Emerging Dons winger Scott Wright was today challenged by boss Derek McInnes to make a major impact this season.
The 20-year-old made a strong statement of intent by netting a hat-trick in a 6-0 demolition of Partick Thistle in the final game of last season’s Premiership.
Now, as the Dons ready to revisit Firhill for the first time since that memorable treble, McInnes insisted he has complete faith in Wright’s talent and temperament to become a major component of his first team plans.
With the exit of international wingers Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn in the summer the need for a creative, fast winger ready to attack full-backs is evident.
Wright will get his chance to shine and McInnes wants him to grab it.
McInnes said: “This is a big season for Scott Wright.
“I have no doubt he will have a part to play but how big a part will probably be determined by Scott.
“I feel he has the confidence, maturity and ability to play this season and make a big impact. However, there are senior players jostling for positions at the minute as there is good competition, especially at that top end of the pitch.
“Scott has a challenge ahead but I am sure he will prove what he is about this season.”
Balmedie-raised Wright made his senior Dons debut as a second-half substitute in the 5-0 Europa League win over Daugava Riga in July 2014.
Since that initial emergence he made just two starts, both in the final games of the season with the win over Partick and a 4-0 loss to Ross County a year earlier.
Chances were limited due to the high standards of wing duo Hayes and McGinn, effectively the creative driving room of the Reds for many seasons. Now they are gone with Hayes completing a £1.3 million move to Celtic and McGinn signing for Gwangju of South Korea.
“There is no shame in not getting in ahead of those two players over the last few years,” said McInnes.
“Both Hayes and McGinn are international players.
“Sometimes it has been tough for Scott but with Hayes and McGinn leaving it naturally brings him closer to playing more regularly.
“The challenge is for him to go on and do that.”
Wright’s bid to immediately continue the momentum of that breakthrough performance at Partick was derailed by injury.
He sustained a hamstring injury while on international duty with the Scotland Under-20 squad at the Toulon Tournament in France during the summer.
It wiped out a month of pre-season and he only came back into contention for the end of the Europa League bid, where the Dons crashed out to Cypriots Apollon Limassol.
Since then Wright has started two of the Dons’ four-game winning start to the domestic campaign.
He was this week selected for the Scotland U21 squad, along with Scott McKenna, for the Euro qualifier against Holland next month.
McInnes said: “Scott has been involved in the first team for a while now and is in the Scotland U21 squad.
“He started a little behind this season as he got injured with Scotland in the Toulon tournament and missed three or four weeks of pre-season.
“Scott has played in European games and came on in the Scottish Cup final last season.
“He is now building those experiences.
“However, the biggest thing that elevated his own confidence was that performance against Partick last season when he scored the hat-trick.
“Scott now feels like he is a first team player and there is a maturity there as well now to go with the talent we all know he has.”
That raw talent, the ability to excite a crowd, is undoubtedly there.
His hat-trick against Partick only emphasised what everyone within Pittodrie – and Dons fans who had seen him in action – already knew – Wright is a special talent.
He produces the same buzz of anticipation when in possession as Ryan Fraser and Eoin Jess.
Those fellow graduates of the Pittodrie youth system went on to be major stars.
There are similarities between Wright and Fraser, both wingers, both Aberdonian and both made their breakthrough at 19.
Fraser was a stand-out in the 2012-13 season but rejected a new Dons deal to sign on at Bournemouth.
He is now a Premier League regular with the Cherries.
McInnes took out some insurance that the Reds could get some good years from Wright this January by signing him on a two-year extension until summer 2019.
Wright is in contention to face Partick in Maryhill again today and McInnes insists if he gets the nod it will be solely on merit and how he has fared recently.
Football is a brutal, results-driven business and the manager can only afford to field players who can do their bit to get that victory.
If you are good enough – you are old enough.
Likewise there will be no acquiescing to the call to continually blood emerging youngsters.
Players are only in if they are good enough, and ready. Wright certainly is.
McInnes said: “I am not one for throwing people in just for a PR exercise. You have to earn it.
“We have to win games and there is a demand on our team to keep challenging.
“If you see young players in our team they are in because they deserve to be or because we have had a lot of injuries.
“When Scott plays he is there on merit.”
Wright alone cannot fill the chasm left by the exit of Hayes and McGinn.
Winger Gary Mackay-Steven was secured on a two-year deal for £100,000 from Celtic.
McInnes said: “Gary can create something out of nothing with individual trickery and the ability to go past people.
“He can finish, can play across the line and can also operate in the tight areas.
“Gary also has real pace which, to be honest, was a big ingredient we needed to bring to the team.
“Having lost Jonny, Niall and Peter Pawlett we needed that real pace at the top end of the pitch. He has European experience, premiership experience and knows what is expected at Aberdeen.”