Aberdeen boss Jim Goodwin has revealed leading scorer Christian Ramirez was dropped to allow the forward time to rest.
United States international striker Ramirez was on the bench for the first time in eight months for the 2-1 loss to Livingston.
It is only the third time in 43 games this season Ramirez has not started.
The 31-year-old’s previous game as a substitute was a League Cup loss at Raith Rovers in August.
Goodwin says he made the call to drop Ramirez because the striker needs a break having played continuously for a year.
Ramirez played in the MLS for Houston Dynamo right up until his summer switch to Pittodrie.
With 15 goals, Ramirez is Aberdeen’s joint top scorer this season alongside Lewis Ferguson.
However, the twice-capped player has yet to score since Goodwin was appointed manager in February.
Goodwin opted to lead the attack with Welsh international Marley Watkins against Livingston.
Goodwin said: “Christian has played a lot of football this season and we have had to rely heavily on him.
“We haven’t really had any other option in that striking position.
“Prior to coming to the club, he had played a lot of football in the MLS as well.
“He hasn’t really had a break and I think it has probably shown in the last three or four weeks.
“With Marley Watkins back now, we feel we have got Marley to a level of fitness.
“He is obviously going to be a lot fresher.”
Long run in Aberdeen starting XI
Ramirez has been an almost ever present in the Aberdeen starting XI this season.
The striker’s only other time as a substitute in the Premiership was in the 2-1 win at Livingston on August 8, the second league game of the season.
Ramirez is joint fourth in the Premiership scoring chart this season with 10 league goals
. 🗣💪🏽 https://t.co/N4PUpteK06
— Christian Ramirez (@Chris_Ramirez17) April 21, 2022
Aberdeen team-mate Ferguson also has 10 Premiership goals, with six of those netted from the penalty spot.
Ross County’s Regan Charles-Cook leads the way with 13 goals.
Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos and Livingston’s Bruce Anderson are joint second on 11.
Former Aberdeen striker Anderson rejected the offer of a new Pittodrie contract last year to sign on with Livingston.
For the majority of the season, the onus has been on Ramirez to lead the attack and deliver goals for Aberdeen.
Summer signing Jay Emmanuel-Thomas mustered just one goal in 24 appearances.
Aberdeen had hoped to sign a striker during the January transfer window under former manager Stephen Glass, but a deal could not be done.
🎶 He is our no.9⃣…
🇺🇸 11 goals so far this season for Christian Ramirez.
— Aberdeen FC (@AberdeenFC) January 3, 2022
Watkins could lead the line again
Summer signing Watkins only returned from a hamstring injury last month.
The 31-year-old had been sidelined for three months.
Injury problems have restricted Watkins to just 13 starts this season, with a further five appearances off the bench.
Now back to full fitness, Goodwin plans for Watkins, who has netted three times, to make an impact in the remaining games of the season.
He said: “We need to give Marley as many games as we can between now and the end of the season.
“Christian has scored some important goals for the club this season.
“I thought when he went on for the last 20 minutes he actually added a bit of quality to the team.
“It gives us another option.”
Relegation play-off threat remains
Aberdeen are playing out the remainder of the season in the bottom six for the first time since 2013.
Watkins and Ramirez have mustered just three goals in the Premiership this year.
The bid to finish best of the rest with a seventh-placed spot suffered a blow with the loss to Livingston.
Goodwin’s Reds now trail currently seventh-placed Hibs by five points.
There also remains the threat of potentially being dragged into a relegation play-off fight with 11th-placed St Johnstone.
With four games remaining in the campaign, Aberdeen are five points ahead of Saints.
Aberdeen have registered just one victory in the previous 14 league matches.
Goodwin was warned Aberdeen must find their cutting edge in attack in the remaining games of the season – and cut out mistakes.
He said: “I don’t think we played all that badly today.
“Ross County a couple of weeks ago was a similar scenario to how today’s game panned out.
“In complete control, dominating the game and a penalty decision.
“I think that’s three penalties in eight games or something.
“I have not been on a run like that as a manager up to now.
“Hopefully we can cut out those errors if you like, those big decisions going against us, and be a little more clinical at the top end of the pitch.”