Hearts challenge is just right for Ashley Smith-Brown

Ashley Smith-Brown
Ashley Smith-Brown
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Tynecastle can be a demanding place for seasoned professionals, let alone on-loan youngsters seeking to kick-start their professional careers.

For Ashley Smith-Brown however, the demands of playing for a club like Hearts are exactly what he believes he needs to expose himself to in order to reach the next level.

The left-back, who spent last season on loan with Dutch outfit NAC Breda, completed his temporary switch to Gorgie at the end of last week, filling what has become a problem position at Tynecastle over the last couple of years.

He is now ready to embrace another different and demanding football environment. “It is always good to go out of your comfort zone,” Smith-Brown said. “Football is not a comfortable game and you are always going to be pushed in different areas.

“I thought it would be good to go abroad and experience a different style of football for my first loan period and it was a great experience.”

The way Ian Cathro, Austin MacPhee and Craig Levein are selling the club to prospective recruits is clearly impressive, as Smith-Brown revealed parent club City were keen for Edinburgh to be his destination.

“It was early in my holiday when the interest first came to light,” the 21-year-old said. “I got invited to Edinburgh and to have a look around the club and to meet the manager and Craig Levein. We spoke and they said very positive things about me and the club and that was a good selling point, to be honest with you.

“Hearts are a good club who play with wing-backs and that this should be a good fit for me. I wanted to come to Hearts and City felt that this was the right move for me so both parties are happy.

“I still have the belief that I can break into the City first team. If you do not have the belief then there is no point in trying. It is always going to be tough to break into any first team squad no matter what team you are at so you just have to keep believing in yourself.”

A successful spell in Holland last year culminated in Smith-Brown helping NAC clinch promotion to the Eredivise via the play-offs. It wasn’t a case of “out of sight, out of mind” though as City kept regular tabs on the young prospect and will no-doubt be regular observers from the new main stand at Tynecastle.

“When I was in Holland there is a link with City and NAC Breda – every month a few members of staff would fly out and watch our games and speak to us just to see how we were getting on in our day to day lives,” he recalled.

“NAC Breda won promotion to the Dutch top flight and there was a big party and the scenes were crazy, although they should never have been in that league. There was a real expectation on NAC to get promoted and we got there in the end.

“That will stand me in good stead now that I am playing for Hearts. I have played under pressure before and it won’t be nothing new to me – I understand the demands of the club.”

Watching City colleague Patrick Roberts excel for Celtic last season convinced Smith-Brown that Hearts could provide a similar platform for him to shine.

“Seeing Pat do well at 
Celtic certainly influenced my decision,” he admitted. “I played with him at England youth levels before he went to Manchester City. He was in 
the first team for a bit and I was in the under-23s. Pat has gone on achieved good things with Celtic and he is a great example for me to come up here and give Scottish football a try.

“They try to play more football in the Scottish League and it is attracting different types of players and that is one of the reasons why I came here.”

“I was keeping tabs on what Pat was doing at Celtic and he was making a good name for himself in Scotland, so I thought this is a good league with good recognition after what he has done and hopefully I can do something similar.

“I played with Pat in the Euro U21 qualifiers and he was playing in the year above age group. He was one of our main players and he was skilful and a real threat. We had a few good battles and I got near him sometimes in training – I’m glad he has left Celtic now!”

Having done his research, there is one opponent in particular Smith-Brown is keen to come up against. “I have only heard good things about the Edinburgh derby against Hibs,” he said. “I hope I get some match time in that and hopefully crack on from there.

“There weren’t any derbies in Holland as our local rivals were in the top league, so I am looking forward to it.”