Christophe Berra praises Hearts’ ‘steely’ teenager Aaron Hickey

Hearts striker Uche Ikpeazu and Livingston's Alan Lithgow tangle in the box during the 1-1 draw. Picture: SNS.
Hearts striker Uche Ikpeazu and Livingston's Alan Lithgow tangle in the box during the 1-1 draw. Picture: SNS.
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There was more superficial damage for Hearts; failure to beat Livingston, who played the final 41 minutes with ten men, brought the customary
jeering from the club’s 
supporters at full-time.

Craig Levein’s side climbed up to ninth place on goal 
difference, although they are now just a point above Ladbrokes Premiership basement side St Johnstone, having only amassed one win from their opening ten games.

Hearts fans scraping at the barrel for positives may look to the fact that this time there was, at least, not any lasting physical harm inflicted on the players. No one was added to what feels like an infinite injury list.

There was brief concern near the end of the first half when Aaron Hickey writhed in agony on the ground after being involved in a meaty challenge with Livingston’s Nicky Devlin. After receiving treatment, the prodigious 17-year-old was able to see the game out, delivering the kind of performance to justify
why the likes of Manchester City and Rangers’ interest has been piqued.

At twice Hickey’s age, Hearts captain Christophe Berra exhibited paternal 
concern for the teenager.

“The tackle on Hickey is a red card, no doubt – 100 per cent,” said Berra, who was on the receiving end of the high tackle that led to Livingston playmaker Aymen Souda being sent off four minutes after the restart.

“I thought he might have done his knee and I asked him if he was okay.

“He got up and that shows his character as well that he’s got a bit of steel with him.

“They thought it was a 50/50 but I’ve seen it again and he’s lunged in, two-footed.

“It’s the first time he’s been smashed since he’s played at first-team level. But he got up and got on with it, there would be many a player who would have gone off.”

Ironically, Livingston 
skipper Devlin, himself, was forced off five minutes before the break, perhaps feeling the effects of the challenge on Hickey. However, the Hearts youngster shook off his pain to deliver an assured display, which included driving the team on from the left flank during the second period.

Hickey had been culpable for Rangers’ equaliser in last Sunday’s 1-1 draw at Tynecastle, conceding the corner before then leaving Alfredo Morelos unmarked to level.

Berra, though, is in no doubt the youngster is on his way to the top. “He’s only played 15 games and he’s done magnificently well,” added the centre-half. “We don’t want to build him up too much. We’ve got to let him develop and make mistakes and learn from them.

“There are things he can improve on, he’s got a lot of great attributes but if he keeps his head down, stays level headed and keeps working hard, learning and improving then he’s got an unbelievable future ahead of him. In training I’m always speaking to him about things that he can add to his game to make him even better.”

The result might not have been satisfactory to the away fans at the Tony Macaroni Arena, especially taking into account Hearts’ numerical advantage, but Berra’s glass was half full. “They’re a difficult opponent who are really strong at home,” he said.

“Rangers came here and struggled, I know Aberdeen came and won but I think they were lucky on the day and Celtic got beat 2-0.

“We’re bitterly disappointed, them going down to ten men, we didn’t have the quality to unlock them but then all credit to them as well.”

Hearts’ best chance arrived in the 31st minute when Uche Ikpeazu ran on to Sean Clare’s deft flick but his low drive was repelled by Matija Sarkic.

Livingston had gone close through Scott Robinson eight minutes earlier but the attacker’s near-post effort was blocked by Joel Pereira.

Hearts piled on the pressure at the end but lacked the guile to penetrate Livingston’s rigid defensive structure.

Given how events unfolded,
former Hearts midfielder Robinson admits Livingston,
who travel to Hibernian on Wednesday, were happy with a point.

“You have to stick to what you are doing and sit that bit deeper,” said Robinson. “We just tried to hit them on the counter but we ran out of legs.

“We had a few half chances but we just wanted to get the point. With 11 men who knows what would have happened but we are delighted with the point.

“I read an article from [Hearts defender] Michael Smith saying to his team-mates that they could expect the hardest game of their season here, so I think teams are respecting us here. I think we can be a match for anyone here.”