Aberdeen v Hearts preview: Tough encounter ahead on opening day
Uche Ikpeazu and Scott McKenna in action last season. (Photo by Alan Rennie/GettyImages)

Short of a game against Rangers, it’s hard to see the fixture computer coming up with a tastier SPFL opening game at Pittodrie than a visit from Hearts.

Plenty of atmosphere

Recent clashes between the two sides have produced few high scoring games, but plenty of atmosphere. Aberdeen fans are never entirely happy with the Tynecastle outfit’s aggressive style and will be looking for the home side to go toe-to-toe with them. Expect to see a constant stream of hard tackles, complaints and yellow cards. In addition, there is little love lost between managers Derek McInnes and Craig Levein, while the retirement of Kris Boyd leaves a vacancy for a pantomime villain among the Pittodrie support; either Steven Naismith or Christophe Berra seems the most likely to fit the bill. With the Edinburgh men always bringing a creditably large support north with them, expect a decent atmosphere on Sunday.

For the Dons, Greg Leigh’s hugely impressive European debut on Thursday makes him an almost certain starter, while injuries to Mikey Devlin and Ash Taylor means the rest of the defence picks itself. Sam Cosgrove will surely continue upfront, while the sight of Jon Gallagher limping through the closing stages on Thursday may mean a home debut for Craig Bryson. Connor McLennan and Curtis Main remain unavailable for Aberdeen, although both were in any case highly unlikely to trouble the starting line up. Niall McGinn may be spared three starts in seven days, giving a possible opportunity for Scott Wright on the wing.

The aforementioned Naismith has finally completed his permanent move to Gorgie but has not played first-team football since February. With a mere 60 minutes of pre-season action under his belt, we’re unlikely to see him from the start. While new signing Jamie Walker will start and highly rated teenager Aaron Hickey may well feature at least from the bench, new signing Connor Washington is unlikely to recover in time from an eye injury sustained on Betfred Cup duty. The Jambos will also be without hugely influential midfielder Peter Haring

Predicted line-ups:

Aberdeen

Lewis, Leigh, Considine, McKenna, Logan, Bryson, Ferguson, Ojo, Hedges, Cosgrove, Wright

Hearts

Zlamal, Souttar, Halkett, Berra, Smith, Bozanic, Clare, Mulraney, McDonald, Walker, Ikpeazu,

Key clash: Halkett/Berra/Souttar vs Sam Cosgrove

With Aberdeen expecting to dominate possession on Sunday, it may be a case of the highly-rated Hearts centre-back line looking to secure at least a point by snuffing out the danger posed by Cosgrove. The Englishman’s hat-trick against Chikhura on Thursday will have the former Wigan man full of confidence, although he will frankly face a step up in class facing any of the former, current or (surely) future Scotland men. With the Dons heavily reliant on Cosgrove for goals already this season, Hearts will be looking to keep him quiet.

What the managers have said:

While Aberdeen boss McInnes has admitted that he expects further bids for centre-back Scott McKenna before the English transfer window closes, he has also braced himself to expect interest in in-form striker Cosgrove. McInnes told reporters; "We can maybe talk about his form once the window shuts. I think for now we'll just try and keep that to ourselves but he's in brilliant form."

His opposite number in the away dugout, meanwhile, has told Hearts TV of his desire for an opening day three points. Levein stated, “We’ll see if we can go up there and get three points. That is the gameplan.” 

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