Turn off the end of the little Highland town’s main street and you come to Dudgeon Park, home to Brora Rangers. The ground’s entrance may as well have swinging louvre doors and a darkened front room as far as Aidy White is concerned, for he is about to enter the last chance saloon.
The full-back gets a rare outing in the Scottish Cup second-round tie and badly needs the opportunity to earn a new contract. His current Hearts deal is due to expire in May and he last made the starting line-up in the delayed Scottish Cup final against Celtic back on December 20.
Brora isn’t quite the old Wild West and White is certainly no cowboy, but he knows he is approaching high noon on his future at Tynecastle Park.
“Obviously I haven’t had as many starts as I wanted this season,” he said, speaking exclusively to the Evening News. “The manager has gone with a similar back four and I’ve just had to play a bit further forward. I feel I’ve done well when I’ve come on and I just need to keep putting those performances in.
“If I do get the nod tonight and potentially on Saturday, then I’ve got to take those chances. My future is uncertain so it’s an opportunity to impress and show what I can do.
Put a stamp on it
“There aren’t loads of games left so I have to make an impact. When I have been playing this season, I feel I’ve been doing well but I haven’t started as often as I wanted. When the opportunity comes I’ve got to put a stamp on it.”
The cup final was only White’s seventh start of the campaign. With Michael Smith missing Hearts’ next two games through international duty and Stephen Kingsley injured, the Englishman becomes the most experienced full-back available.
He was in line to deputise for Smith at right-back tonight and was trialled there in a bounce game against Partick Thistle earlier this month. Kingsley’s groin injury, suffered at Arbroath on Saturday, might see White given his preferred left-back slot.
“With Mick going away, there was always going to be a chance that I would be involved. Whether that would be right-back or whatever, I’m not sure. Hopefully I get a run out but it’s up to the manager. I don’t know what he’s going to do yet,” said White.
“I’ll keep my fingers crossed. I’ve been training hard. I’ve played a couple of closed-door games recently and I think I’ve done well. I feel I’m ready if I’m called upon.”
His right-back experience is somewhat limited. A wry chuckle comes as he explains why. “I only played there for about 20 minutes about ten years ago. I haven’t played there loads but it’s the same principles,” he smiled.
“You just have to open up your body and use your right foot a bit more. It’s something I’ll embrace if I am asked to play there. I’m looking forward to it and hopefully I do get the nod to start.”
Scottish Cup affection
The 29-year-old reserves plenty affection for the Scottish Cup and is relishing the chance to get back involved in the tournament. White’s incisive run earned Hearts a match-winning penalty against Hibs at Hampden in last year’s semi-final. He was then rewarded with a place in the team for the final.
“The Scottish Cup is a great competition to play in. Hearts have got to the final in the last couple of years and that’s what we’re striving for again this year. We don’t want any slip-ups tonight,” he stressed.
“We are going there to be as professional as we can be and hopefully get the result. We also want to perform well. We’ve had the league to concentrate on up until now but we know it’s going to be difficult up there.
“It’s probably going to much of the same as it was at Arbroath at the weekend. We will need to compete physically first and then hopefully our quality will show.”
It must be hoped the fare is somewhat better than at Gayfield. A turgid 0-0 draw left much to be desired, with Hearts manager Robbie Neilson admitting afterwards that players needed to show more composure in possession.
Brora are likely to be similarly competitive. However, the Highland League champions haven’t played competitively for ten weeks and are desperately short of match practice.
All football below the Scottish Championship was suspended on January 11 after Brora beat Camelon 2-1 to set up tonight’s tie with Hearts. They will have noted how Arbroath unsettled the Edinburgh club just a few days ago.
“It certainly wasn’t a classic,” admitted White. “I don’t think anybody will be watching that 90 minutes back in a hurry. We got a point and increased our lead again at the top of the table but we weren’t great. It was always going to be a difficult, scrappy game.
“They made it hard but we’ve got to be better and impose ourselves on the game. We did the other side of it well. We battled and stood up to the challenge but we have to braver in getting the ball down to try and create chances.”
The defender had to show his own grit after a dangerous tackle from Arbroath’s Michael McKenna near the end. “It wasn’t a nice one. I just knocked the ball round the corner, my leg was straight and he’s caught my standing leg. I’m lucky I had a shinpad on to be honest otherwise it could’ve been a bad one.”