Aberdeen have received a fitness boost with Belgian midfielder Funso Ojo on course to return to action before the winter break.
The summer signing was initially ruled out until after the January shutdown having suffered a bad hamstring tear.
However, Ojo has started running and is scheduled to return to full training on December 12.
The £125,000 summer signing could be back in time to face champions Celtic on December 21 before games against Livingston and Hearts
That would be a month ahead of schedule and boss Derek McInnes confirmed Ojo is determined to hit that target.
He said: “Funso is running now and has been running for a while.
“He is working extremely hard and doing all he can to be back before the winter break.
“In terms of full training it will be around the second or third week of December, hopefully.
“The scheduled date is December 12 for full training, give or take a few days.
“It would then maybe take a week or two to be available.
“So maybe at best the third week in December Funso could be available.
“Between that and the New Year fixture there are three games.
“It wasn’t always certain he was going to be available until after the winter break.
“It was initially the middle of December to January, so if we can get him back before the winter break that would be brilliant and a real bonus.”
A signing from Scunthorpe, the former Belgian Under-21 international was the only transfer fee outlaid by boss McInnes in the summer transfer window.
Ojo started 10 games for the Dons but has been sidelined since suffering the hamstring tear in a 1-1 draw with St Johnstone on September 14.
McInnes is delighted Ojo is closing in on an earlier than anticipated return but will not take any chances in rushing the 28-year-old back.
He said: “When it comes round Funso will have been out a long time, so hopefully there is no need to rush him back.”
The earlier than expected return of Ojo will be a welcome boost as McInnes admits the Dons are short of natural midfielders.
He believes St Mirren exploited that at the weekend by packing five into midfield in a game the Reds won 2-1.
Summer signing Craig Bryson missed that defeat of St Mirren at the weekend with an ankle injury.
The former Derby County midfielder’s start to his Dons career has been hampered by two different ankle injuries.
A rash red card challenge from Murray Davidson in the recent 1-1 draw at St Johnstone resulted in an injury to Bryson’s right ankle.
McInnes faces a sweat on whether Bryson will be fit in time to face Rangers tomorrow.
The manager said: “It is no secret we are short of natural midfielders at the minute.
“At times it showed against St Mirren but in that first half we played around their compact shape, moving the ball side to side.
“St Mirren had five central midfield players in a confined space and as a consequence of that we lost a lot of midfield battles in there.
“They turned the ball over far too easily and took advantage of the fact we are short of natural midfielders.
“Before the game I thought St Mirren would go with a lot of midfielders in there.
“Ideally that game was screaming out for Ojo or Bryson to come in and bring a bit of calmness to it.
“At half-time we made a couple of subtle changes and put four midfielders in there.
“We put (Zak) Vyner and (Dean) Campbell together and pushed on (Lewis) Ferguson and (Ryan) Hedges with (Jon) Gallagher more in the No 10 role.
“What that allowed us to do was when we got it out on the wide areas it was Niall McGinn who was getting on the ball.
“The quality of some of Niall’s play was excellent and his finishing for his goal was really pleasing.”