Hearts manager Craig Levein admits captain Christophe Berra will decide whether he is fit enough to make his long-awaited comeback against Rangers on Sunday.
The vastly experienced defender played 45 minutes in last night’s 2-0 friendly at junior side Linlithgow Rose and could make his first competitive appearance since his hamstring tore from the bone against Celtic on August 11 when Steven Gerrard’s side visit for the televised clash.
Berra is ahead of schedule after initially being told he could face six months on the sidelines.
Injuries to Berra, Steven Naismith, John Souttar and Uche Ikpeazu have taken their toll in Hearts slipping from first to third in the Premiership following a run of four defeats from five outings in all competition.
And Levein admits the return of the 33-year-old this weekend would be a timely boost.
However, the former Scotland manager insists Berra will have the final say on whether he is ready to make a return to action.
Levein said: “He is a massive player. I’m not saying he is definitely going to play on Sunday but I’m definitely not ruling him out.
“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.
“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.
“It will be great if he is involved. It helps us because he is a threat at set pieces, he helps us defend set pieces and defend better in general.
“I had expected him back after the winter break so this is quite early. If he feels okay then he is certainly worth considering for Sunday.”
Berra’s injury was the first of several injury set-backs and Levein insists the central defender’s presence will give Rangers something different to think about.
He added: “Christophe being in the dressing room is good for us, 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.
“That is something I know myself as a coach, if I look at the opposition team sheet and three or four of their best players are missing, then it gives me a boost.”
While defender Souttar and striker Ikpeazu are not expected to return until after the winter break, Levein admits Scotland striker Naismith, who is on loan from Norwich City, is also making good progress from undergoing knee surgery a month ago.
He added: “It seems like every week we talk about players who are not playing and that is the frustrating thing but Christophe having a chance of playing on Sunday makes me feel good.
“Naisy is going to start jogging very shortly so he is maybe two,three weeks away.
“He is back up here from Norwich and everything is going well, no problems.”
Defender Berra could partner on loan Burnley defender Jimmy Dunne against Rangers after Levein admitted that Clevid Dikamona was not at his best in last weekend’s 2-0 defeat at St Mirren.
Levein added: “There are certain things we need to do better this weekend, we need to defend better.
“I thought Jimmy Dunne was excellent against St Mirren but I thought Clevid had his poorest match. He’s been great for us but he had his poorest match.
“We made some basic errors and because of that you never get enough control in the game.”