Bent seizes chance to show he is the very model of a modern target man
Thursday 10 February 2011
English strikers are in danger of making a comeback. The January transfer window saw two of that rarest of breeds switch clubs for monstrous sums of money, with Darren Bent moving to Aston Villa for £24m and then Andy Carroll topping that with his £35m transfer to Liverpool. Neither Gérard Houllier nor Kenny Dalglish subscribes to the opinion that England is suffering a dearth of talent in the attacking department, judging by the money they spent on home-grown players.
A thigh injury ruled out Carroll for last night, providing the opportunity for Bent to stake his claim on a place in the starting line-up alongside Wayne Rooney against Wales in the Millennium Stadium for the Euro 2012 qualifier at the end of next month.
Bent came into the game as the man in form, with two goals in his four appearances for his new club, enough for Fabio Capello to declare that the 27-year-old had improved so much that he was "not the same player" he had been at Sunderland.
Bent has been a consistent scorer at club level, with 131 goals in 269 starts in the league for Ipswich Town, Charlton Athletic, Tottenham Hotspur, Sunderland and Aston Villa, but he has not yet managed to dispel the perception that he is not quite good enough.
Harry Redknapp's famous put-down – "My missus could have scored that one" – when Bent missed a sitter for Tottenham against Portsmouth in January 2009 was in danger of becoming his football epitaph. But Bent responded with the sheer weight of his goals, and in equal measure by demonstrating that he can also play for the team by cajoling the best out of those around him.
Last night, given a start along with Rooney, Bent produced a mature demonstration of what the modern target man is about. He moved well, brought others into the game, helped out with the inevitable defensive side of the game, and then when England had a chance to create something he was in the right place to finish it off.
The tap-in he had after Theo Walcott's diligence on the right was rudimentary, but Bent has that instinct to get in the right place that fraction of a second ahead of his defender.
As Bent had scored on his last international appearance – a sweet left-footed finish in the 3-1 victory over Switzerland – it was enough to justify his inclusion in the side ahead of Jermain Defoe, a vote of confidence from Capello in a player who in the past five years has often only been called up if no one else was available. His omission from last summer's World Cup squad, despite his goals in the league, seemed to leave his international career firmly in a dead end.
Bent had started on his debut against Uruguay in March 2006, but in the 58 intervening England internationals since then before last night he had only made the first XI twice, in friendlies against Brazil and Japan. Five years, eight caps, four starts – he has been very much the last resort. Not any more, perhaps.
The Tooting-born striker did not look out of his depth last night, even when asked to play a more isolated role once Rooney was replaced by his Villa team-mate, Ashley Young, at half-time. His renewed confidence was clear – his first touch was sure, his movement was intelligent and he continued to provide a real threat, with a clipped left-foot shot that just missed the target and a desperate slide to meet a low cross that eluded him.
Bent ended as one of the four England outfield players who did the full 90 minutes, a clear sign from Capello of his elevated status. Bent had never played a whole match for England before, and that alone is a notable achievement after five years of frustration.
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