England look to Darren Bent to shed the air of predictability

If England supporters have any reason at all to thank the national team it is for the haziness of the memories that remain from the past year.

England look to Darren Bent to shed the air of predictability Anguish has been strictly rationed. The side's fate at the World Cup, for instance, did not lie in a ludicrous miss and even the terrible refereeing that denied Frank Lampard a goal against Germany was swamped by the memories of the victors' superiority.

England's flaws did not come to a close with the end of last summer. Fabio Capello's side can certainly score on occasion, but there is always the prospect of sterility overtaking them once more. The unpredictability with which vacuous spells overcome the team also stokes supporters' anxieties even when England, sixth in the world rankings, are about to take on Wales, a team 100 places below them.

That gap will appear to have shrunk if Capello's men have another of those days when impact is elusive. England, after all, were capable in September of running up a commendable 3-1 win in Switzerland, only to draw with Montenegro at Wembley in the next match. That occasion was goalless and while Zlatko Kranjcar's side are admirable in many regards, it did not excuse the hosts for being so vapid.

As it is, Montenegro do not have another qualifier until June and England will top Group G if they beat Wales in the Euro 2012 qualifier at the Millennium Stadium. Capello's side would do so on goal difference. Their fault in front of the posts is an intermittent one, yet it occurs often enough to be agonising. England, for instance, could have left the 2010 World Cup sooner still had Matthew Upson not pulled off a fine challenge on Zlatko Dedic to preserve the 1-0 lead over Slovenia.

The dullness of England means that Capello is never far from the next reappraisal. Darren Bent was rejected as a candidate for the World Cup when he was unobtrusive in the friendly with Japan at Wembley last June. Now the rehabilitation of the attacker may be so thorough as to see him in the starting line-up against Wales. After all, he did score the first of England's goals when Denmark were beaten last month.

If Bent has high status now, the promotion comes because of an unavoidable reappraisal. The World Cup qualifiers were not really so very long ago, but there could still be pangs of nostalgia if people were shown highlights when Emile Heskey was the catalyst for explosive scoring by Wayne Rooney. Notions have altered since then. Should Bent be in the side he will be regarded as the finisher, with the Manchester United player cast as the provider.

Roles should not be as rigid as all that, especially when a nation with high if unfulfilled ambitions is involved, but England must find a basic effectiveness in Cardiff. With Gareth Bale injured, Capello should be hopeful of pinning down Wales. The atmosphere in the stadium is not to be dismissed, but efficiency by the visitors could gradually dilute it.

The manager himself does nothing to suggest that he considers England have decisive firepower to train on Gary Speed's Wales team. Capello did not come across yesterday as the great force in football we know from all his exploits in bygone days. "We created four chances to score and their keeper was good," the Italian said of the stalemate with Montenegro. "Sometimes you shoot a lot and don't score."

It was the kind of dismal response given by a despondent journeyman of a manager. Capello is no such thing, but on a bad day even he can look drab. He is well aware that rejuvenation will only come with achievements by his squad. The desire to overhaul that attack, in particular, is expressed not solely in the recourse to Bent but also in the insistence on involving Andy Carroll.

While the Liverpool signing is not over his thigh strain entirely, he could well be on the pitch at some stage against Wales. There are opportunities for attackers to have a leading role in England dramas, but they will still need prompters. That, indeed, is an underlying issue in the frustration of the team.

It is not the most imaginative set of footballers. The visceral effect of Steven Gerrard is bound to dip with age and he is, in any case, unavailable for this match through injury. Lampard, another senior player, cannot be expected to erupt into attack quite so much and there is uncertainty about his selection for the starting line-up in Cardiff.

Much as it will exasperate Capello, minds keep going back to Rooney. He has begun to find the net more regularly for United and also has the repertoire to undo Wales. Irrepressibility from him would be an old yet welcome story.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Kevin McCarra, for The Guardian on Friday 25th March 2011 23.01 Europe/London

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