During this frustratingly hit and miss season, there has been one consistent bright spot throughout. That man in the photo (taken misguidedly during the Spurs game) has been phenomenal all season and I shudder to think where we might be in the table right now without his 11 Premiership goals.
I generally prefer Martin Tyler to Bonnie Tyler, but I couldn't help putting one of her lyrics in the title line of this blog. Fans have rightly bemoaned the absence of Valley legends like Rufus, Kinsella, or Mendonca players who the fans could latch onto and whose ability and effort never let them down. Having been starved of heroes for a couple of seasons now, it took the fans a while to realise they finally had one again, but with the fans finally singing his name down the post-match tunnel, Bent will have become aware that he has now joined that illustrious list.
It's noticeable that of the top six Premiership scorers, four read like a 'Who's Who?' of world talent: Van Nistelrooy, Lampard, Henry and Rooney (I hesitate to use the word 'talent' when describing the over-rated Lampard but you get my point). Of the remaining two (Yakubu and Bent) it is interesting that both are young, and both were bought by midtable sides in the summer, to boost ailing forward lines. The key difference of course is that the Nigerian costs £7.5m, whilst Bent cost just £2.5m. Yakubu is a fine player also, but full credit to Charlton for pulling off what can only be described as a transfer coup.
I would summarise his key strengths as follows:
- he runs all day long, and never shirked from his responsibilities when utilised as a lone front man, despite his teammates flailing around him - as Curbs himself said after the Wigan debacle, "At least Benty kept going."
2. Pace -
a pre-requisite for any top striker these days, but he has it in abundance. Admittedly he's no Thierry Henry, but at least our Darren can head the ball and doesn't appear in French car commericals. Witness the goal today against Birmingham, or the one last week at Sheff Weds, both occurring with the team under the cosh and fans getting anxious.
3. He can score all types of goal -
he is a brilliant finisher with both feet and his head. His chances-to-goals ratio is phenomenal - it's rare to see a Charlton striker in front of goal and expecting him to score. When Kevin Lisbie manages to hit the back of the net, you need treatment for shock. He scores confidently with his left foot (Sunderland [H], Boro), with his right foot (Spurs, Sunderland [A]) and with his head (Birmingham [A], West Ham). Indeed, I don't think you can honestly say he's scored a single 'scrappy' goal all season - all have been 'missable' and often barely half chances.
4. He scores important goals -
he has scored the first goal in 6 of our 20 league games this season, rewarding 'first goalscorer' backers handsomely. Indeed, his record implies the 'true odds' (including a profit margin for the bookie) should be around 2/1, ridiculous if you think about it (but true). If you'd backed him at odds on average of say 6/1 for a tenner all season, you'd be better off to the tune of £220, not bad in a highly speculative market which 'professional punters' tend to shun. As mentioned above, he also scores vital goals at the end of games to relieve pressure and wrap up wins. All in all, he has scored in seven of our nine wins, and all four at home, and in each of our three Cup wins - it proves how vital he is to us.
5. He scores goals when he's not playing well -
of course it's nice for strikers to be involved all-game, holding the ball up, bringing the midfield into play, creating chances etc.. However it's the sign of a good striker when you can find the confidence and belief to hit the back of the net, when you've had an in-and-out game (today was a good example). This is the type of trait that has marked out the likes of Michael Owen for years.
6. He finishes with aplomb -
watch today's goal for a fine example of this - he bears down on goal and with Melchiot on his shoulder and Taylor closing the angle, he casually hammers the ball into the far top corner. Or how about his second goal against Spurs? Or his three goals this season against Sunderland? He knows that power, when combined with precision, puts the odds firmly against the keeper.
7. He cost less than the following players this summer -
Simon Davies, Peter Crouch, Park Si-Jung, Emre, Craig Bellamy, Mikeal Forsell, Curtis Davies, Jermaine Jenas, Milan Baros, Nathan Ellington. Would you take any of these in a straight swap for Bent? How about any of them plus cash for Bent? No, I didn't think so.
Anyway perhaps enough brown-nosing of Darren Bent for now, just suffice to say that thank the lord that he plays for us and has probably saved us a potentially disastrous season. It would be a tragedy for England if he doesn't go to Germany - I cannot see how Eriksson can ignore him. One thing working against him is the lack of media attention focused on him, though learned figures in the game are well-aware. From some of the superlatives used to describe Peter Crouch in recent weeks, you would think he was a clone of Pele, as opposed to the most ridiculous sight on a football pitch since The Who last played at the Valley.
With just Owen (injury permitting) and Rooney assured of striker places, you cannot make a viable case right now for taking Crouch or Defoe ahead of him (both of which will have benefitted from far more service than the Charlton side can currently deliver). However given that the gormless Swede's decision-making baffles me more than Curbs, I would not put my mortgage on it (if I had one). I'm no patriot at the best of times, but if he is fit and doesn't go, I will be supporting another team (like Iran).
Can't think of too much more to say about the Birmingham game - it sounded like hard work but I suggested to my Dad that it was our most important game of the season, and in such circumstances it's the result that counts. The inclusion of Myhre in recent weeks has clearly been an undoubted success, and he has clearly instilled some well-needed confidence in a shaky defence. Bryan Hughes relaxed the crowd with a header, and after seeing him almost grab us a late point against Bolton in similar fashion, it seems he is unusually strong in the air for a small man. Indeed, if so (ironically Lisbie is another), it makes plenty of sense to aim for him at set-pieces, as opposed to the Herminator or Bartlett since he will typically not be marked by a strapping defender.
Three home wins out of four, all of them 2-0, will at least have appeased the home fans who have had poor value for money at the Valley in recent months. Fans don't ask for too much from their team and management, just plenty of commitment, a few original ideas, sensible progressive tactics and an absence of the type of schoolboy errors that characterised that ridiculous Nov/Dec period last year. Curbs has bought himself some time, but not any players.
It's Chelsea next (oh, and Bent has scored against them too).