Jon McLaughlin has managed something even Hearts greatest goalkeepers, including Jim Cruickshank, Henry Smith, Antti Niemi and Craig Gordon failed to do, by becoming the first in the club’s 143 history to keep six successive clean sheets. Not that it was an entirely satisfying achievement for the current No 1.
The downside is that too many goalkeepers at the opposite end of the field haven’t been conceding goals either lately, which means the Tynecastle club have failed to take full advantage of the unique situation.
Hearts have failed to score in their last three matches while six of a now nine-game unbeaten run have ended in draws, leaving them five points behind city rivals Hibernian and 13 adrift of Aberdeen following the second scoreless meeting between the pair this season.
It also left McLaughlin, pictured, with mixed feelings after the final game of 2017 as he was delighted at creating a slice of Hearts history but said: “The only unfortunate thing is that too many of the games in the run have been nil-nils – the Edinburgh derby, away game against St Johnstone and now this.
“While it’s good to get this run of clean sheets we also want to make sure we turn these games into wins. It only takes carving out one or two opportunities and if you can be clinical and take one then that will get you the three points.
“It doesn’t always have to be flowing football where you absolutely crush teams. Sometimes it can just be that the moment a team slips you take advantage, go away with a 1-0 and say ‘thank you very much’.
“It means if we can nick one of those chances like the type we created on Saturday at Pittodrie then it would give us great wins on the road.”
That view will certainly chime with David Milinkovic and Isma Concalves. They blew great opportunities in each half to steal all three points as Milinkovic was psyched out by Joe Lewis when he went one-on-one with the Aberdeen goalkeeper in the first half while Concalves completely miscued a shot near the end.
There were no such mistakes in defence, though, as Hearts showed great spirit and skill to repel wave after wave of Aberdeen attacks with McLaughlin a key last line, highlighted by a string of excellent saves.
Afterwards, the modest McLaughlin shared the credit with the rest of a Hearts team transformed by manager Craig Levein after the dark days under Ian Cathro. He added: “I’ll always be the first to say that I couldn’t have done this on my own and in some of those six games I’ve had nothing to do. The defence have left me a spectator on occasions.
“It’s fantastic for myself but it’s not about individual plaudits because it’s the way we play as a team and a unit. It’s a great achievement and you don’t get that success if you don’t work well as a group and work incredibly hard on the training ground.”
It is no surprise that Levein has already started talks on a new deal for the Edinburgh-born goalkeeper who only signed a one-year contract when he joined following a trial in August after being released by Burton Albion.
McLaughlin isn’t panicking about the situation but is hoping it can be sorted out during the winter break. He said: “It’s a great club to be play at and city to live in and we’re having a great time here. I’m happy and enjoying my football and that is my focus at the moment and when things are going great it’s always a positive marker to stay at a club like this.”
He will hope to extend that run to seven clean sheets when Hibs visit in the Scottish Cup later this month but Kyle Lafferty may not be able to impact that occasion after his straight red card at Pittodrie. Levein thought the striker was harshly dealt with by referee John Beaton, and Hearts are appealing the decision, but it was a scything tackle that took out Dons captain Graeme Shinnie two minutes from time and the red card seemed right.
As did the referee’s decision toe deny Aberdeen’s second-half claims for a penalty when the ball spun up off Jamie Brandon’s knee on to his arm, as it looked unintentional.
Hearts managed to frustrate the Dons, who remain eight points behind Celtic and three ahead of Rangers whom they visit in the first league game after the break, and you could see why Derek McInnes was so pleased to re-sign Niall McGinn last week. They have missed that extra bit of quality the Northern Ireland international can apply when it comes to unlocking even the most stubborn of defences. That would have come in handy in Saturday’s frenetic match.