Alex Cochrane backing himself despite uncertainty over Hearts future
The defender has been on loan at Hearts from Brighton & Hove Albion for the duration of the season and has generally impressed with his performances in the cinch Premiership, either on the left side of head coach Robbie Neilson’s preferred back three or at wing-back.
His contract with the Premier League club expires at the end of the campaign and – even though Brighton assistant technical director, and former Hearts player, David Weir still checks in on the 21-year-old’s progress – the reality is an EPL player being sent on loan to the Scottish top flight in the final year of his deal is unlikely to be offered another. Even if they are it’s typically a ploy from the club to earn some development compensation.
Born and bred in Brighton, he’s spent the entirity of his career with his local club having joined at a very early age. Not long after his 22nd birthday he’ll have to make the decision on where he goes next. It’s a crucial choice for any young footballer. Get it wrong and it can set a career back years. Get it right and the road to the top illuminates once again.
He doesn’t know whether his next permanent home will be in Edinburgh with discussions yet to take place with Hearts over a permanent deal or whether he’ll have to look elsewhere. But he does know he can’t let it act as a distraction as he looks to fend off the challenge from team-mate Andy Halliday for the left wing-back spot, which is the main threat standing between Cochrane and playing regularly from now until the end of May.
"My contract is up this summer. I’m just focusing on my football and anything behind closed doors I leave to my agent,” he said.
“Personally, I don’t really feel the pressure. I just want to go on the pitch and enjoy football, do what I know I can do and the rest of it will hopefully take care of itself. For me, I don’t put any pressure on myself, because I think that might hinder my performance in a way.
"100 per cent [it’s about putting myself in the shop window]. I want to play as many games as I can. I need to look at myself for that to happen, I will push hard in training, work on my game a bit more and hopefully that will come.
"I’m still young at the moment, but I’ve definitely played more than what I expected and put in performances that I have been happy with. Some games I’ve had to learn from but that’s football.
"You need to learn more of the other side of the game, on the ball I feel I can handle myself. Off the ball I need to be a bit more aggressive and assertive in certain areas.
"For example, the [recent] Motherwell game was one that I sat down and thought, ‘I need to learn from this and be more assertive with my performance without the ball as well’. I felt I got sucked into the way they played. I tried to have a physical battle with players who were stronger and more street smart, so I think that’s an area that I need to work on, and I think with experience that’s something that’s definitely going to come.
Cochrane’s development this season has been aided by the cast of characters around him. While it’s a young team in certain areas, there’s a lot of experience at the back in the likes of Michael Smith, Craig Gordon and Stephen Kingsley. The latter two have experience of playing in the English Premier League, Kingsley in Cochrane’s own position.
It also doesn’t hurt the club have been enjoying a highly-successful season which has surpassed expectations at the outset. Even though they’ve had a dip in performance recently, they retain a ten-point lead in third place as confidence continues to buzz around the dressing room with a Scottish Cup quarter-final tie against St Mirren in Edinburgh on the horizon.
"For me personally, yeah, it’s gone better than expected but now I’ve seen the quality we’ve got in the changing room I’m not surprised at all because we have a good strong squad that is hungry and wants to do well in the league and the cup. Hopefully we can kick on and secure third and get a good cup run.
"For me personally I’ve played a lot more than I expected, I’ve put in good performances but I’m still young and learning the game. I’m definitely enjoying it up here.
“Stephen Kingsley is a close one to look up to, because he plays next to me. He talks to me through the game and then after the game we speak about things we could’ve done different, so he’s definitely someone who’s helped me improve.
“I think John Souttar as well, his presence, he knows what it means to be at this club. He sets the standards high, so you have to keep up with him.
"We’re not thinking that complacency will set in at all. We know it’s going to be hard and we have to keep pushing for every single point because they are going to be vital. We’re in a good position but we know we can’t become complacent as that’s when the lead could shorten."