Which Club Has The Premier League’s Best English Striker? Spurs? West Ham? Everton? Newcastle? Portsmouth?

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75925341.jpgIgnoring the rash of “injuries” to the squad, Daniel takes a look at who should be backing up Rooney, Owen and Crouch for England. Newcastle, Tottenham, Everton and West Ham are all represented strongly.

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When it was put to Steve McClaren that he faced a striker crisis with Rooney injured, Owen unfit and Crouch suspended for the next qualifier, the England boss reminded journalists:

“…there is also the likes of Alan Smith, Darren Bent, Andy Johnson, Jermain Defoe and David Nugent, players like that who have played for England and have proved that they can play at this level.”

Hmmmmm. Still the lack of availability of the three forwards at the front of the queue for places in the team, represents not so much a window of opportunity for English strikers to stake their international claims, but a great, yawning chasm. So who is best equipped to step into the void? Let’s analyse the pros and cons of the men McClaren mentions.

Alan Smith, Newcastle

Pros: None

Cons: The Alan Smith Game Plan flow chart tells you all you need to know about why Smith should not play for England. If he’s worth £6 million then even Mido must be worth…hang on…someone has paid £6 million for Mido. Oh, Gareth! I can accept arguments for any of the other strikers on this list, but not Smith. Oh no, not Smith.

Darren Bent, Tottenham

Pros: Bent has the best goal-scoring record of all the contenders. He scored approximately 1 goal for every 2 games he played at Charlton. The other strikers on McClaren’s list have a roughly 1 in 3 record at the club where they last played a full season (with the exception of Smith who had slightly better than a 1 in 9 record at Man U and a 1 in 5 record in his ‘glory days’ at Leeds). Should McClaren decide to play a 4-3-3 formation, Bent has experience of playing in the lone striker role. And Bent is, of course, quick and uses his pace to exploit spaces.

Cons: The problem with Bent is that unless he is exploiting space that leads to a straight run on goal, he isn’t particularly effective. For example, in the Everton-Spurs game last week, Bent’s first bit of play involved making a burst into space on the right flank. A team-mate knocked the ball ahead of him and Bent’s speed got him there first. So far, so good. But then Bent got his head down and steamed down the right wing. A defender came across and Bent realised he had run down cul-de-sac. A player who is comfortable on the ball would have got his head up, put his foot on the ball, used a bit of skill to beat the defender etc. But Bent just twatted the ball as hard as he good in the general direction of the penalty area, it cannoned off the defender and he was a bit lucky to win a throw-on. You need more than that at international level (and you should want more than that for ₤16.5 million). This lack of comfort on the ball perhaps explain why Bent has looked lost in the couple of chances he has had in the England team.

Andy Johnson, Everton

Pros: Like Bent, Johnson has played as a lone striker and his terrific work rate means he can lead the line on his own and provide his team-mates with constant movement that gives them a passing option. Johnson is also a decent finisher.

Cons: A striker need more than a high work-rate to have an impact at international level and in the games he has played for England, albeit out of position, Johnson’s lack of control has been exposed.

Jermain Defoe, Tottenham

Pros: Defoe is arguably the best finisher of the candidates and his quick feet means he can get a shot off even if a defender is close to him.

Cons: Defoe is best in the penalty box, but will spend limited time there at international level. England don’t bombard teams and set up lots of chances; that very rarely happens in internationals any more. Consequently, skills that are important outside the area – being able to hold the ball up, link play, dribble, make a clever run that finds some extra space – become more important and Defoe is weak in these areas. You can’t see it on TV, but Spurs fans who go to matches (and there seems to be quite a few of them on COS) will tell you that Defoe usually only comes alive when he has the ball at his feet. His movement is poor and compares badly to Robbie Keane’s who constantly tries to give team-mates the option to pass to him. Also, unless the Germans and future opponents are playing Nik Nak and Mini-Me in the centre of defence, crosses to Defoe are a waste of time.

David Nugent, Portsmouth

Pros: Looked skilful in the Championship, not only scoring goals (including some beauties), but setting them up too. He also has an ability to beat players, which is a great asset in internationals where you are likely to be more tightly marked.

Cons: Nugent is not proven at Premier League level, let alone international level.

He should first establish himself in the Portsmouth side and, if he’s successful there, then he can be seriously considered. (He also needs to improve his heading).

Nugent is one for the future and should be given a bit more time to show what he can do against Premier League defences. Bent, Johnson and Defoe are all good Premier League strikers, but the suspicion is that they fall just short at England level. Lack of a good touch is really exposed as a forward at international level, where space is at a premium. Attacking players tend to spend less time on the ball than they do at a club level, so it is vital that they have strong positional awareness to find some room and have the ability to be effective on the ball when they do receive it. One English striker who is good at this, and who was not mentioned by Steve McClaren, is Dean Ashton. Having played as a sub in West Ham’s first game this season, Ashton is available again after injury and should be match fit for next month’s qualifiers.

Dean Ashton, West Ham

Pros: Ashton can drop off and link play up, aided by good control and an eye for a defence splitting pass. He can also serve as a target man because of his strength and aerial ability. In his first half a season at West Ham he scored 6 goals in 16 appearances, indicating that there would be more to come as he became more experienced at playing at a higher level. You also get a sense with Ashton that, crucially, he is comfortable playing in more important games, such as the 2006 FA Cup final, and that having a nation urging him on in a big international would see him raise his performance rather than inhibit him. The chant of “Dean-o” could be one of the most passionately used by England fans in the years to come.

Cons: They call him Mr. Glass

So if McClaren chooses one striker of the above it should be Dean Ashton. If he goes with two, then it is a close call between Defoe and Johnson for me, but I would give the nod to Defoe as he is a little more effective in tight spaces.

But what do you think? Who of these fringe strikers, should McClaren call up to the England team? Who belongs at international level?