When Lawrence Shankland grabbed his second-ever Scotland goal in Thursday’s 2-2 draw away to Georgia with a looping header that sailed past Giorgi Mamardashvili in goal, the 28-year-old once again underlined his credentials as one of our country’s top strikers. While he has seven caps for the national team, starts for Steve Clarke’s side have been few and far between for the centre-forward, but his cameo off the bench in Tbilisi served as a timely reminder of the quality that he undoubtedly possesses.

Shankland will be looking to add to his total at next summer’s European Championships, and the debate over whether or not he should be included in the starting line-up when the action gets under way in Germany will surely rage on in the interim. Lyndon Dykes, Che Adams and Jacob Brown will provide stiff competition for the former Ayr United and Dundee United man, and each and every foot soldier in the Tartan Army will have their opinions on who should be leading the line at the Euros.

Hearts supporters, though, don’t have to concern themselves with such matters at club level. Shankland, who scored his ninth and 10th goals of the season in the recent 2-1 victory for Steven Naismith’s side againt Motherwell at Fir Park, has already firmly established himself as the top striker in Gorgie in his year-and-a-bit in EH11.

But how does Shankland stack up against Hearts’ top strikers of yesteryear? Can he be considered as one of the greats, and what is his place in the club’s pantheon of goal scorers? Let’s take a look, using data from London Hearts.

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A modern great

We’ll start by comparing Shankland’s goal-scoring record to others who have donned the famous maroon jersey since the turn of the century. In order to be included, a player must have hit double digits for Hearts at any point from the year 2000 onwards. We will then divide their total goals scored by appearances, giving us each player’s goals per game rate. Take a look at the list below that features the top 10 most potent attackers for Hearts from within our sample period.

Shankland is currently averaging 0.63 goals per games played in all competitions – just shy of two goals for every three appearances. It’s an excellent return: so good, in fact, that only Gennaro Zeefuik can better it. The Dutch forward only played 15 games for Hearts in 2015 but wasted no time in making his presence felt, racking up 12 goals in total (0.8 goals per game) - and did so with the rather sizaeble caveat that he was playing in the Championship. No one else comes close to matching Shankland’s output, and the Hearts skipper is almost contributing twice as many goals per outing as some other members of the top 10.

Zeefuik may have Shankland beat in terms of his goal-scoring return, but the current Hearts No.9 is surely due some bonus points for longevity. Zeefuik, whose exploits came in the second tier, burned brightly but briefly during his five-month loan spell in Gorgie before returning to his parent club, Groningen, whereas Shankland is approaching his 18-month anniversary of his time in the capital, and dry spells have been few and far between. He went eight games without a goal earlier this season but still finds himself on double figures for the campaign thus far.

There is a decent argument to be made, then, that Shankland is Hearts’ greatest striker this century ahead of the likes of Ricardo Fuller, Edgaras Jankauskas and Mark de Vreies. The likes of Andrius Velicka, Kyle Lafferty and Osman Sow all impressed with their own goal-scoring exploits during their respective stints at Tynecastle Park, but none come close to matching Shankland. Only Zeefuik can claim to have been more deadly but, again, over a short period in the Championship.

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An all-time great?

Shankland’s performance when compared to his fellow 21st Century acolytes certainly catches the eye, but how does he stack up against some of the all-time great goal scorers in Hearts’ hallowed history? Below, you can see how his goal return compares to the most prolific players to have been on the books at Tynecastle since the conclusion of the Second World War. Again, players had to hit at least 10 goals before they could be included in this analysis.

As we can see, Shankland is once again holding his own in esteemed company. Only four players – Tommy White (0.85 goals per game), Zeefuik (0.8), Willie Bauld (0.67) and Jimmy Wardhaugh (0.65) – found the net more regularly than the Queen’s Park academy graduate. Even the great John Robertson, with 271 goals in 632 appearances, failed to produce the sort of numbers that we are seeing from Shankland.

Only a handful of players have contributed more than a goal every two games in the last 80-odd years for Hearts, and Shankland is one of them. Again, longevity is an important factor here – many of those on the top-10 list racked up hundreds of first-team appearances, while Shankland has just 66 to his name – and Shankland’s legacy will depend on maintaining his level of goal scoring over the long haul. But he is certainly on the right track.

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The race to 50

Shankland has so far notched 38 goals in total in maroon, and the Scotland internationalist is fast approaching the half-century mark. This season he is averaging 0.54 goals per games played and if he maintains this rate, then he will break the 50-goal barrier by the end of his second campaign in the capital. But how does this compare to Hearts’ all-time top forwards? Thanks to data provided by @HeartsStats, we can take a look.

The graphic above shows how long it took some of Hearts’ greatest-ever goal scorers to hit 50 goals for the club, both in terms of games played and the amount of days it took for each player to hit the milestone. We’ve included Shankland on the basis of his projected performance here but we’ve had to make a few assumptions: that he will continue to maintain his current scoring rate; that he will score his fiftieth goal in the 36th league match of the season; and that he will start every league game up until that point. It isn't perfect, but it gives us a rough idea of when Shankland is likely to break the 50-goal barrier. Going by current trends, it should happen in his 89th appearance.

READ MORE: The Lawrence Shankland story: From Queen's Park to Hearts and Scotland star

If our assumptions are correct, then Shankland’s goal return will be truly remarkable. Only a handful of players have ever hit a half-century of goals within their first two seasons in Gorgie – and if Shankland were to join them, he would be the first player to do so since Willie Bauld joined the exclusive club in 1950. If Shankland maintains his goal-scoring rate from this season, he will be the 11th-fastest player to have hit a half-century of goals for Hearts, and comfortably the quickest to do so in the last 60 years.  

All of this points to one irrefutable conclusion: that Shankland is a rare talent in Heart of Midlothian’s long and storied history. His goal return so far is arguably the best seen this century, and his record more than holds its own when we cast our minds back even farther. He needs to maintain it over the long haul to be mentioned in the same breath as some of Hearts’ most prolific strikers, but the centre-forward is unquestionably on the right track to cementing his legacy in EH11 as one of the greats.