Asking Aberdeen and Kilmarnock players about a title race is the verbal equivalent of a straight delivery to Geoffrey Boycott.
Both sides are in the chasing pack behind Celtic in the Premiership’s top four but are keen to dampen any talk of a championship challenge.
Aberdeen have been over this course before; in the 2015-16 season, they ran Ronny Deila’s Celtic close before running out of steam. Killie, however, are revitalised from a side prone to squabbling with the relegation places to favourites for a European spot.
In Derek McInnes and Steve Clarke, both have managers who will not fan the flames of hyperbole and the message has certainly filtered through to the players.
“The best way is to play it down; you don’t want to build it up and disappoint people,” said Dons midfielder Lewis Ferguson.
“You know yourself what you’re capable of and you can’t really go through the motions in this league.
“Kilmarnock have turned into a really good side. There’s no real surprises any more – they’re one of the top sides in the league. Steve Clarke seems to be dead level-headed and not getting carried away.
“Hearts lost three or four key players and it wasn’t great for them. It just shows how quickly things can change in this league. We know ourselves – we’re all professionals and know not to get carried away. He’s had a wee chat with us and said there’s 16 games to go, just take every game as it comes and get as many points on the board as we can.
“It’s still quite early. After the next eight or nine games, then it’ll start to feel like a title race.”
December’s form gave Aberdeen’s season a shot in the arm, with six wins in eight games catapulting them back into the upper echelons of the table. That came in no small part thanks to Sam Cosgrove, who took his tally to 11 for the season with his brace in the 3-0 win against Hamilton Accies on Wednesday.
But Killie have a marksman of their own, in Eamonn Brophy, who has broken double-figures and is well-known to Ferguson, having spent their formative years together at New Douglas Park.
Ferguson said: “I’m good friends with Eamonn and played with him for a few years at Hamilton. Every time I speak to him I ask him how he’s getting on and he’s scoring goals. I’ve always seen that in him; he’s quick, strong and a good finisher. I’m glad to see him doing so well. He will put you under pressure and when he’s through one-on-one, I’ve no doubt he’ll score.”
Ferguson’s own career has soared since his summer move to Aberdeen, with six goals in 24 appearances and a potential contract extension – six months into his Dons career – until 2023. He has more than repaid the faith of his manager, who showed little fear in pitching an 18-year-old into the Europa League double-header against Burnley at the start of the season.
Ferguson added: “I’ve always got stuff to add to my game and I’m always looking to improve. I’m only going to improve by playing and training around top players and good management staff. We’ll see how things go over the next few weeks with talks – I’m not really looking to get things done as quick as possible. It’s good to hear that they’re looking to repay me and I’m looking to kick on even further now.”