Jon McLaughlin believes Hearts are equipped to take advantage of any frailty in the Rangers defence and emerge victorious in Glasgow today.
The goalkeeper is relishing his first trip to Ibrox and is confident that the Jam Tarts are in such a rich vein of form defensively that they can cope with anything Graeme Murty’s attack-minded team throw at them. In addition, having seen Rangers ship three goals in last weekend’s 5-3 win at Hamilton, McLaughlin feels Hearts have the players and the gameplan to cause their hosts problems at the other end.
“The way we’ve been playing and the form we’re in, we’re certainly not worrying about the opposition or scared of going to their patch,” said McLaughlin. “We know what we’re capable of and as a defensive unit we just need to give the lads a platform to go and try and get a really good win away from home. Hopefully we can take advantage of the fact they’re quite an open side.
“We give them respect because they’re above us in the league and have a lot of quality players. We’re away from home so we won’t be going all guns blazing. They score quite regularly but they’ve also conceded quite a lot in recent games. We want to put in a much better performance than we had at Ross County but if we can be solid and keep a clean sheet, that can give us a platform to hit them on the counter and get a couple of goals.”
Manager Craig Levein admitted he was encouraged by the number of mistakes in the Rangers defence last Sunday, and McLaughlin was similarly buoyed. “You could see there were plenty lapses – it was very different to how our games normally go, where chances are few and far between,” said the goalkeeper. “When you are playing a team like that on a big pitch, you’ll obviously look to take advantage of that. We have already shown that we are an organised defensive unit and we will be doing as much as we can to cover all the bases. We know we need to keep them as quiet as possible, make it frustrating and see what we can nick going the other way.”
Hearts attackers Kyle Lafferty and Steven Naismith both used to play for Rangers and the latter in particular is guaranteed a hot reception after he was deemed by the Ibrox support to have left on bad terms following the club’s liquidation in 2012.
“They’re experienced guys, it doesn’t faze them,” said McLaughlin. “These are the type of games they thrive on – especially Laff. You can see this is the type of game he loves to be involved in. It’ll give the game a slight edge but with the experience they’ve got and the personalities they are, this is the type of game they’ll enjoy. It even gives them that adrenaline rush which can only be a good thing if they control it.”
McLaughlin, who has kept 13 clean sheets in his 25 games for Hearts, is eyeing another shutout on the big stage today as he bids to force his way into the Scotland squad for next month’s friendlies against Costa Rica and Hungary. With Celtic’s Craig Gordon injured, there is at least one spot available for any in-form keeper to force their way into new manager Alex McLeish’s thoughts.
“Hopefully he knows I’m Scottish! Some people are unclear about that,” said McLaughlin, who speaks with a Yorkshire accent and has spent most of his career in England despite being born in Edinburgh.
“It’s great for the national team we have a new manager in charge. Now I know who I have to impress, so let’s see what happens. It would be a major achievement, but you can’t worry too much about it. As a goalkeeper it doesn’t matter who or where you are playing, if you don’t put in the performances your stock can quickly fall. It’s important to put in performances every week but there might be a few more pairs of eyes watching this weekend’s game at Ibrox. If I can perform well, it can only help my cause.
“With Craig injured, there’s only a few (high-end Scottish goalkeepers) playing regular football at the moment so you never know. It’s the kind of thing that if you are doing the business on the pitch it can come along, but my priority is to perform for Hearts. Anything that comes after that would be an incredible bonus.”
McLaughlin is expected to leave Hearts to return to England this summer, although the goalkeeper was keen to stress once more that nothing has been confirmed either way.
“I don’t think it is in a position where it is likely to move forward at the moment,” he said of his situation. “But there’s nothing to read into that. People are talking about offers from elsewhere, but nothing has been agreed anywhere.
“I’m enjoying my time here, it’s a great place to be and a great club to play for.”