Rangers leap to defence of 'poor narrative' as Michael Beale explains why he went for Jon McLaughlin over Allan McGregor
McLaughlin mis-kicked a ball straight to David Turnbull, who scored to make it 4-0 in what is considered the beginning of the end of Giovanni van Bronckhorst's Ibrox reign. The 'keeper was also criticised in some quarters for allowing the opener from Liel Abada to creep across the line.
It's worth noting that McLauglin has yet to concede a goal in Beale’s tenure as Rangers manager. He has, admittedly, only played twice. They do have some previous together dating back to Beale’s spell as first team coach under Steven Gerrard. McLaughlin was recruited from Sunderland in the summer of 2020, ostensibly as back up to Allan McGregor. But he did play 14 times in that subsequent season, conceding just three goals. He then made 11 appearances in the league, nine of which were clean sheets, as Rangers clinched the title the following season.
It would be unfair of Beale to simply ignore this. And he hasn’t. It’s one reason why McLaughlin has been brought back into the team for specific games. Ahead of the trip to face Dundee United on Sunday, Beale reasoned that McLaughlin’s slight height advantage over McGregor would be preferable when defending set-pieces, where the manager anticipated United being most dangerous. In the event, the hosts barely won a free kick in Rangers’ half. But McLaughlin was competent when he had to be, apart from one badly skewed clearance, as Rangers registered a comfortable 2-0 win.
Beale later argued that McLaughlin has rarely let the Ibrox side down. The error against Celtic was picked over because of the identity of the opposition, the significance of the fixture and the fact the goalkeeper conceded another four goals against Ajax in Rangers’ Champions League return shortly afterwards. The manager is concerned that McLaughlin has suffered due to an agenda against him and wants the 35-year-old to know he is appreciated. He does, after all, have a contract until the end of next season.
“I feel this year the narrative around Jon is a poor narrative,” stressed Beale. “In my time at the club previously and, since I’ve been back, Jon’s record per game with wins and clean sheets is absolutely outstanding. He made quite a high-profile mistake but I don’t think we should condemn him. It’s important that I keep Jon focused and feeling like he is wanted and loved around here because he is.”
The timing of McLaughlin's return to the fore is helpful as far as Steve Clarke is concerned. Scotland open their Euro 2024 qualifying campaign in just over ten weeks' time and have a vacancy at goalkeeper following Craig Gordon's double leg-break before Christmas. If McLaughlin can play at least some of the games between now and then, he will surely be a contender to add to his two Scotland caps to date.
Beale seems set to choose between McGregor and McLaughlin on a game-by-game basis. "If I think it's right," he answered when asked whether McGregor will return for this weekend's Viaplay Cup semi-final against Aberdeen. "It’s nothing against Allan," he added. "Allan obviously came out a few weeks ago at Ross County for Jon to go in. I just had a hunch that this week or looking at this month I wanted Jon to play this game. We’ve played it and we’ve won. Hopefully now some of the fuss can go away. We win with Allan and we win with Jon, that’s a good sign.”