It’s no surprise then that Lawrence Shankland is being touted as the man to lead Scotland’s attack in the Euro 2020 play-offs.
Lee McCulloch, the assistant head coach at Tannadice, has watched the striker at close quarters and argues that the Championship leaders’ top scorer must now be at the top of national manager Steve Clarke’s shortlist when it comes to starting against Israel in the semi-final at Hampden on 26 March.
The 24-year-old notched a hat-trick in Saturday’s 4-1 away win over Partick Thistle – the third time this season he has scored three goals or more in a game – and McCulloch contends that scoring against San Marino in his first Scotland start three months ago has strengthened the striker’s case for national service.
“I think that gave him extra confidence,” he said. “Every footballer in the world needs more confidence and, when he came back from those Scotland games...I wouldn’t say there was a swagger about him but there was added belief and our other players took something from it too because they now have an international star as a team-mate.
“So the experience was good all-round for everyone and great exposure for the club.”
Clarke is short of options up front and McCulloch argues that Shankland offers more of a threat to opponents than his rivals, claiming that he will thrive on the pressure.
“Absolutely, as long as he has the right players round about him,” said the former Rangers player. “I think he would suit the system Steve Clarke wants to use with the national team. His form this season has been excellent and he also has one goal from two appearances so he deserves to be in the squad.
“Basically, any Scot who’s scoring regularly should be included. I see Lawrence as offering something different from the others, anyway. Steven Naismith is fantastic but he’s had injuries, Leigh Griffiths isn’t yet fully fit and Oli McBurnie’s been doing it for Sheffield United but Lawrence is something else again.
“He’s a more natural goalscorer than McBurnie, thanks to his movement and his clinical finishing. He’s also added work-rate – which wasn’t always there a few years ago – to his game. Credit to him because he’s wanted to get better.”
United, 17 points clear in the second tier, already appear nailed on to return to the Premiership after a four-year absence, but McCulloch made it clear they have no intention of selling their free-scoring talisman, particularly when Hibernian are due to visit Tannadice in the fourth round of the William Hill Scottish Cup on Sunday.
“It’s important that we keep him – I’d be staggered if bids don’t come in for him this month and even both halves of the Old Firm must be interested in him due to the goals return he has,” he said. “We want to keep him as long as possible.”