Dundee United went 17 points clear at the top of the Championship as a perfect hat-trick from Lawrence Shankland sent them on their way to a
4-1 win at Partick Thistle.
Shankland opened the scoring at Firhill with a header on 38 minutes, with strikes on either foot coming in the second half after Adrian Sporle had made it 2-0 on the stroke of half-time.
Kenny Miller pulled a late goal back for the Jags but three points means the Tangerines are now 17 points clear of Inverness at the top of the Championship.
United showed two changes from last weekend’s win at Queen of the South with captain Mark Reynolds and new boy Dillon Powers coming in for his debut in place of Jamie Robson and Calum Butcher.
Partick had an early penalty shout for handball but referee Willie Collum waved away the claims and instead pointed for a corner.
Lawrence Shankland headed straight at Scott Fox in the home goal from a deep Nicky Clark free-kick moments later as the game began to settle down.
Benjamin Siegrist in the United net had the simplest of saves from James Penrice on 12 minutes before Declan Glass dragged a shot wide up the other end.
The cut-up pitch, due to the wet conditions in Glasgow, saw much of the build-up from both teams bogged down but, of the good football on show, it was the Terrors with the lion’s share.
Glass troubled Fox again on 27 minutes with a dipping, bouncing effort. However, the best chance of the opening half hour was the Jags’.
A lung-busting run from Dario Zanatta nearly paid dividends for the hosts but Siegrist’s legs foiled the Canadian inside the penalty area.
Paul Watson saw a header drift wide from a Clark delivery before Shankland teed up Glass, only for the 19-year-old to fire wide once again.
Zanatta once more came close on 32 minutes, this time glancing a Joe Cardle delivery towards goal but into the grateful arms of Siegrist.
Just a minute later, the Tangerines No 1 was again the thorn in Thistle’s side.
On his own in the six-yard box, Kenny Miller picked up on Zanatta’s cross only for the big Swiss keeper to pull off a wonder save to deny Miller from close range.
Clark forced Fox into action with an audacious effort from some 30 yards before the former Dundee keeper halted Shankland close in.
However, moments later, Shanks wasn’t to be denied his 22nd United goal of the season.
From a Clark corner, the Scotland star had the freedom of the Thistle box to guide a header beyond a helpless Fox for 1-0 on 38 minutes.
And Shankland was at the heart of United’s second. Picking up on the ball in the middle of the Partick half, he drove forward and slipped in Glass.
The United kid’s cross-cum-shot found Adrian Sporle with the simplest of tasks to tap home unopposed for his first league goal for the club.
After a frenetic first period, the second 45 took a while to get going but it was Ian McCall’s side on the front foot.
Just before the hour-mark, the impressive Reece Cole made a powerful run into the box before his effort won the Jags a corner.
However, it was United who got the scoring under way in the second half and took control with the first chance of note in the period.
And it was that man Shankland again as he went on a terrific 40-yard solo run into the Partick box before calmly slotting beyond Fox for his second of the afternoon and the Terrors’ third.
Peter Pawlett completed his comeback from injury on 65 minutes when he replaced Paul Watson.
And, just a minute later, his first involvement in the game was to tee up Shankland for his third, completing a perfect hat-trick by thundering a left-foot drive into the top corner to send the 1,586-strong visiting support wild.
One of few worries for United on the afternoon came on 77 minutes when Clark had to limp off injured, to be replaced by Adam King.
Miller netted a late consolation for Thistle on 88 minutes but Robbie Neilson’s men took all the points and another step towards sealing the title.
Partick Thistle XI (4-4-2): Fox (GK); Williamson (McGinty 67), Saunders, O’Ware (C), Penrice; Cardle (Austin 62), Bannigan, Cole, Zanatta; Jones (Robson 45), Miller.
Subs not used: Sneddon (GK), Harkins, Slater and Mansell.
Dundee United XI (4-1-4-1): Siegrist (GK); Smith, Watson (Paweltt 65), Connolly, Reynolds (C); Powers; Appere, Glass (Mochrie 74), Clark (King 77), Sporle; Shankland.
Subs not used: Deniz (GK), Sow, Stanton and Freeman.
Referee: Willie Collum.
Att: 4,101 (1,586 United fans).