Heskey's renaissance continues under his old ally Houllier

Wolverhampton Wanderers 1 Aston Villa 2
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Sitting in the Molineux stands yesterday Fabio Capello's eye will have been caught by the Aston Villa centre-forward – a big lad with an eye for goal who out-jumped the Wolverhampton defence with two minutes left to head in the winner.

Even Capello might have needed to double-check his programme to make sure that this was the same Emile Heskey he took to the World Cup finals this summer and dropped after two games. Heskey, 32, was making his first league start for Aston Villa in six months and his dramatic late goal was the first time he had scored in two consecutive games since he joined them.

Heskey's goal delivered for Gérard Houllier a win in the first Premier League game of his Aston Villa reign and it that came against a Wolves side who, for long periods of the second half, looked the better side.

Heskey and Houllier are an unusual alliance, a partnership that dates back to the final days of Houllier's Liverpool regime at the end of the 2003-2004 season. Even before the decision was made by Liverpool to replace Houllier with Rafael Benitez in May 2004 , Heskey was on his way out. He had performed brilliantly for Houllier in his first season at Anfield after his signing in 2000 but, four years on, was fading badly. No one defended Heskey as much as Houllier through the dark days, but in their last season at Anfield, Heskey was no longer a regular.

All of which makes Heskey's renaissance under Houllier even more unusual. "Because he misses sitters, people get on his back and may be that has hurt him in the past," Houllier said. "[Bill] Shankly had a saying that at least the striker was in a position to have a shot. His work rate was phenomenal. It is difficult to play in England, not many defenders are soft. I don't know if he believes in me but I believe in him."

Over the course of Heskey's career he has been written off many times – and with good reason. At his worst he is a passenger, a striker who collapses to the ground more often than a wonky deckchair. But at his best he can be, like he was yesterday, powerful and – on rare occasions – a goalscorer. It would be a brave manager who bet on that form lasting all season.

Houllier said: "After the Carling Cup game [against Blackburn Rovers on Wednesday in which Heskey also scored] I told him 'Well done, son. There is no reason you can't repeat that'. All players need confidence, strikers need more confidence. Everyone at the club loves Emile. He is a good team-mate. What he needs is to keep believing in himself. A striker can play well for 35 minutes, then he has a dip and then he comes back."

Wolves had equalised just after the hour when Matt Jarvis's cross had confused Brad Friedel and ended up in the net. Before then Stewart Downing had given Villa the lead in the first half. But it was the making of the winning goal that the Wolves manager Mick McCarthy complained about because he felt that Stephen Warnock, who crossed for Heskey, should have been sent off earlier for a second yellow card offence.

McCarthy said: "It was a great header by Heskey and we can't take anything away from that. But I don't think he [Warnock] should have been on the pitch. If it was a foul on [Kevin] Doyle [the second offence] then it's a booking. Doyle has another defender [ahead of him] but he's got [Steven] Fletcher outside him. It's a real attacking opportunity, but it's up to the ref."

Warnock had been booked for a foul on Dave Edwards after 19 minutes and it was hard to disagree with McCarthy that the left-back did not deserve to be on the pitch.

The Wolves manager had Algerian substitute Adlène Guedioura, who played against England at the World Cup, carried off after a very clumsy challenge from Steven Sidwell.

Heskey was integral to Villa's first goal. His strong run forward carried the ball to the edge of the Wolves area from where he picked out Marc Albrighton on the right wing. His low cross to the back post was met by Downing who arrived on Kevin Foley's blind side.

The only proper sight that Wolves had of the away goal in the first half were two shots in quick succession from Fletcher and Doyle, both of which Friedel saved at his near post.

With McCarthy having altered his system in the second half, Wolves came back impressively. Jarvis's cross from the right was meant for David Edwards but beat him and Friedel.

It was left to Heskey to decide the game late. Now retired from international football, Heskey only scored seven goals for England and only two of them under Capello. The Italian may have been on his way out the stadium by the 88th minute, if he was it would have been such a pity for him to have missed this one.

Match facts

Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Foley (Stearman, 73), Craddock, Berra, Ward (Elokobi, 39); Edwards (Guedioura, 81), Henry, Jones, Jarvis; Fletcher, Doyle. Substitutes not used: Hennessey (gk), Ebanks-Blake, Bent, Milijas.

Booked Craddock.

Aston Villa (4-4-1-1): Friedel; L Young, Cuellar, Collins, Warnock; Albrighton (Agbonlahor, 67), Petrov (Sidwell, 85), Reo-Coker, Downing; A Young; Heskey. Substitutes not used: Guzan (gk), Ireland, Davies, Bannan, Lichaj.

Booked Warnock, Sidwell.

Man of the match Heskey.

Possession Wolves 47% Aston Villa 53%

Shots on target Wolves 11 Aston Villa 9

Referee M Halsey (Lancashire) Attendance 27,511 Match rating 6/10.