PLAYING at Ibrox, the home of the team he supported as a boy, is nothing new to Lawrence Shankland. When he walks out of the tunnel this week though for Ayr United, it might just be the first time that he genuinely believes he belongs on that pitch.

The 23-year-old looks to finally be fulfilling the potential that took him from Queen’s Park to Aberdeen as a teenager as he takes the scintillating form that played such a huge part in the Somerset Park side winning promotion last season into the Championship.

He just can’t stop scoring, hitting the net 13 times in all competitions already this term, but it wasn’t always the case that everything the striker touched turned to goals.

There have been times in Shankland’s career that he never thought the ball would fall for him in the area, when the breaks weren’t going his way. During his time at Pittodrie especially, he was wracked with a self-doubt that not only led to some of his latter loan spells at the likes of St Mirren and Morton falling flat, but threatened to push him out of the game altogether.

And then, suddenly, after being snapped up by Ian McCall just as he was considering other career opportunities, something clicked. Quite what, even he isn’t sure.

“I can’t really put my finger on it to be honest,” Shankland said. “I’ve just been working hard and getting myself as fit as I could and getting my confidence back by playing games and scoring goals. There wasn’t a moment that I can single out in particular where it all turned around.

“I suppose I realised that worrying doesn’t get you anywhere, I had ended up without a job anyway. So, I just thought ‘stuff it’, and from that moment on I decided to just work hard and see where it takes me.

“I’ve had hard times, you are always going to get those in football, so hopefully I’ve had mine and I can just move on and keep doing well.

“Now that I’ve been there, and I know what it’s like, I can tell you it’s not nice. It isn’t something that I want to experience again. I can’t say that I never will, and it’s in the back of my mind. That keeps me working hard all the time.”

It is the experience of standing at that crossroads after being released by Aberdeen that keeps Shankland’s feet on the ground now he is a man in demand and in the spotlight.

“I know what can be just around the corner in football, so it can go both ways,” he said. “You can fall out of the game or you can go on to bigger and better things, and I always keep that in mind.

“I’m in good form just now, so hopefully I can keep that going and keep my confidence up. I’ve never been one that gets carried away with what happens to me in football, it’s just not in my personality. I just get on with things and take things as they come.

“There is a bit of pressure just now because of the speculation and because people were doubting that I could do it in the Championship, but I’m thriving off that. Hopefully I can show people that I can do what they may have thought I couldn’t.”

Shankland doesn’t have to look far for inspiration when he talks about surpassing the expectations others have placed upon him. The forward graduated to the Queen’s Park first team at the same time as a certain Andy Robertson, after all.

He realises that he has some way to go to make ground on his friend’s career path since those days, but while he knows he may never reach the final destination of starring for one of the top clubs in the country and turning out for Scotland, he is hell-bent on at least making up some of the ground.

“It’s great for him and it gives you something to aim for,” he said. “Realistically, none of the other lads from that team think in their heads that they are going to go and play for Liverpool or in a Champions League final, but you can aim to maybe one day get down south and play at a decent level down there.

“It would probably be unrealistic for any one of us to say we could play for Liverpool, but then again, Andy would have said that too before he did it.

“I’m delighted for him how it’s all worked out, but you have to concentrate on yourself and all I can do is push myself and get as close to Liverpool as I can.

“Andy has taken every chance that he has been given, and it shows you that if you can give yourself the best chance by applying yourself, then you will have an opportunity of making it to the top.

“His example is one to look at and learn from, and you hope that it all pays off for you one day too.”

In the present day, Shankland is relishing the chance to show his talents on the big stage once again this week, and he is hoping that a long overdue result against Rangers can help exorcise some painful memories of facing the Glasgow giants in the past. Even if it puts his family’s noses out of joint.

“It’s always good to play there, you can’t beat it,” he said. “Most of my family will be there, so I’ve been warned to behave myself, but I won’t be listening to them.

“The fact you supported the team you are playing against doesn’t come into your head, you are there to do a job and you are playing for your team.

“I’ve never managed to get a result against them, mind you. Twice they have scored against my teams in the last minute, once with Queen’s Park at Hampden and then Harry Forrester scored right at the death against St Mirren when it was 0-0. So, I’m long overdue a result.

“I don’t think anybody in their right mind is expecting us to go to Ibrox and win. They are a strong side and they will be in good confidence too because they are going well. It’s a free hit for us really though, we can just go out and give it a go and see how we get on.

“We’re going in confident. It’s been a good start to the season for us and it’s a game we’re looking forward to.”