Alex Cochrane on 'loving it' at Hearts, where he is looking to improve and the difference between SPFL and Premier League 2

First it was Celtic's £3.5million summer signing Liel Abada. It was followed by the direct and rambunctious dual threat of Curtis Main and Eamonn Brophy. Then on Sunday it was James Forrest.

By Joel Sked
Wednesday, 18th August 2021, 7:00 am
Alex Cochrane has been a solid presence on the left for Hearts. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)
Alex Cochrane has been a solid presence on the left for Hearts. (Photo by Ross MacDonald / SNS Group)

Alex Cohrane's move to Hearts is the next phase of his development and his last three matches has confirmed the step up in quality and variety the Scottish game has to offer.

Gorgie was the chosen location by parent club Brighton & Hove Albion for the 21-year-old, who signed a one-year extension with the Premier League side before making the move north.

The cinch Premiership is no Belgian second tier, where Cochrane played seven games for Royale Union Saint Gilloise, and it is certainly a world away from the Premier League 2 – the English top flight's glorified reserve league.

He has come to quickly learn what is required in Scotland, hammered home last weekend when, in the absence of Stephen Kingsley, he was shifted to be part of the back three against St Mirren, his performance against Brophy and Main earning praise from manager Robbie Neilson.

It was back down to earth with a bump at Celtic Park on Sunday against the experience and pace of James Forrest.

‘You don’t get when you play reserve football’

"The first 10-15 minutes you know what you are going to get," Cochrane told the Evening News about what he has learned about Scottish football.

Cochrane tested himself against James Forrest on Sunday. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

"It’s very fast paced and you have to be ready for that from the start. If you are not ready for that you will get punished. It is something I have had to learn so far since I’ve been up here.

“That’s the thing you don’t get when you play reserve football. That’s something I will get used to, I’ve still got to build upper body strength and playing games like that against strikers like that will be something I’ll learn from.

“It’s a lot more physical. You are playing against people who have got 100 games experience underneath them. Like Sunday, playing against James Forrest. Nearly 400 games under his belt.

"You are going to be playing against players who are a lot cleverer, a lot smarter, quicker than you, more physical. You just have to learn from it, take it game by game. If I do make a mistake, that’s something I am going to learn from.”

Cochrane showed his versatility against St Mirren. (Photo by Alan Harvey / SNS Group)

He added: “I feel like for everyone, including myself, in the first half [against Celtic] we needed to be a bit braver in certain areas and certain aspects. Second half was better.

"For myself personally, playing in a stadium like this with the fans back in was a great experience.”

‘More to come’

It is an experience as a whole he has enjoyed since moving to Scotland.

Even after a testing afternoon at Celtic Park, it is clear from Cochrane’s tone he is loving every second of being part of the football club and playing for Hearts.

Loan spells can be an awkward time for players but the defender admitted he has settled in “fantastically”, despite family being down south, taking the opportunity to enjoy Edinburgh and explore the likes of the Castle, the Old Town and Arthur's Seat.

He was sold on the move to Tynecastle through input from the club’s 1998 Scottish Cup winner David Weir, who operates as Brighton's loan manager, as well as a promo video created for all new signings, with a look around the stadium a huge draw.

“There was a detailed conversation about what Hearts would bring, what it would be like up here," Cochrane explained.

"I came up here to have a look around the stadium and the city. After that I was sold, 100 per cent I was coming up here and I’m not looking back on it.

"I knew about Hearts but it’s good to get to know the club’s history and how much it means to the fans.

"They are passionate fans, you have to be willing to win every game.

"I’m learning more and more about my own game and the Scottish game. I’m really enjoying it.

"I feel there is a lot more to come from myself personally. I feel like I need to improve in certain areas but so far I’m fairly happy with my start but there is still a lot more to come.”

Where to improve

The addition of Cochrane has been welcomed by fans. Formidable, solid, reliable, there is a feeling of relative safety down the left-hand side, with the loanee playing ahead of Kingsley.

Cochrane, who has played mostly as a left-back for Brighton's Under-23 side, has also shown he can contribute in the final third with an assist for Finlay Pollock in a win over Stirling Albion in the Premier Sports Cup.

While wanting to aid the team any way he can, he is also looking to improve different facets of his game, aided by chats with Neilson or Weir, who he speaks to twice a week.

“You have got to be versatile in this game nowadays,” Cochrane said. “The more versatile you are the more likely you are going to be on the pitch. It is definitely something I’m enjoying doing.

“Some defensive things I’ve spoken to the gaffer about [improving].

"Dealing with long balls, defensively I still feel 1 v 1 I can still improve. With time it’s going to slowly come.

“David is always there for a phone call. He wished me luck for the Celtic game at the start of the season. I know everyone at Brighton is a phone call away if I need them.”

He added: “I’m loving it up here.”

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