Berry produces real peach of a performance at Hearts

IT was fitting that Neil Berry, on the ninth anniversary of his move to Tynecastle from Bolton on a free transfer, should produce the kind of steely performance against Aberdeen which brought a glowing testimonial from his manager.

While the unsung Berry's talents rarely made headlines since he joined Hearts in 1984, Sandy Clark was happy to enthuse over the qualities of a player he described as "a magnificent professional, a man who is a delight to work with" after the defender had filled a key role for the club in this game.

Without the services of their two most experienced central defenders - Craig Levein and Graeme Hogg, who were both injured - Hearts made the switch from a three-man back line to a more orthodox back four.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

While Berry formed a stout partnership in central defence with Alan McLaren, he knew that Hearts' change of gameplan could make it more difficult ifor him to hold down a regular place.

Berry said: "I know it's up to me to play so well that Sandy Clark is forced to keep me in the team even when Craig is available to play again.

"The change to a back four will probably make it more difficult to get a game because there's one less place available for a centre-back. But I can also play in midfield or at full-back and hopefully my versatility will be an asset.'' A serious knee injury cost Berry his first-team place but, after nine appearances in season 1993-94 so far, he was enjoying his football again and confident he could play a part in helping Hearts rediscover the winning touch.

With only one win in 13 games - the draw with Aberdeen was the club's third in a row - Berry knows how badly Hearts were needing a victory. "I thought the team played well against Aberdeen, but we didn't get the second goal we needed to kill them off,'' he said. "We've had too many draws recently and what we need more than anything else is a victory. If we get one then I think you'll see us string a few together.''

The possibility of winning arose at Tynecastle when Aberdeen's Brian Grant mistakenly tried to dribble his way out of bother in the penalty box and was dispossessed by John Robertson. The ball broke to John Colquhoun, who stroked it into the empty net. Coming on top of the bad goals Aberdeen conceded at Ibrox in midweek, it was hard to credit that the Pittodrie side had the best defensive record in the country.

Aberdeen manager Willie Miller was aghast at his side's inept performance during the opening phase of this game and admitted that it had been a struggle to salvage a point. It wasn't until the introduction of Duncan Shearer, the club's top scorer, in the second half that Aberdeen looked like getting on the scoresheet.

When they did manage an equaliser 15 minutes from the end of a scrappy match, it was thanks to the efforts of their most creative players. Robert Connor's astute pass into the box put Hearts under pressure and Eoin Jess's turn and shot which was deflected into the path of Shearer, produced a typically clinical finish from the substitute.

Hearts couldn't complain too much about Aberdeen's fightback because, apart from a Maurice Johnston volley which dipped past outside of the post, they rarely put Theo Snelders under pressure in the second half.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

True, Hearts might have sneaked both points after Gary Smith, who had already been booked, was shown the red card following an off-the-ball clash with Johnston, but the early loss of Colquhoun, who picked up a hip injury when he scored, was a blow to the balance of their side from which Hearts never fully recovered. It was left to Kevin Thomas, the under-21 striker, to add dash to a largely low-key fixture with his surging runs from the left flank.

Though his final pass was often erratic, Thomas's willingness to take on defenders posed Aberdeen with a few problems. "The biggest compliment I can pay Kevin,'' observed Clark, "is that I wouldn't like him playing against us.

"Having said that I think there are times when even he doesn't know what he's going to do next!''

Apart from flashes of Jess' ability, there was little that was unpredictable about Aberdeen's display other than moments of discomfort in defence.