Charlton Athletic 0 Aston Villa 0: Bent forces way into the picture

Charlton striker enhances World Cup hopes after livening up deadlock
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The Independent Online

Usually Sven Goran Eriksson leaves the stadium when there is just 10 minutes to go. He could have been forgiven if he had called up his chauffeur at half-time during this dirge. Before then, the England coach would have seen enough, in potential and threat, to confirm that Charlton striker Darren Bent is worth a look in Wednesday's friendly against Uruguay. Indeed, Bent was duly included in the England squad, announced last night.

But Eriksson would also have seen enough to confirmthat however much they huffed and puffed these two sides were destined for a stalemate. The statistics will show that Charlton remain unbeaten in eight home games and Villa in eight away matches but that masks mid-table deficiencies which hamper any real aspiration. Also for Eriksson to digest was further confirmation that come the World Cup Olof Mellberg will be a formidable defender for England's group opponents, Sweden.

"It was a frustrating game for everyone," admitted Charlton manager Alan Curbishley. "A point each and let's move on," said Villa's David O'Leary, sounding apologetic although he certainly wasn't saying sorry. "You won't see much of it on Match of the Day. A clip each." Too right. Both managers used the mitigation of weakened squads while Curbishley pointed out that games, in cup and League, have come thick and fast of late.

Bent is likely to be given 45 minutes for England, as a half-time replacement. "He has got to have his mind made up to give him some sort of game on Wednesday," Curbishley said of Eriksson's intentions. "We all know what Rooney can do and what [Jermain] Defoe can do."

Bent certainly continued to show promise until a tight hamstring deprived him of his strike partner, Marcus Bent. There was an early header - too weak and too straight - that Thomas Sorensen easily held before his pace and strength took him away from the Villa defence, after a hopeful lob forward by Luke Young. He headed on and forced a smart save from Sorensen with a low angled shot. Bent came even closer when pinching some space inside the area, after being fed by Marcus Bent, and curling a shot to the far post which brushed against Aaron Hughes before veering wide.

But he did not add to his 17 goals in 31 appearances and, frankly, did not threaten again. Charlton, lacking the injured Alexei Smertin and with Matt Holland struggling, began to be forced back. A bobbling shot by James Milner, turned away by Thomas Myrhe, marked a sea change and with substitute Luke Moore prominent - as opposed to the woeful pairing of Juan Pablo Angel and Milan Baros, who threw himself to the turf in search of a penalty - they began to gain a foothold.

Still, their best opportunity came when Radostin Kishishev got his boot to a free-kick only to deflect the ball onto the roof of his own team's net while, for Charlton, substitute Jay Bothroyd forced another save by Sorensen. But it was tame stuff.

"My priority is to get to safety as quickly as possible and see what life brings us this summer," said O'Leary, yet again pleading his wearisome case of coping with slim pickings while claiming, inaccurately, that Villa's resources are similar to Charlton. Curbishley will have raised an eyebrow at that one while everyone else raised both when O'Leary said it would be "nice" for these clubs to meet in the FA Cup final. Not for neutrals.

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