Crystal Palace were left surprised and disappointed after Darren Bent – who looked to join them on loan from Aston Villa – chose to go to Fulham instead on a season-long loan.
The former England striker had been looking for a way out of Villa Park this summer after starting just eight Premier League games for Paul Lambert last season.
While there was early interest from Newcastle United, who were looking for striking replacements after the departure of Demba Ba to Chelsea in January, two serious suitors emerged this month, Palace and Fulham.
As late as Wednesday night, many at Selhurst Park were confident that they had secured Bent. He would have been a high-profile signing for them. With Glenn Murray injured, they lack experience up front, even after the summer arrivals of Dwight Gayle and Marouane Chamakh. But this morning Palace's manager Ian Holloway revealed that, in fact, Bent was to sign at Craven Cottage instead.
"Fulham could wait a lot longer than we could so we've tried to force it, they've stepped in, took our deal," he said. "I was told Wednesday night he was coming to us. I was told this morning he was coming to us. It's life. Fulham are bigger sharks than us. My chairman's going to have to get used to that."
The news came as a surprise but Fulham have greater financial muscle than newly promoted Palace, as Holloway acknowledged. Martin Jol, who had admitted in the past his interest in signing Bent, was rather less keen to discuss it publicly, criticising Holloway for revealing the turn of events.
"I'm not sure other managers should say that because we're not 100 per cent sure about any player," said Jol. "Maybe he's right, maybe not. We will see in the next day or so. I have always said we need pace up front, that is what I am working on."
Ultimately the situation was clarified by Lambert, the man who decided that Bent would not be part of the Villa team that he wanted to build – who had not only left him out of the first team but did not even always put him on the bench, preferring at times to select Jordan Bowery, whom he signed from Chesterfield.
"It's well documented now that he's down there [at Fulham] having a medical," Lambert said. "And that is the last I have heard."
Will he, won't he? The chase for Bent
Wednesday, 7.30pm Crystal Palace sources confirm they are confident of signing Darren Bent (right) on loan and expect him for a medical in the morning.
Thursday, 9.15am Palace manager Ian Holloway reveals the move for Bent is off, as Fulham have now stepped in: "There are bigger sharks than us. My chairman's going to have to get used to that."
1.10pm Fulham manager Martin Jol refuses to confirm the former England striker will sign: "I don't know what's happening. We are not sure about it."
1.30pm Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert confirms Bent is at Fulham for a medical: "It's well-documented now that he's down there and that is the last I have heard."