Town in tough spot as Bent's value rises

DARREN Bent is set to play in his 100th Ipswich Town game on Sunday with his confidence - and his price tag - soaring.The 20-year-old striker, who has scored 38 goals in 73 starts and 26 substitute appearances for Town, added two more goals to his international CV as England beat Poland 3-1 in a European Championship Under-21 qualifier in Rybnik last night.

DARREN Bent is set to play in his 100th Ipswich Town game on Sunday with his confidence - and his price tag - soaring.

The 20-year-old striker, who has scored 38 goals in 73 starts and 26 substitute appearances for Town, added two more goals to his international CV as England beat Poland 3-1 in a European Championship Under-21 qualifier in Rybnik last night.

He lifted his tally to six in eight games - all scored after coming on as a substitute. Bent also scored in last Friday's 2-0 victory over Austria in Krems.

After Bent had scored in the Under-21 friendly against Ukraine last month in Middlesbrough he came storming back into the Ipswich side to score the first goal in a 3-1 home victory over Cardiff City.

Town fans will be looking for a similar showing against Millwall in the Coca-Cola Championship by a player who was the subject of a £3million bid by Premiership Charlton just prior to the closing of the transfer window.

Ipswich's directors turned down the bid, which was heartening for manager Joe Royle and to supporters.

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With every good England showing by Bent his reputation grows and his worth increases. Last season's leading Town scorer's value may not reach the £27million paid by Manchester United for the services of Wayne Rooney, but if he continues his progress he may come close to the

£8m Real Madrid splashed out for Michael Owen.

Whether chairman David Sheepshanks and his fellow directors would be tempted by any major bid when the transfer window re-opens in January remains to be seem.

Much will depend on where the team is in the table and Bent's goals will be a telling factor between now and the New Year in keeping Town in a healthy league position.

“Darren must be wondering why he is not starting for the Under-21s with a record like his, but Peter Taylor probably sees him as a match-winner from the substitute position,” said Royle today.

He added: “Darren still has a lot of improvement in him, but the way he played against Wolverhampton in our last match was his best for some time.

“He is an Ipswich player and we want to keep him. Now is not the time to think about his value to other clubs.”

England Under-21 manager Taylor praised the contribution of Bent last night and admitted he is pushing hard for a place in the starting line-up.

Taylor said: “Darren's record of scoring from the bench is unbelievable and I am very lucky to be able to put on a substitute like that.

“He is as good as gold and works extremely hard. If he keeps going like he is, then he will have a few starts.”

Poland were the better side in the first half after Marcin Burkhardt's early strike, but the game changed after Dariusz Dudka was sent off in first-half injury-time for dissent immediately after Carlton Cole's equaliser from a David Bentley cross.

Bent came on for Norwich player Bentley to put England ahead from the spot after Jermaine Pennant had been brought down, although it was a fortunate penalty. Bent then added a headed third after exchanging passes with Cole.

Bent's Ipswich team-mate Ian Westlake was in the England Under-21 party, but is still waiting for his first cap after not making the substitutes' bench.

Town's first team squad enjoyed a change of scenery yesterday when they trained on the beach at Felixstowe.

“It was a bonding exercise,” said Royle. “We returned to normal training this morning and then it is the players' golf day at Ufford Park this afternoon, which is also good for team spirit.”

Royle has no injury worries for the Millwall match that starts at 1pm apart from Jason De Vos, who was still limping with a swollen knee yesterday but rates himself almost certain to maintain his 100 per cent league starting record since his move from Wigan.

Jaime Peters, the 17-year-old Canadian who had a trial at Portman Road earlier this season, is set to sign for Millwall.

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