Hearts' Lawrence Shankland is fitting PFA award winner but Rangers, Celtic and Hibs contribute to underwhelming list

The Jambos talisman is streets ahead of rest – now it is about 30-goal mark and Scotland credentials

Few can argue the award of PFA Scotland Player of the Year to Hearts striker Lawrence Shankland.

The 28-year-old has scored 28 times for the Jambos this season, helping them clinch third place in the Premiership and reach the semi-finals of both the League and Scottish Cups. He has gone from being on the fringes of the Scotland set-up to a near-certainty to be picked by Steve Clarke in his 26-man squad for Euro 2024. His all-round game has improved. He is not just a goalscorer, but a creator, a leader and a talisman. There was a period during this campaign when Shankland was the sole source of Hearts goals. He has kept himself in excellent shape, only missing two matches all season, and Kilmarnock are the only team in the division that he has failed to score against. He will likely land the golden boot for the top flight. His fellow pros could not fail to be impressed.

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Shankland also maintained his levels high during a winter of heightened speculation. Such was his excellent form during the first part of the season, he was linked heavily with a move away from Tynecastle. Rangers were mooted as a likely destination. Hearts slapped a price tag in excess of £5 million on the former Dundee United striker and offered him a series of improved contracts. The player has declined them so far and his future is set to be settled one way or another in the summer. Andrew McKinlay, the Jambos’ chief executive, has never received a concrete bid for Shankland but that will change if he decides his long-term future lies away from the capital. His current deal expires in June 2025.

Lawrence Shankland has scored 28 times for Hearts this season and has been named PFA Scotland Player of the Year.Lawrence Shankland has scored 28 times for Hearts this season and has been named PFA Scotland Player of the Year.
Lawrence Shankland has scored 28 times for Hearts this season and has been named PFA Scotland Player of the Year.

Despite the speculation and, in some places, clamour for Rangers to sign Shankland, such a move earlier in the season appeared fanciful. Firstly, his valuation was high, potentially prohibitively for an Ibrox club that spent big last summer under Michael Beale. The well was essentially dry. Fabio Silva and Oscar Cortes came in on loan, while the transfer fee from Mohamed Diomande will be shelled out at the end of the current campaign. Shankland’s profile does not immediately fit Rangers’ signing model either, given his age. The Ibrox club want sell-on potential and Shankland would very much be a here-and-now striker who is at peak level.

Should Rangers fail to land the Premiership title, however, then some will say that the failure to sign a proven goalscorer has cost them dear. Cyriel Dessers has netted 20 times in his maiden season at Ibrox, on paper a respectable return, and the Nigerian does a lot of grunt work in leading the line that goes unnoticed by many. But what is glaring, however, is the 29-year-old’s lack of composure, something Shankland has shown plenty of times. Too many chances have fallen by the wayside for Dessers, although the ex-Cremonese and Feyenoord man has been forced to shoulder the burden of leading the attack due to Danilo and Kemar Roofe’s injury issues and a lamentable return from Sam Lammers prior to his Utrecht loan. Silva, who has played wide more often than not, is far from a goal machine either.

In truth, this has not been a vintage season for strikers in the Premiership. Shankland has netted 21 times in the top flight and it tells a big story that his nearest challenger is Rangers right-back James Tavernier on 17 goals. Bojan Miovski has shone in an otherwise underwhelming Aberdeen team and sits joint-third on 15 goals alongside Motherwell’s Theo Bair, who has hit a purple patch since the turn of the year, with Celtic playmaker Matt O’Riley on 14 goals alongside Dessers. Celtic’s Kyogo Furuhashi scored twice against Hearts at the weekend but that only takes his tally to 13, with Ross County’s Simon Murray on 12. Hibs have been one of the big underachievers and their top league goalscorer, January arrival Myziane Maolida, has only eight goals to his name. In short, Shankland had very little competition from attacking players for his gong, the absolute stand-out in his field.

The shortlist confirmed as much, Shankland seeing off a midfielder in O’Riley, a defender in Tavernier and Jack Butland for the prize. His most likely challenger was surely the Ibrox goalkeeper. Butland has been the signing of the season, the most impressive stopper in the league and one of the reasons Rangers have bridged the gap with Celtic. He may perhaps feel a tad unfortunate to lose out to Shankland, a man who has scored twice past him. Normally this award is reserved for Old Firm players, the last winner away from the big two being Motherwell’s Michael Higdon in 2013. Shankland is the first Hearts player to be named PFA Player of the Year since its inception in 1978.

Cyriel Dessers has been charged with leading Rangers' line this season.Cyriel Dessers has been charged with leading Rangers' line this season.
Cyriel Dessers has been charged with leading Rangers' line this season.

For Shankland, three matches remain in his quest to hit 30 goals. Dundee, St Mirren and Rangers make up the remainder of Hearts’ fixture list. Then it is the European Championships. Shankland is vying with Che Adams, who is looking to fire Southampton to the Premier League via the play-offs, and QPR’s Lyndon Dykes as the man who leads the Scotland line against Germany on June 14. Shankland was handed a start against Netherlands in March and hit the bar with a presentable chance. Clarke will not hold that against him – he came on as a sub against Northern Ireland and improved Scotland’s frontline just days later – but with just one goal in his past seven matches, now would be an ideal time to find the goalscoring trail once more.



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