Wigan Athletic 1 Reading 0: Heskey silences doubters to get Wigan off mark

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The Independent Football

Of all the Premiership deals completed during the summer transfer window few inspired the number of sceptical headlines and sarcastic column inches which followed Emile Heskey's unlikely £5.5 million move from Birmingham City to Wigan Athletic. No stranger to big-money moves, the former Leicester City and Liverpool forward was believed to be past his best, at 28.

Even Birmingham City's Karren Brady, who ultimately sanctioned Heskey's sale from St Andrew's, suggested on radio earlier this month that City had pulled off a particularly astute piece of business. The former England international had failed to shine in a team relegated to the Championship and had often appeared disinterested when dedication was required.

The Latics' manager Paul Jewell, however, saw the opportunity to revive a career which had stalled in the West Midlands but once promised much. Even at a seemingly inflated price he saw Heskey as the perfect partner for the elusive Henri Camara and yesterday's match-winning performance against a lacklustre Reading suggested the canny Scouser could be proved right.

"A lot of people have offered an opinion on Emile," said Jewell, who later admitted he was equally excited at the prospect of working with the versatile midfielder Antonio Valencia after the Ecuadorian emerged as a strong contender to claim the man-of-the-match honours from Heskey. "It must be nice to be a fans' favourite but you don't get booed by the opposition supporters if you don't pose a threat.

"Put it this way, my players are very happy Emile is in their team. He got on the end of a good move and scored a good goal. His fitness and physique is excellent."

When asked to consider whether his record signing could feature in a future England squad, Jewell added: "I think the most important thing is for Emile to concentrate on his game for us. But if he puts his mind to it there's nothing he can't do."

Heskey had already rattled the Reading goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann's crossbar before he added the final touch to a flowing move, orchestrated by the industrious Paul Scharner. The Austrian international threaded a pass through to Lee McCulloch and the left winger progressed the play by feeding the ball into the penalty area.

Heskey emerged from a huddle of Reading defenders to fire Wigan ahead seven minutes before the break. Had he not misjudged a lob 14 minutes after the restart then this truly would have been a day to remember for the well-travelled striker.

"In the first half we looked to be going nowhere," conceded a downbeat Steve Coppell after his team's second successive defeat. The warm glow of victory which had followed an opening day win against Middlesbrough has cooled rapidly and last season's Championship winners already look out of place among English football's élite.

"We have three points from three games and have to accept that," he added. "We might have deserved more but we haven't got more. It is too early to draw any conclusions after three games." In Reading's case, maybe. However, as far as Heskey is concerned, the JJB Stadium jury is no longer out.

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