Dons boss Derek McInnes is confident January signing Sam Cosgrove has eradicated memories of a nightmare debut with an impressive first start.
The 21-year-old January signing from Carlisle United was handed his start in the 2-0 defeat of Hearts in a match vital to the race for a runners-up finish.
Cosgrove repaid that faith by setting up the opener, playing a role in the second and only being denied a goal himself from a header by an outstanding save from keeper Jon McLaughlin.
McInnes pitched him in against the Jambos because he is convinced the striker can offer a physical presence and “something different”.
Cosgrove’s first start was in stark contrast to his debut.
Having signed on a £40,000 deal on transfer deadline day Cosgrove was handed a debut against Celtic weeks later.
His Dons entrance lasted just eight minutes as he was red carded for a mistimed challenge on Scott Brown after coming off the bench.
McInnes said: “Hopefully, people will remember that first start rather than focus on Sam’s debut, which was a disappointing one for him.
“It’s been tough for big Sam. “He had such a difficult debut, the embarrassment of that.
“I spoke to him at the time and he is not the first footballer to make a mistake on the pitch.
“He is still a young boy and was doing all right in the game against Celtic.
“I don’t think it was the red mist, it was just a badly timed tackle and he was rightly sent off. The fact it was on his debut compounded it which was disappointing for him and us.
“But he has been eager to play his part and it was good to see him involved in both goals against Hearts.”
Cosgrove had played just 11 minutes since that red card set-back, coming on as a late substitute in the 3-0 Scottish Cup semi-final loss to Motherwell at Hampden.
Starting in such an important game in the Reds’ bid to finish Premiership runners-up for a fourth successive season was an opportunity at redemption and to kick-start his Pittodrie career. He grabbed it.
Cosgrove has now played himself into contention to face Hibs at Pittodrie on Saturday.
McInnes said: “I am pleased for Sam because when you go to a new club you want to make sure you make a good impression and try to feel accepted.
“On the back of his debut it couldn’t have gone any worse for Sam and it was a difficult time for him. Now he will have a better memory of a first full debut and hopefully it is the first of many.”
Cosgrove was initially intended as a signing for the upcoming summer but when it became apparent a deal could be struck with League Two Carlisle in January the Reds moved on deadline day.
Although raw – Cosgrove only started three games for Carlisle and scored one goal – McInnes is convinced he can bring a presence, strength and focal point to the attack.
He said: “Sam is a good option for us in terms of bringing something different as you saw against Hearts where he did very well.
“He brings more presence in the box and also helps us get up the pitch.
“Sometimes we will face opponents who play a bit deeper and defend in numbers.
“It is important you play round them or go over them. “We got the game right against Hearts and Sam had a big part to play in that.”
Dons boss McInnes had tried various attacking combinations with strikers Stevie May and Adam Rooney against Hearts this season.
None of them had worked as the Reds had failed to score in three games against the Jambos this season.
Cosgrove’s introduction shook Hearts up and helped end that goal drought.
McInnes said: “We have a lot of technical and smaller players so sometimes the size and presence Sam offers brings a balance to the team.
“We tried Rooney and May together against Hearts.
“We had tried different combinations of May up on his own, and Rooney and May together and it did not work.
“It was important we try to utilise what we have in the building. A lot of the times when we played Hearts we have been easily dominated at the back line.
“Sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.
“We tried last time at Tynecastle to be a bit precise and subtle and play round them.
“We ended up playing in the wrong areas and got caught on the counter attack.
“It didn’t work with the responsibility to get on the ball and cause problems.
“This time we had more speed in the wider areas and size through the middle.
“Sam showed why he can be so important, especially in a game like the one against Hearts as they wanted to play deep at times.
“He was a good partner for May in terms of giving us a bit more size and presence.
“That allowed us to play around them.
“We were losing Considine’s height and we weren’t the biggest team against Hearts. However, Sam gave us the chance to still put the ball into good areas from setplays and cause problems.
“He won that first header which is always so important at setplays.”
Despite a strong first start McInnes underlined that he will not put too much weight on his shoulders.
He said: “Sam is still a young player in terms of his football education.
“It is important that we remember not to put too much pressure on Sam.”