Hearts ace Alex Cochrane on his future at Tynecastle, a 'must-win' encounter and showing patience
‘Must win’ is typically not a statement you expect to hear from players, managers or anyone involved in the day-to-day running of a football club, who tend to play down the significance of individual games, especially not when the match takes place in late November and the team in question are easily outperforming pre-season projections.
But this was the phrase which came from the mouth of Alex Cochrane when the Edinburgh Evening News sat down with him ahead of Saturday’s cinch Premiership match at Tynecastle with St Mirren.
It may seem a little reactionary, given last Saturday’s loss to Motherwell, was only the club’s second league defeat of the season, but the larger message coming out of Riccarton was one of patience and self-belief. The squad and manager Robbie Neilson are wholly satisfied with the season so far: the mood in the camp is good, training standards are being maintained and the team still sit third in the league table with the likely promise of group-stage European football next campaign if they can maintain that position. However, there is a burning desire within the team to put right the wrongs of Fir Park.
It wasn’t just that Hearts lost to Motherwell, it was the fact they did so while putting in their poorest performance of the season to date. With over 3,200 boisterous supporters having made the trip to Lanarkshire, only to return angry and disappointed following the 2-0 loss, there is a sense of responsibility to make up for it.
"There was a lot of disappointment and frustration in the aftermath of last week. We know it wasn't acceptable the way we went about the performance,” said Cochrane.
“We weren't at it from the off. We got bullied from start to finish. We played right into their hands. When you play a team like Motherwell, who are good at what they do, you cannot play into their hands at all. You're not going to win that battle.
“This weekend it's about putting that right. We need to bounce back. It's a must-win, really. We need to forget about last weekend, move quickly, keep doing what we've been doing all season and, basically, just put it right.
“Last week, as everyone knows, it wasn't acceptable, especially with the number of fans there as well. It was poor, but we're looking to bounce back at Tynecastle.”
Losing the last two matches away from home, having not lost any in the league prior to the 2-1 defeat at Aberdeen, has led to a suggestion the preferred formation of the 2021/22 system should be changed – that teams may be beginning to suss out what Hearts are trying to do and countering accordingly.
As far as Cochrane can see, there wasn’t much in common between the loss at Pittodrie and last week’s exploits, other than it was simply a case of Hearts failing to reach the standards they’ve set this season and the opponents executing their own, individual game-plan better than the visitors.
"There's no talk about changing the system or whether teams have sussed us out, nothing like that at all,” insisted Cochrane. “We just need to stick to what we know and go from there.
“You saw after the Aberdeen game we bounced back straight away. We put in a very good performance against Dundee United and we're looking to do the same this weekend.
“St Mirren have improved as the season has gone on. They went on a good little run and they'll be another tough game. When we played them in Paisley it was a tough encounter, but we got the win and we'll be looking to do the same again. But we know they've got a way of playing and they'll stick to it, so we need to be ready for that.”
Looking around the Hearts team, it could be suggested the squad are beginning to hit a bit of a wall in terms of fitness and fatigue, which would be a particular concern with the busy festive period coming up.
Cochrane hadn’t played a competitive first-team match prior to his arrival this summer, midfielder Beni Banigime had only featured in a handful, Ben Woodburn hadn’t played since January, John Souttar and Josh Ginnelly missed most of last season, and Barrie McKay was without a club until after the summer transfer window had concluded. Could this perhaps be a reason for away performances slumping recently? Cochrane doesn’t think so.
"From my part I don't think it's a factor and I don't think any of the lads do either. We have players in the squad who can come in if there is fatigue, but at the moment everyone is still feeling fresh and ready for games,” he said.
“It'll be my first time doing the busy festive period. I'm looking forward to it. We know there are tough games just around the corner. We've got St Mirren, Celtic and Livingston in the space of eight days. It'll be a tough period but this is a vital time and we must push to get as many points as possible from these games.”
It was revealed in the Evening News last week that Hearts are looking to sign up Cochrane on a permanent basis but are waiting to see if his parent club Brighton & Hove Albion, where his contract expires next summer, will make a move to keep the 21-year-old at the Amex Stadium for the long-term.
If the player is aware of any movements behind the scenes, he isn’t giving anything away.
"Nothing has been discussed with myself,” he said. “I'm just concentrating on playing football and not the kind of stuff that happens behind closed doors. So I'm not in a position to discuss it at the moment.
“I haven't heard anything from Brighton so, as far as I'm concerned, things are just as they were.”