Hearts goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin has warned his colleagues to learn their set-piece lessons before facing Ross County’s Andrew Davies today. Both men were team-mates at Bradford City and McLaughlin advised the Tynecastle side to be wary of Davies’ aerial threat.
Having lost 2-1 to two set-plays in their previous outing against Dundee, the subject remains raw around Riccarton. The trip to Dingwall offers a chance to erase unpleasant memories from Dens Park, but only if lessons are properly learned when it comes to man-marking.
“He [Davies] is right up there, that’s one of his strengths,” said McLaughlin. “I can imagine they’ll be the kind of team where that’s exactly what they’ll look to play on. Having seen our results and the way things went for us at Dundee, that will right in the forefront of their minds as a way to get at us.
“So we’ll need to be switched on. It’s going to be a key part of the game, I’m sure if they get opportunities they’ll try and bring Davo up to hurt us.”
The Edinburgh-born goalkeeper believes Davies is performing so well in the Highlands because he is settled.
“He’s been there for a few years so there’s something keeping him there,” he smiled. “He’s a great guy, a fantastic pro who has had a really good career. He’s a no-nonsense kind of guy and we played a lot of games together through the years. Then he went up there and he must be enjoying it because he has been up there since.” Hearts’ furious reaction to losing at Dundee showed a passion for the cause which wasn’t evident last season. “I can’t speak for anything before I arrived but this season I can say, hand on heart, that it means the world to everyone,” explained Mclaughlin.
“The gaffer has looked to bring in players for whom it really means something to wear the Hearts badge and play for this club. We’ve got a really good team spirit amongst the staff and the players. Everyone really wants the best for this club and for themselves and you can see that from the overall performances.
“There is a real drive, a real grit, from all the players. The work-rate, the effort that they put in over 90 minutes is definitely there to see. It’s not like anyone is walking about the pitch not trying.
“Unfortunately, sometimes set-pieces are moments in games that can make the difference. Sometimes that is not a lack of trying. It’s just a bit of experience, a bit of nous, in those individual moments that really needs to be nailed down. That will make a big difference. It has been fine margins in all the games we have played.
“We are a good side. We have been putting in good performances. We just need to find a way to put in that complete performance on a regular basis and that will make the difference.”
Manager Craig Levein and captain Christophe Berra left others in no doubt about their feelings in the Dens Park dressing-room at full-time. “They certainly didn’t lose the plot, and it wasn’t unconstructive. They are not looking to single out individuals and make examples of people. Of course, it is frustrating but people need to learn a lesson, which I’m sure everyone did. They had every right to feel the way they did. Sometimes you just need to let off a bit of steam. Sometimes you need to have these conversations after games.
“Everyone needs to make sure that they are on the same page and that there is an acceptable standard that everyone needs to meet if we are going to be a success. Which is what everyone wants. The players that we’ve got are good enough. They should be meeting the expectations that the gaffer and the staff have. It’s just a kick up the backside, really. Everyone has to know that there are no easy games. You can’t think that just because you are playing a team from lower in the table, where it’s not the big glamorous surroundings, that it is going to be any less difficult.”
A rather pertinent message ahead of today’s assignment in Dingwall. “My dad actually worked up there a while back and I think he went to a few games. He was never based up there permanently, he was just up there doing construction work so he got to know the place a bit. That would have been seven or eight years ago. My brother Andy was also based in the RAF up at Kinloss for quite a while, so him and few of the boys went to games when they were lower down. So I’ve been getting my intel from all sorts of angles, but it might not be up to date! We’ll just need to see when we get up there.
“These are new experiences for myself and the others, but there is plenty of experience in that dressing-room who know what it is all about. Having played in the lower leagues in England, you get plenty of these fixtures where it doesn’t matter where you play and who you play against, they are always going to be difficult. Teams will know all about you, you need to know about them, and on the day you need to put in your best performance.”