Heart keeps its nerve to notch crucial win

Golgol Mebrahtu took an age - well, 26 games - to notch his first ever A-League goal. Now it seems the African migrant, who came to Australia as a youngster, cannot stop scoring.

His sixth minute strike gave Melbourne Heart a dream New Years Day start against the Newcastle Jets, who had come into this game with the motivational benefit of a pep talk by cricketing legend Sir Viv Richards, who hails from Antigua, the country of origin of Jets marquee player Emile Heskey's family.

So often this season Heart has got itself into positions to win games, only to blow it. This time it managed to keep its nerve, running out 2-1 winners thanks to some fine work by Mebrahtu and debutant goalkeeper Andrew Redmayne. The latter overcame his concession of an early penalty to make two good saves from headers by the former England striker Heskey to preserve his side's lead in the second half.

The victory lifts Heart off the foot of the table and gives them 15 points, one less than the Jets, after 14 rounds.

Mebrahtu's opening goal was his second in two games, the Somali born striker having also netted early in Heart's 3-2 loss to Wellington on December 27.

It brought his total to three in three weeks - the goal which broke his duck and gave his team a last minute win against Perth Glory came in Round 10, early in December - and in the form the youngster is in he could well add to that tally given more opportunities.

And on this display why wouldn't Heart coach John Aloisi use the speedster more often?

The knock on Mebrahtu was that while he had pace to burn and got himself into good positions he lacked the composure to make the most of those opportunities.

Aloisi has spoken all season about how hard the 22-year-old has worked in training on improving his finishing. Hampered by injury, Mebrahtu was not available much at the start of the season but it now looks as though that effort is paying off.

Mebrahtu still has his speed - at times when he could gallop into clear space he quickly outpace his pursuers. But he also has the confidence now to accept and even demand the ball to be played to feet in tight areas. Against the Jets he showed he had touch and guile as well as sheer velocity as he came close to picking up short passes, played one-twos and even got back to the edge of his own penalty area to help defend attacks.

Aloisi had made six changes to the side that surrendered that two goal lead in Wellington for a game that had, as a result of his side's lack of recent results, assumed critical importance. Aziz Behich, Richard Garcia, Simon Colosimo and Patrick Gerhardt all came into the starting line up, as expected. Jonathan Germano's inclusion in midfield was hardly a surprise either, the Argentinian now back in the groove after injury kept him out of action for the first half of the season.

Less foreseen, however , was the relegation to the substitutes bench of veteran goalkeeper and dual Heart player of the year Clint Bolton. The 37-year-old is fit and healthy, so this was the first time in the club's history that he had missed a game when available for selection.

It did give Redmayne the chance to make his debut for the club, however, and perhaps foreshadows a changing of the guard. Great as Bolton has been, he cannot go on for ever, and at 23 Redmayne is surely the face of the future.

That future might have looked pretty bleak, at least momentarily, for the former Central Coast and Brisbane Roar back up goalkeeper as he was guilty of conceding a penalty in the 16th minute, hauling down Ryan Griffiths as he bore in on goal. Some referees would have reached automatically for the red card, but Chris Beath judged that Griffiths, while the last man, was running away from goal, and although it was a clear foul and a penalty he gave Redmayne a yellow card.

Griffiths, who had been played through by Heskey after the latter had intercepted the ball in Heart's half, made no mistake to put the Jets level following Mehbratu's opener.

That had come about through a Jets blunder when a loose ball was played into midfield and intercepted by Fred, the Heart skipper. His pass found Josip Tadic, who weighted his delivery to the overlapping Mehbratu perfectly and the African finished nicely under the body of Jets keeper Mark Birighitti.

The latter showed midway through the first half that Redmayne was not the only keeper who could blot his copybook by conceding a penalty. Birighitti had come out to claim a bouncing ball from a Tadic flick and got to it well enough but, as he ran out he was put under pressure and lost control. The ball fell to Germano, who had his legs whipped from under him by the desperate goalkeeper.

Beath again pointed to the spot and, perhaps in a mellow New Year's mood, dispensed another yellow card rather than the red which could have made it a shocking start to 2013 for the Jets keeper. Tadic kept his cool and blasted his penalty high and hard, giving Birighitti little chance.

Redmayne, the penalty aside, had been little troubled on his debut but he had shown enough by dealing with a handful of corners and crosses before he was forced to make his first real save, tipping wide a long shot from former Heart player Craig Goodwin.

Heart had the chances to secure their lead and make life easier for themselves. Garcia's fierce drive was beaten away, and Germano should have scored with a free header from a well worked short corner between Fred and Mehbratu, the latter's cross finding Germano in space on the far post.

Heskey's strength made him a handful whenever the ball came in his direction, and his header early in the second half forced Redmayne into another fine save.

This story Heart keeps its nerve to notch crucial win first appeared on WA Today.