What Hearts will be getting in Alex Cochrane following his loan from Brighton
We’ll frame the breakdown of Alex Cochrane’s signing around two comments made by Hearts boss Robbie Neilson after a season-long loan was completed for the 21-year-old from Brighton and Hove Albion.
Firstly: “He’ll provide competition in the left side of defence."
Looking at Cochrane’s career history and comparing it to what Hearts already have, this appears to be manager speak for ‘he’ll back-up Stephen Kingsley’. Of course, Neilson can’t actually come out and say that. You don’t want either the incoming player or the incumbent to know the plan is for him to play a reserve role for the majority of the season, especially after Kingsley’s form dipped following his early excellence last term. The one-cap Scottish international needs to be kept on his toes, though it’s unlikely he’ll lose much sleep over the prospect of a youngster who’s predominantly played in the English under-23s league.
It will be interesting to see whether this means Andy Halliday will be pushed back into a predominantly midfield role having impressed in his time playing wing-back towards the tail end of the 2020/21 campaign.
Secondly: "His arrival also gives us the flexibility to change formation should we need to.”
Across seven games with Union Saint-Gilloise in the second tier of Belgian football last season, Cochrane played as a left-back, left wing-back and left-sided centre-back, so the option is there for Hearts to use him as a lever in which to alter the shape of the team without making wholesale changes from the bench. Hibs doing likewise with Paul McGinn was a significant reason for their success last term.
Whether Cochrane will prove himself as useful as the Easter Road defender, when he gets his opportunity, remains to be seen. At centre-back his lack of aerial ability is a little bit of a concern, winning just 42.9 per cent of his headers through his career thus far (per Wyscout).
The positive is that he’s a solid defender for his age, showing awareness and positioning above his years, while possessing a real combative streak. This can sometimes cause him to act impulsively and charge into a challenge when a cooler head is required, but that’s to be expected with youth and inexperience.
At wing-back he would need to be more assertive in possession. He often prefers the safer option outside the final third, something which may frustrate the often impatient Tynecastle crowd.
There is, however, sufficient attacking talent in which to maximise. He’s a strong crosser of the ball, hitting his target with 37.8 per cent of his attempts, which would have him firmly in the top 10 of Scottish Premiership full-backs last term, while his 3.6 attempts per game demonstrates a fearlessness for whipping the ball into the box that he should be looking to adapt to other aspects of his game. An average of 0.73 shot assists per 90 minutes further underlines his creativity.
Other bits and pieces:
Though predominantly left-sided, the defender is comfortable using either foot, both to control and pass.
His pace is above average and can motor forward with the ball at his feet, even if he still requires a trick or two to beat defenders with his dribble.
He possesses a fair amount of strength for a full-back and has long limbs capable of effectively breaking up play.