Derek McInnes believes returning winger Matty Kennedy will play a major role in Aberdeen’s bid for success this season.
After six weeks sidelined by a knee injury Kennedy was back in action when starting in the 2-0 Scottish Cup semi-final loss to Celtic.
The 26-year-old was pitched in at the left-wing back role at Hampden as Jonny Hayes was ruled out with a groin injury.
Hayes absence added to the Dons recent list of injuries with Dylan McGeouch ruled out for up to eight weeks with a tear in his groin.
On loan Bristol City attacker Marley Watkins also limped off in the semi-final with a hamstring injury.
Kennedy’s return is a timely boost for McInnes with the January signing et to retain his starting slot on Friday when Aberdeen face Hibs at Pittodrie.
McInnes said: “Matty was a big player for me before he got injured and he is still going to be that. Having been out for so long Matty deserves a lot of credit for his performance against Celtic.
“He put so much into the game, as did all my players. However there must be special mention for Matty who carried a real threat and brought fight for us on that side.
“When Elyounoussi and Christie work off their shape, we knew they wouldn’t protect their full-backs as much at times.
“So if you can get your ball carriers in the wider areas on the pitch, we thought there would be moments to get crosses into the box.
“That played out for us as Matty put some great crosses in and Sam Cosgrove had some chances at the back post area. Matty deserves a lot of credit. I thought he was terrific ”
Aberdeen were rocked on the eve of the semi-final when Hayes, 33, suffered a groin injury when slipping awkwardly late in Saturday’s training session.
Although Kennedy had no competitive game time since a 1-0 defeat of Kilmarnock on September 12 the winger had played in bounce games in recent weeks arranged to get injured players back to fitness.
McInnes had no hesitation about throwing the winger into the starting line-up at Hampden.
He said: “Matty was a like for like swap for Jonny Hayes. We wanted to try and get the attacking players in the team.
“We wanted Scott Wright and Marley Watkins to play against (Callum) McGregor and (Scott) Brown and work off them, with Sam Cosgrove as the focal point.
“It meant Ryan Hedges playing on the right.”
McInnes praised Welsh international attacker Hedges for his contribution at Hampden when starting at right wing back before switching position later on when McInnes changed formation.
He said: “Ryan was good for the 90 minutes in different roles because it changed when we went to a back four. He showed good personality. Ryan’s game is in a good place at the moment.”
Hedges was played through on goal by Scott Wright then the semi-final was still goal-less.
Rather than shoot immediately with his right, Hedges hesitated and cut back the ball onto his left to shoot. That allowed Nir Bitton to block Hedges’ shot.
Recently signed full-back Greg Leigh also came off the bench at Hampden for his first game time since suffering a fractured tibia in December.
McInnes said: “Ryan knows he should do better with his chance, that he could have taken it earlier, but by and large I thought he played well.
“That’s true of the team as a whole as we didn’t have too many poor performances.
“However when Celtic are playing that well you need to make sure that you are in that 10 minute spell that cost us.”
“It was a 10 minute spell where Celtic’s movement at the top end caused us problems and it ended up winning them the game.
“We were better as soon as we went to a back four.”