Christophe Berra says significant improvement is required before Hearts are playing at a level befitting of their status as one of Scotland’s pre-eminent clubs.
The Tynecastle side sit fifth in the Premiership after 22 games of a season in which they have been unable to generate any sustained momentum for a variety of reasons. These include an early-campaign managerial change, playing away from Tynecastle for the first 13 games, a particularly bad run of injuries which has led to a heavy reliance on academy prospects, and, ultimately, a shortage of goals scored.
Despite going nine games unbeaten and keeping six consecutive clean sheets before the winter break, Hearts languish 13 points behind second-place Aberdeen. While there have been mitigating circumstances for their underwhelming start to the campaign, captain Berra insists a notable upturn in results is needed over the coming months if Hearts are to reassert themselves as one of the top teams in the country.
“We’re making little steps but we’ve got a lot of improvements to make,” he told the Evening News. “We’re nowhere near the finished article. We know that ourselves, we’re not trying to kid ourselves. We need to be a lot better to get Hearts back to the team they used to be back in the day and competing at the top of the table.
“At the moment, we’re fifth which is not too bad considering the ups and downs we’ve had, the injuries and suspensions, and the amount of youngsters we’ve had coming through. But Hearts are seen as one of the biggest clubs in Scotland so it’s our job to get back to where we should be, fighting at the top of the table. We’ve still got a lot of work to do. Hopefully in the second half of the season and into next season we can get some good signings in and progress to the next level.”
A nine-game unbeaten run, which coincided with their return to Tynecastle prior to the winter break, suggests Hearts are moving in the right direction, but only three of those matches resulted in victories. Having made themselves hard to beat in the first half of the season, Berra insists they need to find a way of winning regularly in order to elevate themselves away from mid-table and into contention at the top end. “Since we’ve been back at Tynecastle we’ve not lost,” he said. “Apart from Hibs and Hamilton, we should probably have won every other game at Tynecastle. We should have beaten Partick and Ross County. It’s good to have the unbeaten run but we need to start winning games.”
Berra and his colleagues fly to Valencia next Thursday for a five-day winter training camp in which they play friendliest against Nuremberg and Vitesse Arnhem. The captain expects the trip to benefit Hearts. “I’ll enjoy going away, especially as it’s for five days – it’s not too short, not too long,” said Berra. “We’ll get a good bit of training and a couple of games, and hopefully we can kick on from there.”