Jamie Brandon determined to survive hectic start at Hearts

Jamie Brandon went home with a tape of the match at Celtic and analysed his play
Jamie Brandon went home with a tape of the match at Celtic and analysed his play
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Someone at Hearts really should take Jamie Brandon aside and explain that it isn’t always this disorderly.

The teenager has experienced a tumultuous start to first-team life and might understandably wonder what he has let himself in for.

Refused permission to enter the pitch at Peterhead, knocked out of the Betfred Cup on his Tynecastle debut, manager sacked, then asked to shackle Scott Sinclair at Celtic Park. After just three senior appearances, Brandon could be forgiven if he ran for the Pentland Hills.

He isn’t that sort, though. The young right-back, promoted from under-20s to first team this summer, knows all of the above is part of being a professional footballer. Well, maybe not being told you can’t come on as a substitute, but more of that later. Brandon is determined to withstand any challenge which comes his way and, from two games so far this season, looks capable of doing so.

He shrugged off the cup exit against Dunfermline and the dismissal of Hearts head coach Ian Cathro’s to face up to Celtic’s £3.5million winger on Saturday. Arguably, no-one in Scotland had a tougher start to the new league season.

“It was a tough task, he got away from me once and slipped it to [Callum] McGregor and he scored but other than that I don’t think he caused too much trouble,” Brandon told the Evening News. “I just tried to follow him and keep track of the movment. You need a lot of communication from the boys around you because Celtic move so well.

“I enjoyed the game because it’s the kind of match you want to play in. We’re disappointed losing 4-1 but I knew what to expect because I played at Celtic Park at the end of last season. That helped me preparing for this one.”

His and Hearts’ preparations were otherwise pretty chaotic last week. Brandon wasn’t daunted when Jon Daly took interim charge of the first team. “Jon has been great with me and helped me. I’ve played right-back often enough and you know Celtic is a tough place to go and play. The atmosphere is great and that’s something you can enjoy. However, after the first five minutes you block the crowd out and it becomes just another game of football.”

He didn’t go home and wallow in dejection on Saturday night, either. He took the professional approach. “I went home and watched the game again. I got a copy of it from our video analysis guy because I like to see what I did well and what I can do better. I always want to improve and get better as a player,” said Brandon.

“I thought I played quite well but I’m a little bit disappointed with how the results have gone in the last two games. We wanted to get through in the cup and then we tried to bounce back against Celtic. When I’m asked if I’m ready to play, I always say yes. I feel that I’m always ready. I was always hoping to push my way into the squad and play games this season. I try my hardest and give 100 per cent. That’s the way I play. I always want to give the fans as much as I can. They pay good, hard-earned money to come and watch our team so I want to do my best for them.”

Brandon was the only Hearts player applauded from the pitch at the end of the Dunfermline debacle, recognition of a confident display despite his 19 years.

“I didn’t really expect that. Coming towards the tunnel, it was nice to see that the fans appreciated I tried hard. It’s great to see fans applauding but at the back of your head you’re disappointed with how the result went. It’s been a difficult week but we’ve got a good group of boys in the changing room.”

Dressing room jibes are never in short supply in football and it’s a fair bet Brandon was the subject of some jokes after Hearts’ recent defeat at Peterhead. To compound the misery of a 2-1 defeat at Balmoor, the youngster was told by match officials he couldn’t enter the field as he waited fully stripped to come on as a substitute.

“I’m No 30 and on the teamsheet it said I was No 31,” admitted Brandon. “The assistant referee wouldn’t let me on because of it. That was it. I was just gutted. I was confused more than angry. It would have been my first competitive match this season. I was looking forward to going on and playing.”

He has seized his opportunities in Hearts’ subsequent two matches. After arriving from Rangers in 2015, Brandon made a first-team breakthrough his priority. He won’t shirk responsibility for recent results and use his age as an excuse. “The whole team needs to take responsibility. It doesn’t matter what age I am,” he said.

“I’ve been trying to work my way through. I got my debut at the end of last season [at Celtic Park] and I’ve been with the first team throughout pre-season. You just hope the gaffer trusts you to put you in again.

“I played with Rangers from the age of nine up until two seasons ago. They told me I wasn’t getting a new deal so I came to Hearts on trial at the end of that season and got signed. It’s a great club and I could see myself getting an opportunity here.

“A couple of players, like Sam Nicholson and Callum Paterson, have moved on. It’s good to see that you’ll get a chance at Hearts if you do well.

“Right-back or right wing-back are my best positions. I played midfield when I was younger but more recently it’s been right-back or right wing-back. I prefer that. Michael Smith has helped me a lot in training.”