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Stand and deliver: masked man ready to hijack visitors

THERE have been many fine examples of footballers forced to wear masks, rushed back into action with a still-cracked nose and then proceeding to carouse heroically around the pitch, jumping into tackles and headers like a manic, unhorsed Zorro.

Demba Ba, Cristian Chivu, Gazza, Michael Ballack and Daniele De Rossi have all donned a mask for a little while, but Jeroen Tesselaar, the Kilmarnock defender, yesterday revealed that he may have to don a protective layer of plastic until the end of his footballing days.

"I broke my nose at the beginning of the season two weekends in a row, and now I broke it again," the 25-year-old said. "So I need to wear some protection. I don't know for how long yet. Until the summer for sure but maybe forever or for another year. You get used to it because I train every day with the mask as well."

Perhaps his new accessory will embolden Tesselaar, though Allan Johnston, his manager, will be hoping it allows the defender to channel John Terry en route to the 2008 Champions League final even if the stakes are not quite as high.

Still, the Dutchman and his team-mates have already shown they are quick to adapt this season after turning around their poor early-season form. It was 11 games before a first victory was registered after a summer of upheaval on and off the pitch, but the gap to seventh-placed Hibernian can be closed to two points if they defeat Terry Butcher's side today.

And Tesselaar believes his Kilmarnock side can still launch a bid for the top six if they were to follow that with victory over his former club, St Mirren, the following weekend.

"We had a bad start to the season, we had a lot of new players and we had to get used to each other," he said. "But everyone has got to know each other and the manager and we need a good spell now. I think we need two wins in a row now. If we win two games, we can look up."

It's probably best not to look too far ahead, though, and the fate of Hibs' Tom Taiwo in recent weeks is testament enough to that. As the midfielder watched his side overcome Hearts in the New Year derby from his lonely berth in the West Stand at Easter Road, his career in the capital appeared in tatters.

Today, however, he is likely to be given the pivotal responsibility of shackling the mercurial Alexei Eremenko, having become the surprise package of Butcher's brief time in charge. "The manager spoke to me and told me the role he saw me playing, which didn't look like a very prominent one," said Taiwo.

"But things have changed quite quickly. It's nice feeling like there is something to look forward to at the end of the week."

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