LAWRENCE SHANKLAND led Dundee United to three points at Tannadice yesterday, as his side produced one of their most complete performances of the season.
Micky Mellon’s side condemned Livingston to a second straight defeat thanks to goals from Adrian Sporle and Shankland, who has so often been isolated this season and lacked service from his team-mates but looked every bit the top-flight striker he was expected to be in this match.
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“It’s important in Scotland that we celebrate players like that in our league when they’re performing like that, I though he was that good,” Mellon mused of Shankland post match.
“I thought it was a fantastic centre forwards display for the whole game. He took his goals really, really well and I’m pleased that he’s a Dundee United player.”
Livingston’s remarkable and record-breaking 14-match unbeaten run was curtailed by St Johnstone in last weekend’s League Cup Final dress rehearsal. As such, yesterday’s game was the first chance to see how they would respond to a setback.
United meanwhile had been boosted by their first win since December against Ross County. David Martindale’s side have become notorious for the pace with which they start games and the manor in which their press can suffocate opponents, but it was the hosts United that began on the front foot at Tannadice.
After just 50 seconds United would lead through Sporle. A skewed Max Strykjek clearance fell to Jeando Fuchs outside the box who picked out Jamie Robson on the left flank, his cross was cut back in front of the Livingston defence and fired high into the net by Sporle form six-yards.
The goal certainly shook the visitors into gear who began to display the attributes that had made them the nation’s form team. They had chances through Jon Guthrie and Scott Pitman, who both passed up opportunities in the box. But despite those opeings, United were playing Livingston at their own game and sought to turn the visitors defence at every given opportunity.
Louis Appere started off the right of a front three for the hosts and although Mellon has often been criticised for his use of forward’s out of position this season, the youngster’s physical presence against the slighter Jullian Serrano, matched by the symmetrical pacey threat offered by Sporle, gave United a foothold to get up the pitch. Each team’s desire to turn the other, compounded by a heavy pitch, led to a frantic match.
Then came what looked to be the sucker punch for the hosts. Peter Pawlett drove up the pitch and dived into a challenge with Jason Holt with the vigour that makes a yellow card a red. He was indeed sent off. Mellon rejigged his side and resisted the urge to protect his lead, sacrificing Sporle for Ian Harkes to go 4-3-2 he was immediately rewarded for his ambition to not sit back.
As Livingston sought an overload on the right, where Nicky Devlin is often so dangerous, United counter-pressed as Harkes won the ball off of Holt. Livingston had committed men forward to an attack which allowed the American room to surge into and pick out Shankland who finished confidently past the onrushing Stryjek from inside the area.
The visitors huffed and puffed in search of a route back into the match, but the hosts continued to trouble on the break, and that led to the numbers being made even again midway through the second half. Harkes was brought down by Jack Fitzwater as he bore down on goal just outside the box and Nick Walsh made his second dismissal of the day.
There was time for another before full time, Shankland topped off a wonderful performance with his second of the day. Picking up a loose ball on the left he chopped inside Devlin and found the top right corner of the net with a curled effort.
“I think I’ve got to do better to be honest,” admitted Livingston boss Martindale reflecting on only his second defeat as Livingston manager.
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“There was moments in the game where I was looking to change the game and I don’t think I changed the game quick enough, or I never introduced the personnel quick enough.
“I think I’ve got to take that one on the chin, the boys have been brilliant but maybe I wasn’t at my best today.”