STUART Armstrong was delighted the other day to learn that his old pal Gary Mackay Steven had scored such a dazzling hat-trick for Aberdeen against Hibernian. He was rather less enamoured about it, however, by the time his former Dundee United and Celtic team-mate had painstakingly recounted it for the umpteenth time.

These two friends will be reunited this weekend as Aberdeen visit the East End of Glasgow in what promises to be an epic six-pointer before the winter break, and let’s just say that Armstrong will never hear the end of it if the 27-year-old from Thurso can conjure something similarly spectacular to secure the points on Saturday.

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“I saw him the other day and he wouldn't stop talking about his hat-trick!” said Armstrong, also back on the scoresheet with a fine opening goal against Partick Thistle in midweek. “As long as he doesn't do that again on Saturday we will be fine.”

Having said that, Armstrong will make sure that Saturday is no old pals’ act. Each player has his own quirks and peculiarities but Armstrong admitted last night that small talk is the last thing on his mind when he takes to the field for club and country.

While some like to lighten the mood with a comment here or there when they come up against a familiar face, Armstrong revealed that such is his focus on the task in hand that he will simply blank Mackay Steven and any other friendly face he comes up against on the day.

“I won't talk to him,” said Armstrong. “I won’t even look at him!

"It is funny, I saw Blair Spittal [Partick Thistle’s former Dundee United midfielder] downstairs and he was making jokes about me, saying that I had ignored him for 90 minutes!" Armstrong added.

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“That is just how I am - I don't like to speak to any friends - I just like to concentrate on the game. Afterwards, I can speak to them or have a joke with them.

“Everyone's different - sometimes people see mates on the pitch and make a few jokes with them, but that is just not me. I like to focus on the game. When I first came here, we played Dundee United straightaway and I didn't say a word to anybody.”

A serious business then. And on the form he showed against Hibernian, Mackay Steven – who left Celtic to sign a two-year deal at Pittodrie in July – could yet be a serious threat. Considering the headlines he has made recently for his misadventures in a Glasgow river, that hat-trick was a timely reminder of exactly what the former Liverpool winger has to offer. He will be crucial to the cause as Aberdeen, having kept hold of Derek McInnes, appear to be picking up momentum and will be desperate to prevent the hosts stretching their pre-break lead to eight points.

“I think you will have seen in the past what a threatening player Gary can be,” said Armstrong. “On that day he scored three, he is a very good player - one we will need to look out for and try to account for. He is one of my closest friends so when somebody you know does well you are always happy for them. I was really pleased to score three and fulfil his potential like that.

“Look, he is a quality player - I have played with him for five years or so and seen his qualities day in day out in training. Sometimes things just don't work out in certain places but he is definitely showing his quality again at Aberdeen.

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“Especially with the winter break coming, they [Aberdeen] will be wanting to get as close as possible. For us, it is about stretching that gap at the top. That is our aim, to get to the winter break with a big gap and then hopefully we can stay up there.”

It is little wonder if Armstrong feels he must avoid all personal distractions and simply focus on getting the best out of himself. While a regular run of games hasn’t always been forthcoming this season, the sweet left-foot strike which opened the scoring against Partick Thistle in midweek was only his fourth goal for his club during this campaign, and his first since early September. While he also grabbed a fine goal for his country in the 3-0 win away to Lithuania, he still has to go some to eclipse last season’s effort of 17. A glut of goals in the second half of the season helped him reach that tally and both player and manager are hoping for the same this time around. In that regard, while Armstrong hesitates when it is put to him that Wednesday’s might be the best goal of his Celtic career, it may yet prove one of his most important.

“I've scored a couple of nice ones but that one really meant a lot to me to find the net again. It was a nice strike and when it went in I had a really nice view of it! For me, scoring goals is the best part about playing football and that is what I enjoy most. To get back on the scoresheet was a really nice moment for me.

“Of course, I wanted to pick up in terms of goals from where I left off last season," he added. "I had a really good return last year so I really wanted to add to that but sometimes in football you go through spells where you don't score so many. I just need to keep believing I can score goals, and keep taking shots. I added one on Wednesday and hopefully I can add more.”