Aberdeen assistant manager Tony Docherty believes the New Year will bring a more competitive Dons as key players near return to full fitness.
Midfielder Funso Ojo is set to return to full training for the club this week as he steps up his recovery from a hamstring tear he suffered in the 1-1 draw with St Johnstone at Pittodrie on September 14.
Fellow summer signing Craig Bryson also hopes to return soon from the ankle injury he suffered in the 1-1 draw with Saints at McDiarmid Park on November 24 and Docherty insists any side would suffer without the experienced duo.
He said: “People have to remember our marquee signings were Funso Ojo and Craig Bryson and they haven’t really featured.
“They are the two biggest losses. It’s been the story of the season for us so far and it has been hugely frustrating.
“But it is testament to the squad that we have remained competitive despite being with them.
“Funso coming back in will be a huge boost to us as will Bryson when he is up to top speed. We have slowly and surely started to get closer to the level we want to get to.
“We are not going to get things going our way all season but we would like to think when you get them back in and back to full fitness then we will be a real competitive animal.”
The absence of the experienced duo has forced Dons boss Derek McInnes to field defenders Zak Vyner and Greg Leigh in midfield roles in recent weeks and while pleased with the versatility they have shown Docherty is relishing the opportunity to have Ojo and Bryson back in the fold.
He said: “I wouldn’t dismiss the other players who have come in like Jon, Zak and Greg.
“There is a good mentality and work ethic in this squad and boys have been asked to play in a few positions due to circumstances.
“As well as we have done lately you want your squad to be better. We know we have the players here to bring a real level of competition.
“There is an adaptability in the squad but getting Bryson and Ojo back we will be better for that.
“I don’t want to put pressure on Craig but we need to get him back to being 100% fit. Every Aberdeen supporter will see how important a player he will be for the team when he fully fit.
“The squad is going to get stronger. You don’t have it your own way over a season but you need to find a way at times.
“The manager has always found a way to make sure the squad is competitive and he will continue to do that until these players come back.
“We need a pedal to the mettle mentality up to the winter break. The games between now and the break will be important and we’re focused on them.”