Scott McKenna 'catalyst' for Aberdeen youngsters, says Derek McInnes
Scott McKenna has been the "catalyst" for inspiring Aberdeen's other younger players, says manager Derek McInnes.
Midfielder Dean Campbell, 17, made his first Dons start in the midweek Scottish Cup quarter-final replay victory over Rangers, while McKenna, 22, marshalled the defence.
The centre-half has also established himself in the Scotland squad.
"McKenna has shown what can be done," McInnes said before Saturday's home match against Livingston.
"We've had plenty of youngsters playing before, but were they good enough to sustain a place in a successful Aberdeen team? No. What has changed is that we have had some better youngsters and some more mature performances from younger ones and it gives everybody confidence.
"Scott McKenna has been the catalyst to all of that. It has given others the encouragement and confidence to go and try and be that person as well, and try and be that important player.
"It is easy to get into an Aberdeen team and play on the periphery and play minutes here and there, but it is not easy to stay in the team because of what is expected so it gives me great pleasure to see so many of the younger ones this season step up and show their capabilities, but the challenge for them is to sustain it."
Third-placed Aberdeen return to Scottish Premiership business on Saturday with Kilmarnock a point behind McInnes' men and Rangers eight ahead in second. The eventual runners-up and third-placed team will go into next season's Europa League qualifiers.
"I'm just looking at trying to win the game and trying to secure European football as quickly as possible," added the Pittodrie boss.
"Although we have qualified every year, there have been times we have done it with plenty to spare, even before the split, and I think this year we are going to have to work for it, so you would never give up chasing the team above you until it is mathematically impossible.
"We have a figure of points we want to try and attain, and if we attain it I think we will be playing in Europe next year and we will be there or thereabouts for that second spot."