FORGOTTEN the World Cup? Put that turgid turmoil behind you? Darren Bent has, and he hasn’t.
The Sunderland striker was, for a heart-wrenching second time, omitted from England’s 23-man finals squad this summer, having previously missed out on Germany in 2006. Fat lot of good it did Fabio.
But while Bent is the affable type to move on and make good, his first appearance in action since that snub suggested he has taken rejection with a point to prove.
He did not quite make it in the Black Cats’ second pre-season friendly at Darlington on Saturday – victory instead coming courtesy of a late goal from Bolo Zenden, though the main talking point was Lee Cattermole’s withdrawal with a groin problem – but the signs were there. For a start, Bent started. That was anticipated after his participation – or lack of – in England’s World Cup warm-ups permitted him leave of absence from Sunderland’s friendly opener in Munster last week.
But the ex-Tottenham forward was expected to play a half at most.
Instead, he lasted an hour, and while he failed to score and was far from top form, his hunger for a goal, to prove that point, to make amends and ensure he is foremost among Capello’s future thoughts was obvious.
Early on he shot at Quakers keeper Sam Russell, then stabbed a Steed Malbranque cross over the crossbar.
More pertinently, at the end of the first half, he met Phil Bardsley’s cross with a firm header only to be denied brilliantly by Russell, then outclassed Ian Miller but crashed an angled effort off the junction of upright and bar.
After the break he saw a strike cleared off the line by Dominick Werling and given that by then, referee Colin Webster had expelled from play the sort of beach ball that in the past has aided Bent’s cause, he too exited proceedings but only having ensured an impression had been made. Expect goals galore this term.
As potentially and ominously significant, at the same stage – on half an hour – that the beachball appeared, Cattermole disappeared.
The midfielder missed spells last season with a groin injury, aggravated it again in Munster and again on Saturday. Black Cats fans await results of today’s meeting with a specialist with bated breath.
On the upside, his withdrawal opened the door for Ahmed Al-Muhammadi to make his first Sunderland appearance.
Fleetingly the ‘Egyptian Beckham’ served notice of good things to follow.
With and without him, the visitors bossed the game.
Though Steve Bruce was in Portugal, taking part in a charity golf event in aid of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, notices will have been filed to enlighten him of a day of, albeit unsurprising, dominance.
With Trevor Carson then Simon Mignolet deputising ably in Craig Gordon’s absence with a broken arm, Kieran Richardson manning central midfield and Jordan Henderson most notable, Sunderland ought to have led through Bent’s chances, though Henderson, Al-Muhammadi, Fraizer Campbell, Kenwyne Jones and Phil Bardsley also threatened to score.
In lurid yellow, Darlington were anything but and can take great heart from having held £60million worth of talent until the closing stages.
They were infinitely better organised, with shape and guts and desire, than a year ago, when thrashed by the same opposition, so hats off to Mark Cooper and Co.
They had the odd opening – half opening, okay – too, as when new loan signing Liam Hatch shot wide at the outset and headed over at the end.
By then, Zenden’s 83rd-minute strike had settled it, although there was more to be enthused by, and for both teams.
DARLINGTON: Russell; Arnison, Werling (Porter 68), Chandler (Hopson 79), Brough, Miller (Cornforth 58), Hatch (McReady 73), Hone, Wright (Smith 68), Senior (Moore 18), Gray (Main 46).
SUNDERLAND: Carson (Mignolet 46); Bardsley (Weir 84), McCartney (Liddle 46), Cattermole (Al-Muhammadi 29), Turner, Kilgallon (Ferdinand 62), Henderson, Richardson (Colbeck 46), Campbell (Tounkara 79), Malbranque (Zenden 62), Bent (Jones 62).
Referee: Colin Webster. Attendance: 5,625.