Leighton Clarkson scored his sixth goal of an outstanding loan at Aberdeen on Wednesday, his inch-perfect free-kick helping seal European football.
As recently as the end of January, Aberdeen looked a way off their target of finishing at the top of the chasing pack behind Celtic and Rangers.
Manager Jim Goodwin was sacked after a humiliating 6-0 loss to Hibernian which left his side seventh in the 12-team Scottish Premiership – days after defeat to sixth-tier Darvel, the club’s worst-ever loss.
But with Barry Robson appointed in February, Aberdeen have now lost just four of their last 14 games, including nine victories, clinching third spot.
Wednesday night saw the club win their first of four games since the top-six split, but a 3-0 victory over Hibernian was enough to ensure a place in next season’s Europa Conference League qualifiers.
Clarkson got Aberdeen off to a perfect start in the 14th minute, his stunning free-kick giving goalkeeper Tom Carson no chance as it bent into the top corner.
Hibernian defender Thierry Small was then sent off on the half-hour, with Graeme Shinnie’s double either side of half-time securing the three points.
The goal was Clarkson’s sixth of the season, with the 21-year-old also assisting nine goals in his 37 appearances for the club so far.
Saturday’s trip to Celtic could prove to be his last outing for Aberdeen, though his future remains up in the air ahead of a return to Liverpool this summer.
Clarkson has just one year left on his contract with the Reds, and turning 22 in October it seems unlikely that he will now remain as a first-team option.
Interestingly, the Press and Journal‘s Sean Wallace reports that Aberdeen are “keen to secure Clarkson on a permanent deal in the summer window.”
However it is noted that this “would require a fee,” with the club’s biggest-ever signing being Paul Bernard for £1 million in 1995.
In recently years, Aberdeen have largely brought in loanees and free transfers, and it seems unlikely that Liverpool would allow Clarkson to depart without receiving payment.
Both Celtic and Rangers have been touted with an interest in the youngster in recent months, along with clubs in the Football League, suggesting there could be competition for his signature.
If Clarkson had his way, it seems he would prefer to stay at Aberdeen, telling fans “I’ll see you in Europe.”
Elsewhere on Wednesday night, Liverpool defender Luke Chambers helped keep the fifth clean sheet of his time at Kilmarnock, as they beat Dundee United 3-0.