Brown keen to Liv it up back at Hearts

JONATHAN BROWN strolled into Riccarton first thing on Monday sporting a grin wider than the Forth. As a newly-crowned league winner with Livingston, few would begrudge the Hearts defender boasting about his extremely successful loan move to Almondvale.

Aged 19, Brown played 16 games as the West Lothian club secured the Third Division title and will remain there until his loan expires at the end of the season. But he is already glancing east towards Edinburgh, pondering long-term ambitions of establishing himself at Tynecastle. The emotions accompanying league championship success at any level are still coursing through his body and he speaks fondly of Livingston's environment.

Far removed from the cut-throat SPL, Almondvale is a venue where burgeoning Hearts players have thrived in a succession of loan moves. Jason Thomson and Calum Elliot are prime examples.

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Brown's Hearts contract runs until June 2011 and carries the option of a further two-year deal thereafter. Clearly, he does not intend remaining on the periphery of the first-team squad once he returns.

"I want to go back and fight for my position. My main priority is to play in the first team," he said. "I went in to the training ground on Monday but I'll be going back with my medal.

"A few of the boys have congratulated me so it's good to know they were behind me when I was on loan.

"At first I was a bit wary of going, thinking I should maybe stay and fight for a place. But the reserve league was scrapped so it was either stay and play a couple of games throughout the season or go and get maybe 20 games under my belt on loan and go back stronger for next season. It was quite an easy decision in the end.

"I've got more experience through playing competitive games and I'll be back next season pushing for a place. It helped that Livingston was close by and I've known a few of the boys there since I was younger. My heart was really set on Livingston."

Brown can operate effectively in both full-back positions and does at least possess some semblance of first-team experience with Hearts. In August 2008, he played in the pre-season friendly against English Premier League side Hull City and delivered an assured performance at left-back. Many assumed afterwards that his would become a regular name amongst manager Csaba Laszlo's matchday squads.

However, 12 months later and without a competitive first-team outing, Laszlo decided a loan was necessary to augment the player's development. Brown now appreciates the Hungarian's foresight.

"I don't really know why I didn't play more after that Hull game, I think I was just unlucky. I think the gaffer at the time just didn't think I was ready at that moment.

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"He was the one who put me out on loan. Maybe he thought I needed to prove myself on loan and get more experience, which I hope I've done.

"Jason's been on loan at Livingston, and Robbie Neilson went on loan (to Queen of the South] when he was younger. Hopefully I can do the same as them and win a place at Hearts afterwards.

"It was quite frustrating when I saw there were a lot of injuries in defence this season and a lot of younger players got a chance. I thought the lads who stepped in did very well, so hopefully I can be one of the young players who progresses and gets the fans talking. I love Hearts, I've been there since under-15s right up through to under-19s and reserves under Darren Murray. Hearts was always my first club."

The player resuming his quest for first-team exposure will be an altogether different animal to that which departed Riccarton last summer. A battle-hardened Brown will offer competition in the full-back berths after learning the art of biting and scratching for points in the lower leagues.

"It feels great just winning a title," he said. "When you're playing at under-19 and reserve level there aren't many medals and trophies to win. I've enjoyed fighting to get promotion this season. Competitive games and playing with a group of boys all fighting for the same thing has been fantastic.

"I've picked up a mental attitude, a winning mentality. You have to fight and scrap for everything in the Third Division so my mentality has changed a bit.

"You have to grind out results at times because the pitches aren't great so you have to take an approach where winning is the main priority.

"It's worked out brilliantly. When I first went to Livingston we lost the first couple of games and the club was in turmoil, but we managed to group together and turn it round. In the end we've won the league and it's great for Livingston."

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If ever he doubted prospects of earning a chance with Hearts, his mind was put at ease during a telephone conversation with Jim Jefferies soon after he replaced Laszlo. Brown was promised Jefferies would journey to West Lothian to assess him personally and the manager remained true to his word.

"I spoke to him when he first came in, basically just to introduce myself," explained Brown.

"He said if I come back next season, work hard and fight hard then we'll see what happens. It was very positive. That's another reason why I had to do well at Livingston because he said he would come and watch me. I knew if I was playing he could be there or could have sent someone to see me. Wherever I get called upon to play I can do a job for the team now."



Joined Livingston on a season-long loan in August 2009 and helped them win the Third Division title.


Moved to Raith Rovers last month and will remain there until the end of the season.


Also joined Raith last month after rejecting a move to Morton. Played in the Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United.


Striker was loaned to Morton last month after failing to establish himself at Tynecastle. Has scored four goals in six games in the First Division so far.


The Australian was loaned to Ayr United at the start of the season and has impressed largely in a defensive midfield role.


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Joined compatriot McGowan at Ayr in January but injuries have restricted him to just three appearances so far.