Derek McInnes is determined to halt Hibernian’s revival in its tracks at Pittodrie tomorrow night, but he is far from surprised to see their recent recovery under Terry Butcher.
Aberdeen will move four points clear of Motherwell in second place if they can win a fourth successive league match for the first time in five years.
That would be another indication of the progress made since McInnes replaced Craig Brown as Dons manager back in March of last year.
However, he is well aware that the task will be much more difficult now that the Easter Road club are also under new management. Hibs have picked up 11 points during a five-game unbeaten run under Butcher that has carried them into the top half of the table.
That’s exactly the impact McInnes expected from Pat Fenlon’s successor.
“Hibs’ form hasn’t surprised me and that’s probably the biggest compliment I can pay Terry,” he said. “He’s gone in there and brought about consistency of results. He’s found a way to win and do it most weeks. That’s something Hibs have struggled to do.
“I always thought they had good players but Terry has given them a structure to play which is bringing results. He has made them very tough opponents and this is as tough a game as you can get as there is expectation on both clubs now. Hibs are capable of scoring goals and we know they possess a real threat in front of goal.”
None more so than Liam Craig who has scored nine goals so far this season, the same number as Aberdeen’s top marksman, Niall McGinn.
However, if anyone has an insight into how to stop the Hibs midfielder then it should be McInnes who signed the player for St Johnstone six years ago. In fact, Craig might well have ended up at Pittodrie last summer if he hadn’t already signed a pre-contract agreement with the Edinburgh club before McInnes was appointed.
The Aberdeen manager certainly remains an admirer and believes Butcher made another shrewd move by making Craig his captain.
“Liam was my first signing as a manager when I brought him to St Johnstone from Falkirk,” McInnes said. “He was fantastic for me, he contributed seven or eight goals every season and has got even more for Hibs already this year.
“Hibs have given him the added responsibility as captain lately since Terry came in and he’s thriving on that. He’s a very important player for them and Terry has picked up on that very quickly.
“He’s technically very good, with a great left foot and he’s a brilliant team-mate to have in a dressing room.”
McInnes will be forced to make at least one change for the game as Michael Hector has returned to Reading after completing his loan period.
The Aberdeen manager’s forward planning led to him adding Alan Tate to the squad last week to compensate and the on-loan Swansea City defender is expected to make his debut for the club tomorrow night.
Meanwhile, striker Lawrence Shankland has joined Dunfermline on loan for the rest of the season, while fellow youngsters Jamie Masson, Scott Rumsby and Danny Rodgers are also out on loan at Elgin, Stranraer and Airdrie respectively.