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Csaba Laszlo <-auth Michael Grant auth-> Craig Thomson
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14 of 060 Christian Nade 38 ;Gary Glen 92 SC A

Laszlo happy to do the Leith walk

By Michael Grant
HEARTS: Michael Grant hears the Tynecastle manager claim that home advantage means nothing in today’s cup tie.

SO FAR cup football in Scotland has not been kind to Csaba Laszlo. His crack at the Co-operative Insurance Cup hit a brick wall after just a measly couple of hours. Airdrie turned up at Tynecastle in August, saw out a goalless draw and then dumped his Hearts team out of the competition on penalties. The Scottish Cup was nasty to him even before his men kicked a ball. Celtic, Rangers or Hibs away were the three worst draws Hearts could have had; fate sent them to Easter Road.

Laszlo remembered the Airdrie result as losing to "a small team who only played football in one direction", which sounded more disparaging than he intended. Airdrie supporters may point out that Hearts were only heading in one direction that night as well: out.

In fact the Romanian's description owed more to his command of English rather than any arrogance in his attitude. There are some at Hearts who take pleasure in referring to Hibs as Edinburgh's "wee team" but Laszlo is not among the belittlers. He was diplomatic and respectful about the scale of the challenge which awaits in Leith in today's lunchtime tie. If others around him gloat about Hibs' failure to win the Scottish Cup since 1902, he does not join the chorus.

In his opinion both clubs were unlucky when the draw was made. Two heavyweight SPL clubs meeting so early in the competition meant one would survive but still face several more hurdles before they can lift the cup. Ideally Hibs-Hearts would be a clash in the last four, or even the final itself.

"If I don't win any trophy this season then it doesn't mean I will be unhappy," said Laszlo. "If I am in the cup final and also in second position in the league then it is a nice thing. But the cup final is still very far away for thinking about. This is a big one for Heart of Midlothian and Hibs and it is a bit unlucky for two SPL teams to meet in the first game and one team must go out.

"We're not talking about a semi-final here, we're talking about the first stage when we've been involved in the competition. If Hibs manage to get through to the next round it's no guarantee they will lift the cup. The small teams give 200% and the big teams sometimes write them off as amateurs and that's a danger. So sometimes it's easier for us to play Hibs, knowing every one of our players will have full concentration."
For me, playing at Easter Road is no different to playing at home.
Csaba Laszlo

Hibs have home advantage and the visiting support will taunt them about the open wound of 107 years since they last won the cup. Hearts lifted the great old trophy as recently as 1998 and 2006, which made things 10 times worse on the east of the city. The latter triumph was sweeter still for Hearts: they smashed Hibs 4-0 in the semi-final at Hampden that year. It was the last time the clubs met in the competition before today.

Laszlo did not agree that the context and history of the occasion might allow his side to play with greater freedom. "As far as pressure goes, it's also there for us. In a cup game you don't have the possibility to correct something. That's why there is added pressure for a cup game. You have one game, then it's finished.

"They have home advantage but a lot of people don't think home advantage is special in a derby. When we went to Easter Road for the first game this season a 1-1 draw in October I thought we were the better team. Also at Tynecastle 0-0 last weekend we played good football but Hibs still created chances and if they had scored to make it 1-0 we would have had a problem. For me playing at Easter Road is no different to playing at home."

It is possible that Hearts' goalkeeper Janos Balogh may yet have the unique distinction of playing his first and last games for the club at the home of their great rivals. The Hungarian made his debut as a half-time substitute when Marian Kello was injured in the October league game. Today, he will play from the start but he is uncertain about how things will end. The 26-year-old's loan deal concludes on January 19 and so far there has been no indication whether Hearts will pay his Hungarian club, Debrecan, a fee to make the move permanent.

"I don't know what is happening because I haven't spoken with anybody yet," said Balogh, a Hungarian Cup winner in 2001, 2005 and 2007. "I hope I can stay because I very much enjoy the life here in Scotland and the atmosphere at Hearts. I hope to sign a long-term deal and stay for many more years. I don't want to go back because in Hungary the football is not so good in comparison to the set-up here.

"I know the manager here wants me but it is not up to him. Debrecan do not want a lot of money for me but it is all relative. My first choice is to stay at Hearts but if I can't stay at Tynecastle then I would consider other SPL clubs because I don't want to go back to Hungary. I love the life in Scotland."

This outsider's enthusiasm for the passions which swirl around Scottish football is shared by his manager. Laszlo - who has Marius Zaliukas and Lee Wallace back from suspension but Robbie Neilson banned - has enjoyed being approached by friendly Hibs supporters in the street, interested only in talking football.

The majority won't be so sociable today. Easter Road will be a cauldron and Laszlo will tell his players to do their best to ignore the atmosphere bubbling around the stands. "For me it's not only important to have passion in a derby, it's also important to have a clear head. Sometimes you lose your head, have too many emotions and then you can end up with a red card.

"I always tell my players that if they can use a clear head, and think very clearly, they can find the right balance between emotion and performance. Then they'll be 100% sure to win the derby."

They haven't won one yet this season, nor lost one. But the cup is different and something has to give. One of the capital's clubs is about to fall with an almighty crash.

Taken from the Sunday Herald

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