Christophe Berra explained how he helped ensure Uche Ikpeazu was in the right place at the right time as Hearts once again cashed in on their set-piece expertise.
After a goalless first half in Saturday’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Hearts broke the deadlock four minutes after the restart following another pre-planned move from assistant coach Austin MacPhee’s training-ground repertoire.
Jake Mulraney swiftly drifted off his marker to find space on the right of the penalty area and receive a corner from Olly Lee before driving the ball goalwards. When it was blocked on the line by Liam Polworth, Ikpeazu was perfectly placed to fire home the rebound from inside the six-yard box – but only after being cajoled into position by his captain.
“It’s well documented that we work on set-pieces and one of them worked well for our first goal,” Berra told the Evening News.
“It was one we had planned. Initially Uche was in the wrong place so I had to tell him where to go because I end up babysitting him at set-pieces. He probably wouldn’t have scored if he’d stayed where he was initially so I’ll take a bit of the credit for that one! I was having banter with him about it – every set-piece I’m like ‘Uche, come on – you’re not supposed to be there’.
“He got there in the end and it was a great finish. His overall play has been outstanding. We all know he can bully centre-backs, and he got his reward with that goal.”
That goal allowed Hearts to breathe easily after a goalless first half in which they had the majority of the possession but struggled to create any clear openings. Further goals from John Souttar and Sean Clare eased the Premiership side into the final.
“It was obviously very exciting but in the end it was pretty easy and we were in control so the adrenaline had died down by the end,” said Berra. “The longer the game goes on, it can get more difficult. But overall I felt we were in control. We were just missing that final ball to create something in the first half. But in the second half Olly Lee started us off in the right manner by getting a shot away and we were on the front foot from there.”
Berra is now relishing the prospect of leading Hearts out next month for what will be the first final of his career after he was an unused substitute when they defeated Gretna in the 2006 Scottish Cup final.
The 34-year-old is hoping they can go into the end-of-season showpiece buoyed by a strong finish to the league campaign.
“The reason I came back here was to get to cup finals and win cups, and we’ve got a great chance to do that,” said Berra. “We’ve still got five league games to go but it gives us something to look forward to at the end of the season, especially for the fans. We’ll sell out and the stadium will be packed. The atmosphere against Inverness was good considering it wasn’t full.
“But we’ve got to keep our foot on the pedal. We’ve got a massive game against Rangers on Saturday and then we’re away to Hibs the following weekend. We’re focused on winning as many games as we can between now and the end of the season.”