Hearts will leave it up to Christophe Berra to decide whether he is fit to feature in Sunday’s Premiership match against Rangers.
The club captain, who had been ruled out for up to six months following a severe hamstring injury in August, returned to the fold ahead of schedule, coming through 45 minutes of a friendly against Linlithgow Rose last night, and could be back in the squad for the weekend clash at Tynecastle.
The 33-year-old suffered the injury during the capital side’s early season victory over Celtic but, after his first taste of action since August, is now hoping to feature in the head to head against the other major Glasgow side – provided there are no ill-effects from last night’s involvement.
Hearts manager Craig Levein said: “Most of the onus will be on him.
“I don’t know how it feels so he has to be honest with us. At his age and with his experience he will be pretty accurate with his information, I’m sure,” added Levein, who is thrilled by the prospect of welcoming the influential defender back into his side.
“He is a massive player and he has done a fair bit of training and he feels ready to play. When it is someone like him, while we are involved in discussions with the physio, he knows himself better than anybody else, knows his body better than anybody else, and last night was quite important so we will see how he feels. I’m not saying he is definitely going to play on Sunday but I’m definitely not ruling him out.”
The Gorgie side had been unbeaten prior to the last meeting with Steven Gerrard’s men but in the seven games since that 2-0 loss at the start of October, the former Premiership pacesetters have lost four, and drawn one. The latest defeat, away to St Mirren last weekend, allowed Rangers to leapfrog them into second place but everyone at the club knows that a return to winning ways on Sunday would allow them to reverse that.
Levein believes that the inclusion of Berra would bolster the team, not only in defence but, given the fact they have drawn a blank in the past five games, the Scotland international could also enhance the side’s attacking options and give the opposition pause for thought.
“It will be great if he is involved,” said Levein, who was critical of Clevid Dikamona’s central defensive performance in Paisley. “It helps us because he is a threat at set pieces. He also helps us defend set pieces and defend better in general. I had expected him back after the winter break so this is quite early but the game [last night was] the most important thing. If he can get through that and feel ok then he is certainly worth consideration for Sunday.
“It is good for us, really good. Because he is a very good player and I think also when the opposition sees his name on our team sheet they know we are a different proposition. That is something that we are been missing with all the guys who are out just now - that fear factor.
It seems like every week we talk about players who are not playing and that is the frustrating thing but getting Christophe back on the pitch and having a chance of him playing on Sunday makes me feel good.”
There was further good news regarding the rehabilitation of another of the big-name casualties, Steven Naismith, with his manager happy that he remains on course for a much-anticipated return.
“Naisy is going to start jogging very shortly so he is maybe two or three weeks away. He is back up here [from parent club Norwich City] and everything is going well, no problems.”