Jim Jefferies brings out best in mellow Marian Kello

Motherwell v HeartsTuesday, SPLSky Sports 4, 7:30pm

MARIAN KELLO knew what it was like to be out in the cold long before the recent winter weather temporarily wiped out Scottish football. The Slovakian goalkeeper has been at Hearts since August 2008 but not everyone warmed to him straight away.

The then manager Csaba Laszlo favoured his own man, Janos Balogh, and, as one of the many unknown imports from Kaunas Kello received little sympathy.

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Denied a regular first-team berth, he struggled to find real consistency but the arrival of Jim Jefferies as manager has coincided with a sustained run in the starting line up, which has led to a far greater degree of consistency and, in recent times, a raft of clean sheets.

"The previous manager, if we had just lost the game, it would cost me a place in the team so I went into every game thinking I need to enjoy this game because it could be my last," says the 28-year-old. "Even if we lost 1-0 he would say 'okay, we have lost so we need to change something. Mostly he would choose to change me'."

With no qualms about players having to take responsibility for any errors they make, the keeper still felt he was forced to assume the role of scapegoat more than others. "We always watched videos and we were talking about the goals. If we made mistakes then as goalkeepers we have to accept this. I know that, when I make a mistake, I have to accept it. So, it's not the case that he was against all the goalkeepers, no. But I don't think I made any stupid mistakes under the previous gaffer."

But those days of enduring a place on the bench or dropping in and out the team based on a whim rather than form seem consigned to the past. Now he is recognised as the club's preferred No 1, even if the number on his shirt remains 25. Less than halfway through this term he has played as many games as he mustered in the entirety of either of his previous two seasons. Behind a makeshift and frequently rejigged defence his performances have still been impressive.

"At the beginning of the season we lost two players (Marius Zaliukas and Lee Wallace to injury] and the players who came in were not ready to play in their positions. They needed time to settle and, once they had, and Marius came back, it has been very good." During that unsettled spell Kello produced performances laced with the kind of reliability the rearguard has struggled to find, often adding a sprinkling of sensational saves to endear him further to the Tynecastle support. Those heroics, including penalty saves, gave the side the foundation on which to build victories against Hibs, Celtic, St Johnstone and Hamilton, taking them into third place.With a game in hand over nearest rivals Inverness Caledonian Thistle and a six-point advantage over Motherwell, they know that a victory over the Fir Park side on Tuesday will take them to within three points of second-placed Celtic. Having earned high praise from Jefferies, Kello's efforts have also alerted the manager of the Slovakia national squad, Vladimir Weiss.

The international boss had intended taking in last weekend's scheduled Rangers v Hearts match, with the hope of assessing the form of his son, the Rangers winger of the same name, as well as the Hearts keeper but the snowy conditions denied Kello the opportunity to impress.

"Yes, I heard about that so it was disappointing. For me it was a big game and I hope he will come back for another game and I can prove myself in that fixture. I didn't speak to him at all. I just read about it in the newspapers, here but also back home.

"Sometimes in the past my form has been up and down but this season I feel there has been a consistency to my performances. I want to achieve more and you need a high level of performance if you want to do that, to play at international level."

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In positive mood as well as fine form, it's no wonder he cursed the recent weather-enforced lay-off. "The bad weather has frustrated us because we'd been playing really well and we wanted to continue that run. Obviously it's frustrating because sometimes you are preparing yourself for nothing at the weekend."

In the past that was down to a manager's personal preferences. Now, though, being out in the cold, thankfully, means something completely different for Kello.