When Simon Church was brought in on loan from MK Dons as the January transfer window closed, it marked new thinking by Derek McInnes on how his Aberdeen side would increase their challenge to Celtic in last season’s Ladbrokes Premiership title race.
But McInnes did not bargain on losing star striker Adam Rooney through injury days later, a thigh problem that was to leave him out of action for the remainder of the season, leaving Church – recruited to partner the Irishman – as the Dons’ solitary front man.
It was a blow from which Aberdeen did not fully recover and Celtic capitalised to take the crown while McInnes and his squad were left wondering: “What if?”
So, as the clock ticks down on the start of a new season, McInnes plans to implement his two-strikers plan with Rooney and Jayden Stockley, both with a significant physical presence, as the lead pair, though he also has Miles Storey, the former Swindon Town striker who made a huge impact while on loan to Inverness Caledonian Thistle last term, and Wes Burns ready for action.
Burns, on a season-long loan from Bristol City, scored with his first touch – a header – after coming on for the final moments of Aberdeen’s 3-0 win over FK Ventspils in the Europa League qualifier at Pittodrie last Thursday night.
“Rooney has been so important to us,” McInnes insisted as he looked again to the second leg of that tie in Latvia in four days time.
“That’s 102 or 103 games he’s played for us and scored something like 65 goals. He’s just magnificent to have and he’s been a brilliant signing.
“But I do think I’m going to go with two strikers a lot more this season. I’ve been too dependent on Rooney.
“His injury at the start of February highlighted that.
“We brought in Church to share the load but then it all fell on to him when Adam was injured and out for the season.
“A club like Aberdeen should have more than one or two strikers. Rooney racked up 99 games without injury but you can’t always take that for granted and we’ve got to make sure we’re better equipped.
“Other teams have four strikers. We now have two brilliant wide players in Jonny Hayes and Niall McGinn, we’ve got Storey and Burns who can play off the side.
“And we have Rooney and Stockley, too. So, it’s a good six front players to choose from and they’ve all got different strengths. You see the physical power of Stockley and his ability to finish and we know about Rooney.
“Miles has the ability to work in behind and who’ll be a constant pest for the opposition and Wes who has unbelievable pace, strength and motivation to do well at Aberdeen.
“He feels he should be a Championship player in England and he’s here to show he can be exactly that.”
Indications are that the Rooney-Stockley pairing will be Mcinnes’s first picks for the striking roles and, while the latter is keen to establish himself for the Reds, he is also anxious to prove he is good enough for Engliand’s top tier, despite being off-loaded by Bournemouth at the end of last season.
“Against Ventspils on Thursday night, Adam and Stockley anywhere near the penalty box is a proper partnership,” McInnes insisted.
“You would say with their genuine pace we’d go with either, and Storey and Burns have that, too. So, there are good combinations there and we’re fortunate we’ve been able to bring them in and depending on the opposition and form and formation, we can go with different pairings throughout the season.”
Stockley, meanwhile, sees similarities between McInnes and Eddie Howe, the Cherries’ boss, who has just paid £15 million for winger Jordon Ibe from Liverpool, underlining the difficulties young talent faces to break into England’s Premier League sides.
“When I started off at Bournemouth I just wouldn’t have believed that one day they’d pay £15m for a player,” Stockley said.
“Eddie and Derek McInnes are very similar in their approach. Every manager is different, but I’m getting some very good vibes at Pittodrie and I’ve settled in quickly after being a bit worried at the start at having made such a big jump.
“But it was the right time to make this move and going to Aberdeen was such an exciting prospect when it came up and I grabbed it with both hands. I hope I can now pay the gaffer back because of his interest in me.
“There are a lot of lads in the squad with a lot of qualities who want to start games but there will be a lot of games this season, and plenty more in Europe we hope, and we will need everyone.
“I look forward to Thursday’s game in Latvia and I have aspirations, being only 22, to reach my full potential and I hope I can do that in the Barclays Premier League.”