CENTRAL Coast Mariners defender Patrick Zwaanswijk believes the Jets’ attacking threat can be halved if marquee man Emile Heskey is contained.
The former England striker will be the focal point for Zwaanswijk and his fellow defenders in the F3 derby tomorrow night at Hunter Stadium.
It is still unclear if the 37-year-old Dutchman will return to the A-League leaders’ starting XI or come off the bench after missing their victories at Bluetongue Stadium against Brisbane and Adelaide due to suspension and a coaching course.
What is clearer for Zwaanswijk is the importance of stopping Heskey.
In nine games the Englishman has scored five goals, including a tap-in set up by winger James Virgili in the 2-1 victory over the Mariners in round three.
But over the past three games the former Liverpool target man has been kept off the scoresheet, and it has corresponded with a mini-slump of two losses and a draw for Newcastle.
‘‘If you can stop Emile Heskey from scoring goals, you’ve probably stopped 50 to 60per cent of the team from scoring goals,’’ Zwaanswijk said.
‘‘Mainly they go through Heskey to try and score goals. They have some other good players who can score, but Heskey is a big target for them up front and he knows how to score goals and you know he’s going to be dangerous.’’
The statistics may not fully support Zwaanswijk’s theory, as nine of the Jets’ 14 goals have been scored by other players, but the veteran’s influence cannot be denied.
The Jets have not lost when Heskey has found the back of the net.
Standing at 190 centimetres and having played 316 games in the Netherlands Eredivisie with FC Utrecht and NAC Breda, Zwaanswijk has the size and the experience to contend with Heskey’s physical presence in the 18-yard box.
Zwaanswijk said the world-renowned striker should expect extra attention.
‘‘It’s bit of a human chess game, where you’re going to put your players and who you’re going to mark and who’s going to get extra cover,’’ he said.
‘‘Heskey is certainly a player who needs extra cover.
‘‘You don’t always want to play him one-on-one as he’s a big and dangerous striker.’’
Most Mariners supporters and neutrals would agreed that the Jets were lucky to leave the last F3 derby with maximum points.
In the dying moment of stoppage time Zwaanswijk headed a bouncing ball past Jets goalkeeper Mark Birighitti, who had advanced out of his box for the equaliser.
However, the stopper was ruled offside and television replays suggested it was the wrong decision.
It is the only match the Mariners have lost this season.
‘‘We don’t want to look back as everyone makes mistakes and clearly the referee made a mistake,’’ Zwaanswijk said.
‘‘We’re looking forward to the next F3 derby and a fresh battle and we’ll do everything to be ready for the game.’’