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Exclusive: Aberdeen pathways manager Neil Simpson gives progress report on players loaned out by Dons

The Gothenburg Great provides the lowdown on Aberdeen's loan players as the transfer window draws to a close.

Aberdeen pathways manager Neil Simpson
Aberdeen pathways manager Neil Simpson

Aberdeen currently have 13 players, from up-and-coming youth academy starlets, to first-team fringe players, to exiled former captains, out on loan – but how have the Dons staff rated their progress in the first half of the season?

The January transfer window is an opportunity for loans to be extended, players to be recalled or sent somewhere else – and the Pittodrie club have already announced where several players will be in the second half of the campaign.

Vicente Besuijen became the latest Don to be sent out on loan when he completed a move to FC Emmen for the remainder of the season earlier today. 

We spoke to the man at Cormack Park responsible for managing Aberdeen’s loans, pathways manager Neil Simpson, about the players who have been out on loan this season.

Alfie Bavidge, 17, striker (contract to summer 2026. Competitive first-team appearances: 5 (all sub)) – staying at League One Kelty Hearts for season

Forward Bavidge has netted four times for Kelty in 12 League One starts, with his last two goals coming in the two matches immediately following the announcement he would be remaining with his loan club, who are sixth in League One, until the end of 2023/24 term.

Neil Simpson: “It has been a really good loan for Alfie. Kelty play a really good style of football, they always play the ball to feet and it is a great place for Alfie to work on his hold-up play and his movement to receive the ball.

“It is an ideal development opportunity for Alfie. I have watched him five times now and he has contributed in every game.

“Kelty have been a very good team for us when it comes to loaning players as we’ve seen with Connor Barron, Jack Milne and Kieran Ngwenya.”

Alfie Bavidge in Aberdeen colours. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson.

Findlay Marshall, 17, central midfielder (contract to summer 2026. Competitive first-team appearances: 0)  – sent to League One Edinburgh City for rest of campaign

Marshall spent the first half of the season with Aberdeen, and has made two League One starts since being loaned to embattled Edinburgh. After a 3-1 loss at Alloa Athletic, he set up a goal in a 2-2 draw with Falkirk as City halted a six-game losing streak in all competitions.

NS: “Alfie Bavidge was the only under-18 player who was out on loan but we felt there were a few others in that age category who would benefit from going out.

“We have learned over the years that the second half of the season at 18s, players can lose a bit of form if they are almost above that level because they might not be getting the challenge.

“We had a few options for Findlay and then the option of Edinburgh City in League One arrived and it seemed perfect.

“They have had their difficulties and lost a few players but he could go there and hopefully play 17 games between now and the end of the season.

“He has started every game so far and performed really well. It gives me a lot of confidence that these lads can step up with no problems when you see a player like Findlay thriving at that level.

“It is early days and you are going to have ups and downs with players who are 17.

“Scott McKenna went on loan (to Ayr United) and couldn’t get a game and then the next minute he was a regular in the first team.

“Sometimes it doesn’t work but we are very excited to see Findlay play at this level.”

Findlay Marshall in action for Aberdeen against Banks o’ Dee. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Aaron Reid, 19, striker (contract to summer 2024. Competitive first-team appearances: 0)   – recalled from loan at League Two Peterhead and sent to Highland League Formartine United for second half of season

Imposing frontman Reid couldn’t find the net for the Blue Toon across his 20 appearances, but, competing with the likes of Rory McAllister, he only started once in each of the major competitions – League Two, the Scottish Cup and League Cup.

He has been moved to a Breedon Highland League high-flyers Formartine, and scored a hat-trick on his debut. It was a reminder of the scoring talent he previously showed at SHFL level – form which convinced Aberdeen to take him back into the full-time fold in January 2023.

Aaron Reid in action for Peterhead. Image: Duncan Brown.

NS: “We thought it would be a good opportunity for Aaron to test himself at that level with Peterhead but there was competition for places with Kieran Shanks and Rory McAllister so his game time was limited.

“From our perspective, we want to see our young players playing when they go out on loan.

“There was an opportunity to go to Formartine, a team which has served us well with the way they look after the boys.

“It is a team that plays at the higher end of the Highland League so he should be getting lots of opportunities to score and in his first game he scored a hat-trick.

“We are delighted with that and it will give him a lot of confidence.

“Strikers need to be playing every week, getting goals and getting the confidence levels up.

“We were getting great feedback and information from the two managers at Peterhead (Jordon Brown and Ryan Strachan) but we felt it might be the case of Aaron taking a step back to go forward.

“To score a hat-trick in the first game – a left foot, a right foot and a header – he’ll take a lot of confidence from that.”

Adam Emslie, 18, right midfielder (contract to summer 2024. Competitive first-team appearances: 0)  – loan at Formartine extended until end of term

Emslie has shone for Formartine at Highland League level in the first half of this term, and has helped Stuart Anderson’s side put themselves firmly in the title race.

NS: “Adam has been outstanding. I feel he has probably come on more than any of the players who have been out on loan.

“When I am writing my report on a Monday, he will have chipped in with another assist or another goal.

“I have watched a number of his games and he has really come on by playing every week in an adult environment.

“There were a couple of opportunities for him to go play at a higher level on loan but we feel he is on a good path at the moment so let’s keep him at Formartine.

“We see him going a step higher in the summer and hopefully further down the line there will be first-team opportunities as he has done really well.”

Adam Emslie of Aberdeen with Fraserburgh’s Lewis Davidson in pursuit. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Dylan Lobban, 18, attacking midfielder (contract to summer 2026. Competitive first-team appearances: 0)  – recalled from Formartine and now on loan at League Two Forfar Athletic

Lobban impressed enough for Formartine in the first part of the season, he earned a step up to SPFL level for the rest of the campaign and has already made two League Two appearances, including playing the first half in a defeat to Stenhousemuir.

The midfielder signed a two-year Dons contract extension to the summer of 2026 last Thursday.

Formartine’s Dylan Lobban celebrates after scoring a penalty to make it 1-0 against Brora. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

NS: “I speak to the managers at the clubs every week and whenever I spoke to Stuart Anderson at Formartine he would always say that Dylan was outstanding.

“He has just signed a new contract and we felt that going to Forfar would be a good opportunity.

“We have had the likes of Jack Mackenzie there before and we know Ray McKinnon (the Forfar manager) well.

“It is a step up and he will need to fight for his place there but he is more than capable of going to Forfar and doing well.”

Blair MacKenzie, 18, centre-back (contract to summer 2025. Competitive first-team appearances: 0)  – on loan at League Two Elgin City for season

Despite Elgin’s struggles and managerial changes in the first part of the campaign, MacKenzie has racked up 19 appearances – including 13 starts in League Two.

NS: “Blair is a 6ft 5in left-footed centre-back. He made a good start at Elgin with games in the League Cup but then he had a two-match suspension in the league.

“He has not only played left centre-back but he has also played around a quarter of the games at left back.

“That is a great learning experience for him.

“Elgin have really helped us in recent years. Evan Towler had a very good loan spell there.”

Blair MacKenzie featuring for Elgin City against Dumbarton. Image: Robert Crombie.

Finlay Murray, 18, centre-back (contract to summer 2024. Competitive first-team appearances: 0)  – at Highland League Turriff United for season

Murray has been a regular in Turriff’s side this term.

NS: “Finlay has really come on by playing regular games. He may have played the most games out of any of the loan players. He has played in 27 games, including friendlies, league and cup matches.

“It has been a great loan for him. The former Turriff manager Dean Donaldson tried to play good football and I’ve heard that Warren Cummings, who is there now, is an excellent coach and the players really respect him. They like the style of play he is trying to implement as well.”

Finlay Murray has a shot at goal against Banks o’ Dee in the Aberdeenshire Shield final. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Kieran Ngwenya, 21, left-back (contract to summer 2024. Competitive first-team appearances: 2 (both sub))   – on loan at Championship Partick Thistle for season

Ngwenya was a regular for the Premiership play-off chasing Jags team early in the season, but an injury caused by a challenge from Queen’s Park’s Jack Spong in an October 27 2-2 away draw has sidelined the Malawi international since.

NS: “Kieran has been unfortunate. When he was at Raith Rovers last season he actually set up the goal to beat Partick in the final game of last season.

“That may have shown Partick what he can do. He found it difficult to get into the team initially. Then when he got in the team he played six or seven games in a row and then picked up an injury against Queen’s Park.

“I felt sorry for him as he was just starting to show a good bit of form.

“The good news is he has just returned to Partick Thistle this week for full training so hopefully he can have a strong second half of the season.”

Partick Thistle’s Kieran Ngwenya and Inverness’ Luis Longstaff. Image: SNS.

Jayden Richardson, 23, right-back (contract to summer 2025. Competitive first-team appearances: 24 (21 starts, 3 sub)) – recalled from English League Two Stockport County and sent to Colchester United in same league until end of campaign

Out of the first-team picture at Pittodrie, full-back Richardson played 17 times for Stockport in the first half of the season, managing an assist early in both the EFL Trophy and FA Cup – but he only made one League Two start for the division leaders.

Colchester are at the other end of the division, and things have started positively for him, as he played 90 minutes at right midfield on his debut (1-1 draw v Bradford).

Jayden Richardson playing for Stockport County against Mansfield Town. Image: Shutterstock.

NS: “Jayden found his minutes limited in the first half of the season.

“He hardly played so there was an opportunity when Colchester United were after him.

“We felt that would be the best move for him as a player doesn’t want to be away at a different team and not getting game time.

“He has been playing for Colchester so hopefully he can keep getting regular football.”

Anthony Stewart, 31, centre-back (contract to summer 2024. Competitive first-team appearances: 29 (all starts)) – on loan at English League Two MK Dons for season

Out of contract this summer, exiled former Dons skipper Stewart has made just seven appearances for loan club MK Dons this term, and has only been in one League Two squad for the play-off chasers since the first week of October – though he did play 90 minutes in to EFL Trophy ties in November and December.

Anthony Stewart during an Aberdeen training session at Cormack Park. Image: SNS

NS: “Anthony has had a couple of hamstring injuries during his time at MK Dons.

“He has only played seven games in the first half of the season.

“Just now it is about assessing what are the best options for Anthony, whether that is staying at MK Dons or trying to go somewhere else where he can get back playing again.

“That is the most important thing, especially for the experienced players as they want to be playing and showing what they can do.”

Evan Towler, 19, left-back/centre-back (contract to summer 2024. Competitive first-team appearances: 0) – injuries ended loan at League One Montrose

Towler only managed two League Cup appearances for the Gable Endies before a string on injuries saw his loan spell cut short.

NS: “I feel sorry for Evan as he suffered a hamstring injury which unfortunately required surgery.

“He is doing fantastic now and is back on the pitch, doing some running.

“We recalled him from Montrose as we felt the best thing was for him to focus on his fitness and get him really fit for the start of pre-season.

“We want him to be 100% fit at the start of the season. He wasn’t far away from the first team squad. He would train with the first team all week and then go to Montrose one night a week and play for them on a Saturday.

“Unfortunately he got injured early in the season but hopefully we can get him a fresh start and he will be back raring to go in the new season.”

Aberdeen FC defender Evan Towler in action during his loan spell at Montrose.
Aberdeen FC have recalled Evan Towler from his loan spell at Montrose. Image: Paul Reid.

Brendan Hamilton, 17, left-back (contract to summer 2025. Competitive first-team appearances: 0) – joined Highland League Banks o’ Dee for rest of season last week 

NS: “I think that will be a great move for him. He is a Northern Ireland international at youth level.

“We felt it was an opportunity for him to get three or four months at a Highland League club.

“We are looking forward to seeing him in a men’s environment and I’m sure he will get lots of opportunities.”

Findlay Marshall celebrates his goal against Peterhead in the SPFL Trust Trophy with Brendan Hamilton.

Alfie Stewart, 17, centre-midfielder (contract to summer 2026. Competitive first-team appearances: 0) – signed new deal on Thursday and joined Peterhead for remainder of campaign last week

Alfie Stewart in action for Peterhead against East Fife. Image: Duncan Brown.

NS: “Alfie has just signed a new contract and there was an opportunity to go to Peterhead.

“They have beeen struggling with injuries.

“I think he can do well at Peterhead.

“I watched the last 20 minutes when he came on against East Fife on Saturday and he made a real impact.

“That was a really encouraging start, especially as he had only trained one night with Peterhead.

“But he is a confident boy with a great left foot.

“He reminds me of Ian Wilson who used to play for Leicester and Aberdeen.

“He is another under-18 player who is getting the chance to go out on loan. We have identified that they need pushed on now.”