Lawrence Shankland set for tactical approach in Switzerland after four goals in four Hearts games
Four goals in four games and he isn't yet fully fit. Lawrence Shankland is already demonstrating why Robbie Neilson and Joe Savage spent weeks negotiating a deal to bring him to Hearts.
Another strike against FC Zurich on Thursday would be the latest emotional high for a player eager to justify his six-figure transfer fee. Shankland was signed to ripple netting in a maroon No.9 shirt and he is delivering instantly.
Imagine how much more prolific he might become when properly up to speed. The 27-year-old joined Hearts in late July after talks with Belgian club Beerschot stretched for most of the summer and quickly began repaying the faith.
Two debut strikes in the final pre-season outing against Stoke City indicated a forward with an instinctive ability to score goals. Subsequent league efforts against Hibs and, last Sunday, Dundee United took his tally to four.
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In St Gallen's Kybunpark, Shankland can set himself apart with another effort and seriously raise Hearts' Europa League prospects in the process. This is precisely the type of arena he was recruited for.
“Sunday was only my third competitive game,” he told the Evening News. “I only played in one friendly before that so I was a wee bit behind in terms of pre-season. In Belgium, their season has only just started.
“Sunday was probably the best I've felt after coming in quite late on. If I'm scoring goals and not 100 per cent, hopefully they will keep coming when I'm up to speed. If not, I'll be getting less fit [because I'll be out of the team],” he laughed.
Scoring against his former club didn’t faze him, nor does the expectancy of being Hearts’ principal goalscorer. “There are a wee bit of nerves. You want to do well against your old club and beat them. I'm thankful the goals are coming early. I wouldn't say Sunday's meant any more than the derby goal. Much the same, probably.
“I had an idea I was coming here for a while so I was always prepared for this. From when it was first mentioned, I was getting myself ready for the opportunity. It's something I do need to deal with here. When you know it's coming, it's easier to deal with. That pressure is always going to be there so hopefully I can keep producing. It's up to me to put chances away.”
Swiss champions Zurich are a different proposition. “It's a huge opportunity to get ourselves into the Europa League,” said Shankland. “That would be huge for everybody – especially the fans.”
More than 2,000 Jambos are expected in St Gallen. “It shows you how big an event this is. It's where the club wants to be, in big games like this, so we are aiming to put on a show. We know Zurich haven't started too well in the league but, from the reports we have, they are a decent side. We will have a gameplan to have a go and then bring them back to Tynecastle.”
Having learned a more tactical European approach in Belgium, the striker hopes it pays off in Switzerland. “It can be more tactical. Switzerland is probably different to Belgium, though. I spoke to boys when I played in Belgium and they said even Netherlands is different, and it's only a 25-minute drive across the border to get there. All leagues are different. It's a new country. I've never been there but we are hoping to get a win.”