Football: Heskey's striking lack of goals is a worry

Coventry City 0 Leicester City 1
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The Independent Online
ONE GOAL from Emile Heskey secured the headlines and dominated the conversation. "In a game as tight as that," Gordon Strachan said, "all it needs is one flash of brilliance." He might have reflected also that it needs only one half- decent story on a quiet afternoon to spark an explosion of hyperbole.

Is this what happened here? Heskey's goal, which owed much to the element of surprise, was a good one but whether it was good enough to merit the eulogising that followed is another matter.

Strachan said that it was as good a performance as he had seen from a striker this year. "At one stage, he was waging a one-man war against our back four," said the Coventry manager.

But should not one of the two defenders breathing down his neck as he unleashed his 60th-minute strike have managed a tackle? Should not Magnus Hedman, the goalkeeper left grasping air, have been closer to his near post?

Martin O'Neill, Leicester's manager, was in a mood only to encourage the heaping on of praise. "He has every single attribute to be a top-class player," O'Neill enthused, relishing a victory that put his side fifth in the Premiership table. "His ll round game is excellent. I just think sometimes he should be a wee bit more selfish, have a little more belief in himself because he'll cause you problems all day. It was a brilliant goal."

Talented though Heskey undoubtedly is, there are question marks. Firstly, there is the matter of his strike rate. The goal was his first in the Premiership for three months - a long time but, as O'Neill pointed out, a stretch that most strikers must endure at one time or another. In Heskey's case, however, such barren times can hardly be described as uncommon.

After 135 League appearances, his strike rate stands at one goal every four games. By comparison, Shearer, Michael Owen and Andy Cole score in every other game, Kevin Phillips three times in every five. At 22, Heskey is still learning and, O'Neill says, needs more self-belief, but such statistics cannot be ignored.

Then there is the question of his fitness. Troubled for a long time by back problems, Heskey seems to be never far from another breakdown. To survive he must follow a strict regime.

"The physios are working with him all the time," O'Neill admitted. "He needs to do exercises. He needs to do them pretty consistently during the week. If he does them he is fine but he gets a bit lazy sometimes and then he is struggling."

A similar daily requirement faces Owen, who needs to do 30 minutes of stretching before and after training sessions to stave off hamstring and pelvic strains and must do so for the rest of his career.

For England, this is not an encouraging state of affairs, given that Owen and Heskey are being touted in some quarters as the strike force for Euro 2000. If this is to be, then the national team's chances lie squarely in the hands of the physiotherapists.

Goal: Heskey (60) 0-1.

Coventry City (4-4-2): Hedman; Telfer, Breen, Williams, Burrows (Froggatt, h-t); Hadji, McAllister, Palmer, Chippo; Roussel (Whelan, 35), Keane. Substitutes not used: Konjic, Eustace, Ogrizovic (gk).

Leicester City (3-5-2): Flowers; Sinclair, Elliott, Taggart; Impey, Lennon, Savage, Izzet, Guppy; Heskey, Cottee. Substitutes not used: Walsh, Marshall, Oakes, Zagorakis, Arphexad (gk).

Referee: S Lodge (Barnsley).

Bookings: Coventry: Williams, Whelan, Keane, Palmer. Leicester: Taggart.

Man of the match: Heskey.

Attendance: 22,021.