Celtic’s visit to Pittodrie is almost coming at the perfect time for Aberdeen.
The Dons extended their winning run to four games with a deserved 2-0 victory over Hearts thanks to a brace from the in-form Sam Cosgrove.
Derek McInnes’ side head into the Boxing Day showdown with leaders Celtic in fine fettle after recording their eighth win in 10 league games.
When Aberdeen last met Hearts in October a 2-1 home win for the Jambos moved Craig Levein’s side three points clear at the top of the Premiership and 10 ahead of the seventh-placed Dons.
But Hearts’ early season promise has evaporated in recent weeks, while the Dons are finally hitting top gear. Saturday’s victory moved the Dons up to second spot and six points above Hearts, underlining the contrasting fortunes of both teams over the second quarter of the season.
The key to Aberdeen’s success has been the remarkable transformation of Sam Cosgrove from an industrious but non-scoring striker to a ruthless forward who looks capable of finding the net every time he takes to the pitch.
The Englishman took eight months to score his first competitive goal in a red shirt after joining from Carlisle United in January, but the 22-year-old has now bagged six in four appearances.
It is not just his goalscoring return that has improved. Cosgrove’s link-up play and blossoming partnership with Stevie May, particularly during the first 45 minutes on Saturday, were hugely impressive and the Englishman will fancy his chances of continuing his goalscoring streak against Celtic on Wednesday.
Unsurprisingly the Dons were unchanged from the team that defeated Dundee 5-1, while Hearts made five alterations from the team thumped 5-0 by Livingston, including a first start of the season for goalkeeper Colin Doyle.
It wasn’t long before debutant Doyle was picking the ball out of the net after the Dons broke the deadlock with their first foray forward.
May pounced on a slack header from Jambos defender Peter Haring and his looping cross was expertly nodded home by Cosgrove.
Aberdeen suffered an early blow two minutes into the second half with Max Lowe limping off with a groin injury.
Seventeen-year-old Dean Campbell came on as his replacement with Shinnie moving to left back.
The Dons doubled their lead when Scott McKenna was fouled in the penalty area by Christophe Berra and Cosgrove calmly sent Doyle the wrong way from the spot with 69 minutes on the clock.
It went from bad to worse for Hearts in the closing stages when left-back Demetri Mitchell was sent off for a second bookable offence, a foul on Campbell.
The win came at a cost with Lowe a major doubt to face Celtic.
With defensive options already limited, McInnes may be forced to deploy Shinnie at left back. The Dons would miss the energy and drive of their captain in the middle of the park if that proves to be the case.