and guile. His effortless ability to glide past players at pace makes him a vital attacking threat for Glass.
Let’s be honest here – had Hedges not suffered that serious injury against Livi on February 2 then there is every chance former Dons boss Derek McInnes might still have been leading the team for the final two games of the season.
Change was coming at Pittodrie regardless, but it is hard to shake the suspicion the nosedive in form following Hedges’ injury was the catalyst for that change happening sooner rather than later.
The loss of Hedges, the day after the club decided to cash in on departing winger Scott Wright, left Aberdeen with a huge attacking void.
For all the focus on the change of striking options at the club it could be argued it is the supply for the forward line which was hampered most following the events of February 1 and 2, with Wright being sold to Rangers and Hedges then suffering serious injury.
Aberdeen’s record when Hedges was in the side and the comparison to when he has been on the sidelines tells the story.
Saturday was the winger’s 30th appearance of the season. In those 30 games, he has scored nine goals and provided three assists in helping the Dons win 15 matches with eight ending in draws and seven in defeat.
But the 13 games he has missed has painted grim picture.
In total, Hedges has not featured in 13 games for his side this season and, of those matches, Aberdeen have won just four – and two of them were in the Scottish Cup, a late win at Dumbarton and a penalty shootout victory against Livingston. Three draws and six defeats showed just how much the team struggled without their attacking lynchpin and his surprise return at the weekend has given the Dons a welcome shot in the arm.
What has seemed for weeks to be a forlorn chase of Hibs has flickered back into life. A win at Pittodrie next week will take the Dons level with the Easter Road side.
Given his impressive taster at Livi on Saturday, it would seem – if Aberdeen are going to take this race to the wire – that Hedges is going to play a major role next week.