Naismith heaps praise on Hearts’ hat-trick hero Shankland

The Hearts captain led from the front in the 6-1 rout of Ross County.

Steven Naismith heaps praise on Hearts’ hat-trick hero Lawrence Shankland SNS Group

Steven Naismith showered praise on hat-trick hero Lawrence Shankland after the striker led Hearts’ 6-1 demolition of Ross County.

The Jambos skipper netted a deadly double in the first half and came within a whisker of a third with a lob that struck the crossbar.

The Scotland international completed his treble after the break with a sublime chip as the Gorgie side ran amok against their sorry visitors.

Alex Cochrane’s 17th-minute opener was crucial in settling the nerves after a six-game losing streak, and Josh Ginnelly was excellent with a brace.

And interim manager Naismith was thrilled to see the whole team provide the attacking threat he had called for before the match.

He said: “As much as Shanks has not scored that many recently, it has been the whole team situation that has stopped that.

“He has maybe been getting one chance, if that, every game and the quality has not really been that high.

“If we give him good chances he will score because he is a real threat.

“He has progressed as a player over the years. He is a much more well-rounded player, as you saw (against County).

“He has the intelligence to drop in or go in behind if he needs and he has the one (effort) which hits the bar – you ain’t teaching that.

“It is about having the touch and the finesse to guide it over the goalie, and he was unlucky with that one.

“But the whole team was really good. They (the goal-scorers) get the chances because of us being solid defensively. The performance was brilliant from the whole team.”

Hearts went for the jugular right from the off and Cochrane swept in the opener after taking control of possession when Shankland had attempted a give-and-go with Ginnelly at the edge of the box.

Five minutes later, Ginnelly ran onto a Cammy Devlin through ball, chopped inside Dylan Smith and curled a brilliant shot into the top corner. A VAR check proved the assistant’s offside flag was wrong.

Shankland then got his first to make it three goals in just 11 minutes when he held off Connor Randall to head in Cochrane’s cross from seven yards out.

In first-half injury time, another VAR check resulted in a penalty for Hearts after Shankland had been toppled by Smith’s outstretched leg. Shankland himself scored from the spot to finish the game as a contest before the break.

Jordan White should have pulled one back for County seven minutes into the second half but hit the crossbar with a header from point-blank range.

The chance sparked Hearts to life again and in the 57th minute Ginnelly showed strength to gather a throw-in before drifting inside two Staggies defenders and arrowing a powerful shot into the bottom corner from 25 yards out.

Two minutes later, Shankland completed his hat-trick as the home side racked up a half-dozen.

Yutaro Oda’s penetrative run finished with a blocked shot but Shankland’s magnificent chip found the top corner.

County goalkeeper Ross Laidlaw prevented Hearts from adding further to their lead and the visitors pulled one back five minutes from time when Owura Edwards won and converted a penalty.

The loss leaves the Staggies four points adrift at the bottom of the table and with seven defeats from their last nine outings and just three wins since early November.

Manager Malky Mackay remains defiant, however.

He said: “All of a sudden, we don’t become a really poor team. We had a bad day and we have to make sure we fix it.

“If we give the performances I know we can give over the last five games, I know we’ll be OK.”

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