Alex Cochrane sets trophy target with Hearts after being denied winner's medal in Belgium
Against the backdrop of heaving Tynecastle crowds thriving on Hearts’ momentum, Alex Cochrane is quietly growing as a footballer and a person.
He may only look about 14 but in actual fact this is a 21-year-old with the maturity of someone considerably older. A season-long loan in Edinburgh is very much the means to an end, however Cochrane is not simply along for the ride.
The talented left full-back harbours long-term ambitions of gracing England’s Premier League with parent club Brighton. Playing for Hearts is intended to ready him for that next step so he intends making the time at Tynecastle count. That means medals and trophies.
Cochrane did not receive a league winner’s medal from his loan spell at the Belgian club Royal Union Saint-Gilloise last season. He had returned to England through injury by the time they clinched promotion to the top flight and a gong was never forwarded on.
That rankles slightly with the player, intensifying his need to make this loan count. “I didn't actually get a medal because of the injury. I was part of the team that got promotion, which was nice, but unfortunately I didn't get a winner's medal,” confirmed Cochrane.
“I saw a few players who played less minutes than me get medals. It might just have been because I was injured and back in England.
“That's one thing about me: I want success, I want medals and trophies as a team. I'm still young, I still have a long way to go. We just have to wait and see how this season goes.”
Asked if this Hearts squad – unbeaten in the cinch Premiership so far this season – can facilitate that wish, he replied: “Yes, you could say that. It's going to be tough to get there and we have to keep fighting and pushing.
“The standard up here is very good. The quality of training is good. There are players in our team who I feel could go down south and play at a high level. People always think Scottish football is different to English football but I've seen technically very good players in this league, especially here at Hearts.”
While positive results and attacking football have recreated a convivial atmosphere around Tynecastle Park in recent weeks, there is still the odd dissenting voice to be heard. Cochrane’s wing-back role means he is often hugging a touchline just yards from a fan bellowing their thoughts in his ear.
He regards it all as part of the apprenticeship – an important learning curve if he is to infiltrate Graham Potter’s first-team squad back at Brighton next year. It is good preparation for the next stage of his career.
“Yes, it helps a lot. Brighton and Hearts play similar formations so this is preparing me for that,” he said. “I'm getting experience of playing in front of crowds, getting used to not being able to hear players, or making mistakes and the crowd getting on your back.
“It's stuff you need to learn as a young kind and I feel I'm learning in every game. There are still bits of my game I need to improve on and mistakes will happen because it's part of the game.”
Criticism can be difficult to cope with, especially for younger players. “It's one of those things you just have to take. Everyone's got their opinion,” acknowledges the Englishman. “The only opinion that matters in my view is the gaffer's.
“If he doesn't think I'm doing well enough and pulls me aside then I'll deal with that. Criticism is one of the things you get in football these days.”
There is no carping at Hearts’ progress since rejoining Scotland’s top division in the summer. Manager Robbie Neilson has overseen a remarkable turnaround and Cochrane said he is slightly surprised by so many teams cutting each other up.
“I think so, yes. Last season, without crowds, probably affected the season. Now you go to away games and it's a lot more hostile. It's a league where anyone can beat anyone on their day. It's enjoyable to watch it.
“It’s been a lot tighter than what I thought, compared to last year when Rangers and Celtic walked away with the league. It’s been a tough battle, every game I’ve played has been a proper test and that’s the thing about this league, there are no easy games.
“You can’t think there is otherwise teams will catch up and before you know it the league will look a lot different.”
Hearts take on Dundee today looking to extend their unbeaten Premiership run to ten matches. Craig Halkett’s stoppage-time equaliser at Ibrox last weekend further increased belief within the squad.
“I think it was the biggest occasion I’ve played in and it was a fantastic experience for myself, walking out the tunnel and hearing the roar of the Rangers fans,” said Cochrane. “Playing in front of that many people is a great experience and to get the equaliser it was an even better feeling. I feel like we deserved it in the end.
“That's exactly why I first came up here. Speaking to the gaffer about the games against, Rangers, Celtic and Hibs, how big an occasion they are. I saw on Saturday how big an occasion it was and how this team can compete with those teams as well.”
There is still no room for complacency at Riccarton. “In this group that won’t be the case,” stressed Cochrane. “We treat every game like it’s the biggest game and you have to in this league. If we want to have a very successful season we have to do that.
“We have to beat teams like Dundee, beat teams who are lower down and when it comes to teams like Celtic, Rangers or Hibs, we have to go and fight and get the points there as well.”