Liam Scales insists Aberdeen are intent on putting Hearts’ hopes of finishing third in the Premiership “to bed” on Saturday – just four months after the Dons suffered a 5-0 defeat at Tynecastle.
The Pittodrie side have enjoyed a remarkable turnaround since that debacle under previous boss Jim Goodwin in January and they currently hold a five-point advantage over the Jambos and a six-point lead over Hibernian with three games to play.
A win in Edinburgh this weekend will ensure Hearts cannot catch the Dons and will all but guarantee Barry Robson’s resurgent side will be playing European group-stage football next term, as long as Hibs do not win their last three games and Championship side Inverness do not beat Celtic in the Scottish Cup final.
“We’re a different team now,” said Dons defender Scales. “A lot’s changed since the last time we went to Tynecastle. But we have to respect that they’re a top side, especially at Tynecastle.
“We know exactly what the challenge will be and we’re going to go there and try and win the game and finish third. To have any chance of finishing third, they have to beat us so there is pressure on them. It’s a massive game and I hope it’s going to be a really good game.
“We’re not going there to try and nick a draw, we want to go there and put it to bed. There’s pressure on both teams. With us being ahead, they need to bridge the gap by winning but we’re also focused on winning.”
The Tynecastle showdown has been billed as a £5 million match given the potential rewards for whoever goes into the European group stages.
“As players we’re not really thinking about what’s at stake financially,” said Scales. “We just want to go there and win and finish third because our aim at the start of the season was to finish as close to the top two as we could.
“If we could finish third by winning at the weekend, that will be our goal achieved.
“It is important for the club to make as much money as possible to keep pushing in the right direction but as players our goal is to finish third, which will give the players who are here next season the opportunity to play European football which is where we want to be.”
It remains unclear whether Scales, who is nearing the end of a season-long loan from Celtic, will be at Pittodrie next term.
“Not really,” said the 24-year-old Irishman when asked if there had been any movement regarding his future. “I’m focusing on playing the next two games for myself – obviously there’s three games for the rest of the lads (Scales is ineligible against his parent club on the last day) – and hopefully finishing third and then we’ll take it from there.
“I’ll have a chat with Celtic and with my agent and see what’s best for myself at the end of the season. I don’t think there’s any point thinking about it right now because there are big games coming up. There’s plenty time to sort things out between Celtic and Aberdeen. It’s not on my mind that much at the moment.
“This has been my first season playing regularly in Scotland and I think from the start to now, I’ve learned a lot and improved a lot. I’ve enjoyed it.
“We started well before the World Cup and that was enjoyable and then we went through a patch that was not so enjoyable but you learn a lot from that.
“The last 10 games or so has been brilliant, winning games, keeping clean sheets, shooting up the table. That’s what every footballer wants to be involved in. I’ve taken so much from this year. I really enjoy playing here.”