Hearts' Alex Cochrane on discovering that Scottish football is more than a two-horse race
On loan from Brighton and Hove Albion, like many incomers who are fed a diet of predominantly Celtic and Rangers games on TV, the Englishman admits he probably had not expected to see so many clubs clustered together at the top of the table.
In recent years, Celtic dominated the domestic trophies, sweeping up treble after treble, while, last year, Rangers won the title at a canter.
But this term Hearts are one of the sides refusing to let the Glasgow pair have it all their own way.
“It’s been a lot tighter than what I thought,” said the 21 year-old, who has settled in easily on Hearts’ left flank since arriving in the summer. “Especially compared to last year when Rangers walked away with the league. It’s been a tough battle. Every game I’ve played has been a proper test and that’s the thing about this league, there are no easy games.
“You can’t think there is, otherwise teams will catch up and before you know it the league will look a lot different.”
The league standings are currently easy on the eye for Hearts, with the Tynecastle club just one point behind leaders Rangers and able to go top this evening if they can beat Dundee at home.
Second-top up against second-bottom, a slip-up would end the Gorgie side’s unbeaten run, though, and Cochrane has had his eyes opened sufficiently to know that under-estimating anyone could be detrimental.
“It's a league where anyone can beat anyone on their day. It's enjoyable to watch it.”
Even more enjoyable to be part of, with Cochrane proving himself well-equipped to slot into the 3-4-3 formation preferred by Hearts boss Robbie Neilson, in the left of that midfield four or as one of the defensive triumvirate.
“Brighton and Hearts play similar formations so this is preparing me for [eventually returning south]. I'm getting experience of playing in front of crowds and not being able to hear players, or making mistakes and the crowd getting on your back.
"It's stuff you need to learn as a young kid and I'm learning in every game. There are still bits I need to improve on and mistakes will happen because it's part of the game.
“The standard up here is very good. The quality of training is good. There are players in our team who I feel could go down south and play at a high level. People always think Scottish football is different to English football but I've seen technically very good players in this league, especially here at Hearts.”
Last weekend’s match against Rangers was, he says, arguably, the biggest occasion of his fledgling career.
Walking out in front of 50,000 at Ibrox and being greeted by a wall of noise was memorable but he says it was when the decibels dropped as Hearts’ late equaliser allowed them to maintain their unbeaten run, that the experience took on even greater significance.
“That's exactly why I first came up here, after speaking to the gaffer about the games against Rangers, Celtic and Hibs and how big an occasion they are. I saw that on Saturday and how this team can compete.”
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