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There was a moment as Aberdeen lost their way at home to Rangers in the 3-2 defeat back in December which might just have been the one which cost Jim Goodwin his job – even though it might not have been obvious at the time.

There were, of course, the great big headliners that precipitated his demise such as a thrashing at Hearts, then a humiliating Scottish Cup exit to Darvel and a similarly gut-wrenching embarrassment in the 6-0 disembowelment at Hibernian.

This particular glitch was more imperceptible than those cringe-inducing performances but nevertheless it was one that set a negative spiral in motion. Aberdeen were 2-1 in front and in a relatively stress-free status despite their narrow advantage at Pittodrie. They had caused Rangers problems on the counterattack all evening and were finding that alleviating pressure against their visitors' toil in the forward areas was a less than onerous task. Luis 'Duk' Lopes, Aberdeen's Cape Verde striker, was providing a release valve to the rising pressure being exerted by Rangers. 

And, then, there was the fourth official holding up the digital substitutes' board with the No.11 illuminated on it. That was the signal for the Duk to come off the pitch to rapturous applause. The diminutive attacker had been a constant menace to Michael Beale's backline, scoring a blistering knuckleball of a free-kick and causing confusion in attack prior to Leighton Clarkson's goal that put the hosts ahead. With his powerful, dynamic running, Duk had stretched and pulled Rangers into an amorphous shape. More importantly, he had provided Aberdeen with a welcome out-ball on constant occasions which allowed the men in red shirts to get up the pitch. That luxury disappeared with Duk's removal.


Goodwin had sought to stiffen Aberdeen up with the more defensively minded Jonny Hayes but, instead, he ceded territorial advantage to the visitors and it became a case of when not, if, Rangers would score. And, of course, they did – twice.

It was a night when a victory could have provided a narrative changer for Goodwin but instead the manner of defeat just became another stick to beat the Irishman with as a long line of miserable performances queued up to hit him over the head.

If that showed the more subtle role an attacker can play in a defensive sense, Duk's contributions in front of the opposition's posts could hardly be more obvious.

His opening goal in the 3-1 win over Dundee United at the start of the month has gone viral due to the impudence of his back-heeled finish but the goal also showcased his upper body strength and ability to outmuscle defenders who might believe they have a size and weight advantage. That strike was his 13th of an increasingly productive season that also has yielded four assists. Not only has it brought curious admirers to view the goal on social media but there is now said to be tangible interest in the 23-year-old from clubs in England. His signing is a triumph for the club's scouting policy given that he was secured for free from Benfica last summer with the Portuguese giants due 50 per cent of any future sell on. Whichever you dice it, it's an absolute masterstroke by Darren Mowbray, the head of recruitment at Pittodrie. 

Suddenly a season that had been lurching towards abject misery for Aberdeen, now has a lighter air to it. Barry Robson has steadied the ship following Goodwin's sacking in January. This afternoon, the Dons host Hearts knowing that a victory would take them to within four points of the Tynecastle outfit in third place and the feelgood factor among Aberdeen fans would reach levels which seemed unimaginable little more than a couple of weeks back. 

Which is great news for Duk because he much prefers it when those supporters are giving the team their backing rather than a barracking. 

“As a player, when you get the backing that I do from the fans, it gives you a lot more confidence when you go onto the pitch,” he tells the latest edition of Red Matchday Magazine. “And confidence is a big thing for any player. When you have a good relationship with the fans it is very special. They help me do unbelievable things. I think it has happened to me every game. I go onto the pitch with the confidence, with the support behind me.”

The only downside in this special relationship? It might be over before it really gets started. Those lurking clubs won't remain on the sidelines for ever.