Ashley Smith-Brown is ready to prove himself to Hearts fans after a nightmare start to his Tynecastle career. However, he admitted he doesn’t blame people for wondering where he has disappeared to since arriving on loan from Manchester City.
Niggling groin and ankle injuries have seen the left-back play just 28 competitive minutes in Scotland, prompting some to jokingly ask whether he is actually a figment of the imagination.
Spending two months on the sidelines was the worst possible beginning for Smith-Brown after signing a season-long loan from the English premier League giants. He hasn’t been seen since trudging off on his Hearts debut at Borough Briggs in Elgin back on July 18. Thankfully, he is now fit again and pushing for a place in the team to face Hamilton tomorrow.
The 21-year-old managed 60 minutes for Hearts Under-20s against St Mirren in midweek after overcoming the persistent complaints which have hampered his time in Edinburgh to date. He is now craving a run in the team to show his capabilities and answer those enquiries about his whereabouts.
“I’ve only played two games since I’ve been here so they’ve got a right to ask those questions,” laughed Smith-Brown during an exclusive Evening News interview. “I’ve not played much football at all for Hearts but hopefully they’ll see a lot of me in the coming weeks.
“It’s definitely been a frustrating start. I’m just happy I’m back fit and training now, so hopefully I’m in the plans for tomorrow. I just want to stay away from any niggling injuries, stay fit and have a good season.
“It was my groin and ankle which kept me out but, apart from that, I was building fitness up. I got here towards the end of pre-season so I missed quite a bit of fitness. I needed to get back to the level I was at, but now I feel sharp again and I’m ready to go.
“You’re at a new club and you want to show them how good you are and what you can do with the ball. You want to show everybody why they brought you to the club, really. That’s why it was even more frustrating because I know I’ve got a lot to give. It was hard watching the boys from the sidelines but I’m happy to be back involved now.”
A decision late last month to let the player train solidly for two weeks to improve fitness levels seems to have paid dividends.
“I kept getting little niggles so I was coming in and out. It’s not beneficial to me or any of the fitness staff if I’ve got little injuries and keep coming in and out. It’s no good for anyone.
“We decided it would be better for me to get maybe two weeks’ training under my belt with no injuries. Then I would feel fresh, get match fit and crack on from there. I wouldn’t say injuries are a regular thing for me but, in my short career so far, I have had them. They’re part of football. You just need to stay mentally strong.
“I’ve had longer injuries than this. It wasn’t that tough to stay focused this time because I’ve been out for longer before. I’m just happy to be over it.”
Smith-Brown is determined not to play with any hesitation should he be given a starting slot at Hamilton’s SuperSeal Stadium. Playing for the Under-20s eased him back into action and he now plans to go full throttle.
“I felt really good, really sharp, playing in the Under-20 game. I got 60 minutes under my belt. Initially, I was only going to play 45 minutes but I felt better for playing a little bit longer.
“The physio and all the staff have managed me pretty well, I think. Once I’m ready to go, I’m ready to go. There’s no point playing with a handbrake on so I’m just going to give it everything I’ve got.”
Even the much-questioned 3G astroturf pitch in Lanarkshire doesn’t faze the young Mancunian. He spent last season on loan at NAC Breda in thhe Netherlands, where many professional clubs play on synthetic surfaces. “I played quite a few games on astroturf last year so that’s not a problem for me,” he stressed.
The overriding feeling is that he simply wants to get back to doing his job and put the difficult start at Hearts behind him. In that sense, the timing of his return is almost perfect.
Craig Levein has just taken charge of Hearts for the second time after a chaotic summer in which head coach Ian Cathro lost his job and Jon Daly took charge for a four-week interim period. Levein’s decision to step forward from his director of football role and return to the dugout should bring a level of stability back to the club.
Smith-Brown certainly needs a settled period himself.
“Getting back from injury at any time is a good time for me,” he said.
“I don’t like to be missing football. I’m just glad to be back now and the team is playing well, too.
“We should have got a result last week against Aberdeen. I thought we should have won the game so hopefully we can carry on that momentum tomorrow.”
Watching the drama unfold involving Cathro, Daly and a number of managerial candidates left some people at Hearts wondering where, and when, it would all end. Smith-Brown tried not to become distracted by it all as he focused on more pressing fitness issues.
“It was out of my hands, it’s not something I could change. You just have to stay professional and get on with it. You just do your job and keep working hard and all that other stuff will take care of itself.
“I’m feeling good now, I’ve been training and working hard. I hope tomorrow I get a chance because I’m looking forward to getting some momentum going here.”
His return will be akin to a new signing for Levein. Pretty quickly, Smith-Brown plans to ensure those asking questions a few weeks back know exactly who he is.