The question Lawrence Shankland won't answer ahead of Rangers v Hearts as he aims for a career first

The country’s top goalscorer is keeping his cards close to his chest

Yet to experience a national cup final, Lawrence Shankland has good reason to crave a Hearts victory over Rangers this weekend. The Scottish Cup semi-finals take centre stage and Shankland tends to thrive on the big occasions as Hearts’ principal goalscorer.

He wants to improve his record at Hampden Park by reaching the final on 25 May and banishing the memory of defeat at this stage of the competition when Dundee United lost to Hibs in 2021. “Yeah, my Hampden record is brilliant, actually. I used to play for Queen’s Park. I’ve won loads of games there,” he laughed. “No, I’m kidding. My record there probably isn’t the best, but I think I’ve only been two or three times in terms of the cups.

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“You watch games on telly when you’re younger and obviously you think it would be great to play at Hampden in a cup final. Your career can take you in different directions at times. You never know. You can’t take these kind of opportunities for granted. They don’t come around too often. It’s back-to-back semi-finals for us in both cup competitions this season. Hopefully we can go a step further this time and reach the final.”

Shankland will turn 29 in August and is regarded as one of the Scottish Premiership’s marquee players due to consistent goalscoring. He will reach 30 for the season for club and country if he finds the net this weekend. The absence of a cup final appearance on his CV irks a little.

“You want to be in the big cups but I haven’t had the opportunity in terms of the clubs I have been at,” he explained. “The teams I have played for haven’t had a real chance, it’s difficult when you’re playing in the lower leagues or for a lower end team. The one I got close to was the Hibs one during Covid, I didn’t enjoy it to be honest, the stadium was empty, it wasn’t the same.

“This is an opportunity and if I can get to a final, great. We’ve done well in the cups to get this far. Semi-finals are always difficult games, there’s lots of pressure around them. One moment of magic or madness can decide it. You need a little bit of luck as well. Hopefully things can fall for us.”

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Tinges of regret from November’s League Cup semi-final loss against Rangers still linger. The 3-1 defeat came amid a tepid Hearts performance in which they did not do themselves justice. “The feeling of regret when you came off the pitch was probably the biggest thing. We felt like we didn't really give it a go - whether that be down to our game plan not working, or just didn't feel right, or it was a wee bit off. I think that is the first thing we will look to improve on,” said Shankland.

“We will try and put a bit of a stamp on the game and give ourselves a chance of going through. We felt as a group we didn't give ourselves the best chance that day. It is something we can improve on and through our league form we have. We feel like we are going into it in a better state.”

Wisely, Hearts players will not pay undue attention to Rangers’ recent difficulties. Two wins from eight games in all competitions amounts to a mini crisis at Ibrox, but that could work against the Tynecastle side at Hampden. “Possibly. There is a lot of pressure on the game, for both teams,” acknowledged Shankland.

“Rangers' last two results [against Ross County and Dundee] will add to that due to the scrutiny they will be under in the league. We can't look into that too much. We can maybe use it to our advantage at the time of the game and if the pressure increases throughout the game it could help us. But it is not something we can go and rely on. We need to put our gameplan on.

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“People always create a narrative on the outside that it is always good to play teams when they are not at their best. They have not become a bad team overnight. This might be a good break for them to get away from the league and play in the cup. There is definitely opportunity there and you need to analyse how teams have caused them problems and see if you can implement that in the game at the weekend. If you can, it can give you a chance. Of course, it is better to play them now rather than when they are firing on all cylinders but I wouldn't act as if it is going to be an easier game than it would usually be.”

Scrutiny on both teams will be intense but Shankland is used to the pressure as a regular goalscorer and penalty-kick taker. Jorge Grant has taken over some penalty duties at Hearts lately, although he deferred to his captain against Livingston last weekend. So who gets the job if a penalty is awarded against Rangers at Hampden?

“I’m not saying,” smiled Shankland before revealing the gist of last week’s conversation with Grant. “He came over and said: ‘Do you want your goal?’ He’s a nicer guy than me because I wouldn’t have done that! It was good he was confident I would put it away. It was out of the blue, I was quite prepared for him to hit it. We’ll see, someone else might hit it this weekend. [Stephen] Kingsley, maybe? It’s a secret.”

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