IT’S been a while since I saw Jermaine Beckford. The real one, I mean. The one who whipped past defenders and scored goals for fun. Last seen at Leeds in April 2010, he has since been replaced by a moody, inconsistent, sag-shouldered impostor.
The old Beckford, you’d bet the savings on him one-on-one. But this new guy? I wouldn’t risk a fiver.
Now, though, after four goals in five games for Bolton, it seems the predatory, goal-scoring machine of bygone days is back.
The 29-year-old was refreshingly honest in these pages last week, admitting that his move from League One Leeds to Premier League Everton was a step too far.
“I was a quite erratic as a youngster and at Leeds I was quite selfish, trying to take everyone on when perhaps it wasn’t the best option,” said Beckford, who until the age of 23 was playing part-time for Wealdstone and working as an RAC windscreen fitter.
“Then I came up against great players, the best in the world, and the things I used to do before wouldn’t work against these guys.”
Which is sad really. Because taking people on and leaving them for dead is what we all want to see Beckford do. I liked the selfish version.
Yeah, he didn’t quite cut it in the Premier League. But then again, he did have the misfortune to enter the strikers’ graveyard that was Goodison Park under David Moyes.
James Beattie. Andy Johnson. Yakubu. All of them scored plenty before and after they were asked to chase around pointlessly as a foil for Tim Cahill.
And let’s not forget, Beckford netted eight times in his only season of top-flight football. That ain’t bad.
The problem was simply that he was asked to lead the line against world-class defenders in a division two tiers above anything he’d experienced.
When you go from scoring 30 goals a season and beating people for fun to barely getting a chance, it rattles you. Beckford handled it well, learned fast and would probably have improved.
But then Everton flogged him to Leicester after a single season, a pragmatic but callous move that had a devastating effect on the striker’s confidence.
That much was obvious, first at Leicester and then at Huddersfield. Where once Beckford played on instinct, he suddenly seemed to think, a legacy of that bruising Premier League baptism where defenders had his angles covered. The runs were a fraction slower, the finishing more forced. Nothing seemed to flow.
Though Beckford got a respectable 15 goals in 49 games for the Foxes and another eight for the Terriers, he never hit a purple patch.
And when this summer’s move to Bolton brought a barren ten-game run, you really did fear the old Beckford had gone for good.
Then came a mis-hit goal against Birmingham, the classic ‘it doesn’t matter how it goes in’ fluke all out-of-nick strikers crave. Then there was another against Sheffield Wednesday, another at Bournemouth and another to see off Millwall.
Of course, four goals does not a great striker make. But ask any forward for the secret of his success and it will always be confidence, the fearless arrogance that only goals bring.
All of a sudden, the menace is back in those darting runs. The touch is tight, the strikes first time.
Maybe it is because Dougie Freedman, a team-mate at Leeds, knows Beckford and trusts him to produce.
Maybe it is simply that, at 29, the striker is more relaxed and confident in himself.
Certainly he seems more mature, with the occasionally confrontational figure of yore replaced by a senior pro who helps out the kids and was described this week as a “role model” by Bolton youngster Rob Hall.
Whatever the case, I hope this is a return to the ruthless, have-a-go form of old. Because I’ve missed him.
TERROR OF DERRY CAN SAVE COUNTY SEASO
SHAUN Derry, the non-playing player-manager of Notts County, has said he won’t pull on a shirt if his side show they don’t need him.
And after last weekend’s battling display in defeat to table-topping Wolves, it’s tempting to say they don’t.
For 70-odd minutes, you wouldn’t have guessed the two sides were separated by 23 places. County even shaded the first 45.
The difference was Leigh Griffiths. Introduced from the substitutes bench at half-time, Wolves’ ten-goal top scorer didn’t add to his tally.
But the Scot’s reputation scared the living daylights out of the Magpies’ defence. They backed off, gave him space, let him run. It opened the game up for Wolves and ultimately led to their winner.
And that is why Derry would be such an asset to County. Right now, opponents will pick up the teamsheet on a Saturday and think ‘Nothing to worry about there’.
All they see are young kids lacking confidence who can’t score and ship goals by the bucketload.
But with Derry on the pitch? Suddenly you’ve got a guy who won’t buckle under a bit of pressure. Who won’t shirk a challenge or sag when a goal is conceded.
Who played in the Premier League less than a year ago and will clean out man, ball and anything else that gets in his way.
It’s pushing it to say a League One player would be starstruck. But they’d look at Derry and think twice about trying a trick or dallying on the ball.
At this level, that could be the difference between staying up and going down.
Now it’s up to the FA, who are still considering whether Derry can transfer from his registration from QPR to County having already represented two clubs this season.
If I was a County fan, I’d hope they assent. Because right now, the most important player in their squad is sitting on the bench.