Jon McLaughlin ready to bow out on a high with Hearts
Post-derby euphoria is still coursing through the Hearts goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin. His final game at a raucous Tynecastle Park on Wednesday's ended in victory over Hibs, and now he wants to sign off in style with another trademark clean sheet at Kilmarnock on Sunday.
McLaughlin’s contract expires this month and he is destined to return to England after only one year in his birth city, Edinburgh. It has been a historic year for the 30-year-old, who set a new club record of eight consecutive clean sheets during December and January.
One more would be the perfect ending to a season he will never forget after inscribing his name in Tynecastle annals. “It’s a part of the club’s history now. It’s the longest run without conceding a goal since Hearts have been inexistence,” said McLaughlin, speaking exclusively to the Evening News.
He is nothing if not gracious and willingly credits others for their part in the defensive success. “It’s great to have that little piece of history for myself and the rest of the group. Everyone has been a part of it and it’s a fantastic achievement. Hopefully Hearts can bring more of that for the fans next year. The support you get when you are playing well is tremendous so it would be brilliant to see them really firing next season.
“You always want as many clean sheets as you can. Jack had a couple at the start of the season. It’s been difficult in these final five games against the best teams. We hope to sign off properly with a good result at Kilmarnock but it was great to send the home fans off happy with the win against Hibs.
“We’ve had an up-and-down season. There have been some brilliant moments but we know as a group we haven’t hit the heights we know we’re capable of. On a personal note, I’ve had an absolutely brilliant year here. My self and my family have enjoyed it so much and so much has come of it. If Wednesday is to be my last home game for Hearts, it’s a great one to go out on. The place was rocking and it was great to be a part of another win against Hibs to sign off on a real positive note.”
Hearts can only feel buoyed heading to Ayrshire after shattering Hibs’ hopes of finishing second in their first campaign back in the Ladbrokes Premiership. Neil Lennon, the Easter Road club’s manager, threatened to resign late on Wednesday evening in the aftermath of his team’s 2-1 defeat.
McLaughlin felt Hearts were in control of the match and might have recorded another clean sheet but for a needlessly-conceded penalty, which was dispatched beyond him by Hibs striker Florian Kamberi.
“If they don’t get the penalty, I think we’d comfortably have got a clean sheet,” he remarked. “There were little bits and pieces to do but we were comfortable and the defence in front were in control. I think that was the only way they were going to get something out of the game. It’s frustrating when we see performances like this compared some of the others but it shows Hearts aren’t far away. If they get a few more signings in to bolster they squad, they have a bright future.
“If they start well next season, they can be at the sharp end with the other teams up there. We’ve shown we’re more than a match for the likes of Aberdeen and Hibs.”
English clubs are circling the goalkeeper and have done so since the January transfer window. He has so far resisted the temptation to commit his future to anyone. Craig Levein, the Hearts manager, has publicly said several times that Hearts cannot compete with the money on offer to McLaughlin down south, where his reputation remains strong.
The best contract Levein can offer will almost certainly not be enough to persuade the No.1 to stay at Tynecastle. When he goes, he will take a shedload of memories with him. McLaughlin’s goalkeeping feats have earned him respect and adulation from the Hearts support and he won’t forget the tributes which have come his way in Scotland.
“From day one, I’ve felt very at home here. I know this is the city where I was born and I have a lot of family up here,” he said. “That aside, as a football club, I just seemed to click with Hearts from the first minute. There wasn’t much of a bedding-in period.
“The players are a great group, the gaffer has been brilliant, Gall [Paul Gallacher] the goalie coach and all the staff likewise.
“Nights like Wednesday make you feel that you’re at a very big football club. You see the stadium and the size of the support. It’s the first time I’ve felt it when I’ve been out and about. I was at Bradford City, which is a big club, but this is the first time at a club where you’re getting recognised just walking about the city.
“People are stopping you to speak to you, so you really feel like you’re representing a very big football club. I think that’s been the most enjoyable part – feeling I was playing for a big club at a good level and doing well at the same time. At the moment, we haven’t moved on. I haven’t signed a contract anywhere else so we wait to see what happens over the summer.”
Diplomatically, he isn’t completely ruling out another season with Hearts but the smart money is on him moving. McLaughlin enjoyed spells with Bradford City and Burton Albion in the English Championship before joining the Edinburgh club last summer as a free agent.
His future will be ascertained one way or the other over the next few weeks. He knows if every option in England failed to materialise into a deal, he would still be welcomed back with open arms by everyone in Gorgie.
“It would be brilliant to still be here next season but if not, at least I’ve given a good account of myself. I can hold my head up high if I do leave. Hopefully I’ll be remembered by the fans for giving the best I could over the year. Whatever happens, this has been a thoroughly enjoyable time.”