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Hearts fan-favourites to spearhead Sunderland’s League One promotion charge - are they any good?

We asked Heart of Midlothian season ticket holder Kev Smithson what we can expect from Alim Ozturk and Jon McLaughlin - two men that are firm fan favourites at the Edinburgh club after successful stints there in recent years.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

RR: Alright Kev! Firstly - sorry for pinching your player of the season... and secondly, thanks for having a chat with us. We’ll start with our new Turkish defender. In short, what can we expect from Alim Ozturk?

KS: Alim is a pretty solid centre half who likes to bring the ball out and link up play with the midfield. He can play the ball out from the back comfortably and, as you may have seen from his highlight reel, he isn’t afraid of shooting from distance either!

He would often take free kicks for Hearts, which isn’t usually the job of a central defender, but as you surely now know, up here he is most famous for scoring a 40-yard last minute screamer to earn a draw at Easter Road against our fierce rivals Hibernian!

RR: Do you think he’ll struggle with the physical aspect of being a League One footballer, or is he as good in the air as he is the floor?

KS: I wouldn’t be worried about the physic aspect of his game if I was a Sunderland fan, no. The Scottish league is very physical also and is played at a very quick pace with a lot of pressing high up the pitch.

He was pretty comfortable on the ball in the Scottish Championship when we won the league a few seasons back, however he sometimes struggled when we made the transition to the Premiership - and this subsequently led to him losing his place in the team. He is fairly tall, though I wouldn't say say he was particularly dominant in the air.

Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

RR: One worry is that he was stripped of the captaincy at Hearts towards the end of his time there due to concerns over his performance. What happened?

KS: Quite simply, he lost his place in the team and Robbie Nelson (the then Hearts manager) made the decision to strip him if the captaincy. It wasn’t anything sinister or a flaw of his character to my knowledge.

Personally I don’t think this helped the dressing room, looking back. It happened during the season and caused a little bit of disruption, so I think it could have been handled better - and I did have sympathy for Ozturk at that time.

RR: On the flip side, he was also given the captaincy at a young age. With John O’Shea gone and Lee Cattermole likely to be on his way, is he someone who could step in and be a leader in the squad?

KS: It’s hard to say as he wasn’t captain for too long. However, he must have shown enough in the dressing room to show the manager he was the right man, despite his age, and was consistent on the pitch the season we romped to promotion. From that perspective he must have some good leadership skills to have been asked in the first place.

Mexico v Scotland - International Friendly Photo by Manuel Velasquez/Getty Images

RR: Onto Jon McLaughlin. He’s a name not many of us know, but he was voted the best goalkeeper in the Scottish Premiership last year - how much of a blow is it to Hearts to lose him?

KS: He is a very solid keeper and it’s a disappointment that he won’t be a Hearts player next season. After a few seasons where we struggled in this department, it was refreshing to have a reliable keeper in between the sticks who wasn’t just a good shot stopper, but was commanding in the area and communicated well with his defenders. He’s definitely a very good signing for a free. He’ll do well at Sunderland.

RR: How much do you know about how McLaughlin was recieved at Burton and Bradford? Did he just have a fantastic season with Hearts - a one off - or is he actually a very decent goalkeeper?

KS: Prior to him signing for Hearts I had never heard of him before to be honest, albeit he’s from Edinburgh originally. I gather that the Burton fans were sorry to see him go however, and he was well thought of there, and although he is a bit of a journeyman down south he seems to be liked at each club he’s turned out for. So, I wouldn’t say he isn’t just a one season wonder.

Hearts v St Johnstone - Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images

RR: We lost so many points from our three horrendous goalkeepers last year, some of the mistakes were ridiculous, so ideally we just want someone who can at least do the basics this year! Is McLaughlin an all-round good goalkeeper, or someone who takes the headlines as a shot stopper?

KS: What you have got in McLaughlin is very solid keeper. He’s very good all around. He is a great shot-stopper yes, but he has a good command of his area, has a good kick on him and is a talker that communicates well with his defence.

RR: Are there any weaknesses to his game?

KS: I think he obviously has very poor judgement in that he decided to leave the famous Heart of Midlothian FC, of course.

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