Dundee United goal machine Lawrence Shankland is on course for a cricket score, manager Robbie Neilson has joked.
Wearing a broad smile, Neilson claimed Shankland will hit a century of goals for the Tangerines if he keeps up his current strike rate.
The Tannadice frontman has now netted four times against Inverness Caley Thistle, once against Partick Thistle and then twice against Dunfermline in the opening three Championship matches of the season.
That is a total of which England’s Ashes hero Ben Stokes would be proud.
It may have been in jest that Neilson suggested he was heading for a century but it is, nevertheless, a dream start for Shankland and, by extension, league-leading United.
Asked if his star man had exceeded expectations, Neilson joked: “I would have to say yes because if he keeps scoring goals at this rate he will pass 100!
“Seriously, I have been very pleased with him.
“I knew he was a going to be a good player coming into our squad but sometimes players can take time to settle into a different environment, where the expectation level is a little bit higher.
“However, he has taken everything in his stride and one of the reasons for that is he is a very good character in the dressing room.
“He works hard in training, looks after himself, goes to the gym and I’ve been very pleased with his contribution since he came in.”
Neilson is hoping Shankland keeps his Tannadice love affair going, after two league appearances at United’s ground yielded nine goals.
The manager added: “He does have a good record at Tannadice because he scored five for Ayr United against us last season then four for us against Inverness.
“That’s not bad going, is it?
“I think he seems to like playing there.
“This time one goal will be more than acceptable if it’s the winner.”
Neilson played down any talk of Shankland’s club form attracting international interest.
He said: “I think there’s still a long way to go for him.
“We’ve got to be realistic here – we’re in the Championship.
“He’s scoring in this league for us, which is great, and I’m delighted but he’s still got to get a lot more in his game to get to the top level.
“We’re helping him get there and he’s helping himself but it’s a bit too early at the moment.”
There have been some concerns over Shankland after he suffered a knock during and his participation in training yesterday was limited.
However, Neilson shrugged those off, saying: “He got a wee knock on the top of his foot.
“He did the warm up (yesterday) and did a partial training session.
“There’s no rush over him and should be fine for Friday.
“Wednesday and Thursday are the big days for him in terms of training and he’ll be OK.”
There was also positive news regarding central defender Mark Connolly, who missed the 2-0 win at Dunfermline because of injury.
Neilson said: “Mark will be fine.
“He had a wee slight hamstring issue.
“We were going to risk him for Dunfermline but we didn’t feel it was worth it.
“Calum Butcher came in and Ian Harkes went into midfield but he (Connolly) will be fine for Friday.”
Meanwhile, Neilson stayed on message as regards United’s approach to the big game.
The Tangerines have been stressing how they recognise the important of the derby but it will be business as usual for the players.
The United gaffer said: “The build-up has taken care of itself.
“The majority of the players are staying in the city now, or round about, so they’re seeing the build-up and speaking to people.
“However, our job here is to make sure when they step over that line on Friday night they’ve got the maximum energy.
“That means working on the things we need to work on but, ultimately, when they get out there they’re ready to go.
“We’ve done that the last three games and we’ll show it again on Friday night.”