Robbie Neilson watched Lawrence Shankland sink Inverness with a four-goal salvo and admitted it was a far sweeter feeling than the striker’s last goalscoring spree at Tannadice.
Shankland enjoyed a dream Championship debut for Dundee United as his hat-trick of headers inside 53 minutes – allied to an 86th-minute strike – showed just why the Tayside club were so intent on luring him to Tannadice.
Shankland famously hit four goals for Ayr in a 5-0 thumping of United at Tannadice last November, but this time his manager was left beaming following their destruction of John Robertson’s men, who had briefly levelled though Tom Walsh.
Neilson said: “We chased Lawrence all summer. That’s the reason we were delighted to get him. When you put the ball in that area, he will put it in the back of the net.
“It’s nice to see him do that and be on the winning side – not on the receiving end like we were last season. Seriously, I’m just thrilled for him. It gets him off the mark and it’s a real statement. I was just as happy for the whole team. They were exceptional.”
There was a buoyant atmosphere inside Tannadice, although it was their Highland visitors who came close to breaking the deadlock. Jordan White found space down the left and his cross was met by James Keatings, whose close-range shot come crashing back off the post.
Then, at the other end, United striker Louis Appere was sent clean through but Jamie McCart somehow got back to foil the danger.
However, the hosts didn’t have to wait much longer to get themselves ahead. Appere worked his magic with a quick turn and cross for Shankland to bullet his downward header into the bottom corner past visiting keeper Mark Ridgers.
But the Highlanders drew level on the half-hour mark. This time Keatings’ corner was nodded towards goal by McCart, forcing Benjamin Siegrist to palm his effort on to the underside of the bar. The rebound fell kindly for Walsh, who did just enough to bundle home to spark celebrations among the tiny band of travelling supporters.
United, though, regained the lead inside a minute. Paul McMullan ran down the right and crossed for Shankland to head home from six yards.
Shankland sealed the points within eight minutes of the restart. Again, Appere was the provider with another impeccable delivery for his strike partner to send a header back across helpless Ridgers.
And the fans’ favourite wasn’t finished. With just four minutes left, Shankland turned inside the box and angled a low finish past Ridgers to make him the darling of the home fans.