England rivals face off in the battle of goals against grit

The debate over failed strikers will be aired tonight too when Heskey's Aston Villa side face Bent's Sunderland.

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Ever since he made his debut at Leicester City in 1994, there has been debate about Emile Heskey's merits as a striker and how he can be considered a regular England international when his goal tally falls way below his rivals. The subject will continue to be discussed before, and probably after, Fabio Capello names his squad for the World Cup finals. No doubt differing views will be aired tonight too when Heskey's Aston Villa side face Sunderland in the Premier League.

In the Sunderland ranks at Villa Park will be Darren Bent, who has not figured for his country since the friendly in Doha against Brazil in November when he toiled for 55 minutes without reward. Yet with 20 Premier League goals for a side that has struggled, it is a feat to be admired, especially in comparison to Heskey's return of three. While some Villa fans have even branded Heskey a liability, the fact that Bent has scored in seven of the eight league games Sunderland have won shows how important he is to them. His achievements have made him the club's most prolific frontman since Kevin Phillips claimed 30 goals in 2000 and earned a place in England's Euro 2000 squad.

Nicky Summerbee played alongside Phillips in that Sunderland side and said Bent can go on to achieve the same legendary status on Wearside. "Kevin was a fantastic finisher. He picked up on anything in and around the box," said the former winger. "But Darren has that same instinct and quality. There's no reason why he can't match Kevin for goals and the fans will appreciate him in the same way." While goals often give a striker cult status, so too do grit and determination, the qualities that have made Heskey popular.

He offers presence in the box rather than predatory instincts. His unselfish play may go unnoticed, but with Gabriel Agbonlahor struggling with a foot injury, Heskey needs to help out with goals if Villa are to stay in the top-four reckoning. @Email:akhan@thenational.ae