Callum Paterson admits Hearts face a tough task to curb the threat of an Aberdeen team he views as their most dangerous opponents so far this season.
The Dons ran riot in the first half of September’s Tynecastle showdown between the sides as they rattled in three goals before the break on their way to a 3-1 win. Hearts have responded positively by going unbeaten in their eight league matches since then and will arrive at Pittodrie for today’s lunchtime kick-off looking to close to within a point of second-place Aberdeen.
Paterson, however, knows it will require a strong performance from his third-place side to ensure their undefeated sequence continues beyond their visit to the Granite City. “It’s a massive game, probably our biggest game of the season,” he said. “In the last match they turned us over at Tynecastle and we want to rectify that and see if we can get a result up there.
“They are our main rival for the high position in the league and they’re the best team we’ve faced this season. I’ve played against loads of good teams this season, but Aberdeen have been the best. The way they move the ball, they are a fast team, an attacking team and they score a lot of goals.
“They have Adam Rooney up there scoring all the time, Niall McGinn and Jonny Hayes deliver balls into the box every two seconds. They have options too – David Goodwillie came in against us and they have a good, young squad. They’re a good team and can mix and match it.”
That victory at Tynecastle took then leaders Aberdeen nine points clear of Hearts. However, the Dons then went on a five-game run without a win, which allowed the Edinburgh side to close the gap to four points with a game in hand. Paterson isn’t surprised that Derek McInnes’ team were unable to sustain their blistering start to the season in which they won each of their first eight league games. “It’s hard to keep that level of consistency throughout the whole season,” he said. “They started off really well, top notch, but blips of form happen and I’m sure they will be looking to be great against us. We didn’t do ourselves justice in the last game. They were on a very good run of form and were flying at the time and did well, beating us at our own game. We’ll have to change our game plan and see if we can beat them.”
Aberdeen and Hearts have both endured difficult periods over the past decade, and Paterson believes it is beneficial to Scottish football to have two of its biggest clubs simultaneously competing at the top end of the Premiership once again. “It’s good for Scottish football,” he said. “You have teams that aren’t even part of the Premiership that we could do with having in the league but the teams that are here now are doing a great job for Scottish football.”
Paterson knows a victory at Pittodrie would stand Hearts in good stead as they chase a return to the European stage. The 20-year-old right-back sampled continental competition in his breakthrough season when he started both legs of the 2-1 aggregate defeat by Liverpool in the Europa League in 2012. That remains the last time the Tynecastle side competed in Europe.
“Everybody wants to play in Europe – that is one of the biggest stages,” said Paterson. “You want to play for the national team, in the Champions League and World Cups and then the Europa League is up there as one of the biggest competitions in the world as well. We have cups to win and we will try and do well in them but we have to focus on doing well in the league if we want to play in Europe.
“I played against Liverpool when we went down to Anfield and it was just a great experience. We didn’t go in there thinking we were going to beat Liverpool but the way we played, we only got beat 2-1 and all the stars were playing, like Gerrard, Suarez and Sterling. It was great to have the experience of that.”