'He’s up there with the best players I’ve played against': Hearts braced for the toughest of tests
Quashed 4-0 in the meeting in Edinburgh last month, they will face a Turkish side still fighting for top spot in Group A with Fiorentina, another club Hearts have felt the force if. And, Alex Cochrane, who had to deal with the almost contemptuous talent of Basaksehir forward Bertrand Traore, knows that renders them dangerous opponents.
“It’s going to be another tough one over there, we have to go again,” said the defender. “You saw in the first game the talent they have in their team, a lot of lads with top level and international experience. They have something to play for so it’s going to be a tough game. They will want to get the top spot so we will have to be at our best.
“[Bertrand] Traore was very good in the first game, the way he went about his business he was cruising in the game. He’s up there with the best players I’ve played against. He has quality and has played in the Premier League so hopefully I can keep him quiet on Thursday. I will have to be at it and at the top of my game, then hope he has an off day too! We’ll see what happens.”
A source of pride and enjoyment, the European action has also been educational, especially for youngsters in the Hearts team such as 22-year-old Cochrane, who has been utilised at wingback, full-back and centre-half as injuries depleted manager Robbie Neilson’s options.
“What you learn from it is the step up in standards, playing against people who have been at the top level, and what it takes for them to get there and how they go about their game,” he explained. “You can’t have a day off really and it shows you how much you have to put into it to get to that standard. But, as a group we will take away the fact we can compete in Europe.
“We know we have had some bad results, at Tynecastle and away from home, but when we have a go at teams we still have the talent and capability against these teams. We just need the belief at times to go out and show that. We can’t take this game easy, it’s a big one and we have to be right at it. We don’t want to come away from there with a really bad result, we want to have a go and see what happens.”
Having defeated Ross County 2-1 on Sunday thanks to goals from Andy Halliday and Lawrence Shankland, the Gorgie side have three league games between now and the World Cup break and while he and his team-mates are looking forward to some respite, Cochrane says it is important that no-one switches off too early.
“If we can put in a good performance in Istanbul and take that into Motherwell at the weekend we can really push for the top three,” he added. “We are on the tails of the teams in third and fourth place, so with the players we have coming back we know we’re ready to push on in the second half of the season.”