They may not be the finished product yet, but the Newcastle Jets are adjusting quickly to life with Emile Heskey and the signs are good.
The former England striker opened his A-League goal-scoring account with a powerful volley as the Jets got off the mark with a 3-2 win over Sydney FC at Allianz Stadium on Saturday.
The match was billed as a clash of the marquees – Italian legend Alessandro Del Piero versus English Premier League star Heskey.
It delivered in spades.
A record regular-season crowd of 35,419, many sporting Sydney FC shirts with ‘‘10’’ on the back, watched in awe as Del Piero elegantly curled a free kick from 20metres over the wall and into the top left hand corner. It was pure class. Not to be outdone, Heskey provided his own brand of magic five minutes before the break.
The imposing striker monstered his way in front of Adam Griffiths to meet a Ryan Griffiths cross and bury it in the right corner.
Both goals were fine examples of the star quality that each brings to their team.
‘‘It’s about service for Emile,’’ a satisfied Jets coach Gary van Egmond said.
A change in formation enabled Heskey to get far more involved than he did on debut against Adelaide.
Ryan Griffiths shifted to a more central position to play virtually as a second striker.
Not only did Griffiths provide support for the target man, he scored a goal and provided assists for the other two.
‘‘We went back to a more traditional 4-3-3 if you like,” van Egmond said.
“Ryan Griffiths was playing as a half-midfielder, half-striker because we obviously needed to get someone up there with Emile, and it was a lot better.”
‘‘You saw with how many times he [Heskey] held the ball up.
‘‘We could be a little bit better making sure we get underneath him or get in contact to try and receive that ball, and to play off him or getting the ball into areas where it’s difficult to contain him in that penalty box.’’
Though pleased to get on the scoreboard, Heskey said it was just the start.
‘‘It was nice to put in a performance with the lads like we did today and nice to get on the score sheet as well, so an all round good day,’’ he said.
‘‘I’d only been here a week before the start of the season and haven’t had much time to work on stuff.
‘‘We’ve got some good lads, and some good young lads as well, and they’re taking in what the manager wants them to do and they are listening, so the only way is up.’’
The win – just Newcastle’s third over Sydney away from home – was a much-improved performance on the deflating 2-0 loss to Adelaide at home in the first round.
‘‘We scored three goals away from home, so we should be happy with that and we are, but with a little bit more luck we could’ve got a few more,” van Egmond said
“It’s still going to take us a little bit of time, but from last week to this week I think there’s a big improvement, so there’s definitely a way forward.
‘‘There was a lot of build-up to the first game.
‘‘We had a very strong pre-season and I think it was one of those nights where nothing really went our way.’’
After playing with a back three against Adelaide, van Egmond reverted to a back four on Saturday.
Tiago, who was left out of the squad in round one, came in alongside Josh Mitchell, who was more assured with his defensive partner.
The Brazilian committed the foul on Del Piero that set the scene for the Italian’s sublime free kick, but overall he was strong.
Griffiths got the Jets off to a flyer in the 12th minute when he pounced after Sydney failed to clear a corner.
Del Piero levelled in the 25thminute before Heskey chimed in to make it 2-1 at half-time.
The Jets continued to open up a porous Sydney defence after the break, and Griffiths played in Goodwin, who produced a clever chip to make it 3-1 in the 62nd minute.
The Jets lost Scott Neville to a groin strain in the 70thminute as they fell into the habit of sitting deeper and defending the lead.
“Scott Neville felt a tweak in his groin,” van Egmond said.
“He had that during the week and we thought he’d be OK to get through the game, but he just felt it fatiguing more and more.’’
Just as the match looked beyond reach for Sydney, substitute Blake Power got on the end of a Brett Emerton cross to head home and set up a tense finish.