Levein: Csaba's a man after my own heart

HEARTS' marketing department has shunted into overdrive ahead of Dundee United's visit to Tynecastle, urging supporters to fill the famous stadium under the banner "it's time to come home". Craig Levein's presence trackside will therefore be rather apt.

Eighteen years playing for and managing Hearts ensures Levein harbours no fear about returning to his former domain, even if it is bouncing with vivacious Jambos willing his side to a defeat.

Almost 15,000 tickets have been sold for Saturday's encounter as Hearts aspire towards hope for the season's first sell-out on the back of recent on-field prosperity. A game featuring two clubs currently joint third in the SPL should be as alluring as any for fans resisting their team's new-found consistency. By comparison, average attendances this season fall short of the 14,000 mark at a ground which regularly functioned to its 17,000 capacity last year.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

United's manager has gauged Hearts' progress from afar whilst conducting his own team's commanding sequence of one defeat in 15 games. Levein, a man with a deep-rooted affection for his former club and its supporters, offers a sensible theory on those who have elected to occupy themselves away from Tynecastle on Saturday afternoons of late.

"Nobody likes their football club in the headlines for the wrong reasons," he said. "There have been so many negatives about Hearts in the last couple of seasons that the supporters are fed up with it. They want to pick up a newspaper and read about how their team won on Saturday. There are so many other things going on

and there are people out there desperate to have a go at Hearts, always have been. What happens is that as soon as any sort of negative publicity comes out of Tynecastle, people jump on it and highlight it.

"The club is fighting against that just now, it needs a period of stability, it needs a manager to stay in place for a period of time and get on with his job. The people off the pitch can do everything they can to support the manager and let the supporters see that the guy can do a job for them."

A full arena would provide an extra pre-Christmas spur for the Hearts players as their recent six-game unbeaten run goes on the line. Concurrently, it would ensure an intimidating backdrop for United but Levein welcomes the prospect of a raucous atmosphere.

"The thing is, because of my history, I've never considered Tynecastle a hostile place," he continued. "I think it's a fantastic atmosphere for football, the supporters are right on top of you and I think they are appreciative of good football. We are trying to bring down as many supporters as we can so it should be a great game.

"I love going to Tynecastle at any time. I think there's an extra edge to this game, though, with us both on the same points total."

If anyone is capable of regenerating the consistency which characterised Levein's management of Hearts between 2000 and 2004, it would appear to be Csaba Laszlo.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Recent results have accorded the Hungarian a multitude of plaudits with a team which remains one of the SPL's youngest. Most importantly, they have caused some more controversial issues surrounding the club to become almost obsolete. "The manager has managed to get everybody's focus away from all the bickering, the accusations of Vladimir Romanov (pictured below] picking the team and making substitutions, all that stuff.

"That it's all died down is a great credit to Csaba Laszlo," said Levein. "The other stuff he can't do anything about. If the people aren't coming through the turnstiles, all he can do is keep winning football matches."

Levein mounted an especially fervent defence of Laszlo's 4-4-1-1 formation, adding: "I played the same system myself last season. Although at times it can be defensive, his first priority at Hearts was to win games. Walter Smith did the same last year with Rangers. He played that system. If you get the first goal with it you sit in

and it's very difficult for the opposition. Csaba has found a formula that works for him.

"Rather than being caught up in having to play fantastic football every week and entertain, the first priority for all of us as managers is to win matches. I think he's done a great job. Once you've got results and confidence, then good performances come along.

"From a team that was so erratic, he's got a level of consistency that has enabled him to win five out of six games, two of those against the Old Firm. He's done a fantastic job. As for the other off-the-field stuff, I feel sorry for him. Managers get asked questions about that but there's nothing they can do about it."

Two of United's last three visits to Tynecastle have produced rousing away day triumphs with scorelines of 4-0 and 3-1 respectively. Levein is prepared for an entirely different scenario this time round. "Logically, I probably should expect a much tougher game because of the upturn in Hearts' fortunes. It's never a place you're going to get anything from easily," he said. "The games we won there went our way because we scored at the right times, and I always think that in most SPL matches the first goal is vital. That will be important again this time, whoever scores first has the best chance of winning.

"I don't consider us favourites for third place. Aberdeen are going to improve and Hibs look as if they've turned the corner as well as Hearts. Our intention at the start of the season was top six and to see if we could better last season's fifth place.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"We just didn't start the season well. We played okay but couldn't get a result and found ourselves bottom of the league after five games. We had a lot of catching up to do but we've now lost only one of our last 15, most of those points were needed just to catch up with everybody else. Things seem to have turned for us and I think we're a better team than we were last season."

The chasm created by Barry Robson's departure to Celtic is being filled by the dynamic Scott Robertson, although the principal hurdles United face on Saturday involve two players Levein signed for Hearts. "I signed young Andrew Driver not long before I left, and Christophe Berra too. I don't know as many Hearts players as I used to because football changes, but I remember those two arriving and they are doing fantastically well at the moment. I just hope they both have nightmares on Saturday."