Darren bent on Premier return

BIRTHDAY boy Darren Bent celebrates his 20th birthday today - with his sights firmly set on the perfect present.The Ipswich striker wants to re-establish himself in the first team and help score the goals he is convinced can blaze a return trail to the Premiership.

By Mel Henderson

BIRTHDAY boy Darren Bent celebrates his 20th birthday today - with his sights firmly set on the perfect present.

The Ipswich striker wants to re-establish himself in the first team and help score the goals he is convinced can blaze a return trail to the Premiership.

It has been a frustrating season for the England Under-21 international, as injuries have interrupted his progress and denied him an extended run in the side.


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A mere six goals from his 18 senior starts and four substitute appearances are a statistic he is eager to improve, starting with tomorrow's crucial clash against promotion rivals Wigan.

"It's a massive game," said Bent today. "I played the first half of the game up there and they looked a tough, solid side. They were on a roll at the time.

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"It is clear they are a decent team from their position just below us in the league, but I always say that if we can get the ball down and pass it we should have nothing to fear from any side in the First Division. Our aim will be to get them chasing the ball."

Bent would love to start tomorrow in a game that kicks off at 5.35pm because of live transmission on Sky Sports 1.

But he added: "Even if I am on the bench I would hope to get involved at some stage and hopefully do my bit.

"It has been really disappointing to miss so many games this season, but I'm virtually 100 per cent now and looking forward to a good run.

"I used to hear players say how frustrating it was to be injured and I now know what they meant. It hadn't happened to me before and I hope it's a long time before it happens again.

"I got studs on top of my foot in the FA Cup-tie against Derby and couldn't bend my toes. Earlier in the season I did the ligaments in my knee and had a few games out.

"The lads did really well at the time, but our form has been a bit stop-start recently and we need a win to hopefully send us on a lengthy unbeaten run again."

Bent returned to action as a half-time substitute at Coventry last week, manager Joe Royle preferring him ahead of 12-goal top scorer Pablo Counago, who was kept on the bench.

He said: "I only had two days of training last week, but I've put in a full shift this week and just want to get out there again.

"I suppose automatic promotion looks to be tough, but I definitely wouldn't rule us out. At the very least we'll be in the play-offs and I would fancy us to win through that way."

Royle will have to decide whether Jermaine Wright drops back from midfield to replace the crocked Fabian Wilnis at right-back, or whether he repeats last week's experiment and starts with a 3-5-2 formation.

There is no John McGreal, either, after he failed to recover from the back injury that ruled out of last week's trip to Coventry, but Tommy Miller (thigh) and Chris Bart-Williams (back) are optimistic about their chances,

At least one Wigan player is assured of a warm welcome, manager Paul Jewell having finally completed the signing of left-sided ace Alan Mahon last night, and the one-time Ipswich loanee looks set for a Portman Road debut.

IPSWICH: Davis, Naylor, Santos, Diallo, Wright, Miller, Magilton, Bart-Williams, Richards, Kuqi, Counago, Westlake, Reuser, Bent, Bowditch, Price.

WIGAN: Filan, Eaden, Baines, Brecken, De Vos, Teale, Bullard, Jarrett, Mahon, Roberts, Ellington, McCulloch, Jackson, McMillan, Flynn, Liddell, Walsh.

Referee: Paul Taylor (Cheshunt).

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