Robbie Neilson agrees with David Hopkin that the Dundee United striker is the “best finisher in Scotland” and has backed his talisman to underline the fact in tonight’s Scottish Cup replay at Easter Road.
There was high praise from the Morton boss after Shankland rescued a point for United late on at the weekend and his own manager doesn’t believe it was over the top.
Neilson said: “Every time you come up against someone from the top league, he is asked: ‘He has done it in the Championship but can he do it at the top level?
“I’ve said all along he is a goalscorer. Put him in at any level at all and he can score.
“He’s done it in League Two, One, the Championship, against Premiership teams and at international level. He will go to Easter Road and if the ball comes to him in the box I expect him to score.
“He’s the best finisher in Scotland. You saw it with the goal against Morton. They ball was played to the back post and half the stand is celebrating before he scored because he’s in great form.
“Our job is to keep him fit, happy and supply him as much as we can.”
The fear factor that helps Shankland get in the heads of Championship defenders will still be there against a top six Premiership side this evening, according to Neilson.
He explained: “When you look at an opposition team, you think: ‘Right, where do the goals come from?’
“I would expect Hibs to be looking and thinking: ‘If the ball goes wide we need to pick up Shankland’. It was the same against Morton.
“That’s just the way it is when you are a good player. Teams focus their defence on you.”
Neilson believes he has several big-game players for this evening’s replay – new signing Dillon Powers among them.
“He is a top player,” said the Tangerines boss. “He has played in the highest level in America and in front of 70-80,000 people.
“He’s played beside Kaka. So playing anywhere in Scotland is not going to faze him.”
Calum Butcher, Declan Glass and Peter Pawlett should all be available.
Neilson added: “The game against Hibs will be totally different to the one against Morton.
“Hibs will be open, expansive and trying to counter-attack. They’ve got pace in their team.
“It will be a different ball game compared to playing against a team who comes and sits in.
“In the first tie we were waiting to see how hard they were going to punch. We were uncertain of what level they were at. Because of us being in the Championship and doing really well, I thought we bobbed and weaved a wee bit as opposed to showing our full strength.
“Losing the goal allowed us to have a wee bit more freedom. After 15-20 minutes, we started to realise we can match them and compete.
“I’m hoping at Easter Road, right from the start, we can be more confident to go and compete at that level.”