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Darren Bent is the latest in a long line of lone wolves | Rob Bagchi

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    Mar 11, 2006
    <div class="track"><img alt="" src="" width="1" height="1" /></div><p class="standfirst">Keegan and Toshack, Clarke and Jones, Radford and Kennedy … football has had plenty of striking double acts, but there's nothing wrong with going solo</p><p>Darren Bent's third career club goalscoring debut following his acrimonious transfer from Sunderland to Aston Villa had his manager, Gérard Houllier, coming down on the side of innate talent in the eternal nature v nurture debate. "His finishing touch was just like a natural born goalscorer. His goal is a reflection of a class finisher," the Frenchman said, adding for emphasis in case anyone was not paying attention: "His goal was class." It was, too – his positioning exquisite and the gobbling up of the rebound clinical – but the fact that it was his only touch in the penalty box all night suggests that at best Bent is more likely to be remembered chiefly as a great predator rather than as a great player.</p><p>If that sounds like a condemnation or faint praise, it shouldn't. Over the past 40 years many strikers have been cherished for their goalscoring feats while never quite establishing their credentials to be considered among the greats of the game. Last week Bob Latchford turned 60, a number of deep significance to Everton forwards, as he told the Liverpool Echo, remembering Dixie Dean's landmark achievement in the 1927-28 title-winning season.</p><p>Latchford was powerful and agile, excellent in the air and possessed a scorching right-foot shot but despite scoring 138 goals in 289 appearances for Everton, he won only 12 England caps and only three during the 1977-78 season when his 30 league goals won him a £30,000 bonus from the Daily Express. Injuries deprived him of further international recognition when the more prosaic Paul Mariner became the usual England centre-forward, but Latchford's prowess in front of goal never wholly persuaded Ron Greenwood to stop experimenting in search of a perfect foil for Kevin Keegan.</p><p>Further down the divisions West Brom's Bob Taylor, Blackburn's Simon Garner and the much-travelled Keith Edwards and Andy Payton scored more than 200 league goals without ever commanding the transfer fees that such exploits would merit today. Though all made fruitful partnerships with an ever-changing cast list of forwards, they were essentially "lone wolf" types, working positions in front of goal, hovering on the shoulder of defenders and flickering into action inside the penalty area. "He only scores goals," was the typical reproof of their all-round contributions when they went through barren patches, the same criticism later levelled at Clive Allen, Kerry Dixon, John Aldridge, Gary Lineker, Ian Wright, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Bent himself.</p><p>Latchford, though, benefited from forming valuable pairings at Everton with the contrasting skills of the mercurial Duncan McKenzie and the industrious Jim Pearson. Earlier he had flourished at Birmingham City in the "two-Bob" partnership of himself and Hatton, another unsung 200-goal man. Back then the individuals making up certain striking double acts became synonymous with each other but Latchford and Hatton, genuine co-stars rather than master and servant, do not quite trip off the tongue in the manner of their illustrious peers.</p><p>Keegan and John Toshack, Allan Clarke and Mick Jones, John Radford and Ray Kennedy, Martin Chivers and Alan Gilzean, Peter Withe and Tony Woodcock and, all too briefly, Francis Lee and Kevin Hector, remain packaged together in the memory. I cannot think of Steve Bull without recalling Andy Mutch and even Bobby Davison is forever twinned with Phil Gee. Liverpool's boot room struck gold again with Ian Rush and Kenny Dalglish, then Peter Beardsley and Aldridge, and a decade ago the last of the domestic attacking combinations whose names are inextricably linked – Niall Quinn and Kevin Phillips, Andy Cole and Dwight Yorke – were enjoying a last hurrah before rotation ended the tradition, perhaps for good.</p><p>Beardsley is the stand-out name in that list for one reason. I doubt anyone has forged such a high number of prolific partnerships with out-and-out goalscorers before or since. Although he was at his best during his first spell at Newcastle with the more-rounded Keegan, at Liverpool he paired up with Aldridge and then Rush, with Tony Cottee at Everton and with Cole and Les Ferdinand in his second stint at St James' Park. You can criticise Graham Taylor's time as England's manager for any number of reasons, but the most cardinal sin for me was his jettisoning of Beardsley, which diminished Lineker and effectively turned him into little more than a goalhanger. That was an error of two-for-the-price-of-one proportions.</p><p>If a player of Beardsley's ability was available now, one whose intelligence brought the best out of so many partners while scoring more than 200 goals himself, there would be little cavilling at a fee of more than £20m. But if Bent continues his happy knack, however one-dimensional his numerous belittlers contend him to be, Aston Villa will consider £24m a bargain.</p><div class="related" style="float: left; margin-right: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px;"><ul><li><a href="">Darren Bent</a></li></ul></div><div class="author"><a href="">Rob Bagchi</a></div><br/><div class="terms"><a href=""></a> &copy; Guardian News & Media Limited 2011 | Use of this content is subject to our <a href=",,933909,00.html">Terms & Conditions</a> | <a href="">More Feeds</a></div><p style="clear:both" />
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