Scottish Cup ties akin to David versus Goliath are nothing new to the Hearts captain Christophe Berra.
His formative years with the Edinburgh club included an excruciatingly nervous final against Gretna in 2006, which Hearts eventually won on penalties at Hampden Park. His desire to return there, lift the trophy and top off a successful career means the giant-killing juniors of Auchinleck Talbot will be given the utmost respect on Sunday.
Now 34, Berra rejoined Hearts in summer 2017 hoping to lift silverware and finish his career there as skipper after eight and a half years in England. A home tie against the lowest-ranked team left in the Scottish Cup is a game sponsors William Hill have priced overwhelmingly in Hearts’ favour. Berra knows to take nothing for granted after 2006.
“I was on the bench and disappointed not to play. That was a decision that happened,” he told the Evening News. “It was a nervous day, the final went to penalties and could have gone either way. If we’d lost it would have been a massive upset. We managed to win and the scenes were unbelievable.
“I remember coming back from the game along Gorgie Road to the stadium and then the next day on Princes Street. That’s something no-one here has really witnessed so it’s something we want to do again and make memories.
“Every player wants to win trophies and I’m no different. It’s a great privilege to be captain of such a great club. There would be no better way to top it off that by lifting a trophy. However, there is a lot of hard work to be done yet.
“We’ve got nothing to gain and everything to lose on Sunday. It’s about our application and our attitude. On paper, we’ve got a better squad with more quality. That’s not in doubt. However, if we don’t turn up or don’t show Auchinleck the respect they deserve, it will be a hard afternoon. We have to start the game on the front foot, get the fans off their seats and score goals. First and foremost, we have to win the game and get to the next round.”
The Scottish Cup represents Hearts’ best chance of silverware this season, as it does for most other clubs in the country. Berra knows expectations are high amongst the Tynecastle support.
“It’s a massive tournament. We see ourselves as a club that should be getting to cup finals and semi-finals. This is a national trophy and it’s something we want to do well in. If we get to Hampden, we will sell our allocation out and it will be a great day for the fans.
“That is the aim at the start of every season – to qualify for Europe, get to cup finals and win a trophy. If we win this game we will just look forward to the draw and not look too far ahead, but it would be a dream come true to lift a trophy.”
Auchinleck may be from the part-time junior ranks but their fanbase would stand comparison with even a couple of clubs in the Ladbrokes Premiership. They have sold more than 2,000 tickets for Sunday’s visit to Edinburgh.
“They will be energetic because it’s a cup final for them. It’s a great day out, let’s be honest,” said Berra. “We need to neutralise that. There will be times when they might get crosses into our box and cause us problems but that’s the nature of the game. We have to make sure we nullify that, stop their threats and get on top of them by playing the way we can.”
Gorgie will be nothing new to the Auchinleck manager Tommy Sloan. He was in charge in January 2012 when Talbot suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat away to Hearts in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup thanks to Gordon Smith’s late winning goal. After eliminating Ayrshire rivals Ayr United on a historic day at Beechwood Park last month, they are already one round further in the competition.
“I heard they were unlucky not to get a result in that game in 2012 so hopefully that doesn’t happen again. We will make our own luck, really,” stated Berra, who has already upset one section of Ayrshire in the last week. Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke referred to “three big lumps” defending Hearts’ goal in last week’s 2-1 league win at Rugby Park, but the Scotland centre-back didn’t take offence.
“It’s a backhanded compliment. We won the game and they couldn’t break us down,” he smiled. “They’ve probably got bigger lumps than us so I take it with a pinch of salt. I didn’t lose any sleep over it at all.”
He was more concerned with Wednesday night’s frustrating goalless draw at home to Livingston. Hearts enjoyed plenty pressure but lacked a creative spark to fashion many scoring opportunities on the night.
“You have to give credit to Livingston. They went back to basics and they make it difficult,” said Berra. “I actually thought we played better and were in more control of the game on Wednesday than we were when we beat them 1-0 in the last round of the cup. That was a more scrappy game. We were in control but we just couldn’t get that goal or bit of magic.
“If Uche Ikpeazu’s header goes in with a few minutes to go then we have a totally different mindset at the end. We won’t get too down about it. This league is tough and you have to earn the right to win.
“We kept a clean sheet but didn’t create much. We have players who can produce that little bit of magic but it didn’t happen. There was also some good defending on Livingston’s part. We will be aiming for a different result in the cup on Sunday.”