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Csaba Laszlo <-auth None auth-> Steve Conroy
[N McCann 3] ;[S Arfield 89]
15 of 016 Michael Stewart 71 L SPL A

Kello meter points to rise in Hearts' standards

FBK KAUNAS loanees often arouse suspicion on arrival in Gorgie following mediocre exploits from players such as Kestutis Ivaskevicius, Linas Pilibaitis and Arkadiusz Klimek.
Focusing solely on the goalkeeping position, it would take something remarkable to outdo Eduardas Kurskis in the calamity stakes. Marian Kello, however, looks capable of bucking this trend.

The scepticism which surrounds anyone Hearts recruit fro m Vladimir Romanov's Lithuanian club is due to previous Kaunas employees having been woefully out of their depth in Scottish football, especially after Kurskis juggled and ultimately threw the ball into his net at Ibrox. Saulius Mikoliunas, Deividas Cesnauskis, Marius Zaliukas and Andrius Velicka can, of course, be considered exceptions.

Now Kello looks like adding his name to that quartet following an assured run of games as Hearts' first-choice goalkeeper.

The Slovakian arrived last month after impressing Csaba Laszlo, the Hearts manager, during Kaunas' Champions League qualifying matches against Rangers. He kept a clean sheet at Ibrox and, despite losing a Kevin Thomson goal in the return leg in Lithuania, helped earn a precious victory for Romanov to taunt one half of the Old Firm.

He also gained promotion in the footballing pyramid controlled by Ukio Bankas Investment Group.

Beforehand, it seems he was being considered for Tynecastle for some time.

The Evening News held several conversations with Senderis Girsovicius, Kaunas' sport director, at Hearts' pre-season base in Germany in July, during which he spoke glowingly of his club's goalkeeper. "Kello," he would say, "Mwah," kissing his fingertips in approval as might an Italian after perfecting a pasta sauce recipe. "This guy is very good, he can go higher all the time."

First step on the rung after Kaunas is, of course, Tynecastle. But, whereas having such predecessors as Kurskis and Klimek imposed on them has rightly been taken as an insult by supporters, Kello is from a different mould.

Four games thus far have revealed him as confident, commanding and assured. All in all, a safe pair of hands to augment Hearts' UEFA Cup bid.

The 26-year-old's career has undergone a quite remarkable transformation in the last two years, from relative obscurity in the Czech Republic's second division to first-choice at Tynecastle.

He was identified by Romanov's scouting network playing for the Ostrava club FC Vítkovice in 2006. Kaunas procured him on freedom of contract and he quickly accelerated to undisputed No.1, but all along he had an even higher plain in mind.

"I knew about the connection with Hearts and I was thinking about that," said Kello in his first one-to-one interview in Scotland. "I wanted to play well in Kaunas and do my best, then I could think about other clubs.

"Of course, I was thinking about Hearts. Every player has their dream. I am happy here in Edinburgh. Of course, the best clubs in the world are the dream for every player but maybe for me that is impossible. I was happy at Kaunas but I am even more happy now I am here."

Hearts fans are entitled to feel likewise given the confidence he has shown so far.

Hungarian keeper Janos Balogh continues on standby since joining on loan from Debrecen, while Jamie MacDonald, Haraldur Bjornsson, Mark Ridgers and even Steve Banks remain further down the pecking order.

"I'm giving 100 per cent in every training session because, if I want to play, I must be better than the other three, four or five goalkeepers," continued Kello.

"I'm here to work hard, that is what I have always done in my career.

"I have played three times in the league and once in the cup for Hearts. It's a good, high level of football in Scotland and I think there is quality here. Whether you play the team in last position or first position, you get a very hard game.

"I feel very, very good. I like the atmosphere in the stadiums here. I don't feel nervous, I'm concentrated for all situations on the pitch. I'm prepared to deal with anything."

With an excellent command of English, he is ideally equipped to communicate and organise as well as stop shots. Marius Zaliukas and Christophe Berra are two of Hearts' most reliable defenders and their start to the season is unquestionably helping Kello adjust quickly.

The goalkeeper expressed his satisfaction with those around him, even allowing for Saturday's unfortunate defeat at Falkirk.

He said: "I'm feeling comfortable now because I know already what the defence will do during a game. I know these players now. When I played my first game I knew nothing, I didn't even know their names. It was difficult right from the start.

"It's disappointing we lost on Saturday, especially to a goal in the 89th minute.

"I thought we should have taken three points from the second half. One point would have been okay but we lost and we now have to look forward. There are many good things about Hearts. The team is working well and we are playing a good way now. We must work and stay together."

Employing Hearts' new buzz word demonstrates how quickly Kello has settled in Edinburgh. He conveys a sense of wellbeing and a conviction that his talent will earn him just rewards in football.

Being first-choice imbues any goalkeeper with confidence, but with so many challengers this may be an even greater honour at Tynecastle.

"I'm trying to do my best and work hard. If the coach thinks I'm a good goalkeeper then I will play," said Kello. "After the Hamilton match he told me, 'thank you, this was a good game from you. We have the next game and next game and you will get better'. If I make any mistakes I don't think I will play. It's the coach's decision."

Kello's performances to date have made Laszlo's choice a no-brainer and reinforced the notion that not all Kaunas imports are sub-standard.

Taken from the Scotsman

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