In the world of football, few sights are as refreshing as witnessing a striker in their prime racking up a bagful of goals with frightening consistency. The net ripples, the fans erupt in a cacophony of joy, and the team’s fortunes can be transformed in an instant. One man in the Scottish top flight has been able to achieve this, leaving fans and pundits alike in awe of his goalscoring exploits this season. That man is Hearts striker Lawrence Shankland.
The current Hearts skipper is topping the SPFL scoring charts with 14 goals after a 24-goal haul in the previous campaign, four above James Tavernier, Matt O’Riley, Abdallah Sima and Bojan Miovski. Shankland has scored eight goals in his last eight, including a brace against St. Mirren, and after closing out January with a goal in their 2-0 win against Aberdeen, he’ll be looking to lead Hearts to a fifth win on the bounce on Saturday at Dundee FC.
This rich vein of form has seen him outshine his counterparts from the traditional big two of Scotland and has also led to him becoming the subject of interest from clubs in England, France, Germany as well as on the domestic scene, with Rangers looking to take the Scotland international to Glasgow. Shankland’s renaissance has been all the more impressive considering that he struggled to keep Dundee United, his previous club, in the Scottish Premiership a couple of seasons ago.
A change in coaching staff or tactical approach can often rejuvenate a player’s career, and in Shankland’s case, Steven Naismith’s arrival seems to have had a profound impact. Naismith’s switch from a 4-3-2-1 to a wide 3-5-2 has brought the best out of the former Ayr United forward, who has led Hearts to seven wins and a draw vs. Ross County in their last eight matches.
We have officially reached the halfway point of the Scottish Premiership season — @MichaelcShearer takes a look at the best performers in Scotland over the first few months of the campaign. https://t.co/mz3PHeh4oc pic.twitter.com/duA1cpVzNw
— Breaking The Lines (@BTLvid) January 10, 2024
Shankland may not excel in his link-up play, but his shooting prowess is what stands out the most. In 21 matches so far in the 2023/2024 Premiership season, he has taken 51 shots, 26 of which were on target with a shooting accuracy of 50.98%. He scores a goal for every 4.25 shots he takes and takes 2.55 shots per 90 minutes on the pitch. His goal involvement equates to 0.62 per 90.
His Non-Penalty xG per 90 minutes is 0.42, with his total npxG output at 8.35 which puts him in the top 98 percentile of Premiership players. Shankland, like most accomplished strikers, is selfish to a fault and loves to shoot at any given opportunity. The man may have an uncanny eye for goal, but that isn’t his only key attribute; he also has a mental steeliness about him which helps when things aren’t going his way on the pitch.
This mental toughness was evident when Shankland tried his luck outside of Scotland with Belgian Pro League side Beerschot VA. Despite having a tough spell in Belgium which saw a paltry return of 5 goals in 26 games, the forward was able to knuckle down, return to familiar surroundings and go again with much reward.
It remains to be seen if Shankland will remain a Hearts player for much longer, one might suspect that he might feel he has a point to prove after a near disastrous foray outside Scotland. Whatever the case may be, Shankland will be gunning for a spot in Scotland’s squad for the upcoming Euros in Germany and another shot at the big time at club level.
By: Edward Okaro / @KingArinze
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Roddy Scott – SNS Group