Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes admits signing untested striker Sam Cosgrove from Carlisle last January was a bit of a “punt”.
But McInnes praised the 22-year-old’s dedication and hard work for ensuring his gamble paid off.
Cosgrove was signed on transfer deadline day having netted just once in his senior career.
His Dons spell got off to a nightmare start when he was red-carded just eight minutes into his debut in a 2-0 loss to Celtic at Pittodrie on February 25.
It took until October for the 6ft 3in striker to finally score competitively for the Dons, hitting a double in the 4-1 defeat of St Mirren.
Having scored seven goals in five straight games in December Cosgrove is the Premiership’s hottest striker.
That was rewarded this week when Cosgrove, who is training with the Dons in Dubai, penned a contract extension until summer 2022.
McInnes sees it as payback for the player’s determination and graft to succeed at Pittodrie.
He said: “Our recruitment team picked him up in September, October of 2017.
“Sam wasn’t really playing at Carlisle so it was difficult to see him.
“We watched reserve games there and we took a kind of punt – it was more of a feeling.
“It was like the Lewis Ferguson, one, where we got a feeling. We could see Sam had attributes.
“Although he was young, raw and didn’t have a lot of experience, we thought there was enough there that we could work with.
“Testament and credit to Sam as he has thrown himself into what we put our players through, sports science, to get quicker and stronger.
“Sam probably feels now he belongs at this level and it is great that the fans have recognised that in recent weeks.”
In-form goalscorers are hot property and, while the new contract rewarded Cosgrove’s recent goal return, it is also a potential blocker to interest from other teams.
Having struggled to secure a regular game for Carlisle United in League Two, McInnes insists Cosgrove now believes he belongs in the Scottish top flight.
He said: “The biggest thing now is that because of the goals he has scored Sam is becoming more confident.
“The biggest ingredient for any striker and any young player is that confidence.
“Sam’s contribution for me has always been very high, even though the goals haven’t always come.
“But scoring goals brings more exposure and people highlight that more.”
In the aftermath of Cosgrove’s disastrous debut, McInnes insisted he would stick by the striker.
He was true to his word and has kept faith with the big centre-forward.
Despite having scored just two goals prior to the League Cup final on December 2, Cosgrove was given the nod to start at Hampden against Celtic, in the Dons’ 1-0 loss.
In the next game he was harshly sent off in the first half of the 1-0 defeat of Rangers at Ibrox.
Cosgrove received a second yellow for a challenge on Connor Goldson, although the Don had clearly won the ball.
Again, in the aftermath, McInnes stuck by the striker, insisting he would not be hit with a club fine for an “astonishing” dismissal.
McInnes said: “I have no discipline issues with Sam.
“He puts himself about but he is smart with his work as well.
“Sam doesn’t get involved in situations.
“That was one (Celtic red card) where there was a rush of blood.
“The Rangers sending off was wrong and we lost him for the rest of that game.
“We also lost him for the St Johnstone defeat (one game suspension, 2-0 loss) and that for me sticks in my throat.
“It was the wrong decision and meant Sam was unavailable for the next game.
“That game we could have done with Sam as he had been doing well.
“I have no problems with him in terms of the discipline side as he is a smart striker and plays within the rules of the game.”
Such has been Cosgrove’s impact in recent weeks the Red Army have begun tongue-in-cheek chants at games, calling for him to be awarded the Ballon d’Or.
McInnes said: “We want Sam to get hold of the ball, look after it, win his headers and give us that physical presence. It is so important for any team to have that.
“Sam helps us get up the pitch and has been good for us.
“His performances have been noted more recently because he is scoring goals.
“If Sam doesn’t score people will still beat him up and question him.
“Some people expect a lot but in terms of his footballing development and experience, he is so young but is doing particularly well.”