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Hardman' Skrtel prepares.

Byline: BY IAN DOYLE Chief Football Correspondent

MARTIN SKRTEL is intent on making Everton feel the pain at Goodison this afternoon.

The Slovakia international has become a cult hero with the Liverpool faithful since his arrival from Zenit St Petersburg in January.

Skrtel's no-nonsense approach has seen him forge an impressive partnership alongside Jamie Carragher at the heart of defence.

With his shaven head and steely glare, the 23-year-old strikes an imposing figure. And the defender is more than willing to live up to his assumed persona today. "Yeah, maybe I am a hardman," says Skrtel. "If that is the way that Liverpool fans think about me then I am not unhappy with that. Certainly, I do not like losing. I hate losing - and that is an attitude I always take with me on to the football field.

"I don't give up easily and because I am prepared to work hard to get what I want. I am prepared to put myself in the firing line.

"I've had a few knocks and bumps along the way in my Liverpool career but I try not to show that they affect me.

"Pain is part of being a footballer. If you don't like it then you are in the wrong job.When you play in the centre of defence you have to be prepared for pain.

"I am not in the team to make life easy for strikers. If I was doing that I don't think I would be playing. My job is to keep them from scoring goals any way that I can.

"I have maybe found the perfect league for my type of game. It's true that I am a physical player."

Skrtel's only previous appearance at Goodison came with former club Zenit in December, when the 10-man Russians fell to a 1-0 defeat.

He did, however, play a part in the Anfield derby victory in March in which he helped keep Everton dangerman Yakubu at bay. Skrtel will be asked to do the same again today, and he says: "I think I am strong enough to match up to any striker - but I am also fair. I don't try and make it a personal battle.

"One of the keys to winning football matches is to win the battles between the players - like centre-back against centre forward or central midfielder against central midfielder.

"But I try not to make a battle of personalities.

It's my job, not personal.

Sometimes that can happen, however, like in the game against Standard Liege when I played against Mbokani.

"I felt he was acting up a little bit. He was fouling me when he didn't have to and then complaining to the referee about everything when he was tackled.

"I admit that night he got under my skin and I became even more determined to match him in everything. Every tackle, challenge and run was a challenge between the two of us. It was a rare occurrence - but it can happen."

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Martin Skrtel enjoys his hardman status to put body on line in Goodison pain game
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 27, 2008
Words:514
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