Christophe Berra: Building momentum at Tynecastle is key for Hearts
With a settled team and familiar surroundings, Hearts captain Christophe Berra believes it is now time to start building momentum.
Players will be back from injury against Partick Thistle on Sunday as the club finally return to their spiritual home at Tynecastle Park.
It is a crucial period in a hitherto unsettled campaign. Berra, fresh from international duty with Scotland, has had to lead his colleagues through turmoil in his first season back in Edinburgh. Ian Cathro, Jon Daly and now Craig Levein have all managed the team during an enforced run of away games whilst Tynecastle is redeveloped. Going home will never have felt better. Berra stresses the need for a more settled starting line-up and admits Levein has yet to find the balance he wants in the side.
Both issues should be easier to remedy with Jamie Walker, Aaron Hughes, Arnaud Djoum and Prince Buaben all close to returning from injury.
Hearts lost three games in succession to Hibs, Rangers and Kilmarnock before the international break. They are now keen to improve upon sixth place in the Ladbrokes Premiership, with seven of their next eight fixtures scheduled to take place at Tynecastle.
“It was a tough week for us but that’s when you’ve got to stand up, be thick-skinned and get on with it,” said Berra. “Hopefully being back at Tynecastle will make a big difference, although there will be a lot of pressure on us as well. Also, the players recovering from injury will hopefully be back in time. We’ve asked a lot of the young players to come in. We’ve been chopping and changing and we don’t have a settled team, like Hibs do, for example.
“Every week, you want eight, nine or ten players to be the same. We’ve been chopping and changing through injuries and playing young boys. We’re a work in progress. It might take the manager a wee while to shape his team and get what he wants, but that’s no excuse. We should be beating teams at home.
“It’s small margins right now but everyone is looking forward to getting back to Tynecastle. Hopefully we can generate that atmosphere. It will be intimidating if we’re on the front foot, creating chances and getting crosses and shots in. Hopefully that can help get the fans back on our side.
“We’ve picked up 15 points whilst, technically, only playing away games. Hearts’ record away from home hasn’t been great in the past. We’re still in the top six, there are a couple of games we should have taken more points from, but it’s hard to get that momentum playing away.
“You want to get home and get a couple of wins under your belt. Then you feel confident, especially the attacking players. We’ve been relying on youngsters, like Harry Cochrane who is only 16. It’s not an easy environment to go into at that age.”
Berra confirmed he came through Scotland’s 1-0 friendly defeat by the Netherlands on Thursday night unscathed. He was replaced by Charlie Mulgrew at half-time at Pittodrie but there are no fears over his fitness ahead of the weekend.
“Charlie would have been disappointed not to start. If you don’t get on, you’re disappointed as well. I don’t have an injury or anything, it was just a change which was made at half-time,” he said.
“Me and Charlie had been creating a good partnership prior to this and we had a good defensive record. The manager changed it and I thought the whole back four did really well. We made it hard for them to break us down but in the end we couldn’t get that goal.”
In some ways, a 45-minute outing may prove beneficial for the 32-year-old after a hectic run of matches since he rejoined Hearts in the summer. “I’m disappointed to lose the game but, yes, I’m not getting any younger. Touch wood, I’ve been very lucky with injuries and I look after myself. I don’t know who the new Scotland manager will be but all you can do is play well for your club.”
Malky Mackay was in charge against the Dutch but now reverts to his performance director role as the Scottish FA continue searching for Gordon Strachan’s successor. Berra is confident the new incumbent has plenty to work with.
“I thought Kieran Tierney was superb,” he said of his central defensive partner, and captain, for the night. “I was only really looking at defenders but I thought he was man of the match. He blocked shots, he stepped forward on his left side, he’s got all the attributes to go on and captain Scotland for many years to come. He’s a nice guy, he works hard and he’s level-headed.
“I think we actually created more chances than Holland. They scored a goal from us having the ball and a loose pass getting intercepted. We showed them wide but they had that little bit of class so, instead of shooting from a wide area, he’s put the ball across goal and it went in at the back stick.
“It’s a harsh lesson to learn but I thought the boys who came in and got their first caps did really well. On another night, we could have scored two or three. Sometimes that’s the harsh reality of football.”