Hearts manager Craig Levein hailed Harry Cochrane as a future Scotland star after his dominant Edinburgh derby display last night.
The 17-year-old stood out in midfield in the 2-1 victory over Hibs at Tynecastle Park and Levein admitted he has not worked with a youngster who is able to command senior games the way Cochrane can.
Kyle Lafferty and Steven Naismith scored the goals as Hearts ended their rivals’ hopes of finishing second in the Ladbrokes Premiership. Levein hailed Cochrane as the outstanding midfielder on the pitch.
“He was unbelievable. I don’t think he gave the ball away all evening,” said Levein. “His touch was a sublime on a pitch that was really slick. It’s really good players who can perform like that on a pitch like that.
“I have maybe coached some players with promise like him but none of them have proved they can play at this level, having just turned 17. I thought he was the best player in midfield.
“I think John McGinn is a fantastic player and rightly gets lots of plaudits. I thought, basically, Harry was better than him last night. I’m really excited about seeing how he develops, as should everyone else be in Scotland. I’m sure he’ll be an international player of the future.
“He doesn’t shirk any tackles. I think he had three block tackles in a row at one point and still came out with the ball. That’s tenacity. The best players have got that in them. The atmosphere out there is hot and intimidating and he was the coolest head on the pitch.”
The derby could be Naismith’s last game for Hearts this season. He has received a notice of complaint and offered a two-game ban by the Scottish Football Association for his tackle on Celtic’s Scott Brown on Sunday.
Hearts will decide today whether to appeal, with a hearing scheduled for Friday if so. Naismith, on loan from Norwich City, is unsure if he will return to Tynecastle after the summer.
Asked if last night was his last game in maroon, he replied: “Well, this season. It’s a situation no footballer wants to be in. I came here in January and enjoyed it and hopefully something will get sorted out in the summer one way or the other.
“I’m grateful to Hearts for this opportunity. If something can be done over the summer then it’s something I’d be interested in.”
He is content to let Hearts decide whether to challenge the SFA complaint but stressed he did not intend to hurt Brown. “I’ll leave that to the boss. I’ll accept whatever way the club want to go with it,” said the Scotland striker.
“I haven’t looked back at the tackle. It probably looks worse than it was. The tackle was late and probably merited some sort of punishment but there wasn’t any malice.
“I haven’t jumped into a tackle. I thought Broony was going to take a touch. Then he slid and I’m all in by then. It’s one of those things. I’ll accept what comes.”
Naismith was elated getting his first derby goal to win the game. “That was the big end to the season for us. Out of the fixtures left, that was the one that meant the most to everybody involved. It was important there was a performance put on and we produced.
“There hasn’t been much football played but in spells in this one there was a bit more. That’s probably a combination of us being better and the pitch being better.
“Harry was great in the middle. He did everything from making the right decision to making his tackles and making good passes. It all clicked.”