Aberdeen boss Stephen Glass believes Ryan Hedges is fired up to prove he is one of the ‘top boys’.
Now back from injury Glass reckons the 26-year-old will be desperate to show he is a game changer by delivering goals and assists.
A game winner is needed as Aberdeen are eight matches without victory and have slumped to the worst run of form since 2010.
There is no better stage for Hedges to underline his quality than October when Aberdeen face Premiership big hitters Rangers, Celtic, Hibs and Hearts.
That October run, which also includes Dundee away, begins with a showdown against Celtic at Pittodrie on Sunday.
Glass reckons Hedges is determined to shine now that he is back in the limelight after six games out with a hamstring injury.
Glass said: “I think Ryan will see this as an opportunity to show he’s one of the top boys and ‘look at the difference I make when I play in your team’.
‘It’s good for him personally and I’m looking forward to seeing the results of that.
“He’s the type of player who wants to affect games, to make and score goals.
‘He showed that at the start of the season.
“That’s why it was such a disappointment when we missed him for big games, including both the Qarabag games.”
‘You see how much we have missed him’
Aberdeen began the season with a bang with Hedges fit, winning five of their opening six games in all competitions.
The only defeat was a 2-0 loss to BK Hacken in the Europa Conference League second qualifying round which was effectively rendered meaningless as the Dons had already won the first leg 5-1 at Pittodrie.
Hedges was rested for the League Cup second round clash away to Raith Rovers along with a number of first team regulars.
Aberdeen were trailing 2-1 when Hedges was introduced off the bench in the second half. Raith held on to land a shock cup win and to compound a miserable day Hedges suffered a hamstring injury in the tie that ruled him out for six games.
On his return at the weekend Hedges brought much needed impetus, drive and invention to the attack at St Mirren and the Dons were deservedly leading 2-1 until Teddy Jenks was dismissed having been issued a second yellow.
That precipitated a collapse from 10 man Aberdeen that Hedges, who had only returned to full training earlier that week and was short of match action, was unable to prevent.
Since the start of the 2020-21 campaign Aberdeen have won 58% of the games Hedges has started. That win ratio drops to 27% with the attacker out of the team due to injury.
Glass said: “You can’t underestimate what you are losing when you lose guys like that.
“You can see how much we have missed Ryan.
“His imagination and he is a little bit different, especially in the final third of the pitch.
“Ryan works well for the team
“You see him in training and see the quality he’s got and the imagination he brings.
“It gives you something a little bit different.”
The ‘creative spark’ that Hedges brings
Aberdeen rejected an offer of just under £500,000 from Championship Blackburn Rovers in the transfer window for Hedges who is in the final year of his contract.
Another two English second tier clubs attempted to land Hedges who will be free to speak to any interested clubs from the start of the winter transfer window on January 1.
Aberdeen are desperate to retain Hedges and have tabled a new contract that would make the attacker one of the club’s highest paid players.
Glass recently confirmed Hedges did not push for a move away from Pittodrie in the summer amidst the interest from England.
Ryan is very important to us as a team.
“He brings a big creative spark.”
Aberdeen manager Stephen Glass
The Dons boss retains hope Hedges will commit his future to the club by penning a new contract.
He said: “Ryan is very important to us as a team.
“He brings a big creative spark.
“The other players like playing with him.
“As a coaching staff, we like him in the team.
“He’s brilliant around the group. It’s good that’s he’s back.”
Hedges managed 72 minutes at St Mirren before being substituted.
Glass will manage Hedges’ return to action
Glass insists they will manage his return and will not gamble on pushing him too hard, too soon after more than a month out injured.
He said: “It’s important we manage Ryan right for the long-term and don’t force it.
“Him coming back from injury is vital for us as a group.”