Ryan Hedges departs Aberdeen – a Don’s view
In a January transfer that not only came out of the blue, but which raised a few eyebrows among Wales fans, Ryan Hedges left Aberdeen for Championship high-flyers Blackburn Rovers for an undisclosed fee.
In this blog host of the Scottish Football Forums Podcast and Aberdeen fan, John Bleasdale, reflects on Hedges’ time at Aberdeen.
Ryan Hedges arrived in Aberdeen from Barnsley on a Bosman in June 2019. He left the Tykes after helping them win promotion to the Championship, seemingly taking advice from Danny Ward who had a successful loan spell with the Dons in 2015, before Jurgen Klopp took him back to Liverpool after realising Adam Bogdan was a hopeless number two. As a Dons fan, I’d heard good things about Hedges, and was excited to see what he could bring to a side desperately needing attacking flair.
He began winning the fans over with a fine winning goal against Hearts on the opening day of the Scottish Premiership season, where Aberdeen came from behind to win 3-2. In the opening six league games, he had scored three goals and had two assists to his name as the Dons made a solid start to the season, and Hedges form saw him included in Wales squad for a friendly win over Belarus. Four more assists and one more goal would follow in a five game period between 30 October and 30 November 2019 before things dried up for Hedges, as he was used more sparingly by Derek McInnes in a frustrating time for him. The season was, of course, curtailed by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Season 2020/21 was when Hedges really came into his element as an Aberdeen player. He started the first two games of the season on the bench, but scoring the winning goal against St Johnstone in the second of those games kickstarted his Dons career. A change in formation and style saw Hedges play in a front three with Scott Wright and fellow Welshman Marley Watkins, and Aberdeen became more fluent in their play. Hedges scored his first career hat trick in a 6-0 win over Runavik in the first qualifying round of the Europa League, and directly from a corner against Viking in the next round before they exited the competition to Sporting Lisbon.
In the League, Aberdeen were doing well until the international break in November 2020, with Hedges and Wright in particular taking plaudits for their performances, being dubbed the headband brothers due to their respective choice in headwear. There was also hope that Aberdeen could topple an out-of-sorts Celtic side in the rearranged Scottish Cup Semi Final from the previous season. However, Hedges passed up a glorious opportunity to give the Dons the lead when, in a great shooting position, he tried to cut inside onto his favoured left foot, and the chance had gone. Celtic ended up winning comfortably 2-0 and Aberdeen’s long wait for Scottish Cup glory goes on.
After the international break, things began to unravel for Aberdeen. Watkins picked up a season ending injury, Wright got injured then promptly signed for Rangers, and McInnes reverted to type with turgid football. To compel matters, Hedges suffered a muscle injury of his own in a defeat to Livingston in February 2021, keeping him out until the final three matches and ending any hopes he had of making the Wales squad for the delayed Euro 2020 Finals. By the time he returned, McInnes was replaced as Dons manager by Stephen Glass.
This season, Hedges again started in good form, scoring twice against Breidablik in the second qualifying round of the inaugural UEFA Conference League to set up a playoff against Quarabag. Unfortunately, he picked up a hamstring injury after coming on as a late substitute in a League Cup defeat to Raith Rovers, putting him out of action for nearly two months, and the Dons form nosedived in his absence. Since coming back into the team in October, he’s contributed three goals and four assists, proving his worth to the team, and that form attracted interest elsewhere that saw him inevitably leaving the club. You can’t blame the player for taking the move to a club offering a better salary and in a strong position to challenge for promotion to the Premier League, and Hedges will be happier being closer to his family south of the border.
To summarise Ryan Hedges career at Aberdeen, it’s fair to say that he was one of the most popular players amongst the fans. He was one of the very few in the team who had that creative spark with his ability to run with the ball and create chances for others. In 86 games, he scored 18 goals and had 17 assists, which is a decent return for a player who had injury problems and, at times, not much roundabout him to help when Aberdeen struggled for goals. It will be interesting to see how he gets on at Blackburn and if he is capable of forcing himself into the starting line up on a regular basis or if he’s going to be no more than a squad player. I note he went straight into Rovers’ team playing behind the striker so that bodes well. With Wales having an abundance of wide players, many of whom are in terrific form – Daniel James, Rabbi Matondo, Harry Wilson, Neco Williams, Tom Lawrence and that lad Bale – it will be difficult to break into Robert Page’s Wales squad, but as an Aberdeen fan I hope Ryan Hedges can, and wish him all the best in the next journey in his career.
Follow John Bleasdale on Twitter @jbleasdale81 and the SFF Podcast @sffpodcast
Featured image – Hedges’ celebrating his first Dons goal vs Hearts – courtesy of BBC Sport Scotland