Peter Pawlett polled over 60 per cent of the votes to win the William Hill Scottish Cup fifth round Goal of the Month award for his decisive strike against Celtic last month.
Although well executed, he admits the goal may have earned recognition as much for its significance as its quality – particularly as Grant Anderson’s impressive back-header for Raith Rovers against Hibs finished in second place.
But Pawlett is relishing the renown that is building around him as he continues to establish himself as a player to watch. Aberdeen fans have now even devoted a song to him, to the tune of the Human League’s Don’t You Want Me.
It is all very different to last season, when it was mostly notoriety that Pawlett attracted after a series of simulation offences that were captured by the television cameras. Now managers are warning their defenders to look out for him for a different reason. One high-profile manager in particular was quick to spot the qualities of the 23-year-old.
Pawlett recalled being taken into Aberdeen assistant manager Tony Docherty’s office shortly after the start of this season: “He showed me an interview with Neil Lennon where he was saying: ‘I like Pawlett, he is a good player’. It made me think that maybe I am the kind of player teams need to watch.
“There’s been a few games this year when players have followed me around all day and I’ve hardly managed to get a touch of the ball,” he added.
One of the main reasons for this increased level of wariness is that Pawlett has added goals to his game. Prior to this season, he had only ever scored one senior goal. Already during this campaign he has struck seven times – including that winning goal at Celtic in the last round, which set Aberdeen on course for this afternoon’s quarter-final clash with Dumbarton. Now he is targeting at least three more goals between now and what he hopes will be a Scottish Cup final appointment back at Parkhead in May.
“It’s something the manager [Derek McInnes] has spoken to me about as he’s keen to see me adding more goals to my game,” Pawlett added. “I’m happy with how it’s gone but I’d love to get to double figures.”
Aiding him in this ambition is that he is playing in a more central position.
“Earlier this season I was playing off Calvin Zola and then Scott Vernon came in and he set me up for a few goals,” he said. “Now Adam Rooney is up there and he provides space, which gives me opportunities. Everyone I have played with has helped create chances for me.”
Pawlett’s winner against Celtic was an opportunistic one, however. He did well to steer a left-footed shot into the net after Rooney’s lay-off. Of the seven goals he has scored so far, six have been with his left foot and one with his head. This is strange considering he is a right-footed player.
“In training Tony Docherty keeps telling me to stick to my left and I will score,” he said. “It does seem to be that way. Maybe I need to start working on my right!”
Pawlett can’t recall too much about the aftermath of his Parkhead strike. A blow to the head received shortly afterwards curtailed his involvement in the game. “I was meant to be doing an interview with the television folk after the game, but instead I was in the toilet being sick,” he recalled.
That is better than being left out in the cold completely, something he feared in the summer after a season when he spent some time on loan with St Johnstone before returning to the Aberdeen side from January onwards.
A change of manager prompted Pawlett to wonder whether he had a long-term future at the Pittodrie club. Team-mates were departing, some who, like Pawlett, were still under contract.
But McInnes quickly soothed his worries on that front. “He told me it was going to be a big season for me,” he recalled. “The manager gave me an opportunity and I think I have done all right, although there is still more to come from me.
“There were fears, though,” he added. “Going on loan at St Johnstone helped me. I played ten games on the trot and I was getting 90 minutes and doing all right. That gave me a boost and I got it in my head that I was capable of doing that because, up to then, it seemed I would play a game and then get injured. The loan provided me with the confidence I could play on a regular basis.”
But Pawlett admits it was a “worrying time” as he waited to hear if McInnes had plans for him. After coming on as substitute in the first game of the season against Kilmarnock, he has become a regular starter – and the goals have started to come too. “For some reason I really enjoyed my first goal of the season against Partick Thistle,” he said, when asked if the award-winning strike at Celtic was his own personal favourite. Another one this afternoon would be timely as Aberdeen seek to progress past Dumbarton.
Pawlett played all 120 minutes and then scored one of the penalties when Aberdeen finally overcame the challenge of Alloa in the League Cup earlier this season, so he knows how difficult Championship sides can make it for top-tier opposition.
“After the Alloa game, a few of the boys were saying we would probably go on and win it this year, it was that kind of game,” he said. Whether or not they do so will be revealed next Sunday against Inverness Caledonian Thistle. But first it is Dumbarton who will be out to halt Pawlett’s progress.