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Beesotted contributor and regular Pride of West London podcast guest, Matt Allard, shares his thoughts on the negative affect that Darren Bent’s arrival has had on a Derby team that he admits “scared the shit” out of him when he watched them last season, knowing the Bees would have to compete with that standard of football. The Rams are likely to make the play-offs, just, but Matt feels they should have stuck to a better brand of football.

Just a week or so ago I got involved in a short Twitter debate with a couple of Derby County supporters. They’d been calling out Bees fans who had questioned the skills of January signing Darren Bent. Ten goals in 14 games proved the point for our Derby friends or so they thought.

When Bent made his first league appearance for Derby County in January, coming on in the 76th minute of the Notts Forest home game, they sat equal on points at the top of the Championship while drawing 1-1 with their main rivals. Derby, of course, ended up losing that game 2-1.

Victory would have put them three points clear at the top of the table. Pretty much since then Derby have been in free fall. Going back to the Championship play-off semis last year I had looked on with interest. Of course we’d just secured promotion to the second tier and it was an opportunity to check out a few teams we’d be playing next year.

Frankly, Derby scared the shit out of me. They passed the ball with authority and pace on the ground and played Brighton off the park. It was very un-English. Not what I had expected from a top team with an English manager in that league at all. Steve McClaren had certainly learnt from his time abroad.

When the then pre-Bent Derby came down to Griffin Park back in November they arrived as table toppers. For the first 45 minutes they were much like the team I remembered from the play-off games and led 1-0 at half-time, playing some impressive football. Of course the Bees bounced back in the second half, winning 2-1, but Derby looked to me like a team destined to finish in the top two. I also felt it was a sign that we would at least be in the mix come May.

What a change then when we headed to Pride Park a few weeks back. Derby basically played on the back foot, constantly going long for Bent. Sure he was a bit of a handful and I know he scored the equaliser in injury time, but anyone watching Brentford in the last couple of months knows teams with a bit of pace up front have been scoring two against us regularly, not scrambling a lucky, originally miss-hit last minute goal. I thought they were terrible.

So what has gone wrong at Derby? I’ll offer you this up. McClaren panicked in the transfer window, went back to basics and got the proven big man in, rather than take a chance on someone younger. I think he lost his bottle, then once he signed Bent, was forced to play to his strengths – go long and direct. But guess what, check out Watford (now promoted) and Bournemouth (likely to be promoted), can you imagine either of those sides playing the sort of pacy attacking vibrant football they have been with Darren Bent up front? Derby looked like that too a few months ago. Top level football, yes at Championship level as well, has moved on from the traditional target man.

And yeah I know some people will read this, and if Bent scores the goal that ensures Brentford’s fate on the last day of the season, or the one at Wembley that gets Derby promoted, will point out that it was him that made the difference. I’ll just say rubbish, if they hadn’t signed him and taken more of a risk they’d have been promoted already.

Matt Allard