If it’s (almost) January, it must mean speculation surrounding Lawrence Shankland. The striker is learning to live with it.
He knows he can expect such interest to intensify after the 2019 he has enjoyed. Not only has he scored 21 goals for Dundee United already this season, he also ends the year as a Scotland player.
Reports claim Les Ferdinand, the former Spurs striker and current Queens Park Rangers director of football, was at Tannadice to watch him play in the 1-1 draw with Dundee on Friday night. Unusually, he did not score and is still seeking full match fitness after a niggling groin injury.
That isn’t likely to put off suitors but Shankland, pictured inset, has stressed he won’t be distracted. He is focused on leading United to the Championship title while also helping Scotland to a major finals. He already has enough on his plate.
“I just keep concentrating really,” he said. “There’s nothing I can do about that. Speculation always happens. Coming into January it’s always the same with rumours everywhere. But I’ll be fully focused on my work here and we’ve got a lot of tough games coming up in January that we need to win and that’ll set us up in a good position if we can win them all.”
January might represent the start of trading for some clubs. For Shankland, it is the month for regaining his peak sharpness. United have four important fixtures, including a televised Scottish Cup tie against Hibs. The striker is aware he must continue scoring to maintain his place in Steve Clarke’s Scotland plans for the play-off clash with Israel in March. Shankland did not feature in the last Scotland game against Kazakhstan after picking up an injury that saw him miss two United matches too. But he scored in the earlier 6-0 win v San Marino and his poaching instincts will be useful in the Israel knock-out clash.
“When you get a taste of it, you want to be involved,” he said, having won two caps since making his debut in Moscow against Russia. “You need to just try and keep your performances up. I had a wee injury and I’m just trying to get back from that. I’ve probably not hit the levels I’ve been at beforehand but I just need to keep grafting away and the match sharpness will come. If I can get back scoring most weeks then I’ll be quite happy and give myself the best chance.”
United remain his priority. The Tannadice side are now 14 points clear at the top of the Championship – one point more than the lead currently enjoyed by Liverpool in the English Premier League, something most commentators are agreed means Jurgen Klopp’s side are champions-elect. Shankland claims it’s not quite as straightforward for United, with two tricky away games to come against Queen of the South and Partick Thistle. “We don’t concentrate on the table but you do know how far ahead you are” he said. “It would be daft to say we don’t. We know that if we keep picking up points and nobody’s making ground on us then we’ll be alright.”
While comparisons with Liverpool are welcome, the Scottish Championship is very different. United are not yet good enough to take anything for granted. “I think our league is a lot closer in terms of the calibre of the teams in it,” he said. “Everybody is round about the same and on their day can give everyone problems. It’s definitely not a done title yet.”