Lawrence Shankland treble keeps Dundee United on full power

Lawrence Shankland  ensures there is no doubt about how many goals he scored in Dundee United's 4-1 win. Picture: SNS
Lawrence Shankland ensures there is no doubt about how many goals he scored in Dundee United's 4-1 win. Picture: SNS
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Only one player was ever going to claim the headlines from 
yet another mighty step by Dundee United in their thunderous march towards a top-flight return.

A hat-trick to move on to 25 goals for the season on an afternoon Celtic’s head of scouting Nicky Hammond was there to assess your talents ensured that outcome for Lawrence Shankland.

Yet, other faces in the frontline for Robbie Neilson’s men at Firhill demand attention. At the weekend, chief among these was American debutant Dillon Powers.

Shankland’s lethal scoring instincts, expertly demonstrated with two goals he both crafted and clattered away, against an initially on-top Partick Thistle, have indisputably underpinned United’s second-tier rampaging.

It is a stomp that means the Tannadice club have the Championship in the bag after opening up a 17-point chasm of a lead over second-placed Inverness Caledonian Thistle, courtesy of ten wins and a draw in their past 11 league outings. Hibernian, Scottish Cup visitors to the Tayside club this Sunday, have been warned.

However, Neilson has been astutely building his squad from a position of strength, and Powers represents an acquisition of the sort the United manager admitted he was surprised at being able to make, the 28-year-old Texan one of the “best midfielders” in the MLS with last club Colorado Rapids, according to his new manager.

The sense in such bold squad construction was borne out by the other major occurrence for United at Firhill – an ankle break that will rule out Nicky Clark for the rest of the season makes him another significant casualty in a period that has forced Neilson to do without Callum Butcher, Paul McMullan and Ian Harkes.

A crucial midfield trio in United’s promotion hyper-drive, their loss opened the door for Powers at the weekend, two weeks after he arrived on these shores, following a two-year period with Orlando City that brought him precious little game time, yet he refuses to see that spell as wasted.

“I look on that experience as being one of the most valuable in my career,” said Powers, pictured.

“When that happens in your career, there is an opportunity to take your foot off the pedal, make excuses and things like that. But for me, it was a period when I learned so much, developed as a player and continued to improve my own standards. Now I’m hoping to reap the benefits of all the work I put in.”

It is always a head-scratcher why American players with no great knowledge of Scottish football would front up to an environment harsh in playing style and climate and the midfielder didn’t have any obvious explanation beyond seeing United as a “professionally run club with ambition and a great locker room”.

Powers recognises he has joined a “well-oiled machine” of a team, a big beast in their set-up that others will want to have a bash at. The physicality of the game for a solid athlete is no issue though.

The most notable Scottish connection for Powers might be an issue to historic United
rivals Aberdeen though. “I went to university in the States and my manager there was Bobby Clark,” he said of the former keeper and now Pittodrie hall of famer. “I really enjoyed my time under him and he would always talk about the Scottish league. He is thrilled for me to be at 
Dundee United.”