Aberdeen got a close-up look at Celtic last weekend ahead of their Scottish Cup semi-final showdown.
That 3-3 draw was a dramatic, enthralling encounter which, based on the noises coming out of both camps afterwards, generated more positives for the Dons than Celtic.
It will have given Derek McInnes plenty of ideas as to how his side can hurt Celtic and finally defeat the Hoops at Hampden Park.
Ryan Hedges’ performance was outstanding and was evidence of a player thriving in the system McInnes has put together. Occupying the right half-spaces with license to roam and carry the ball into threatening areas, Hedges has looked every inch the player Aberdeen hoped he would be when he joined from Barnsley.
Scott Wright also impressed in his cameo in the second half and played a key role in the Dons’ late equaliser. But does he merit a start on Sunday?
The front three
A prominent feature of Aberdeen’s play this season has been the inclusion of a front three, who start centrally, but are versatile and can occupy a number of roles in attacking areas.
Hedges has been a constant in that and is a must-start at Hampden. There is an argument for making him Aberdeen’s player of the season so far, such has been his impact.
Alongside him, Marley Watkins has become a popular pick, but came off injured against Celtic at the weekend. His persistence, physicality and ability to exploit space in behind defenders make him a great option as a second striker.
Pairing him with a focal point up front over the last couple of games has proved beneficial, with Ryan Edmondson impressing in the starts afforded to him. It gives Watkins the role he thrived in during his break-out season at Inverness, as a foil for a main striker.
If he is passed fit then I expect him to start. However, should he be unavailable, then Wright’s performance should give McInnes enough encouragement to start him. He is direct, quick and accomplished with the ball at his feet; he would attack the Celtic defence from deep rather than going in behind like Watkins and against Shane Duffy – going through a well-publicised lack of form – could be appealing.
Ryan Edmondson or Sam Cosgrove?
Some feared Ryan Edmondson might not get the chance to shine at Aberdeen, after his early ankle injury that kept him on the sidelines for nearly two months.
However, his two goals against Hamilton Accies in his first senior start, has done his confidence the world of good. He is raw, an aspect of his game McInnes says he likes, and is a nuisance for centre-backs to deal with.
The concussion he suffered in the second half against Celtic may hamper his chances for this weekend, though. McInnes said in his press conference this week he was unhappy with the nature of Duffy’s challenge which sent Edmondson careering into the advertising hoardings at Pittodrie.
With the on-loan Leeds man only returning to training today after coming through concussion protocols, there is a chance McInnes could lean towards recalling Sam Cosgrove.
Cosgrove played half-an-hour off the bench against Celtic last week, his first football in seven months after picking up a knee injury in pre-season. He had a hand in Hedges’ goal against Celtic and, while there will be an inevitable rustiness after so long out, McInnes knows what he will get from Cosgrove.
The Dons boss talked up his chances this week of starting the game if required and I think, as harsh as it would be on Edmondson, that he will get the nod for Sunday. Playing up with two other support players is not something Cosgrove has particular experience of during his time with the Dons, which could serve to lighten the load on him.
The only thing that may count against him is Edmondson being more up to match-speed and starting to put together a run of games.
Will Sam Cosgrove start against Celtic? Our panel debated Derek McInnes’ selection dilemma for Hampden on this week’s Northern Goal podcast:
With Matty Kennedy still coming back from injury, Shay Logan short of match-practice and Ronald Hernandez seemingly out of the picture altogether, for me Connor McLennan has to start at right wing-back.
He has been impressive coming off the bench in the last two games, with his bustling, energetic style providing the Dons with a different outlet from the right.
McLennan’s grounding as a forward in the Aberdeen youth system also gives him the advantage of knowing what attacking positions to take up, evidenced by how he got forward centrally to win the penalty for the equaliser on Sunday.
Dylan McGeouch’s injury means Ross McCrorie should start in the middle with Lewis Ferguson and the other three options mentioned above have simply not played enough football of late to be considered out wide. McLennan should get the nod.
Predicted line-up (3-4-3): Lewis; Hoban, Taylor, Considine, McLennan, McCrorie, Ferguson, Hayes, Hedges, Cosgrove, Watkins.