DUNDEE United great Maurice Malpas believes whoever the Tannadice club appoint manager must make getting top scorer Lawrence Shankland onside his priority if they are to flourish in the Premiership next season.

United’s preparations for their return to the top flight have been disrupted by the sudden departure of Robbie Neilson for his former club Hearts on Sunday.

Craig Levein, who did well during the three years that he spent on Tayside, has admitted he is interested in speaking to the Championship champions about replacing Neilson.

Elsewhere, Tommy Wright, who stood down as St Johnstone manager after seven years in charge at McDiarmid Park last month, has also been linked with the vacancy.

But he is set to be interviewed for the Northern Ireland job that Michael O'Neill has vacated. 

Malpas, who was at United as both a player and a coach for 23 years and works in the hospitality lounges at Tannadice on match days, feels that Wright “ticks all of the boxes”. 

“Dundee United had bounced around a few managers as they have tried to get promoted,” he said.  “But that is obviously what Robbie did. He got his team playing and got them winning.

“Obviously the pull of Hearts was too great for him. It isn’t ideal. A new manager might not like the same type of players and the players might not like the manager. If that happens it’s back to square one.

“I don’t know if the fans would accept Craig coming back. Tommy has done great with St Johnstone year in, year out. Tommy ticks all the boxes. He has had success in the Premiership, he is experienced. Nobody could argue with his appointment. He has a proven track record.”

However, the ex-Scotland and United left back reckons that whoever takes over from Neilson in must click with Shankland, who scored 28 goals in all club competitions in the 2019/20 campaign, if he is to succeed.

The former Ayr United forward, who was called up by Scotland last term and netted in a Euro 2020 qualifier against San Marino at Hampden, has been linked with both Celtic and Rangers and clubs in England.

“What if a new manager comes in and Lawrence Shankland doesn’t like him and asks for a move?” he said. “Of course, the situation with Covid means that clubs may wait until later in the season to move for players and that might help United keep Lawrence.

“But whoever comes in is going to have to make speaking to Lawrence and getting him on his side his first priority. Players have a lot of power in football now. The manager has to get Lawrence playing and get him scoring goals because at the end of the day that is what got United promoted.”

Malpas is a huge admirer of the 24-year-old and believes he will have no difficulty making the step up to the Premiership and maintaining his impressive strike rate.

“For me, Lawrence is just a great goalscorer,” he said. “He has got good movement in the box. He makes decent runs, gets in good positions, gets his body set early.

“Defenders have to be on their toes. I don’t think defenders have to worry about him too much outside the box, but inside the box they certainly do. Lawrence’s biggest asset is he is a finisher and that’s a fantastic asset to have. He scores goals.”

Malpas continued: “I saw games he played in last season where he was having a nightmare. But he still had the belief to score when the ball came to him in the box.

“Against Arbroath at Tannadice last season he didn’t have a particularly good game and United were losing 1-0 late in the game. It was looking like they were going to drop three points. But Lawrence still had the confidence in front of goal to net twice late on. If he gets half a chance he takes it.

“If you are a striker at Celtic to Rangers you are always expected to score well into double figures in a season. But at other clubs forwards are doing well to get 11, 12, 13 goals a season. If Lawrence can score 15 to 20 goals it will be massive for United.”