Craig Levein admits it’s “pretty clear” goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin won’t be at Hearts next season and revealed he is already on the look out for an experienced replacement.
Edinburgh-born Allan McGregor has been linked with Hearts in the past but is now reported to be in talks with Rangers about a return to Ibrox. McLaughlin, who has been called up to the Scotland squad since signing a one-year-deal with Hearts last summer, could be installed as McGregor’s successor as No 1 at Hull City.
The English Championship club were close to signing McLaughlin last year before he snapped a tendon in his arm while playing for Burton Albion. He has since rehabilitated himself to the extent he was called up by new Scotland manager Alex McLeish for the friendly double header against Costa Rica and Hungary in March.
Hearts are powerless to prevent McLaughlin speaking to other clubs and, with the lucrative terms on offer south of the Border, Levein is resigned to the keeper moving on.
“I’m pretty clear he’ll not be here next season,” said the Hearts manager. “I’m not sure if he’ll say that [himself]. He’s got some interest from fairly big clubs who pay good money.
“He kind of missed some things last summer as he had a little injury. He might have gone to Hull and he turned down a new contract at Burton to get something bigger and then he got injured and missed the summer and ended up scrambling around a bit.”
McLaughlin has been an undoubted success and his legacy has been to underline to Levein what he needs ahead of next season.
Jack Hamilton started this season as No 1 but was quickly deposed by McLaughlin. Levein seems unwilling to place his faith in the 24-year-old, who is still making his way in the game. In the case of the 30 year-old McLaughlin, Hearts have reaped the benefits of having a steady goalkeeper with more than a decade’s worth of experience.
It has helped concentrate Levein’s mind when searching for a replacement. However, he would not be drawn on the latest news about McGregor, who seems set to sign a reported two-year deal at Rangers.
“I’ve said I’m looking to bring in a more senior goalkeeper, what that means we’ll have to wait and see,” said Levein.
“He’s been brilliant for us,” he added, with reference to McLaughlin. “What he has helped with is that I know clearly that we need an experienced goalkeeper to handle the pressures of being a goalkeeper.
“Since he’s been in the team he’s brought a calmness and allows everybody in the stadium to feel like everything is fine and he’s in control. That’s clear in my head at this moment that we need to do the same again.”
Levein is more hopeful about Hearts retaining the services of on-loan Manchester United left-back Demetri Mitchell next season. “I would like to,” he said. “There’s a lot of water to flow under the bridge between now and a decision being made on that. We’ll see how it goes.”
After being missing since suffering a knee injury in the 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock in February, Mitchell could return for tomorrow night’s trip to Pittodrie to face Aberdeen.
“The injury is alright,” said Levein. “That’s healed. My only question is: ‘Has he done enough work to be ready to play 90 minutes?’ The balance of the team has been thrown back out of kilter without him. We’re playing right-footed players at left-back.
“I want to get him back in as quickly as possible. Whether that means Friday or not, we just have to see. Sometimes younger ones can find it more difficult getting back up to speed than an experienced player.”
Levein is aware of the disquiet among fans stemming from the side’s away form. Hearts have won just four times on the road this season in the league and only once since the turn of the year. The manager knows the problem pre-dates the current campaign.
“Go back ten seasons,” he said. “Other than the Championship season, our away record is pretty poor. That’s something I need to address for next season. Last season we only got three away wins. We have four so far this season and the maximum we can get now is six. We reached double figures in the Championship season so there’s room for improvement, which I quite like.”
Levein’s preparations ahead of next season have already begun in earnest. He confirmed talks are on-going with Inverness Caledonian Thistle about a swap deal involving the Highlands club’s midfielder Jake Mulraney and Angus Beith. Irishman Mulraney trained with Hearts earlier this season and Levein described the potential acquisition as a “project”.
He added: “It is quite a simple transaction. They are two boys who aren’t playing every week – we want one Robbo’s [John Robertson’s] got and he wants one we’ve got.
“It’s not a high-level transfer but I think he’s quite interesting. He’s got real pace, it’s about what we can do with it after that.”
Levein also stressed the chance Conor Sammon has to establish himself at Hearts. The striker is currently on loan at Partick Thistle, where he has scored nine goals.
“Liam Smith [at St Mirren] is in the same boat,” he said. “They’ve gone out on loan and done reasonably well and I think it makes sense to bring them back in for pre-season and have a look at them.”