London Hearts Supporters Club

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Csaba Laszlo <-auth Phil Johnson auth-> William Collum
15 of 017 Saulius Mikoliunas 8 L SPL H

Hearts defenders earn their keep

IF RELIABILITY is missing from the club's accounting system, Hearts need look no further than their own defence for a quick fix.
The solution to their shortcomings as a creative, attacking force will take more time and effort to find. For now, though, head coach Csaba Laszlo can take some satisfaction from the improvement of a defensive unit put under pressure by Inverness but robust and organised enough to cope relatively comfortably.

It has taken six SPL games for Hearts to achieve a clean sheet, and after conceding late goals to both Falkirk and Hamilton in previous matches, the home fans could have been forgiven for fearing the worst. The longer this game went on, the further Hearts retreated.

Inverness pressed forward at every opportunity, but created only one clear chance to equalise, when Roy McBain's shot was beaten away by outstanding home goalkeeper Marian Kello.

As far as Laszlo was concerned, it all went according to plan, the Hungarian awarding his players, who did not receive their wages last week, ten out of ten for tactical awareness.

"If we win every game 1-0, I'll be happy," he said. "This is the most precious victory. The most important thing was what we did tactically, and we changed completely the tactics. I don't tell that we do it, but I know that we do it in the team. We did it very well. That was our best tactical performance."

The Hearts back-four has remained unchanged for four consecutive games, and Kello has firmly established himself as a dependable first-choice goalkeeper. The Slovakian has done everything asked of him since arriving on loan from Kaunas and has quickly formed an understanding with central defenders Marius Zaliukas and Christophe Berra. Hearts were forced to defend deep, but were resilient enough to prevent Inverness from carving them open.

"They did play a lot of long balls and they bombed a lot of men forward," said Berra, the Hearts captain. "But I don't think Marian, our keeper, had many saves to make. One thing he did well was that he came and any long balls he comes and catches it. He's commanding. It takes so much pressure off the defence and I think he does that very well."

Eggert Jonsson is improving with every game as a right-back, and Christos Karipidis has grown into his new role as a holding midfielder who does the simple things well behind the more constructive influence of Michael Stewart, who has become the linchpin in Laszlo's team.

The willingness of Karipidis and Stewart to declare themselves fit to start after only returning to training the day before due to injury is indicative of the enthusiasm Laszlo appears to generate behind the scenes. The players want to play for him.

There is also a consistency about team selection and style of play that has been missing in recent seasons. Prepared to start from the back and be patient in possession, the players also look like they know what they're supposed to be doing when they don't have the ball. "We gave the opponents space to come and we looked to be dangerous on the counter-attack," explained Laszlo. "This is football, not 5-0 or 6-0 games."

Just as well. The Hungarian coach doesn't have the weapons at his disposal to win games by such wide margins, and save for the early goal that gave them something to protect and a Stewart hook-shot tipped over by Inverness goalkeeper Michael Fraser, Hearts were blunt in the last third. Jamie Mole worked hard up front, but rarely got himself into scoring positions.

The counter-attacking tactics Laszlo adopted in the second half suggest it's a problem he is well aware of. After scoring early, his team rarely looked like adding a second.

Club owner Vladimir Romanov would have given his seal of approval to a goal packaged and delivered via his Kaunas sorting office. It originated from Kello's booted clearance down the right after eight minutes which bounced between Inverness midfielder Ian Black and central defender Grant Munro. Wrong footed and blocked behind Mole, Munro could stretch only to get the faintest of touches with his head, and as the ball dropped inside the defender, Hearts attacker Audrius Ksanavicius darted forward to collect.

The Lithuanian wasted no time threading the ball through the inside right channel for compatriot Saulius Mikoliunas, whose spearing cross-field run in from the left created the opening. Fraser rushed out and was left stranded as the composed winger went past without breaking stride to side-foot into the empty net from 18 yards.

Inverness manager Craig Brewster was predictably disappointed about the way his defence was opened up, but was pleased with the overall performance. "I thought we deserved something and I thought we played well," he said. "There was maybe a lack concentration for the goal. But apart from that there wasn't a lot wrong. We were comfortable.

"Just in that final third, maybe we were not getting on the end of things and not creating enough."

Laszlo must know how he feels.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Eggert Jonsson (Hearts)

The 20-year-old Icelander, more accustomed to playing in central midfield, looks more comfortable at right-back in each game he plays. The patient passing game Csaba Laszlo wants to play means both full-backs see lots of the ball, and Jonsson ruses it well. When Inverness put the Hearts defence under pressure, the youngster stood up to the test.

Taken from the Scotsman

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