Hearts captain Christophe Berra seeks final flourish against Hibs
Bragging Hibs supporters is something Christophe Berra has reluctantly had to get used to since returning to Edinburgh.
The Hearts captain left in 2009 when his club were the city’s dominant force. He arrived back from England last summer to a very different derby backdrop.
Only once in the last 11 meetings have Hearts beaten their greatest rivals. Such statistics simply didn’t exist when Berra skippered a side containing Lee Wallace, David Templeton and Andy Driver ten years ago. He has had to take Hibs’ prosperity on the chin since rejoining his formative club.
That doesn’t mean he simply sits back and accepts it. Tonight, the 33-year-old will play his last game of the season desperate to sample the euphoric high of beating Hibs. He is then suspended for Hearts’ last game at Kilmarnock.
“The bragging is part and parcel of football, especially when you play in a city with two big clubs. You get on with it and take it with a pinch of salt. Football is very fickle and things can be forgotten about quickly,” said Berra.
“Hibs have got the bragging rights just now and rightly so. Over the course of the season, they’ve been far better. I live in the city and I know what it means to the fans. I’ve always known that.
“There is a lot of responsibility but football goes season to season. Next year will be a new challenge and, if we do well, this year will be all forgotten about. That’s how football works, it’s swings and roundabouts. Hearts, with the size of the club, should be up there.
“There have been a few factors in why we haven’t been up there over the last couple of seasons – playing at Murrayfield and things like that. However, next year that will all be put to bed and there will be no excuses.
“It’s one win in 11 for us against Hibs but, on the other hand, they haven’t won here in a wee while. It’s going to be fast and furious, physical, end to end. We know what we need to do.
“There’s no denying Hibs have had a great season. They’re vying for second place and Neil Lennon has built a good squad who are playing consistently. There aren’t many changes week in and week out so we know what to expect. They’re flying high at the moment.”
Berra isn’t short on fond derby memories but knows there haven’t been enough of them recently from Hearts’ perspective. “I always remember that game when [Saulius] Mikoliunas scored and Dean Shiels was sent off,” he recalled of Hearts’ 3-2 win in December 2006.
“We had the cup game a few months ago which got the monkey off our backs to ease a bit of pressure. Any win is to be savoured but against Hibs it’s even better.
“We know what we need to do. It will be tough and we are down to the bare bones in terms of players. Derby games are a one-off so you give your all to be competitive.”
Hibs are where Hearts want to be at present – challenging for second place in the Ladbrokes Premiership alongside Aberdeen and Rangers. Instead they will finish the campaign sixth regardless of results in the final two fixtures.
The plan over the summer is for a fresh start: Craig Levein’s first pre-season, new faces will arrive, and teenagers will be one year older and more experienced. “That’s what everyone is looking at. It’s more Aberdeen because they are the ones who have done it consistently over the last few seasons,” explained Berra.
“Hibs came up from the Championship with momentum and that happens with a lot of teams in that situation. Next season will be another question to answer.
“We’ve got to aim for the top four – second or third position. I’ve said before that this summer is massive. We need to get a squad together that is capable of competing. I’m sure the manager and the backroom staff are trying to do that. They’ve made a few signings already and strength in depth is vital.
“No disrespect, but recently we’ve had a lot of kids sitting on the bench. Last weekend, Celtic bring on Sinclair, Roberts and Armstrong. Apart from Danny [Amankwaa], we’re bringing on youngsters. That’s the difference.
“We need consistency in our play. It hasn’t been bad at home. One defeat in a year is good but it’s our away record we need to improve on to help us.”