Craig Levein today acclaimed the Hearts captain Christophe Berra as a “brilliant signing” who has underpinned the second best defensive record in the Ladbrokes Premiership.
The Edinburgh club are fifth in the table but have lost just 19 goals in 19 league games to date this season, a record bettered only by Celtic’s 15 concessions. Berra was outstanding in Hearts’ 4-0 win against Celtic at Tynecastle on Sunday which ended the visitors’ historic 69-game unbeaten run. It was also the home side’s sixth successive game without defeat.
Levein is delighted with Berra’s influence after helping bring him back to Scotland in the summer from Ipswich Town. The manager revealed how the 32-year-old’s discipline and authority in the dressing-room have ensured he has become just as important off the pitch as on it.
“He’s been a brilliant signing, on and off the field. He’s got a grip of the dressing-room, everybody is focused and the discipline is good,” Levein told the Evening News. “He is a great example to the younger players. He doesn’t take any nonsense either on or off the field. That has helped enormously.
“When you get some experienced guys in the dressing-room they tend to keep a lid on things. They make sure everybody is behaving themselves and they get the right message across. Christophe just does that, it’s his nature. “Sometimes captains struggle to gain respect but he has that immediately without asking for it. Guys like Don Cowie get the same.
“I thought both of them were excellent against Celtic. For Don to do the amount of running at his age just shows that example and it’s a testament to how he’s looked after himself throughout his career.
“Christophe is just a good player. He doesn’t mind the competitive nature of the game. The fact he’s the captain gives him the added impetus to put his head on things when we’re under pressure. He’s done that on numerous occasions in the last couple of weeks.”
Levein and his coaching staff have worked tirelessly on defensive organisation to make Hearts harder to beat. It was something he regarded as a priority when he agreed to become both director of football and manager at Tynecastle in September.
Since then, Hearts have lost just four of 15 matches with Levein in charge.
“It gives confidence to the team knowing we are hard to beat so, if we can get a goal, then we can hold on,” explained Levein. “That confidence can transmit itself into a calmness to allow us to take chances when they come. We know the worst thing that can happen is we get a draw because we’re defending properly.
“It’s all part of the bigger picture but the defending has been really good.”