Nemanja Nikolic ends goal drought, but defers the credit

Nemanja Nikolic’s long wait is over.

After going nine games without a goal, the Fire striker headed in the equalizing goal in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls. Nikolic got to tap in a header after Michael de Leeuw managed to flick a long ball across to an open Nikolic.

“It was a really, really important goal for me and for the team,” Nikolic said. “I think this goal, Michael de Leeuw he deserves it because of his assist.

“I just run to support him, but I don’t see many opportunities (for him to) get the ball back to me. I don’t know how he did it, but it was a really important moment from him. After that I didn’t have such a difficult job to put the ball in the net.”

This season, de Leeuw hasn’t been utilized as an outright striker like Nikolic, but he did have his own goal drought to start this season. The Dutchman didn’t score in his first 16 appearances, but has scored in three of his last 11 and Saturday’s assist was his sixth of the season.

He knows the importance of ending a drought as a goal-scorer.

“(It’s) big, because we needed this goal and for Niko it’s also good to get back on track,” de Leeuw said. “Let’s hope he finds the string again and gains momentum.”

[RELATED: Draw continues troubling trend for Fire]

Nikolic took the league by storm by scoring 16 goals in his first 18 games with the Fire. The nine-game goal drought coincided with the Fire going 2-6-1 in those games as well.

Nikolic said the goal was more important for the team because it tied the game, but getting him back on track is likely to coincide with the team getting better results, just as the team’s slump happened when he wasn’t scoring goals.

“His goal meant a lot for the team, that one point, conversion of the hard work during the game and obviously it’s good for him that he keeps scoring the goals,” coach Veljko Paunovic said. “I’m personally happy for him because he worked hard so far and had patience and it came to him, but it also came to us.”