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Heskey's twist of fate

EMILE Heskey is rapidly becoming a footballing "enigma".

Brilliant in one moment and leaving everyone scratching their heads in bemusement the next.

The Liverpool striker transformed the nature of the weekend headlines in a moment of genius to end stubborn resistance from Bradford City.

Yet prior to his 66th minute thunderbolt, he was having what is technically termed "a stinker".

He was also discovering that having a bad game in front of his own fans does not earn him the sympathy and tolerance it would from an Anfield crowd a decade ago.

At 4.25pm, Anfield must have seemed a lonely place for the England striker.

Then he changed everything majestically.

How embarrassed the critics who had started to rather too vocally barrack their own player must have felt as the stadium erupted to a chorus of "Emile Heskey".

Or perhaps this overly critical minority are so fickle, or lacking intelligence, they joined in the hero worship failing to realise how uncomfortable their original finger-pointing at the Liverpool striker was becoming.

Supporting a player when he produces the goods is easy.

Backing him when he needs encouragement is more honourable and was once a traditional Anfield habit.

It's a sad state of affairs. How and why has part of the Liverpool crowd become such an impatient audience? Before Heskey struck, there's no doubt the knives were being sharpened in the Press Box too, and the impatience of some of the home fans would have been the weapon used to beat him.

Heskey would have awoken yesterday to a negative reaction from all sides.

For a player who thrives on confidence, it could have been a damaging opening day.

Fortunately, his football ability kept the hounds at bay.

For another week, at least.

Gerard Houllier has become increasingly irritated that his pleas for patience for Heskey seem to have fallen on too many deaf ears.

The Liverpool manager has an unwavering belief that he has signed a player who will lead the line at the highest level for the next decade.

The least he expects is for all his supporters to back his judgement.

He shouldn't need to ask for it.

He has signed a player who can create problems for the best defenders in Europe and the kind of goal Heskey scored on Saturday will become a regular sight.

"He should do it all the time," may be a valid criticism, but there aren't many strikers in the Premiership capable of scoring a goal like this even once in a career.

It might not be long before Heskey is doing it every week.

He is still just 22, after all.

There is still much to improve, but the Reds are far better with him than without him.

After one game, they are three points better off for having him.

When Heskey turned Ian Nolan and found the top corner there was an audible sense of relief.

It came during a period in the game when only the heroics of Bradford keeper Matt Clarke kept the scoreline level.

Steven Gerrard, Nick Barmby and the excellent Vladimir Smicer were all denied by fine goalkeeping, before the unstoppable Heskey set the game alight.

Pace, power, skill, balance, strength and the finish to match.

Before then, fears of a repeat of the Watford scoreline last season were beginning to enter the consciousness.

In fact, Bradford were unlucky not to lead at half-time after a confident display in the first 45 minutes.

Liverpool were limited to long range efforts, while the visitors missed the two best chances.

First Dean Windass miskicked from 18 yards and then David Hopkin had only Sander Westerveld to beat three minutes before the interval.

The giant Dutchman came to the rescue, saving with his legs.

Bradford lined up defensively and having already played four competitive pre-season games in Europe seemed to start the game sharper than their opponents.

Stuart McCall especially had a fine match.

But Liverpool improved as the game continued and responded much better after the break.

They will be satisfied with their second half display, and most encouragingly, remained patient at a time when in the past a premature sense of panic tended to damage their cause.

This patience from the red shirts earned its reward.

The most exciting performance from a Liverpool player came from Smicer.

There will be a fair amount of gloating if the Czech's performance is typical of what's to come this season.

Many of us have been repeating at every opportunity that he'll come good, and how right we were against Bradford.

He was the class act who kept unlocking the City defence and deserved a goal for his efforts.

It's a shame that as he finds his form, he'll be without his Czech mate Patrik Berger for at least two months.

His understanding with Nick Barmby was evident again.

Barmby enjoyed a good league debut and his ability to get into the box from midfield will be a potent weapon.

A word also for Dietmar Hamann.

The competition in midfield could bring the best from the German who ran the centre of the park for long periods, ably assisted by Gerrard and then Gary McAllister whose experience settled the side in the closing section of the game.

As the final whistle approached, Liverpool retreated as Bradford gave Benito Carbone a surprisingly late debut.

But the Yorkshiremen never threatened Westerveld again and the points had been effectively sealed from the moment Heskey struck.

Smiles greeted the final whistle and a tough early test follows at Highbury tonight.

Houllier will be hoping his enigmatic young striker will produce the goods again in North London.

And if anyone still doubts the wisdom of signing him, ask Arsene Wenger.

He'd much rather have Heskey in his side than against him this evening.

Then again, if Heskey continues to prove doubters wrong with goals like Saturday, perhaps the criticism will inspire him to produce more of the same.

© Liverpool Daily Post & Echo

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