Four thousand Hearts fans will make the journey to Motherwell tomorrow provided the Scottish Cup quarter-final at Fir Park goes ahead. The fixture remains in doubt due to adverse weather, but Tynecastle supporters are ready to head west in their numbers.
They will pack the lower and upper sections of the away stand hoping to see their club reach the semi-finals of the competition for the first time since 2012. Goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin admitted having such a huge number of followers in Lanarkshire will be a major boost for the Hearts players.
“It’s a massive backing. It’s fantastic that a club like this is so well supported, wherever you go,” said the 30-year-old. “We’ve played games at the likes of Hamilton where we’ve outnumbered the home crowd.
“It’s a huge boost for the players and to makes it a lot easier to go to these places and compete when you’ve got a majority of the crowd. It’ll be huge again if we’ve got that kind of following tomorrow and it will make it a much easier job for us, I’m sure.”
McLaughlin set a new club record of eight successive clean sheets earlier this season – form which has put the Edinburgh-born goalkeeper in contention for a Scotland call-up. He expects defensive solidity to be vital to Hearts’ chances of progressing tomorrow.
“Games against Motherwell this season have been really difficult,” he said. “My first game when I signed for Hearts was away at Motherwell. I was on the bench and it was a really tough game for the boys.
“They’ve got a really strong squad, I think you saw that in the last game we played at Tynecastle. They got a really late equaliser and all the way through that game it was really difficult.
“They had a lot of chances and I’m sure they’ll fancy themselves at home. We’ve got to go and put in another really strong performance. We need to fire on all cylinders, up front as well as defensively.
“I’m sure if we can get back to keeping clean sheets then it’ll give us a really good platform to go on and win it.”
Whoever prevails is almost certain to head to Hampden in the next round. The national stadium is expected to host both Scottish Cup semi-finals. Holders Celtic, plus Rangers and Aberdeen all still in the competition, and Hearts haven’t played at Hampden since the 2013 League Cup final.
“It’s a big carrot,” admitted McLaughlin. “It would be a big reward for everyone. When I’ve been down in England I had the opportunity to play at Wembley and it’s been absolutely massive.
“I’m sure up here the opportunity, for myself and everyone, to play competitive fixtures at Hampden would be amazing. For the fans, too, the opportunity to play one of the big boys, if all the favourites get through, would be brilliant if we can get through this tie.”
Alex McLeish, the new Scotland manager, watched McLaughlin deliver an outstanding performance last weekend despite Hearts’ 2-0 defeat by Rangers at Ibrox. McLeish was at Tynecastle in midweek as the keeper again impressed in the 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock.
“I wasn’t aware that he was watching,” insisted McLaughlin. “A few people have been saying that now the new man is in charge he’s been coming to games and getting around to see people. It’s good if you can play well in front of people like that.”