It’s easy to understand why Aberdeen are firmly in favour of the decision to move the League Cup final forward to a date at the end of the year. The schedule switch means they can count on the services of James Maddison, who many believe could hold the key to their chances of success against Celtic in tomorrow’s final.
Scheduled to remain at Pittodrie only until January, the on-loan Maddison could not have timed his sojourn at the club better should it coincide with only a second major honour in 21 years. Norwich City, for whom Maddison has yet to make a league appearance, will welcome the player back at the start of next year.
Whatever happens between now and then – and Aberdeen have not completely ruled out trying to extend his loan deal – the youngster has grabbed the opportunity to make a name for himself in Scottish football with both hands. He has certainly lived up to the verbal promise he delivered on his arrival on transfer deadline day in August “to get fans up off their seats”.
The impact made to date by Maddison, who only turned 20 in midweek, was one of the main topics of discussion when Aberdeen players met reporters earlier this week ahead of tomorrow’s Hampden appointment. Maddison has joined Adam Rooney, Johnny Hayes and Niall McGinn in the list of those Aberdeen players identified by Celtic as potential danger men.
Maddison might not be a teenager any longer but left-back Graeme Shinnie has urged referees to provide better protection for a player booked by Kevin Clancy last Saturday for simulation.
The yellow card has since been rescinded after television evidence proved Maddison, whose trickery means he often draws fouls on the edge of the penalty area, was indeed clipped by Inverness skipper Gary Warren.
“He got fouled about three times in the first half [against Inverness] and I actually said to the ref you need to protect him a bit more than what you are and he just laughed at me and kind of joked about it,” said Shinnie.
“He’s the type of player that’s so tricky he will get tripped and he will get fouled. We know that but if it’s a nasty tackle he obviously needs the protection.”
Shinnie’s latter comment might as well have been tagged with the message: ‘for the attention of John Beaton’. The referee has been selected to take charge of tomorrow’s high-profile clash. “It’s a hard one,” added Shinnie, with reference to the rough treatment Maddison sometimes receives from opposition players. “He’s the kind of player that is going get little nicks and people are going to try and take him down so it’s hard for the refs as well. He just needs to not get hung up on it.”
Strangely,manager Derek McInnes named the £2.5 million rated Maddison on the bench for Aberdeen’s last meeting with Celtic, eventually introducing him near the start of the second half of the 1-0 defeat. It seems inconceivable the Aberdeen manager will opt to do so again tomorrow.
Maddison’s arrival, alongside fellow substitute Rooney, sparked new life into Aberdeen and they were unlucky not to secure a draw against Celtic last month in a lively finale. Maddison played a part in this late burst of pressure on a large pitch likely to suit the energetic midfielder who will need to be carefully monitored by Celtic.
But McInnes didn’t go so far as to warn Beaton to keep opponents in check as they seek to cope with the Englishman. He doesn’t believe Maddison is a marked man. Not yet, at least.
“I’m quite relaxed about it,” said McInnes. “I understand that he’s going to get kicked. He’s somebody who takes the ball in tight areas. He draws people towards them. He’s going to get kicked.
“You just don’t want it to go above and beyond, but I don’t think it has been that. I’m quite comfortable. I don’t think it has been over-zealous or that he’s been on the wrong side of too much (rough) treatment.
“It’s something that he deals with. He just gets up and the majority of time just gets on with it and he gets kicked again. That’s because of the type of player he is. People recognise that if he gets too much time and space he can hurt you. People have to try and do their jobs as well.”
McInnes has no qualms about Maddison being able to handle such a high-pressure occasion as tomorrow having had the dubious pleasure of witnessing the player’s initiation test after arriving at Pittodrie in late summer. With his future team-mates and new manager in attendance, the then teenager belted out Hero by Enrique Inglesias. Neither the choice of song nor performance marked him out as someone lacking self-confidence.
“He would have made judges’ houses in X Factor,” recalled McInnes. “He was absolutely brilliant. It was like Justin Bieber out there singing. He brought the house down. He’s a very confident boy.
“In any sort of situation, he’s very mature, very able, very confident in himself,” he added. “He carries himself well. That will serve him well. He’s going to have a top career. There’s a fine line between being confident and over-confident, he’s got it spot on.”