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Europa League tie against Paksi gives Hearts keeper chance for atonement

Published Date: 27 July 2011
QUESTIONS on his previous European outing prompt a shudder from the hulking frame of Marian Kello.
The ghosts of Zagreb are yet to be fully exorcised, which is part of the Hearts goalkeeper's mission in Hungary this week. A solid performance in Székesfehérvár against Paksi could help his team progress to the Europa League play-off and erase the harrowing memory of that 4-0 defeat by Dinamo two years ago.

Kello is in confident mood. Recalling the Croatia trip as the worst of his career, he believes Hearts are stronger and better equipped for this year's European venture. A collection of new signings have moulded together with established faces and the early SPL start should aid their cause to some degree. Spirits are particularly high following a morale-boosting 1-1 draw with Rangers at Ibrox on Saturday.

Paksi do not command the same reputation as Dinamo and, with less than 2000 home fans expected to attend tomorrow, the atmosphere will be nowhere near as hostile as that of Zagreb's Stadion Maksimir. For that, Kello is thankful. His European experience is decent as a remnant of the FBK Kaunas team which eliminated Rangers from the Champions League qualifiers in 2008, but he admits Hearts were overwhelmed in Croatia.

The Slovakian dwells on losing those four goals with admirable honesty, as if the memory has driven him back to the European arena for the chance to atone. The defeat might have been heavier but he is now focused on using the meeting with Paksi to banish the Croatian experience forever.

"European matches are something different," said Kello. "The feeling is different and the style of game is different. I'm looking forward to this game because hopefully it's going to be better than the last European game. Zagreb was a good team, very strong, especially at home. I don't think we were ready for that game and we lost 4-0. Our game in Zagreb was awful and we could have been hammered even more.

"I conceded four goals in Zagreb, although I made some saves as well. From my point of view, I was very disappointed with the result but my performance wasn't too disappointing. Overall, though, it was one of the worst nights of my career.

"Now we are better. We are stronger. We want to do better than last time and make our fans proud again. The quality of the Zagreb team was greater than this Hungarian team.

We need to be confident, play our football and I think we can do it.

"It wasn't because we lost the first goal early. Zagreb was too hot for us and we were really tired during the game. I could see it out on the pitch. We didn't play our football at all. We were sloppy and we made many mistakes, especially in the first half. We didn't keep possession of the ball. It wasn't just because we conceded the first goal.

"If we lose the first goal tomorrow night, we have to still play our game and keep going. It is not the end of the tie because we have another game at home. We have to play for the best result we can get. We conceded a goal against Rangers at Ibrox but we kept our style and kept going and we got a result. This might be the same. If we concede, nothing changes, we just need to keep playing."

Alongside Kello on the Hearts charter flight to Budapest yesterday were fellow goalkeepers Jamie MacDonald and Janos Balogh. MacDonald is highly rated by the Tynecastle management and Balogh, as a Hungarian, would be ideally suited to play in his homeland. Yet only a disaster will see either of them appear tomorrow, for Kello is the club's undisputed, resident No.?1.

Jim Jefferies identified the imposing Slovak as first-choice shortly after returning to Hearts 18 months ago and has been rewarded with consistently outstanding displays ever since. So strong is Kello's reputation in Scotland that English-based scouts venture north to watch him perform, often leaving with a glowing dossier.

The goalkeeper attributes his progress to the faith instilled in him. "I am very thankful to Jim Jefferies," he said. "When he came to Hearts he gave me confidence that I was his number one. I wanted to pay him back and give him good performances. Sometimes my game wasn't the best but he gave me confidence saying I was number one. That helped me a lot."

Kello's ultimate aim would be a clean sheet against Paksi tomorrow. With confidence levels high amongst the Scottish camp, he sees no reason to fear opponents widely regarded as one of Hungary's smaller clubs. "This is a bigger chance (than Zagreb) and we can feel it. We feel the opportunity here. We have a good team and the match against Rangers gave us some confidence for this trip.

"I wouldn't like to say we have a bigger chance than Paksi. The first game will tell us a lot because we don't really know how they play or how good they are. Before the second leg, we will know if we can do it and if we can fight for the chance to progress.

"Paksi can come at us, they can fight, they can keep the ball. You will get this in any country now in a European match. I don't expect anything special. We go to play Rangers and Celtic away in the SPL and I think this is going to be the same. It's going to be a tough game, maybe the same level as Rangers or even more difficult. We need to be ready 100 per cent."

Hearts weren't properly prepared for Zagreb.

They arrived in Hungary yesterday looking more assured, relaxed and confident ahead of a match which may not be as high-profile as Dinamo, but which is no less important. For Marian Kello, it is time to move on from the Croatian nightmare.

Taken from the Scotsman

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