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Csaba Laszlo <-auth Mike Aitken auth-> Charlie Richmond
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3 of 021 ----- L SPL A

Styles differ, but 'I'd rather watch Hibs than Hearts', says Bannon

Mike Aitken
EAMONN Bannon is keenly aware of the imperfections which currently hinder both Hibernian and Heart of Midlothian, but the former Scotland midfielder will relish the cut and thrust of today's Edinburgh derby at Easter Road. As an ex-employee of both clubs – he made 242 appearances for Hearts, just one for Hibs – Bannon has sound credentials for assessing the home side as under-performing and the visitors as over-achieving.
A shrewd observer, who voices honest opinions rather than platitudes, Bannon has been around the Edinburgh derby long enough (he played a dozen times for Hearts and once for Hibs) to regard the fixture with respect. "I played in a few, scored a coupl e of goals and have some good memories," he recalled. "Outside the Old Firm match, it's the most exciting game in Scotland to play in. It's a far more intense occasion than, say, the Dundee derby."

Bannon stays in touch with today's scene through his matchday work compiling statistics for the Press Association. Some 12 points separate Hearts in third from Hibs in sixth, a gap which persuades the former player to admit he's "gobsmacked" by the success of Csaba Laszlo's men in the SPL while Mixu Paatelainen's players have failed to fulfil potential in spite of their front men scoring 22 goals.

"The overriding observation to be made about the Edinburgh teams this season is they have two entirely different styles of play," he said. "If you look at the players Hibs and Hearts have at their disposal, I think Hibs have under-achieved big time this season.

"My favourite players are strikers. That's why, when I look at Hearts, I'm not really over-enamoured with them. On the other hand, I look at Hibs and think: 'He's good. He's a handful. He can score goals.' Defensively, for me, Hibs are not too bad. Add those things together and there's a major component missing.

"For me, their midfield blend has been totally wrong. Every time I watch Hibs I reach the conclusion the players don't go together. No matter what the permutation in midfield, it doesn't seem to work. To be fair on Mixu, he's been trying to play his good players. He's got four forwards and, rather than put one of them on the bench, he's tried to fit them all in. Like any manager, he wants to get the best players into his starting XI.

"I like Derek Riordan, but what he's not great at doing is getting back and helping his team-mates to defend. Steven Fletcher is a terrific player, the star of their side. You can see why Mixu plays Colin Nish because he's a big imposing guy. But Nish should be told not to move too far from the parameters of the 18-yard line. When he goes walkabout, it doesn't work.

"For most players, 4-4-2 is the easiest system to understand. I was scratching my head when Mixu tried that Christmas tree formation and goodness knows what else was going on. It just overcomplicates the game. I know a little bit about football and (watching Hibs] I'm asking myself, 'what formation are they playing ?' "

As far as Hearts are concerned, Bannon admires some of what Laszlo has achieved, though the football purist in him finds it difficult to warm to the current Tynecastle team. "I'd rather watch Hibs than Hearts," he admitted. "Hearts are clinical and methodical with occasional flashes of inspiration from either Bruno Aguiar or Andrew Driver. Otherwise, they can be poor to watch.

"Last season I was very critical of them. They were chopping and changing all the time. What Laszlo has done is to settle everything down. He's picking the same guys week in, week out and they're hard to beat. Hearts are a stodgy side. They don't look like losing too many goals, but don't score many either.

"In my book, Laszlo has got one half of the equation right. The strength of this Hearts' team is in midfield. And a good midfield protects the back four. Michael Stewart has gone into more of a sitting role in recent weeks and looks more comfortable there. Aguiar is a terrific footballer. He's the money player for Hearts along with Driver but the jury is still out on David Obua.

"Christian Nade is a big, strong lad, but he's not a natural goalscorer. You can cut him some slack because it's incredibly difficult to play up front on your own. The best players in the world struggle in those circumstances. I'd like to see him in a partnership.

"To be honest, I'm gobsmacked Hearts are third. I can't believe they are where they are. The league has been poor this year, Rangers and Celtic included, and the observation that every side is capable of beating every other side on their day has come to pass."

As for the outcome of today's derby, Bannon is sanguine. "Hearts must be favourites," he said. "They will be hard to beat. Will it be good Hibs who turn up on the day, or misfiring Hibs? The physicality of modern football is missed by a lot of people. Hibs have a lot of small players. Hearts have that edge."

Taken from the Scotsman

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