All eyes will be on SPL hotshots Leigh Griffiths and Niall McGinn on Sunday as Hibs and Aberdeen battle it out at Pittodrie, seeking those precious three points which will help keep them in the chase for second place.
It’s little wonder the fans of both sides will look to them for the goals, Griffiths having claimed 15 for Pat Fenlon’s side, while Dons ace McGinn, thanks to a strike for Northern Ireland as they drew 1-1 away to Portugal in a World Cup qualifying match, has notched one more than his rival.
Today, though, former Hibs and Aberdeen hitman Steve Cowan admitted he wouldn’t be in the slightest surprised if Griffiths and McGinn find themselves upstaged by one of their team-mates.
Cowan, who was top scorer in Scotland with the Easter Road outfit in 1985-86 having won the league title with Aberdeen the previous season, said: “It’s only natural the focus will be on Griffiths and McGinn considering the amount of goals they’ve each scored so far, but how often in that sort of situation is it someone else who emerges the hero?
“I’ve liked what I’ve seen of Eoin Doyle, for example, although he still has a bit more to go to become a regular scorer. He’s shown he can get goals and scored at Pittodrie earlier in the season. From Aberdeen’s point-of-view, Johnny Hayes is a danger, while Scott Vernon is always capable of getting a goal. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone other than Griffiths and McGinn nicks in with a goal.”
While that may, or may not, prove to be the case, Cowan insisted no-one could help but be impressed by the strike-rate of both Griffiths and McGinn, the former Celtic winger having stunned everyone with his prowess in front of goal this season, having been deployed through the middle rather than out wide by Dons boss Craig Brown.
He said: “McGinn has been something of a revelation. His career didn’t really get going at Celtic and sometimes when you go to a lower league side like Brentford it can be a case of out of sight, out of mind. Craig, to his credit, kept tabs on him through his contacts and obviously saw something in him which convinced him there was a goalscorer in there.
“All strikers thrive on the confidence which comes from scoring goals and he’s hit a couple of scoring streaks. As long as his team-mates provide those opportunities, then he’ll expect to get more.
“He appears to be someone who gets into that area between six and ten yards, the penalty spot, so Hibs will have to be careful they don’t let too many crosses into that area and don’t let him get on the end of second balls.”
Fenlon’s players will, no doubt, need no second warning, with McGinn having scored in each of this season’s previous encounters between the sides – both games were won by a single goal by the Pittodrie club – although the Dons will equally be conscious of Griffiths’ potency from range, a fact underlined by a trademark free-kick which salvaged a point for Hibs from their match with basement side Dundee last weekend.
Cowan was at Easter Road to witness Griffiths’ latest stunner at first hand, but he insisted the on-loan Wolves star’s team-mates need to provide a better supply to him, something he feels will improve with the return of midfielder Paul Cairney after a one-match suspension.
He said: “I didn’t think Griffiths got a lot of service. There wasn’t a lot of width to Hibs’ play and so he suffered from a lack of opportunities although, to me, he is a more natural goalscorer than McGinn.
“Having Cairney back will help in that regard. He can go outside or come in onto his right foot and play give-and-goes with Griffiths and with David Wotherspoon on the other flank, that should give Hibs a bit more width and help them get crosses in.”
Although both Hibs and Aberdeen are enjoying far better seasons than they did last time round, they’ve found themselves struggling for consistency over the course of the past couple of months, slipping a little off the pace being set by Inverness and Motherwell in that race for second place.
Even so, however, Cowan feels they’d both be content with a point on Sunday. He said: “If you look at the whole of the league, all the squads are pretty equal, everyone is capable of beating each other on their day as we’ve seen virtually on a weekly basis.
“Hibs and Aberdeen will both be going for the three points although it will be interesting to see how the Dons react to the thumping they got in Inverness last weekend. The two matches earlier this season were very tight, just one goal in it on each occasion, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Sunday was a draw.
“Both clubs finished bottom six last season so to make the top six and perhaps even Europe would be a good achievement. Pat Fenlon and Craig will be looking to win, but they’ll also be looking for another game without defeat, a chance to build a bit of momentum.”