Darren hoping to celebrate his birthday
DARREN Bent is ready to come of age at the very highest level.The Blues leading scorer is hoping to celebrate his 21st birthday tomorrow by notching his fourth goal in three games at Sheffield United today and go on to show he can also cut it in the Premiership.
DARREN Bent is ready to come of age at the very highest level.
The Blues leading scorer is hoping to celebrate his 21st birthday tomorrow by notching his fourth goal in three games at Sheffield United today and go on to show he can also cut it in the Premiership.
No matter what questions have been asked of him in the past, Bent has shown he can answer them - with interest.
With 50 goals in 124 senior Ipswich appearances, 98 as a starter, and a regular hit-man at every international level he has played at, Bent has shown the pedigree to be among the very best.
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He is relishing the prospect of testing himself in the Premiership - he is convinced Town will be there next season - where the higher standard will bring even more out of him.
Part of the squad that played in the Premiership in 2001/02, Bent made his first team debut in the UEFA Cup in Helsingborgs and opened his goalscoring account against Newcastle United in the League Cup in a 4-1 defeat.
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Since then, everything has been a blur of self-improvement, European football, a play-off disappointment and now a serious promotion challenge.
Bent said: “I don't feel old, it only feels like yesterday when I was a 17-year-old scoring at St James' Park and from there everything seems to have gone so quickly.
“I feel it's the right time for me to step up into the Premiership and test myself. Perhaps it was bit too early for me before, but I'm 21 now and feel ready.
“Every time I have stepped up a level I have taken it in my stride and, hopefully, that will continue.”
“People ask the questions - can he score in the reserves, then in the first team, then with England. Every time I have managed to do that, and now I'm confident I can score goals in the Premiership.”
Bent's initial goal target of 15 is one away but he has already set his sights higher.
He said: “I have never got 20 for Ipswich in a season yet but I need six more in 16 games and I fancy myself to do that.”
The London-born striker was spotted by Malcolm Moore while playing in his home-town of Huntingdon and joined the Blues' Academy as a 10-year-old.
Bent admitted the talk of him being sold probably did unsettle him subconsciously, but he quickly rediscovered his scoring touch.
He said: “Every day someone would be saying 'are you leaving?' or this, that and the other and I probably spent too much time thinking about that, although I always knew I wasn't going anywhere.
“I did have a little dip and it may have been down to that but I have scored a few since then and everything is back on track and I feel really relaxed now.”
A victory at Bramall Lane today would virtually end Sheffield United's hopes of catching them and, with Sunderland and Wigan still left to play, Bent believes automatic promotion is there for the taking.
He said: “As long as we strikers keep getting the goals then there is no reason why we can't go all the way. There are 16 games left and it is in our own hands. We can only lose it now, and we don't intend to do that.”
His job should be made a little easier in South Yorkshire today with the attention of the home fans firmly focused on strike partner Shefki Kuqi.
Bent said: “I don't get a lot of stick anywhere but I know Shefki will get all sorts, with him playing for Sheffield Wednesday before. Hopefully, he will stick the ball in the net early on and shut them all up.”
Bent's 21st celebrations with his family will be short and simple, as he has to join up with England Under-21s in Derby later tomorrow in readiness for their friendly against Holland at Pride Park on Tuesday, but it is a price worth paying.
With seven goals in 10 Under-21 appearances, with just the one start, Bent's scoring record for his country is amazing but he modestly puts it down to playing with good players on a regular basis.
Bent said: “It has been fantastic with England and the amount of goals I have got has a lot to do with who I'm playing with.
“When you play with better players you improve yourself and that is what I have done, here and with England.”
n Jerrome Sobers' proposed loan move to Boston United has fallen through after the young defender failed to recover from flu in time.
The Pilgrims have, instead, taken Sheffield United's Italian centre-half Emanuele Gabriela for a month.
Blades v Blues - see Pages 62 & 63