Steven Naismith heaped praise on “lethal finisher” Lawrence Shankland after the talismanic striker’s 50th goal for Hearts secured a 1-0 away win over St Johnstone.
The 28-year-old, who joined from Belgian club Beerschot in the summer of 2022, has taken just over one-and-a-half seasons to bring up his half-century in maroon.
“He is at the peak of his career, his numbers are the best of his career,” said manager Naismith after Shankland’s McDiarmid Park strike.
“That’s partly down to him and the team, he’s a lethal finisher. He’s got the finesse and the touch to take his chances when they come along.
“He’s showed why he’s the best striker in the league. He’s driven, he’s got drive – he’s got the Euros (in the summer with Scotland), he’s hunting down top goalscorers.
“He’s in a good moment and as a group we’re in a good moment.”
Victory in Perth kept the in-form Jambos 12 points clear in the fight for third place in the cinch Premiership. It was their sixth win in a row in all competitions and their 12th in 15 league games since the start of November.
“I think it was deserved,” said Naismith of the hard-fought win. “I think there was a level of respect shown the way they set up with the low block.
“It was up to us to break that down and stay solid, but we created some good chances.
“We needed to move the ball quickly in the second half and once we got the goal we controlled the game.
“We have been good at working it out, understanding what’s working and what’s not.
“What we need to add now is more goals, but it’s a good place to be winning these games.”
St Johnstone manager Craig Levein – a two-time former Hearts boss – took encouragement from the way his side competed against the form team in the country.
“I was really pleased with our performance, we matched Hearts in every department,” he said.
“They are by far the third best team in the country but I was pleased to see us play some good football.
“I thought we had possession for long periods and that pleased me.
“The fact we lost 1-0 to a good Hearts side, with Lawrence Shankland scoring a goal that I don’t think anyone else on the field would have a chance of scoring, the way we played pleases me.
“I thought we were in it for long periods and our goalkeeper had very little to do.”
Former Scotland manager Levein believes Shankland – who has not always been guaranteed a place in Steve Clarke’s squads – deserves to go to this summer’s European Championship with the national team.
“I don’t think anyone would say he doesn’t, his record speaks for itself,” said Levein.
“In a lot of games this season he’s been the difference for Hearts. I’m a big admirer.”