Alex Cochrane explains Hearts' substitute muddle at Motherwell: 'I've never seen anything like it in football'

One minute your number is up and you’re strolling round the touchline applauding fans. The next you’re being ordered back onto the pitch by your captain. Hearts defender Alex Cochrane looked totally perplexed by events at Fir Park on Sunday. He wasn’t the only one.
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A triple substitution on 60 minutes was part of the visitors’ attempts to recover a 2-0 deficit against Motherwell during probably their worst performance of the season. Cochrane’s squad number, 19, initially flashed up on the electronic board in front of the technical area. The left wing-back walked off the field at the nearest point, the far side touchline, and began making his way round to the dugouts as three replacements took the field.

Whilst clapping the away support behind the goal, he suddenly found skipper Lawrence Shankland heading towards him motioning him back onto the field. It was a chaotic moment which epitomised a day when nothing went right for Hearts. Cochrane smiled momentarily about it afterwards, but only momentarily. No-one from Tynecastle Park was in the mood for much laughter.

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“That's something I've never seen before. It summed up our day, I think,” he explained. “My number did go up. They meant to put 29 up but 19 actually went up. I was oblivious to it, just walking off the pitch, and then I heard Shanks call my name to go back on. It's something I've never seen in football before - being subbed off then subbed back on again.” He admitted to getting pelters from some team-mates for an error which was, in truth, not of his making. “A little bit, yeah. A little bit of laughter,” he smirked.

The trip to North Lanarkshire exposed some deficiencies for Hearts players and management to address. They previously held a seven-point lead sitting third in the Premiership table, although that was reduced to five over the weekend. Edinburgh rivals Hibs are now their closest challengers in fourth. With a two-week break until the next match against St Johnstone, there is time to reflect and regroup.

Cochrane stressed the Motherwell loss should not be construed as a wake-up call. Hearts had lost just one of their previous 13 games in all competitions, after all. “I don't think so. We've been on a good run and this was an off day. We can't be having any more of them. It wasn't our best performance and everyone in the dressing room knows that,” he said.

“It wasn't the best performance from us, we know that as a team and we spoke about it. We need to win these games if we want to be in that third position. It wasn't a good day for us. We have to dust ourselves down and go again. We've got next weekend off, then we've got a big game against St Johnstone, then Celtic back-to-back. There are big games coming up for us.

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“We never thought third place was done and dusted, there are still plenty games to go in the season. Yes, it's five points. It's a gap but we need to make sure we keep that gap. We've got big games coming up so we need to make sure we are right at it.”

Hearts defender Alex Cochrane is told to get back on the pitch by captain Lawrence Shankland.Hearts defender Alex Cochrane is told to get back on the pitch by captain Lawrence Shankland.
Hearts defender Alex Cochrane is told to get back on the pitch by captain Lawrence Shankland.

There won’t be any foreign jaunts or short holidays for players this week despite the blank Saturday ahead. “No, there won't be any of that,” said Cochrane. “There will be a few days off so it's obviously a chance to recharge the batteries and go again in a couple of weeks' time. It's a good chance to see where we are but we know that, on the training pitch, we need to put in the work.

“We will speak about the Motherwell game but as soon as that's done then we need to move on quickly – focus on ourselves and then hopefully the rest takes care of itself. We want to put that game to bed and bounce back as quickly as possible. We have a two-week break now so we have to train hard and be right at it for when St Johnstone come to Tynecastle.”

Most observers noticed a lack of urgency at times about Hearts which has not often been evident this season. Although, in recent weeks, it has slowly crept towards the surface. The tempo of their play at Fir Park needed to be raised by a couple of gears, whilst credit should be given to the home team for their application under interim manager Stuart Kettlewell.

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“Motherwell make it tough whenever we go there,” said Cochrane. “We were a bit slack with passing, everyone could have been a bit braver going forward, including myself. We all know we weren't at the races and we're all disappointed with the result. I would have said we needed to be a bit more clinical with our passing in the final third. Motherwell defended well and made it hard for us but we need to be more ruthless with our passing.”

Conceding a cheap first goal to Jon Obika left Hearts on the back foot shortly before half-time. “Yes, I know. Especially from the second-phase after a set-piece as well. We will look at it and see where we can improve on it. But yes, it's annoying to concede that goal. As you know, Motherwell have some big players and I thought we dealt with that fairly well. To concede like that before half-time wasn't ideal.”