Christophe Berra laments 'lack of quality' in display at Livingston

Skipper says Hearts need to be more clinical in front of goal

Tuesday, 29th October 2019, 6:00 am
Uche Ikpeazu as a go at Aymen Souda

Hearts captain Christophe Berra feared Aaron Hickey had suffered a serious knee injury after a tackle by Livingston’s Nicky Devlin on Saturday. Berra praised the teenager’s robust attitude after Devlin was forced off by the impact of his own challenge.

The incident occurred near the interval during the goalless draw in West Lothian. Devlin slid in with full force to challenge Hickey and the 17-year-old left-back was left in a crumpled heap. He left the pitch momentarily after treatment before returning rather gingerly.

“Livingston thought it was a 50-50 but I’ve seen it again and he [Devlin] has lunged in two-footed. It’s as simple as that. They can analyse it all they want but it was a sore tackle,” insisted Berra.

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“It’s the first time Hickey has been smashed since he played at first-team level but he got up and got on with it. Many a player would have gone off. I thought he might have done his knee if it was a bone-on-bone collision but it shows his character that he has some steel about him and finished the game.

“Today was a learning curve for him. I thought we did really well against a difficult opponent who are really strong at home. Rangers have struggled there. Aberdeen won but I think they were lucky on the day, and Celtic lost. We are bitterly disappointed. Livingston went down to ten men but we didn’t have that quality to unlock them. All credit to them, they defended well.”

Aymen Souda’s red card on 50 minutes came when he collided heavily with Berra while attempting an overhead kick inside the Hearts penalty area. “If that was us I’d be extremely disappointed with a red card but in the first half, the tackle on Hickey was a red card - 100 per cent,” said Berra. “So they got away with one. That’s football. He is attempting an overhead-kick and the ball was just there. He just caught me.”

English Premier League clubs Manchester City and Southampton have been credited with an interest in 17-year-old Hickey. Berra acknowledged the youngster’s progress in 17 senior appearances but is keen not to overhype him.

“He has only played a few games and you don’t want to build the lad up too much. He has done remarkably well and there are things he can improve on but, overall, he has a lot of great attributes. If he keeps his head down and keeps learning, he has an unbelievable future ahead of him.

“He is quite quiet. I don’t know his family but it’s down to them to keep him grounded as well. They will want the best for him. In this day and age, if you are 17 years old and playing in the top division in your country, of course there will be big teams sniffing about.”

Hearts haven’t managed a goal against Livingston in their last four league meetings, so Saturday’s stalemate at the Tony Macaroni Arena was no great surprise.

What made it somewhat galling for the visitors was the fact they faced ten men for the final 40 minutes following Souda’s dismissal. Plus the fact they now sit just one point off the bottom of the Premiership. At least it was an improvement on their previous visit to West Lothian, a 5-0 reverse last December. This encounter lacked skill and creativity despite both teams showing commendable work ethic, so a repeat scoreline was never likely.

The one genuine moment of quality arrived on 31 minutes. Hearts midfielder Sean Clare executed a delightful first-time back heel to flick the ball into the path of striker Uche Ikpeazu. He ran in behind the Livingston centre-backs and found himself bearing down on goalkeeper Matija Sarkic. His attempted finish was pushed away by the Aston Villa loanee.

“We will need to add that extra quality to get a goal on Wednesday against St Johnstone,” said Berra. “We were the team more on the front foot at the weekend. Uche had a good chance in the first half and their keeper made a good save.

“It was one-on-one and the big man is disappointed. He has high standards. Sometimes it’s more difficult when you have more time to think about it. The keeper guessed the right way and on another day the keeper goes the other way and it’s a great finish. These are the small margins.”

Livingston could have taken three points themselves had Michael Smith not cleared full-back Jack McMillan’s low shot almost off the Hearts goal line.

Despite some late pressure, creating a clear opening proved difficult for the visitors. “When they have ten men, they sit deep and pack the box. It’s difficult to break down and we didn’t have that quality, that bit of magic that wins you games,” admitted Berra.

Livingston: (4-1-4-1): Sarkic; Devlin (Lamie 40), Lithgow, Guthrie, McMillan (Tiffoney 90); Bartley; Lawless, Jacobs, Crawford, Souda; Robinson (Odofin 72). Unused subs: Stewart, Lawson, Pittman, Sibbald.

Hearts (4-4-2): Pereira; Brandon (Dikamona 62), Smith, Berra, Hickey; Clare, Irving, Bozanic, Meshino (Keena 67); Ikpeazu, MacLean (Morrison 62).

Unused subs: Doyle, Damour, Logan, Wighton.