Red-hot Marcus is ready to sizzle

THE season should get off to a red-hot start tomorrow – and Ipswich Town's sizzling strikers are looking for a scorching start to their promotion challenge, writes Derek Davis.

THE season should get off to a red-hot start tomorrow – and Ipswich Town's sizzling strikers are looking for a scorching start to their promotion challenge, writes Derek Davis.

Marcus Bent last night declared himself fit after a back injury and is determined to have his best-ever season. Although the hit-man usually refuses to set goal targets, and would not rise to my challenge of a 25-goal mark, he vowed to score more than the 14 he hit in an injury-interrupted last season.

The 25-year-old knows he faces fierce competition from Darren Bent and Pablo Counago to finish top of the Town scoring charts, never mind the League's.

He said: "I see scoring more goals than anyone as an achievement and I would love to finish top scorer, but if Pablo, for example, scored 40-odd goals and I scored five and it got us promoted to the Premiership then so be it. I would question why I only got five but if I'm providing for the team and working as part of that team which won promotion then I would be happy."

Boss Joe Royle has urged Bent to be more like a Les Ferdinand rather than a Teddy Sheringham and to be in the business part of the box more often instead of getting too involved in the build-up play.

Bent said: "What he means by that is more power, more pace and more goals and less crosses. He is putting a lot of confidence into me and I thrive on that and perhaps it was not as high as it could be last season for one reason or another.

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"I have had a good pre-season and it has been good to score goals, and contribute to others."

Elsewhere in the league there are a number of formidable strikers looking to find that goalden vein.

Bent said: "You can't underestimate Shaun Goater's record – he has scored around 20-plus goals every season he is in Division One, and even though he is getting on a bit, he is a great player, a great professional and he will be up there.

"Definitely David Johnson, Jason Roberts at West Brom, he has not been featuring much but he is a strong, powerful forward and I'm sure he will get back in, and Daniele Dichio and at West Ham the lad Jermain Defoe, if he stays."

While Bent believes West Bromwich Albion are the best equipped of the three relegated sides to deal with life in Division One, he thinks West Ham and Sunderland will struggle.

"West Ham will find it tougher than they think. I might be wrong and they may storm the league but you can't just come in and think you are going to walk it.

"Although it is not the Premiership it is a bigger league than it ever has been with a lot of big clubs in it. Even the so-called lesser clubs, for example Crewe, and no disrespect to them, even though they have been out of the First Division a year they have a quality coach and quality players, and you know it will be difficult against them.

"But hopefully we will get goals quickly and get off to a winning start."

Tightening up at the back will be a big factor this season to help take pressure off the front men.

Bent played in the same Sheffield United side as Georges Santos and hopes he will have a big impact. He added: "Georges can be a huge influence. He can put his foot in but also get the ball down and play it when needed. He is a presence in that centre of midfield and can bully people. He is a big plus for us.

"Also in midfield we have the skipper, Jim Magilton, who gets his foot on the ball then sprays it about, creating chances for others. Tommy Miller is similar to Matt Holland in that he runs all day, gets tackles in and passes the ball about and scores the occasional goal. It is about the whole team scoring, the whole team defending."

With temperatures expecting to soar between 32C-35C (90F-95F) it could be a case of survival of the fittest at Portman Road tomorrow. Players could lose around 8lbs during the 90 minutes and it is estimated for every litre of water loss, around about 20% of stamina also goes.

Bent agreed: "It is extremely hot and the fittest of the fittest will struggle on Saturday. It will be hard for both sides but we had a good, hard pre-season so we are ready and we want a win. We need a good start. Reading did well last season and surprised people but last season has gone. They are still in this division."

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