JORDAN McGHEE took weeks to overcome the devastation of Celtic’s last visit to Tynecastle.
Lesser players would have crumbled due to the trauma. McGhee and his defensive colleagues got the proverbial runaround from Kris Commons and his rampant team-mates that afternoon last December. Much to his credit, the Hearts teenager used the experience for his own betterment. The improvement was clear for all to see as he returned to Hearts’ starting line-up at the Caledonian Stadium on Saturday.
A tenacious and defiant Hearts performance secured a goalless draw against Inverness and offered a timely reminder of their defensive resolve. This weekend, Celtic return to Gorgie seeking to continue their hitherto unbeaten charge towards another league title. Keeping a clean sheet in the Highlands has restored confidence within young McGhee as much as anyone.
“Inverness are in great form this season,” he said. “They’ve been brilliant getting to the League Cup final and they’re still in the Scottish Cup as well. They’re in a good position in the league, so going up there and getting a draw, plus keeping a clean sheet, made it a good afternoon for us.
“We’ve got Celtic next and it doesn’t come any harder than that. We’ve defended well over the last four or five games, so we want to continue the momentum and see how we do against the league champions. This is the ultimate test and it’s the kind of game you want to play in.
“I didn’t want to speak to anyone for weeks after they beat us in the cup. I’m over it now, but it’s still in the back of my mind. It was certainly an experience for me and I’m sure I’ll learn from it. Every time you play against an experienced player, you get to know what he’s good at and what his weaknesses are. You try to build on it and make sure you play well in the game.
“After that game, I learned not to follow runners too much because a lot of players drop off you, but that leaves space in behind you for others to exploit. I learned to try and hold my position.”
In truth, McGhee is learning with each passing week despite difficult circumstances at Hearts. The onset of administration and a 15-point deduction forced the promotion of several youth academy players to fill first-team jerseys. McGhee may still be young enough to be in a high school classroom, but he is not so naive to think he isn’t one of them.
“It’s been a brilliant season for me,” he said. “I’ve been playing first-team games for Hearts and I was called up by Scotland Under-21s. Getting a few games for them was a great experience. It’s been really enjoyable. I wasn’t really expecting to play in the first team this season, but obviously the gaffer thought I had it in me after my debut last season. I’ve tried to continue my momentum and keep impressing so that I get another chance.”
He has had to endure some time on the substitutes’ bench in recent weeks as Gary Locke, the Hearts manager, gave the youngster some respite. He was recalled for the weekend trip to the Highlands, deputising for the suspended Kevin McHattie at left-back. He has mostly occupied the other full-back role when involved this season.
“On Friday in training, the manager told me I’d be playing left-back,” explained McGhee. “It’s no different from right-back, I just had to do what I’d done for most of the season, only on the other side of the pitch. It’s slightly harder because I’m a right footed player playing on the left, but the guys in front of me showed themselves and wanted to take the ball off me. Their movement made it easier.
“Everyone in the back four defended well. In fact, the whole team was very good defensively. Right from the front we defended when we had to and just threw our bodies in front of everything. We managed to get a decent result in the end. We’re disappointed not to get a win, but a point will do.
“It’s brilliant to play in a game like that when you’re involved a lot. It’s great for me personally because I’m playing in a back four alongside guys like Danny Wilson, Dylan McGowan and Brad McKay. It’s great experience. You see them throwing their bodies in front of shots and it makes you want to give everything for the team to make sure we don’t concede a goal.
“At some points, it was looking like Inverness were going to score because they had a lot of pressure. I thought the lads defended brilliantly throughout the 90 minutes, though. You got that feeling that, if they were going to get a goal, it was going to take some kind of flukey shot that just crept over the line. We got there in the end and managed to keep a clean sheet.
“Jamie MacDonald had a great game in goal. You can give the ball back to him when there’s nothing on and he’s comfortable with both feet – he’s so reliable. He produced some unbelievable saves on Saturday. He helps talk you through the game as well.”