Livingston’s equalising goal against Raith Rovers was, in many ways, unremarkable.
Josh Mullin hangs a high corner kick to the back post, Jon Guthrie leaps like a salmon to nod across the six-yard box, Jack Fitzwater slams into the net.
Raith are not the first – nor will they be the last – to succumb to the set piece prowess of Davie Martindale’s exceptionally well-drilled Lions.
However, the incident, which served as the turning point as Rovers slipped to a 2-1 Scottish Cup defeat, did go some way to answering one question: why Christophe Berra?
— Scottish Cup (@ScottishCup) April 4, 2021
Social media can be cruel. Not a ‘stop the presses’ revelation, granted. But true nonetheless.
What followed was a steady stream of incredulity and disbelief outweighing positivity. Some messages were glib, some unnecessarily hard-edged; some from Hearts fans, some from Rovers supporters. But all somewhat mystified by a perceived stylistic mish-mash.
A mere 48 hours earlier, the Stark’s Park side had ripped apart their fiercest foes, Dunfermline, during a 5-1 triumph in Kirkcaldy. Their passing, movement, confidence in possession and speed of attack left their abject opponents flailing like feathers in a hurricane.
And it would be fair to say Berra is not known for his sharp passing or swashbuckling surges forward.
But it is a mighty leap to go from that to him being a poor signing for Rovers. John McGlynn is no mug and, despite the fact his Raith team tend to favour an aesthetically pleasing style of football on most occasions, he is nothing if not pragmatic.
“You can’t just say ‘he had a bad game because he’s getting old.’ I had bad games when I was 18 and when I was 24.”
There will be fixtures when brute force is required; fixtures against physically imposing foes; fixtures in which a player who attacks a high ball as if his life depends on it could be enough to sneak a victory from a set piece. Christophe Berra fits the bill.
That is especially true in the Premiership, a destination which suddenly does not seem quite so hazy in the distance. Rovers are Hearts’ closest challengers on merit and if they continue to blend elegance with efficacy, then no side will relish facing them in a play-off tie.
Should Rovers manage the unthinkable, a blend of experience, drive and physicality will be essential. Livi’s leveller in West Lothian illustrated what Berra could offer.
Would Raith have won that match with him in their ranks? Impossible to say. Would that set piece have been defended with added vigour? Almost certainly.
He does not need to play 40 games a season to be an effective capture – and he will not, given he’ll celebrate his 39th birthday as a Raith player – but there will be outings where those attributes undimmed by the passing of time will still shine bright.
A period of rehabilitation will be required. Berra is not playing well. His confidence looks shaken and he has failed to rouse performances from a misfiring Jambos outfit. But that does not mean he is finished.
As he stated earlier this season: “You can’t just say: ‘He had a bad game because he’s getting old.’ I had bad games when I was 18 and when I was 24.” Yet those poor displays have tended to be the minority during a career which has spanned 41 Scotland caps and more than 600 senior matches north and south of the border.
Rovers will also – and you can put the mortgage on this – be getting a fired-up Berra, not least after the comments of former Hearts skipper Steven Pressley on BBC Sportsound on Monday evening.
Referring to recent defeats against Brora Rangers and Queen of the South, and Berra’s subsequent decision to join Rovers, he stated: “Christophe Berra is somebody that I really like, I have a lot of respect for, but he’s the captain of that football club.
“I was even more disappointed by the lack of leadership he showed on the back of that. At a time where Hearts needed to batten down the hatches, he took the easy option.
“He had to show strength, take the flack that was coming, understand the situation, and move forward alongside his manager. He didn’t, he took the easy option.”
Quite aside from the fact Berra is not Hearts’ captain (he was deposed as skipper in favour of Steven Naismith during the reign of Daniel Stendel), it would be safe to assume those comments have not gone unnoticed by his ex-Tynecastle teammate.
Berra will arrive in Kirkcaldy determined to thrive, both on and off the field; to illustrate he still has gas in the tank as a player while serving as a nurturing, positive influence on less experienced defenders such as David McKay and Tom Lang.
Any signing is a risk but it would be folly to write off a man with Berra’s CV and a point to prove.