John Heitinga 300
FOR a game that lasts at least 90 minutes over the course of a near 10-month season, it’s uncanny how perceptions in football can be formed in a split-second.
Just ask John Heitinga.
When Everton visited Wigan Athletic back in October, the defender was left exposed time and again by the pace and power of Arouna Kone.
But it was the sight of the Ivorian racing away from a floundering Heitinga before laying on a goal for Franco di Santo that has been seared on the minds of anybody who saw it.
It certainly caught the attention of David Moyes, with the Holland international hooked at half-time and subsequently slipping behind Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin in the centre-back pecking order at Goodison.
Such has been the campaign for Heitinga, the 29-year-old suffering a sobering fall from grace having been voted the supporters’ Player of the Year less than 12 months ago.
Heitinga enjoys a frank relationship with supporters over Twitter, and his responses in recent weeks reveal his troubled form.
After an error allowed West Bromwich Albion a lifeline during Everton’s 2-1 win back in January, Heitinga admitted he was “sorry for the big mistake”.
And his performance in the 3-3 home draw against Aston Villa last month prompted the Dutchman to state “played worst game ever in the shirt of #Everton. Let team-mates and fans down but they never let me down. Will work hard to come back strong”.
The alarming autumn display at the DW Stadium provoked a succinct “not happy with my performance in first half”.
But, with Everton preparing for their latest clash with Wigan and Kone in Saturday’s FA Cup quarter-final at Goodison, so comes the chance of redemption.
Last Saturday’s untimely meeting between Phil Jagielka’s leg and Reading striker Adam le Fondre’s boot has sidelined the England international for at least a fortnight.
But while the FA Cup has proven something of a curse for Jagielka – he missed the final in 2009 and sat out all but nine minutes of last season’s run to the semi-final – the competition seemingly brings the best out in Heitinga.
The Dutchman scored the first goal of Everton’s run to Wembley last season, heading the opener in the third-round victory over non-league Tamworth, and went on to play every second until the heartache of defeat to neighbours Liverpool at the penultimate hurdle.
And while Heitinga has played only 10 minutes of this season’s FA Cup campaign, it was enough time to thrash home a dramatic late winner at Bolton Wanderers in the fourth round.
The reality, of course, is should Heitinga help Everton negotiate Wigan this weekend, he will almost certainly be back on the bench once Jagielka returns to full fitness.