Micky Mellon likes to remind people his side are still a “Championship team” so, naturally, the Dundee United manager is delighted the man who fired them to the title last season, Lawrence Shankland, looks back to his best.
Let’s be honest, would top-flight newcomers United have won the second-tier last term without Shankland? Possibly not.
The same could be said about goalkeeper Benjamin Siegrist and the Tangerines still having a chance of making the top six at this stage of the campaign.
However, it’s Shankland’s performance up at Ross County on Saturday that had his manager purring, knowing he’s the player who could make the difference for the Terrors headed into the split.
It certainly looked like the Shanks of old in Dingwall as he got United going, starting and finishing off an exquisite team goal, in their 2-0 win in the Highlands that saw them end an eight-game winless run.
Not only did the 25-year-old Scotland star show clever movement and great composure to slot beyond Ross Laidlaw in the home goal, he was busy all day, had chances aplenty and, crucially, never let his head go down.
Despite spurning a couple of early chances when one-on-one with former United stopper Laidlaw, Shankland kept plugging away and got his just reward.
Ryan Edwards put the tin lid on the result with another towering header from a corner on 76 minutes, following his scoring a similar goal in the 2-1 defeat at Motherwell in midweek.
The result, their first win of the year, leaves the Terrors sitting in seventh spot in the Premiership standings, just a point behind St Mirren in sixth.
Half-time chat got scorer Shankland going
The contribution of Shankland in picking up all three points against the Staggies was not lost on Mellon, who revealed a quick pep talk with his star man inspired his fifth strike of the season.
Mellon revealed: “I said to him at half-time: ‘What does a good player do, Lawrence?’
“He said: ‘Doesn’t get disappointed, gaffer, and he moves on and believes at some stage he will get there because he is a good player’.
“He knew he couldn’t dwell on the earlier chances and these are lessons the boys are learning.
“They are coming out of the Championship and people forget that. They are learning all the time.
“I am not making excuses because I am one of them, still learning. When the learning opportunities come then we have to learn from it and that was a big step forward for us.”
Mellon didn’t just reserve praise for Shankland, he equally heaped it on strike partner Marc McNulty, who proved the perfect foil for United’s main man.
Mellon continued: “I thought that if there was a rev-counter for their performance, they were around eight-out-of-ten.
“They’ve got to play like that the whole time but I don’t think they have been doing it enough.
“Their best performances are in that type of place, in that tempo with that busyness.
“When they drop out of that, they’re not as good as what they should be.
“On Saturday, they got big pats on the back because they were right up there. They are massive players for us and their work-rate was fantastic.”
Breakaway goal pleases United boss
For their breakthrough goal, Jamie Robson found Shankland, who played it to Jeando Fuchs, the Cameroonian clipped it out to Liam Smith, who laid it on a plate for Shanks to finish off the move.
It was what’s been missing all season for United with Mellon pleased to see it all finally come together for his boys, challenging them to play like that on a regular basis.
The Tannadice gaffer added: “That’s something we’ve been trying to achieve.
🗣 "We've learned a lot of lessons. The standard has been set."
— Dundee United FC (@dundeeunitedfc) February 6, 2021
“We want to play good, attacking football with a purpose and want players to know what they’re going to do before they get the ball.
“We saw big parts of that on Saturday and, when the game became about toughing it out, winning your headers and knockdowns, we also did that.
“You’ve got to be able to do that over the course of the season and in games to become consistently good.”
Mellon admits County win was ‘massive’
With the table below them bunching up, Mellon admits it was important they earned all three points and now hopes the Tangerines can kick on as they aim to sneak into the top six.
“It was a massive result but it doesn’t change where I believe we are at,” he said.
“I won’t change what I believe my job is here and that’s to keep moving forward and developing my team into Premiership players and that is what I will continue to do.
“There were loads of positives.
“We understood we had to come up here and get a result and we understood what a big game it was.
“We showed great composure in doing that and playing well over 90 minutes.
“It is all about winning but what we continued to focus on was getting the process right without trying to get too complicated.
“We work hard to give ourselves a chance of winning games and we never lose focus on that.
“We tried to steer away from putting ourselves under pressure but we knew we had to win games and we knew and believed that, eventually, a 90-minute performance would come.
“We’ve got to keep going now. I just spoke to them there and good players do that all the time.
“When the game is tough they keep going and when the opportunity comes to play they take it.
“We have to be tough on ourselves and to keep trying to achieve that all the time.”