Christophe Berra ready for his first Hearts outing in 11 months
The 35-year-old defender declared himself ready to start the Betfred Cup tie following his recovery from a partial Achilles tendon tear.
He has not played for the Edinburgh club since December 26 last year having been dropped and loaned to Dundee by former manager Daniel Stendel. His last game in Dark blue was back on March 10 before the coronavirus shutdown.
Berra returned to Riccarton for pre-season training after being reassured of his future by new manager Robbie Neilson. Injury struck in the first week of pre-season but he is now ready for competitive action again.
Asked if he feels able to start, he replied: "Yes. I've not played at all in nine months but I always look after myself and stay in good physical shape.
"That match fitness only comes through training and games. I've played a lot of games over the last 16 to 18 years and the experience I've gained will hopefully help me through the first few games.”
The defender is grateful to Neilson for the opportunity, acknowledging that he Stendel would probably have loaned him out again had he remained in charge.
"If the old manager was still here I probably wouldn't be here, let's be honest. I'd still have a year left on my contract or I'd be on loan somewhere,” said the centre-back.
"Things change really quickly and football moves so fast. It's the same for me. I'm just glad I'm back fit, training and hopefully playing matches soon. I want to help the team towards winning the league.”
Berra outlined his desire to fight back into the Hearts team on merit. Stendel stripped him of the captaincy before loaning him out and the defender is determined to earn any reinstatement under Neilson.
"I'm sure he phoned everyone [after his appointment]. He would have spoken to players individually. I don't expect anything given to me. Throughout my whole career, I've never thought that. Even when people would say I'd be first on the teamsheet, I'd still doubt that.
"I'm my own biggest critic and I'm always on edge. I want to play and it's down to how you train. If you're training well, you get your opportunity. This manager is no different. He isn't going to say: 'You're so and so, you're first on the teamsheet.' That isn't how it works.
"If you're not performing, you're not fit enough, or you're not doing it in matches over a period of time, everyone's place is up for grabs. Even though I'm one of the most experienced here, that doesn't mean anything.”
Wingers Jamie Walker and Jordan Roberts will not be risked this evening but Neilson is pleased to have Berra available.
“Christophe being left-sided gives us a little bit of balance,” he said. “Mihai Popescu and Craig Halkett are both right-sided and it’s good sometimes to have a left-sided one in there.
“So, at this moment in time it’s about getting Christophe fit and keeping him fit, and then making sure he gets himself up to speed.”