Alex Cochrane on stepping up to the mark at Hearts while his Brighton future remains in the dark

Alex Cochrane is still in the dark about his long-term future at parent club Brighton, but he knows exactly what to focus on for the next few weeks at Hearts.

Wednesday, 22nd December 2021, 8:30 am
Alex Cochrane has had to adapt to a different way of playing left centre-back in a three under Robbie Neilson, but showed against Dundee on Saturday that he is a fast learner
Alex Cochrane has had to adapt to a different way of playing left centre-back in a three under Robbie Neilson, but showed against Dundee on Saturday that he is a fast learner

Stephen Kingsley’s injury at Dens Park on Saturday means he’s in pole position to slot into the left-sided centre-back position for forthcoming matches against Ross County and St Johnstone at Tynecastle and perhaps the Edinburgh derby at Easter Road too.

It’s a position he has filled a few times already for Robbie Neilson and he also played there on loan at Belgian First Division B side Union SG last season, but the 21-year-old admits he has had to adapt his game to fit in with the Hearts head coach’s tactical approach.

“I played it when I was out in Belgium,” he told the Edinburgh Evening News.

Alex Cochrane has played more often than not this season and is enjoying his football at Hearts

“I played it a few times. But it is a different way that the gaffer wants me to play in that position. It took some time to get used to, but I think I’ve adjusted well to it and I enjoy playing there. It’s a position I’m learning and I’m enjoying it.”

Neilson wants his right and left-sided centre-back in a three to step out of defence in possession and create an overload in midfield, especially against teams who sit back and let Hearts dominate the ball.

John Souttar and Kingsley have perfected it, sometimes becoming overlapping centre-backs at times, and Cochrane showed against Dundee that he is more than capable of doing the same. After coming on to replace Kinglsey midway through the first half, it was his step forward and zipped pass into Barrie McKay’s feet inside the box which led to Jamie Walker’s winning goal.

“Especially in games like against Dundee, you have to push men forward,” Cochrane explained. “So it is down to me sometimes and Soapy sometimes to push forward and give us an extra man. I think my pass into Bazz led to the goal, so it is always good.”

Alex Cochrane is not thinking about his Brighton future just yet

It won’t go down as an assist, but Cochrane played his part and helped Craig Gordon keep a clean sheet too.

He had more recently enjoyed a run in the team on the left side of midfield in Neilson’s preferred 3-4-3 formation, but has dropped to the bench in recent weeks.

Neilson has been really pleased with the contribution and progress Cochrane has made this season for such an inexperienced player and has no hesitation deploying him in either position. If the left centre-back position needs filling over the festive period, he knows Cochrane can do it.

“He’s played there a number of times this season,” Neilson told the Edinburgh Evening News. “In that position, we’ve got Kinglsley, Cochrane and Halliday who can all play there. It was no problem at all when Stephen came off just sticking Alex in there. He did very well.

“We’ve got a good squad here. We have to pick. Against Rangers we went with Gary McKay-Steven [on the left of midfield] because we wanted to be more attack minded. Against Dundee we put Halliday there [in a 3-4-3] because we thought it was going to be a physical battle.

“Alex has done really, really well and he’s probably played more than we expected him to this season, because he’s still a young kid. People forget that. I’ve been pleased with him.

“It depends how Stephen Kingsley is. But if he doesn’t make it I’m quite happy for Alex to slot in there.”

Cochrane is just happy to play. Either position is fine with him and he feels he is getting better at both.

“It’s always good to have versatility because then there are more positions to play in on a match day,” he said. “I’m comfortable playing both positions. I’m still learning, because I’m still young, but every game I feel I’m slowly improving in certain areas. But there’s still a lot more to improve on.

“I want to be in the team every week, but sometimes that doesn’t always happen. But I’ve just got to work hard every day and in games like Dundee I have to be ready to come on and make an impact.

“Moving forward, I’ll just be doing the same and hopefully get my chance in the team and take it.”

That chance is now there for the taking, with Kingsley out injured. Cochrane is ready to grab it with both hands and get more games under his belt.

After all, that’s why he joined Hearts on loan from Brighton in the summer. Last season’s loan spell in Belgium was cut short by injury and he hasn’t made a first-team appearance for his hometown and parent club yet.

But he has done well at Hearts, scoring the first two goals of his professional career and featuring regularly.

Cochrane is out of contract at Brighton at the end of this season and hasn’t heard from the Premier League club. If they don’t offer him a new deal it wouldn’t be a surprise if Hearts made a move, but Cochrane is not thinking about it too much.

“At this moment in time, I’m just enjoying playing football,” he added. “I want to play as much as I can.

“All the stuff behind closed doors I’m leaving to my agent. If Brighton want to speak to me they’ll speak to me.

“That’s all I can say. At the moment there’s nothing at all and I’m enjoying my football.”

For now, Hearts can’t ask for much more than that.

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