Paul Parker

Hail the England heroes!

Paul Parker

Blog first published on September 12 2008... 

Theo Walcott rightly grabbed the headlines for his superb performance against Croatia, and I thought it was a great all-round performance from England, but for me Emile Heskey put in a great shift and was the evening's unsung hero.

That's the thing about Heskey. He's not spectacular, but he can be so effective, especially in a system that plays to his strengths - just like Fabio Capello's preference for playing one up front.

In Zagreb, Heskey put in a typically honest and unselfish performance. He was full of running in the channels and he wasn't afraid to throw himself about a bit and do all the work others don't like doing.

Heskey is not a glory hunter - if he was, he might well have scored more goals during his career - but in this England side that works well. His goal record may not be the best ever, but he is a team player and England reaped the benefits of that on Wednesday.

Employing Heskey up front on his own also brought the best out of Wayne Rooney - the Manchester United striker always had someone who was willing to hold the ball up, leaving him to play a more creative role.

But of course it was out wide, with the added pace in the side, where the most visible damage was done. Joe Cole may have a tendency to drift in from the left, but with Walcott on the right hand side, England boasted real natural width.

The Arsenal youngster did more than enough to keep his place there, but as we all know, in football you're only as good as your last game.

As it is, his last game was very, very good - he scored three goals and his pace opened the game up, making it easy for England in the end by effectively taking two Croatia players out of the game.

So for me Walcott has to start the next game - he's full of confidence at the moment and England have to capitalise on that.

But it's up to the player himself where he goes from here. You can be sure that next time out he will be marked far closer and that he will have a much more difficult time of it. But if he doesn't play as well, he will have to learn from those experiences and come back a stronger player the next time he is given the nod.

That performance has marked him out, both as a player opposition will watch closely, but also as a player England fans may look to rely on. But we have to understand that he's still young.

I'd like to see him get a decent run in the side. It's unrealistic to expect him to put in another showing like that any time soon, but we have to be patient with him if England are to reap the benefits of his potential.

It wasn't just the result in Croatia that was so pleasing, it was the manner of victory. There are those who claim that getting all three points is of utmost importance, but the manner of victory is just as crucial.

Managers want good performances to see if what they are doing in training is coming together in match situations while players want to play well to build up their own confidence ahead of the next game.

But most importantly, the fans want to see their side play exciting, attractive football so they can believe their team are capable of winning the next game rather than merely hoping they can.

It was so good to see England scoring more than two goals, and not one of them coming from a dead ball situation.

But, you have to remain sceptical. As I've said already, you're only as good as your last game and we've seen it all before - under Sven-Goran Eriksson and Steve McClaren - when England have put in a good performance only to let it all slip.

I want to jump up and down and celebrate the victory, but I'm too scared to do that. Things can change quickly so we'll just have to wait and see what happens next month at home to Kazakhstan and then away to Belarus. We haven't qualified for anything yet.

Nevertheless, it bodes well for the future. Certainly, it was good to see an England side take the lead and choose not to sit on it. Too many times under Sven and McClaren have they taken the lead and been only too happy to sit back and allow the opposition to come onto them, usually with the same end result - defeat.

Against Croatia, at one-nil up, England's full-backs were still pushing on tight and getting forward. That made a big difference to the eventual outcome of the game, not just the scoreline.

I think it helped England being the underdogs going into the game - there can't have been many who fancied their chances of beating Croatia in their own back yard, given their record there. Yet I saw more pluses in that game than in any under Sven or McClaren.

Let's just enjoy it while it lasts.

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