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Csaba Laszlo <-auth Stuart Bathgate auth-> Craig Thomson
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11 of 060 Christian Nade 38 ;Gary Glen 92 SC A

Paatelainen under more pressure as he renews tactical battle with Laszlo

Stuart Bathgate
ONE team has failed to score a goal in over 400 minutes of football. The other has not won the competition in 107 years. And when they played each other last week the match ended in a draw.
Anyone conversant with those facts could be forgiven for thinking that tomorrow's Homecoming Scottish Cup fourth-round tie between Hibernian and Hearts at Easter Road will be another stalemate. The Tynecastle club's strikers cannot score: the home side's midfielders cannot take the control required to provide their own front men with more than the odd goal chance.

But surely something's got to give. Someone, for better or worse, has to make the difference. In particular, the longer the deadlock goes on tomorrow, the more the managers will be under pressure to do something out of the ordinary. So who will blink first – Mixu Paatelainen of Hibs, or Csaba Laszlo of Hearts? Which man will be first to alter his formation or playing personnel? Who will have the nerve to throw the dice and trust in luck, knowing that by doing so he could be opening up the match and giving his opponents a better chance of winning?

Judging by his words this week, it will not be Laszlo. Until he is able to add one or more strikers to his squad, the Hearts manager is convinced he can do little more than plug away with a five-man midfield who can at least do a fair job of pinning their opponents back.

If a goal comes about tomorrow thanks to that dominance in the centre of the park, all well and good. If not, Laszlo apparently has the patience to settle for another no-scoring draw and take the tie back to Tynecastle for a replay. "For us the first point is to not lose the game and maybe have the next game at Tynecastle," he said.

Safety first, in other words. The percentage game. Tell Andy Driver and Deividas Cesnauskis to keep sending in those low crosses, and eventually Christian Nade will find himself well enough balanced to meet the ball cleanly and turn it into the net.

If that doesn't work at Easter Road, Laszlo will settle for his defence – in which Marius Zaliukas and Lee Wallace are back from suspension but Robbie Neilson is out for the same reason – snuffing out the Hibs attack. By the time the replay comes around, Bruno Aguiar, Hearts' best player over the past two or three months, will be back from injury. In other words, while anyone who works for Vladimir Romanov is always under pressure, Laszlo is not going into this match under an inordinate burden. Beneath his emotive surface lies a deep well of patience.

He enjoys the confidence of the club owner, and the backing of the majority of the Hearts support. If his team do lose, provided it is not an utter thumping, he will have a ready-made answer: 'We need a striker. Everyone knows that, and it is not my fault that one has not yet been brought in'.

Paatelainen, on the other hand, cannot afford to be quite so serene. His relationship with his employers may be sound enough, and some Hibs fans still revere him, albeit in large part because of his achievements in his two spells as a player for the club. But a section of the support is sceptical at best.

They point to results such as the recent 4-2 home defeat by Kilmarnock in which their team were not only beaten, but also appeared to have at best a shaky notion of what shape they were meant to be playing in and what tactics they were supposed to be carrying out. For some of those sceptics, such high points as the 2-0 win against Celtic just a few weeks earlier do little more than add to the frustration, as they are proof of Hibs' drastic lack of consistency.

What is more, for all that the manager and his players may insist that they are unaffected by history, they cannot help but be painfully aware of the supporters' desire to end a long and painful drought in this competition.

There are teenagers alive who have seen Hearts win the cup twice. There are centenarians out there who have not seen Hibs win it once. The present generation of supporters do not want to be centenarians themselves by the time the cup returns to Easter Road for the first time since 1902.

But Paatelainen has been under pressure before since he returned to the club as manager, and he withstood it well. A run of embarrassing pre-season defeats saw the beginning of rumours that, as they had done under John Collins, the players had lost confidence in the Finn. He denied that was the case then, and was apparently proved correct as the results got better. So he has a record of being thick-skinned, of being certain that the course of action he is taking is the right one. And in that sense, he is no more likely than Laszlo to crack under the pressure.

All the same, while Paatelainen will certainly not take fright, he will probably be the one to blink first in the sense of deciding on a change of direction. First of all, home advantage means the onus is on him to do something. It could well be that if the match goes to a replay Hibs will still end up victorious, but footballing convention dictates that teams playing on their own ground must go the extra mile in search of the win.

Secondly, presuming Laszlo's analysis is correct, and that the law of averages will eventually enable Hearts to score, Paatelainen cannot afford to allow the match to persist in a predictable, rational fashion. If he does that, Hearts will retain the upper hand in midfield, and stifle the Hibs attack while steadily creating more chances. Instead, he must do something to change the balance of the game. Something which may look like it leaves Hibs weaker in one area of the pitch, but could actually help them dominate in a crucial area.

Certainly, the manager has already shown himself more than willing to employ such methods when called for. Asked at the start of the season if he thought using Dean Shiels brought about an imbalance in his midfield, he replied that some of the best sides in the game were unbalanced, and that he was not concerned about fielding a regimented formation which might be able to annul the opposition without doing enough in its own right.

Certainly, Shiels is one player who could make a difference tomorrow, but he may have to wait for his chance, as he has frequently fared better as an impact substitute than when he has started a match.

Then again, if Shiels does not start, what does Paatelainen do instead? Play Alan O'Brien again? The winger was ineffectual against Hearts, and when he finds himself in space is often unable to produce a telling ball into the box. So he is by no means an ideal choice.

One alternative would be to start with Shiels and plan for him to make an early impact before he is taken off to make way for a more defensive-minded midfielder. If that or something like it works, and Hibs beat their city rivals in the Scottish Cup for the first time since 1979, Paatelainen's critics will disappear overnight. This looks like being his tie to win or lose.

Stewart and Hogg both confident there will be goals this time around

AFTER last week's league match at Tynecastle ended in a goalless draw, both Hearts and Hibs appear convinced that just a minor improvement may give them victory in tomorrow's Scottish Cup match at Easter Road. Hearts can draw sustenance from the fact that they were the dominant team for much of the second half and hit the woodwork three times, while Hibs can reflect on moments in which Steven Fletcher and Derek Riordan came close to making the breakthrough.

The Hearts midfielder Michael Stewart, for one, believes he and his team-mates should not be unduly concerned by the fact they have not scored in four matches. Instead, he thinks they should look back with a measure of satisfaction on the chances they created in every game except their midweek SPL defeat at Motherwell, and could grow dramatically in self-belief if and when one of those chances is transformed into a goal.

"There's no more we can do as a team other than concentrate on finishing a few of these chances," Stewart said. "Were we to put one or two of these away, then the confidence in the rest of the play starts to flood through the team. If you look around the team as a whole, we are fairly solid and not giving much away.

"Motherwell was the first game we didn't really create anything. Up until that point we hadn't scored, but we had been creating chances.

"Of course it is a concern not to be scoring goals, but Motherwell was the first where we had not created chances. If we had gone four games without any goals and no chances created, it would be a serious concern. We want to look at Motherwell as an isolated incident."

Stewart added that he and his team-mates had not been up for the match at Fir Park, and was honest enough to admit he would prefer not to have to play on a poor pitch in near-freezing conditions. "Who really wants to come out and watch a game of football on a cold Wednesday night in January when the standard of the football is so poor?" he asked.

"It's difficult for players to try to play football of quality when conditions are not conducive to it. Unfortunately when it is like that, it becomes a kick and rush, and a battle.

"When it gets to this stage of the year, teams who would generally try to play some football just can't. It then digresses into shite football."

The temperature may not be too much above zero tomorrow, but the earlier kick-off will at least ensure the match is played in daylight. In any case, Stewart is sure that Hearts will be able to dismiss the Motherwell match as an aberration and rise to the occasion in the fourth-round match.

"Sunday's game is a great opportunity to rectify the wrongs that happened at Motherwell. There isn't a better game to make sure we do that.

"We have had the opportunity to step back and take stock on what needs to be done. Going into the game on Sunday, we'd rather it (a poor performance] happened prior to it rather than during it."

The Hibs centre-back Chris Hogg, meanwhile, suggested his team had some positives they could build on from last week's league match. "Defensively we were OK on Saturday – I wouldn't say brilliant – and we'll be looking to have a solid base again.

"I think the full team needs to look to pass the ball better. At the moment we're not keeping the ball well enough, and we're not passing it well enough into our forward players. We need to get decent service to our front players so they can do the damage."

Having said that such fine tuning would be required, Hogg added that the league match a week ago would have no bearing on the cup clash tomorrow. "You might as well wipe the slate clean," he said. "It will be a different game.

"With ten minutes to go in the league game both sides maybe thought 'We don't really want to lose this' then the game petered out, but on Sunday it will be a different story because we will be going hammer and tongs at Hearts to get a goal."

Hogg played the last time the sides met in the cup, in the semi-final of April 2006, while Stewart, who was also a Hibs player then, had to watch from the stands as Hearts won 4-0. Although acknowledging that the match had been a painful experience at the time, Hogg insisted that it was remote history by now, and would have even less of a bearing on tomorrow's game than would the league match seven days ago.

He also dismissed the notion that there was any jinx over Hibs in a competition they have not won in 107 years. "People always talk about it, but I don't believe in hoodoos or whatever like that," he said. "If we start listening to people saying we've got to win the cup it's not going to be good for the team: we just have to concentrate on this match and hopefully progress. Obviously 2006 was a massive disappointment at the time and it took a while to get over that one, but that's gone now."

Taken from the Scotsman

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