Emile Heskey's thrust has Jets flying high
At 1.88 m and 88kg, Emile Heskey's imposing frame casts quite a shadow over every football game he participates in.
But the rather sizeable step down in quality from the Premier League to the A-League this year has led to his goalscoring record taking on similarly impressive dimensions.
Much maligned for his strike-rate in an England shirt (seven goals in 62 games), Heskey defenders will point to the targetman's record of creating chances for others during his club career with Leicester City, Liverpool, Birmingham City, Wigan Athletic and Aston Villa.
And, although he's no longer being marked by the world's best, no-one could quibble with the 33-year-old's haul since signing with the Newcastle Jets.
Heskey has five goals in six games, propelling the unfancied Jets to third on the ladder, and putting the Phoenix on red-alert ahead of tomorrow's meeting.
Phoenix winger Paul Ifill - who played against Heskey in his Leicester days - was not at all surprised that his fellow Englishman had adapted so quickly to football Down Under.
"I know what he brings to the table, he's a good player," Ifill said. "His finishing has been excellent this year - I don't think he's had that many chances really and he's stuck the ball in the back of the net on most occasions.
"So it's something for Siggy [Ben Sigmund] and Dura [Andrew Durante] to look forward to. The way I look at it, most players who have come from the Championship have come out and done well out here.
"He played 30 games in the Premier League last year, that is some feat in itself.
"Probably for him, he's finding it a lot less physical and I think he can use his frame and his bulk to sort of bully defenders a bit and I think that's showing."
Durante is well aware that the Jets will be pinging as many crosses as possible in Heskey's direction at Hunter Stadium - but stopping him is another matter.
"He's a good player. He's a big, strong guy and before the season started I predicted he'd be a real threat and he has been," said Durante, who gives away 6cm and 12kg to Heskey.
"He's top of the goalscoring chart and looking dangerous. So myself and Siggy have got a big job ahead of us but I think if you can stop the service into him he doesn't really do much."
Phoenix assistant coach Chris Greenacre had his own personal memories of Heskey.
"When I was 18 and kind of verging on the England under-18 squad, he was in the starting squad and I was in the standby squad," Greenacre said. "So Emile Heskey in front of you, fair enough, no problem. They've had a good start to the season, obviously everyone's talking about Heskey but I think collectively they've done better than people expected them to this season."
Ryan Griffiths, with three goals and two assists, is Newcastle's other dangerman, while hard-headed midfielders Jobe Wheelhouse and Ruben Zadkovich won't be taking a backward step against Manny Muscat and Alex Smith.
While the Phoenix don't have any form to recommend them - they are riding a three-game losing streak - history is on their side. The Phoenix have won 11 of their 16 encounters.
The Dominion Post