Jamie Brandon reveals thoughts on his Hearts future as contract nears an end
Full-back eager to play more to earn a new deal and stay at Tynecastle
Jamie Brandon knows his Hearts career is approaching a pivotal point. Out of contract next summer, the 21-year-old full-back must secure a new deal at Tynecastle Park between now and then or earn a move elsewhere. He needs games to achieve either of those aims.
Michael Smith’s consistency at right-back leaves Brandon firmly as the understudy hoping for the odd appearance here and there. He appreciates the fact that dislodging the experienced Northern Ireland internationalist is unlikely.
Sitting in the stand or on the bench is no good, either. Not when he has his own future to consider. His priority is trying to stay in Gorgie and sign an extended contract.
“That would be the goal,” he told the Evening News in an exclusive interview ahead ogf Saturday’s Premiership visit to Livingston. “If I don’t get another contract here, it would be good just to get game time and show myself to other people.”
The next seven months are effectively one big shop window in that sense. Brandon must either prove himself to the Hearts management team sufficiently to be kept on, or he must tempt other clubs to take him on.
“That’s exactly how I feel. If I get games it’s good. If not, I just need to keep my head down and try my best,” he said.
“I understand why I’m not playing because Michael is one of our most consistent players every week. It’s just hard. If he moves to another position then it’s good I can get a chance to play. My attitude is just to keep myself fit and, if the gaffer needs me to play, I will be ready.
“I’ve been surprised that I’ve come on in a few games and I even managed to start one. To be honest, I didn’t think I’d have any minutes at this point in the season. Getting those games has been better than nothing.
“It is frustrating as I just want to play football. Any opportunity I get, I am grateful for. I look forward to playing and doing my best to try and impress because that’s how I can get game time."
He is versatile enough to play confidently at left-back, but there is also a road block in that area. “There’s Michael at right-back and Aaron Hickey at left-back. He has been excellent for such a young boy. The two full-backs have been really good this year so opportunities are hard to come by. I completely understand that.”
A loan move to increase his chances of playing isn’t an option at the moment. “I haven’t thought about going on loan because I want to stay here and get a chance to play. If I can nail myself down and get a run of games it would be ideal. That’s my main priority right now,” said Brandon.
“The manager hasn’t spoken to me a lot about it. I know what he expects from me. I have to give my all in training and if he needs me at the weekends then I’m raring to go.”
He might indeed be needed this weekend. Hearts travel to West Lothian with their large first-team squad looking decidedly threadbare due to injuries. Left-back Aidy White is out with concussion following Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Rangers, joining John Souttar, Craig Halkett and Ben Garuccio on the sidelines. That leaves Brandon, Smith, Christophe Berra, Hickey and Clevid Dikamona as the fit first-team defenders.
“It’s one of the unfortunate things about football, especially here,” admitted Brandon. “We’ve had bad luck with injuries, particularly with boys at the back like John and Halks. They are out just now and that means Michael has to move about, which gives me a chance to play sometimes.
“It was good to come on against Rangers on Sunday and it was a good point for the team. We were unlucky not to push for the win. Hopefully I can play this Saturday and prove I deserve a space in the team.”
Hearts’ last visit to Livingston ended in a 5-0 humiliation last December. Those who witnessed it won’t forget it in a hurry. “I was in the squad but I wasn’t involved. I watched from the stand and it wasn’t great viewing,” recalled Brandon.
“It was bizarre because we didn’t expect it. A couple of things went against us, like the penalty and Arnaud [Djoum] getting sent off. Livingston capitalised on it.”
Others might have been grateful at being left in the stand. “I would still rather have been on the pitch playing,” insisted the youngster. “Nobody has really spoken about that game this week. The boys all know we need to go there and try to get three points.
“It would be massive to get them given where we are sitting in the league. I wouldn’t say we are out for revenge but the boys want to go there and put in a good performance for the fans to prove we can go to these places and take three points.
“As a squad, we know we are better than where we are sitting in the table.”