Barry Robson is relishing the prospect of welcoming back three key players as Aberdeen bid to bounce back from their 2-1 defeat at Hearts and seal third place in the cinch Premiership.
The Dons saw their five-point advantage over the fourth-placed Jambos chopped to just two with two games remaining after goals from home forwards Josh Ginnelly and Lawrence Shankland overturned Mattie Pollock’s opener for the visitors.
Aberdeen lost 5-0 on their last visit to Tynecastle under previous boss Jim Goodwin in January and Robson took some solace from the fact this defeat – narrower in scoreline – was suffered without captain Graeme Shinnie, talismanic forward Luis ‘Duk’ Lopes and wing-back Ross McCrorie, all of whom are in line to return for Wednesday’s crucial match at home to St Mirren.
“Compared to last time down here, we’re a totally different team now,” said Robson. “The positive for me is we’ve got Shinnie, Duk and McCrorie all to come back.
“It’s not easy to come down here and play without those players. The other boys that came in did well but they’re your experience, your legs and your goals. That’s what we’ve got to look forward to on Wednesday.”
Aberdeen were 10 points behind Hearts in February and despite losing at Tynecastle on Saturday their bid to secure European group-stage football remains in their own hands.
“It’s different questions to what you were asking me three months ago,” said Robson, trying to accentuate the positives. “10 points we were behind. Now two points ahead with two games to go and three top players to come back.
“I’m alright, I’m looking forward to the game on Wednesday.”
Hearts – who have a superior goal difference to Aberdeen – need to pick up two more points than the Dons over the course of the last two games if they are to finish third.
The Jambos visit Rangers on Wednesday before hosting city rivals Hibs on the last day, while the Dons travel to champions Celtic after playing Saints in midweek.
“I think it is an interesting week now,” said Hearts boss Steven Naismith, who took over from the sacked Robbie Neilson last month.
“This win has clawed us back to much closer to Aberdeen than we were before the game.
“We go into the next week with two games again looking to cause more problems than the teams we come up against and give ourselves a chance.
“That is all we can do. From where the team was sitting (when Naismith took charge), the morale, everything, it was really tough to turn around.
“We have done a really good job of doing that, bringing in an attacking style of football which was pleasing for me.”
Hearts have not won away to Rangers for almost nine years but Naismith is confident they can deliver a strong performance at Ibrox on Wednesday.
“We can go and compete for sure, I really believe that,” he said. “Today gives me a lot of confidence in terms of how we were calm, controlled in our possession.”