Craig Levein says he has no doubt that Scott Brown singled out teenager Harry Cochrane in Tuesday night’s 3-1 defeat at Celtic.
The Hearts manager claimed players needed “protection” from the Celtic captain but also warned that his 16-year-old midfielder would not be cowed by the Scotland star when they next face off.
Levein said: “I have watched the video. Scott targeted him from the beginning of the match, but he’s a tough boy. The good thing is Harry says he’s going to sort him the next time. I said: ‘go on son!’”
Levein added that academy graduate Cochrane, who has made 14 appearances for the Gorgie club this term, will be sidelined for at least a couple of games after he was the subject of a robust challenge by Brown. The Celtic skipper landed on top of his opponent, leaving the Hearts staff fearing the worst.
“The doc had the spinal board on him and stuff and his neck had gone into spasms in the dressing room,” added Levein. “He’ll be out for a wee while. He has damaged his collarbone although it’s not broken. He has sprained it but he had neck spasms and we were really worried actually.”
Defending his player, Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers attempted to turn the spotlight back onto Hearts, questioning whether such a young player should have been playing in a game against the country’s top side.
“Does the duty of care lie with the manager? Yeah, absolutely,” said the Parkhead manager.
However, Cochrane proved himself more than capable of matching the Glasgow side when he was a major factor in Heart’s 4-0 victory over the defending champions, in December. That day Rodgers singled the starlet out for praise after he had opened the scoring and turned in a performance that belied his inexperience as he overshadowed Brown, bringing Celtic’s 69-game unbeaten run on domestic duty to a shuddering halt.
Asked if the physical nature of Brown’s play on Tuesday was his way of getting his own back after Cochrane had outplayed him in that match,
Levein was unequivocal.
“That’s exactly what it was, but that’s the game. I’ve watched it back and I think Scott had decided after the game at Tynecastle, when Harry bossed him, he wasn’t going to let that happen. I’ve known Scott for a long time and he is aggressive in the way he plays.”
The Celtic skipper has already picked up nine yellow cards this season, but has only been shown a red card once in the past three years – against Ross County, last season. But when asked if he thought his young player should have been given more protection by the match officials, Levein said he thought “everybody should get a little bit more protection from Scott Brown”.
“I’m not sure what tone Craig was using or whether there was a smile; I suspect it was probably tongue in cheek,” said Rodgers. “It was unfortunate the boy suffered an injury the other night. The pair of them jumped for a challenge, the boy falls awkwardly and, unfortunately, damaged his shoulder. You could argue or ask the question: does a 16-year-old need to be in a game against a Champions League team at [their] home? I think he can play in it, but it’s a question that may be asked. Can he handle it?
“Broony is a top player. In my experience working with some of the very best players, they play on the limit in every game. That’s why he’s such a brilliant player for Celtic and Scotland. No matter who he plays against, whether they are 16 or 36, he’s there to win. He was outstanding the other night.”