ONE chance, one goal.
That was Western Sydney Wanderers coach Tony Popovic’s assessment of Emile Heskey at Parramatta Stadium on Saturday night, and it was undoubtedly a compliment rather than a criticism.
As is becoming his trademark, Newcastle’s marquee striker was the right man in the right place at the right time to strike another decisive blow for the high-flying Jets.
Heskey’s 36th-minute goal proved the difference between the sides in a 2-1 result.
For a gallery of photos from the game, click here.
The 34-year-old veteran has now played in six games for Newcastle and scored five goals, the most in the A-League along with Central Coast’s Daniel McBreen.
The Jets have won all four of the games in which he has found the net.
They have lost both games in which he did not feature on the scoresheet.
There is no such thing as a one-man team, but on these early showings few would deny that no matter how closely he is marked by opposition defenders, Heskey is capable of winning Newcastle a premiership off his own boot. He is a different class. He makes it look easy.
‘‘Obviously he got another goal today and it’s probably the only attempt on goal he had. That just shows the quality he has,’’ Popovic said.
‘‘One chance, one goal.
‘‘It was a soft goal from our point of view. It probably should have been stopped, but he had to make the most of it and credit to him. He’s doing a great job for them.’’
Of his own team, Popovic bemoaned their own lack of a cutting edge ‘‘against a good team like Newcastle’’.
‘‘You’ve got to put away your opportunities,’’ Popovic said.
‘‘That’s how simple it is ... today is probably some of the best football we’ve played this season and we’ve come away with nothing from the game.
‘‘It just shows you can dominate a match and sometimes you don’t get the rewards you deserve.’’
‘‘The amount of time he holds the ball up or flicks the ball on and people can pick up that ball, it just brings so much more confidence into the group as well.’’
– GARY VAN EGMOND
Popovic’s Newcastle counterpart, Gary van Egmond, was no less effusive about Heskey, hailing him not only for his predatory instincts but also for a couple of defensive efforts he described as ‘‘enormous’’.
‘‘He was great again tonight,’’ van Egmond said.
‘‘The amount of time he holds the ball up or flicks the ball on and people can pick up that ball, it just brings so much more confidence into the group as well.
‘‘He’s got himself on the scoresheet again, which is credit to him, and hopefully we can keep him nice and sound and look forward to the rest of the season with him.’’
Ominously for Newcastle’s rivals, van Egmond said the former Leicester, Liverpool, Wigan, Aston Villa and England striker was just starting to hit his straps.
‘‘He’s got six games under his belt now and he feels like he’s got some training rhythm and game rhythm as well,’’ van Egmond said.
‘‘That was probably the most important part for him ... he’s got through another 90 minutes. The most important part is to ensure we keep him sound.’’
Heskey entered Saturday night’s inaugural showdown between the two clubs with four goals to his name, the same number as McBreen and Melbourne Victory’s Marco Rojas.
The goal that kept him in the equal lead for the Golden Boot trophy was almost a carbon copy of the previous four he has scored.
Lurking with intent around the goalmouth, he beat two defenders to direct a pinpoint cross from left winger Craig Goodwin goalwards.
Ante Covic touched the ball on to the left post, but it rebounded in off the keeper.
Heskey’s goal, which followed a header from Ryan Griffiths nine minutes earlier, gave the Jets a 2-1 half-time lead after Western Sydney opened the scoring through Joe Gibbs in the 15th minute.
The second half was a scoreless affair in which the Jets were regularly under siege and defending desperately.
They had goalkeeper Mark Birighitti and Brazilian Tiago Calvano to thank for emerging with one point, let alone three.
Their cause was not helped when substitute Jacob Pepper was sent off after two yellow cards, leaving them with 10 men for the final few nerve-racking minutes.
The result propelled the Jets to 12 points and the third rung on the ladder after the Mariners took the lead with a 1-0 win in Wellington yesterday.
It is early days, but this is clearly Newcastle’s best shot at the title since their winning 2007-08 season.
Van Egmond’s new-look team are growing weekly in self-belief and as long as Heskey stays healthy, they appear capable of anything.