Landmark games are Berra best forgotten

by Dec 18, 2018

Captain Christophe’s milestone matches are unlikely to make the happiest memories.

When the time comes for Christophe Berra to retire, the Hearts captain will be able to look back on his career with a great deal of pride and satisfaction: over 500 career appearances for Hearts, Wolves and Ipswich combined, 41 caps (and potentially more to come) for Scotland and until earlier this season, virtually a clean bill of health throughout.

On the eve of his 200th appearance for Hearts against Livingston, Berra stated his desire to see out his playing days at the club with which they began.

From the 200+ matches Berra will have played in for his boyhood club by the time he hangs up his boots, he’ll undoubtedly have a string of fond memories. However, it is highly unlikely that he’ll include his milestone matches in maroon among those, most of which he’ll be keen to forget.

50th Appearance: Hearts 4–0 Dundee United (1st October 2006)

This is as good a milestone as Berra has enjoyed to date. Having made his first appearance for Hearts in a 2–1 defeat to the same opponents back in November 2003, Berra had by now established himself as a regular starter under Valdas Ivanauskas in the early part of the 2006–07 campaign.

Alongside Steven Pressley, the 21-year old enjoyed a more comfortable outing against United this time round, shutting out Craig Brewster’s struggling side in a 4–0 win that saw goals from Andrius Velicka, Juho Makela, Paul Hartley and Jamie Mole.

100th Appearance: Hearts 2–3 Inverness Caledonian Thistle (22nd December 2007)

Berra’s century set the precedent for the kind of madness that would characterise future milestones. With Hearts two goals down at home to in-form Inverness (coincidentally also managed by Craig Brewster at the time), Berra — now captain — marked his 100th appearance with a 62nd minute header to haul his side back into the game.

Hopes of completing the comeback were dealt a blow with minutes remaining, as goalkeeper Eduardas Kurskis (a week on from a horrendous blunder at Ibrox) went into self-destruct mode. Already on a booking, and with Hearts having used all three subs, the Lithuanian raised his hands to Inverness’ Russell Duncan and was promptly dismissed, leaving Lee Wallace to finish the game in goals.

A man down and with their left back posing as a makeshift goalkeeper, it was somewhat of a surprise when Hearts equalised mere moments later through a late Andrius Velicka penalty. Unfortunately, just as the home side looked to have grabbed a point against the odds, the circumstances took their toll and in the 95th minute, Graham Bayne’s strike eluded Wallace and secured all three points for the Highlanders.

It wouldn’t be the last time Berra would see a milestone match marred by a goalkeeping implosion.

150th Appearance: Hearts 2–2 Dunfermline Athletic (29th July 2017)

Another significant landmark Berra will prefer to forget. After a shock defeat away to Peterhead in the Betfred Cup group stages, head coach Ian Cathro (who had brought Berra back as captain that summer) was in desperate need of a win to preserve both Hearts’ status in the competition and his own employment.

Don Cowie’s 20th minute strike gave the home fans and Cathro a glimmer of optimism, only to see it fade eight minutes later when Joe Cardle levelled the score, then evaporate altogether as Declan McManus put the visitors in front shortly after the interval.

An 86th minute equaliser from Isma Goncalves offered brief hope of a late fightback, but in the end only served to force the game into an inconsequential penalty shootout, which Hearts lost, thereby prolonging the embarrassment as Cathro watched on from stands for the last time.

200th Appearance: Livingston 5–0 Hearts (14th December 2018)

If you had told Berra his 200th appearance would be worse than the previous two combined, he might have struggled to believe you. Nearly 11 years on from his first century, Hearts suffered arguably their most ignominious result of the post-administration era when they shipped five second-half goals at the Toni Macaroni Arena last Friday.

Having essentially kept his side level at the break, Bobby Zlamal swiftly rendered his first half goalkeeping heroics null and void when he gifted Livingston their opening goal with less than 20 minutes to go, hesitating to come for a long diagonal before charging out, missing the ball entirely and punching Craig Halkett, who dispatched the resulting penalty.

In that moment, I picture Berra suffering PTSD-induced memories of Eduardas Kurskis 100 appearances ago, not too dissimilar to that GIF of a wide-eyed dog experiencing harrowing flashbacks to Vietnam. What played out in the subsequent 14 minutes will have done little to alleviate Berra’s mental anguish, with Hearts’ defence (minus Berra’s injured partner Clevid Dikamona and with a hopelessly inert Aaron Hughes struggling in his place) completely disintegrating as Livingston ran riot.

Berra’s post-match comments, while specific to the Livingston defeat, could well have been plucked from the previous two games on this list.

“It’s not what I wanted and it’s not one for me to remember. I’ll try to forget it very quickly.”

We all will Christophe. We all will.