THE departure of club captain Graeme Shinnie to Derby County in the summer, given Aberdeen’s record without their skipper this season, may have alarm bells ringing among the Pittodrie faithful.

Derek McInnes’s men have lost all three of the games in which they have been without Shinnie in the league this term, but while defender Michael Devlin concedes he will be a big loss to the side, he is certain that they have a player on the books already who can fill his considerable boots when he does head south.

“We have a ready-made replacement in Lewis [Ferguson],” Devlin said. “He has played almost every game and for someone like him so young is so impressive. He has the physique of a man, he conducts himself so well and he has everything you could want to play at the top level.

“I am sure Fergie will be a massive part of what we want to achieve in future. I saw how good he was at Hamilton and I knew his temperament.

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“As a young player breaking through the manager has to know you are capable of handling first team football. He looks like he was born to play at the top level and he thrives in the big games.

“This season he has probably came up with the best moments for us. You think back to the game against Burnley in the Europa League and then Rangers in the Betfred Cup semi-final. For one so young, and his lack of experience in those type of matches, he has really stood up to be counted.

“It would be easy for him with the Ferguson name to get carried away but he doesn’t. The early signs are that he could have a brilliant career.

“I sit next to him in the changing room and he is a man of very few words. He keeps himself to himself. He doesn’t have much of a social life away from the game and that’s great. He is in the gym every single day and working on his game. If he keeps doing that he can get to whatever level he wants to. The gaffer has been great for him and he has a trust in him.”

No matter the personnel in the Aberdeen side next season, Devlin knows that they will face an even tougher test to push the ‘big two’ in the title race than they have in previous years.

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The Pittodrie side have already relinquished their long stranglehold on second place this term, with Rangers seizing that spot, while they have a battle on their hands even to finish third with Kilmarnock currently in the driving seat.

But while losing their ‘best of the rest’ tag was a blow for Devlin and the club, he says they were always up against it when pitted against the budgetary advantages enjoyed by Rangers, who will be runners-up this season.

“It’s easy to overlook that, especially after Aberdeen had finished second for four seasons in a row,” he said. “It becomes the expectation as far as the fans are concerned.

“When you consider the difference in the budgets and the wealth of the two clubs then I think it shows how well we’ve punched above our weight because Rangers are miles ahead in terms of what they spend.

“You only need to look at the fact they brought in Jermain Defoe and Steven Davis in January and what that they’re supposed to be paying them, but we’ll keep working hard to bring European football back to Pittodrie.”