Should Hearts have any emergency cash stored away in some untapped bank account, giving it to Jon McLaughlin would be a sound investment. T
The goalkeeper is doing everything to prove he is worth a better contract and was imperious again in Saturday’s 1-0 victory over St Johnstone.
Whether there is any swithering at board level over McLaughlin’s future is unknown. For now, he won’t sign Hearts’ proposed contract extension. The deal offered is on similar terms to the one-year agreement he penned last summer and English teams will pay significantly more. It would be foolish for the Edinburgh club to overspend when you recall their bruising year in administration in 2013/14. However, they must also consider the cost of McLaughlin leaving.
St Johnstone could have been deservedly 3-0 ahead by half-time on Saturday had it not been for the 30-year-old No.1. He set a new club record of eight consecutive clean sheets during December and January to underpin a renaissance under manager Craig Levein. Clearly, he covets more shutouts before deciding his future.
Each time a St Johnstone player leathered an effort at goal, McLaughlin somehow got there to leave them with head in hands. He saved David Wotherspoon’s free-kick, thwarted Chris Kane in a one-against-one and sprung to his left to push away Scott Tanser’s netbound drive. That was all inside the opening 20 minutes as the visitors dominated.
Kane then rasped a volley off the crossbar – the only time McLaughlin was beaten all afternoon. David Milinkovic punished St Johnstone just 39 seconds into the second half by controlling Danny Amankwaa’s cross, holding off Tanser and slotting the ball into the net from six yards. The Frenchman ensured victory for Hearts – who remain unbeaten at Tynecastle Park this season – but McLaughlin was the hero.
Can anything be done to persuade him to stay? “Nothing is decided. The club have made it clear they want me to stay, which is brilliant. To feel appreciated and wanted by your club is great,” said the Edinburgh-born keeper, who left Burton Albion at the end of last season. “We’ve had discussions and we’ve certainly not said one way or the other. We’ve not agreed anything yet – here or anywhere else – but we’ve also not said that we want to leave. We’re really enjoying ourselves up here, my family included.
“It’s my home town so there is a lot for us here. This is a brilliant club to play for so it’s ticking a lot of boxes but, of course, there are other things that still need to be sorted. There is still a long way to go till the summer. All I can do is concentrate on the football. If you play well and make yourself an asset to the team, everything else should fall into place. That’s the only thing I can, focus on the football, which I’m really enjoying.”
Levein told the Evening News last week he didn’t think it would be financially possible to keep McLaughlin. In Hearts’ favour is the fact no other club has produced a formal contract offer yet. “It’s more speculation and potential than offers on the table,” explained the keeper. “There’s nothing concrete out there right now to say that’s a contract put in front of me. Plenty clubs are always looking for goalkeepers but until something is signed, everything is still on the table.
“With the contract I’m on here at the moment, they’re looking to do more of an extension than offer an improved new deal. There’s not quite enough for me to jump on and extend the deal. If there were other things involved, maybe. That’s where we stand. You don’t always come to an agreement straight away. That doesn’t mean any deal is dead or that I don’t want to be here with this club. That couldn’t be further from the truth.”
Asked if he hopes Hearts will produce extra cash, McLaughlin was non-committal. “That’s always a hope,” he joked. “That’s not the only thing. You have a lot of factors to think about. When you get to my age, you start thinking about how many contracts you’ve got left, what people can offer in terms of longevity, what they can offer financially, what it means for your family. There are lots of things. It’s not just about money.
“The main thing is they want me to stay and they will do what they can do get me to stay. Sometimes you just have to play the waiting game. Hopefully, things will fall into place. We’ve had our discussions and put them to one side to concentrate on the football.
“We were very honest with each other, the gaffer and me. He said this is what they were looking to offer. We said we’re not looking to sign a contract at this very second. They are completely within their rights, then, to be preparing for next season if I don’t stay. If they find someone who will come in and do they job, and they’re happy to go ahead with that, then I miss out. I made it clear to the gaffer that’s fine by me because it’s only natural a club needs to cover all the bases.”
Even after Milinkovic’s breakthrough, McLaughlin, right, had saves to make from the St Johnstone substitute Blair Alston and full-back Richard Foster. He finished the afternoon with the man-of-the-match champagne and his profile lifted another notch. Scotland honours must surely be inevitable.
Saints left Edinburgh harbouring a good deal of anger. They might have got a penalty in the first half when Steven Anderson’s header ricocheted off Christophe Berra’s arm. Manager Tommy Wright was more concerned with midfielder David Wotherspoon’s red card. He was booked for persistent fouling on 57 minutes and dismissed on 63 after fouling Hearts debutant Joaquim Adao. Wright was fuming with referee Andrew Dallas.
“For the sending off, the second one was a foul on David,” complained Wright. “Christophe Berra got away with fouls all day and doesn’t get talked to, then he sent David off when we were expecting the Hearts player to get the card. But Berra plays for Scotland and David doesn’t.
“I don’t want to make it the Andrew Dallas show because he made enough of that out on the pitch. I’m certainly not going to be phoning John Fleming [SFA head of refereeing] about him because I’ve lost count of the times I’ve been on to him about Andrew Dallas. We will just draw a line under it. Luckily, he’s not in charge for either of our next two games.
“I thought this was probably our best performance of the season. I thought we were superb. We have come to Tynecastle and dominated the game in terms of chances and should have been out of sight. Hearts’ keeper was their best player but ultimately we lost the game because we lost a sloppy goal after half-time.
“I don’t think there was any doubt we should have got something out of the game. There is a lot of disappointment and anger in our dressing-room, but the referee wasn’t the reason we lost – that was the sloppy goal.”