DEREK McINNES, the Aberdeen manager, and his right-hand man, Tony Docherty, were last night described as a coaching team capable of pushing Celtic all the way in the SPFL Premiership this season and cultivating hopes at Pittodrie of a first league title triumph in 30 years.
Josh Magennis left Aberdeen in the summer to move to Kilmarnock on a free transfer and came up against his former club on Wednesday night as they ran out 2-0 winners at Rugby Park. Despite being farmed out on loan to St Mirren by McInnes during the second half of last season, the Northern Irishman admires the way that the Aberdeen manager has revitalised the club since winning the League Cup last term. Magennis believes, too, that they will mount a serious challenge for the title over the coming months.
"Derek and Tony came in and brought a stability, confidence and an arrogance that Aberdeen had been missing," said Magennis. "Before they arrived, people looked at playing Aberdeen and turning them over. They did not show them the respect they deserve, but Derek and Tony brought that back.
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"I have no doubt they will be challenging for the title this season, never mind finishing second. Derek has done his homework over the close-season and he'll be going for the top.
"They have signed quality throughout the team. That, coupled with what they had, gives them good depth and a mix of young and old."
Should Aberdeen have even the slightest chance of winding the clock back to 1985 and winning the Premiership title, though, they will need their major performers to take their careers to new levels entirely. Peter Pawlett is one man already dealing with increased levels of expectation in the wake of becoming the darling of the Aberdeen support last term. Indeed it was his finely-executed goal which paved the way for that much-needed victory at Kilmarnock.
The 23-year-old accepts he is no longer a raw recruit and that it is time for him to deliver regularly. Pawlett insists that putting himself on the scoresheet more regularly is his primary target.
"I feel more responsibility but I like that," said Pawlett. "The manager puts that responsibility on to me. I do have to score more, help the team more and play the full 90 minutes. I've got to knuckle down and put in the performances because, if you don't, you'll get singled out."
Ryan Jack is another player who scored at Kilmarnock and appears ready to take a significant step forward in his career. An excellent performer for Aberdeen over the course of last season as they finished third in the league and reached the Scottish Cup semi-finals in addition to securing a trophy, Pawlett believes the midfielder should be edging ever closer to gaining a regular place in Gordon Strachan's Scotland set up.
"Since a young age, [Jack] has shown maturity," said Pawlett. "Like me, he has said himself that he needs to add goals to his game. If he keeps performing the way he is, though, I don't see any reason why he can't be a Scotland contender."
Magennis, of course, has challenges to confront as Kilmarnock, with the task of securing a regular first-team place his first objective. Former Hearts striker Michael Ngoo is expected to confirm his arrival on a free transfer today and the Englishman will add to the competition that exists at Kilmarnock, with Tope Obadeyi having already arrived on a three-year contract in the summer.
Alexei Eremenko is also back among the forwards at Rugby Park and Magennis is confident that he can strike up a profitable partnership with the Finland internationalist.
"I've already told Eremenko I'm expecting 10 assists this season," said Magennis. "He can turn you in a phone box and he's only half-fit. He's the type of player who can split a defence with one pass and I just hope I'm there to capitalise on it."