Emile Heskey, never entirely comfortable within the footballing cauldron that is Anfield and rarely able to produce his best during an inconsistent spell with Birmingham City, insists that he has finally found his home from home. It is six years since one of English football's brightest prospects departed Leicester City for Liverpool but, at 28, the Wigan Athletic forward firmly believes he has gone back to the future.
"Wigan are very much like Leicester were," explained Heskey after he marked the occasion of his 500th club appearance with his first goal for the Latics. "In my four seasons there we reached three cup finals and won two. We were always in the top half of the table too. The camaraderie here is similar and it's like a family."
On another day Heskey could have marked his home debut for Wigan with a hat-trick but a leaner, meaner and keener version of the dispirited soul who departed St Andrew's for £5.5m this summer was, nevertheless, delighted with his winning goal.
After striking the Reading bar in the 19th minute, Heskey displayed his predatory instinct by stabbing home Lee McCulloch's pass. An audacious lob after the interval was fractionally overhit but when he was substituted, with an ankle injury 14 minutes from time, his standing ovation was fully deserved.
At Birmingham, Heskey not only surrendered his place in the England squad but also endured the least prolific season of his career as City were relegated to the Championship in May. "I needed a change," he admitted, after a campaign which yielded a paltry four goals from 34 Premiership games. "It wasn't good for anyone there last season, apart from Jermaine Pennant and Damien Johnson. For the rest of us it was really disappointing."
That Wigan's Paul Jewell still placed his faith in Heskey is testimony to an ambitious young manager willing to take chances after securing his club's top-flight status last term. "The manager reminds me of Martin O'Neill when I was at Leicester," added Wigan's' record signing. "He's got that same energy and is a good motivator."
If Heskey represents one of Jewell's greatest gambles, taking midfielder Antonio Valencia on a season-long loan from Villarreal was hardly risk-free. The Ecuadorian shone for his country during the World Cup but arrived in the North-west without a word of English and little concept of the rigours of Premiership football.
However, against both Newcastle United and Reading, Valencia has proved nothing short of sensational and his manager revealed: "I have a translator in the dug-out and we do everything through him. It is testimony to Antonio's footballing brain that he picks things up and puts them into practice with the minimum of fuss."
Goal: Heskey (38) 1-0.
Wigan Athletic (4-4-2): Kirkland; Boyce, Hall, De Zeeuw, Baines; Valencia, Landzaat (Kavanagh, 78), Scharner, McCulloch; Heskey (Chimbonda, 76), Camara (Connolly, 20). Substitutes not used: Pollitt (gk), Jackson.
Reading (4-4-2): Hahnemann; Murty, Ingimarsson, Sodje, Shorey; Seol (Hunt, 69), Sidwell, Harper (Long, 87), Convey (Oster, 64); Lita, Doyle. Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Gunnarsson.
Referee: M Riley (West Yorkshire).
Booked: Wigan Athletic Heskey, Scharner; Reading Seol, Sodje.
Man of the match: Heskey.
Attendance: 14,636.Reuse content