Deadly Dundee United star Lawrence Shankland sent them a massive step closer to the title as his magical winner dumped nearest challengers Inverness.

Shankland struck his 28th goal of the season for Robbie Neilson’s runaway Championship leaders who ended their three-game winless streak to move a staggering 21 points clear of John Robertson’s second-top Inverness.

It was left to Shankland to steal the limelight in last night’s televised Tannadice tussle after Jordan White had cancelled out Louis Appere’s first-half opener for the table-topping Tangerines.

Appere had given United the lead in 11 minutes but giant striker White soon levelled for the Highlanders, before Shankland stepped up to send the champions-elect into raptures with yet another sizzling strike.

Dundee United made just one change from the side which drew 0-0 away to lowly Alloa the previous Friday, with Appere coming in for American midfielder Ian Harkes.

For the visitors, Brad McKay and James Keatings both returned at the expense of Lewis Toshney and Charlie Trafford.

Appere appeared eager to do damage from the first whistle and saw his ambitious effort blocked by the visiting defence.

Then, just seconds later, Shankland had a chance from Calum Butcher’s header forward but the striker hooked his left-foot finish high over the bar from close-range.

However, the Tangerines didn’t have to wait too much longer until they made the breakthrough.

Rakish Bingham worked his magic wide on the right before crossing to the edge of the penalty area where Appere had taken up position.

The 20-year-old striker took a touch with his left foot and then placed it perfectly with his opposite foot low into Mark Ridgers’ left-hand post.

That helped settled the hosts who began to stamp their authority as Shankland soon saw his goal-bound effort deflected for a corner.

Invernesss were barely seen in an attacking sense although Miles Storey did try to change that midway through the first-half, although Miles Storey’s effort from distance skidded harmlessly wide of Benjamin Siegrist’s goal.

Just after the half-hour mark, Tom Walsh found some space for the Highlanders out on the left and wasted no time in curling an effort towards goal which Siegrist was relieved to see curl over his bar.

But Inverness Caley Thistle levelled in 32 minutes in simple fashion. James Keatings’in-swinging corner was met by White who got the better of Mark Connolly to bullet a header past Siegrist who’d come off his line but to no avail.

Before long, Inverness were threatening to get their noses in front before half-time and White’s effort from inside the box was deflected wide for another corner.

The second-half continued the way the first had ended and Walsh was unfortunate to see Siegrist stop his curling shot in the rain.

It wasn’t happening for the hosts who threw on Paul McMullan for Peter Pawlett and Harkes for Dillon Powers as the hour mark approached.

But Shankland had other ideas and struck to put them back in front in 59 minutes.

Bingham was again involved with his precise delivery into the box where United’s talisman was just waiting to pounce.

Shankland got the ball under control, steadied himself, and lashed a low left foot drive outwith the reach of Ridgers from 16-yards.

That proved enough for the Taysider’s who held on for three precious points towards despite suffering a late fright when Carl Tremarco hit the side-netting for the visitors in the dying minutes.

Now they can turn their attention towards next Saturday’s trip to Dunfermline in their journey back to the Premiership which is getting closer with each passing week.