Strike partnerships: where have they gone?
Strike partnerships are a rarity these days. You could argue English football has gone all continental with the one upfront. It developed from the number ten in behind the lone striker, to inside forwards sitting narrow supporting the lone striker.
Nevertheless, the typical two upfront is now a dying breed.
Can the classic two up front return to English football? Who knows. All we can do is look back at the unbelievable partnerships that have graced the second tier. That have torn rival Championship sides apart.
The frustrating thing with these classic partnerships in the Championship, is they never last. They're either picked up by rival, a team with more money in a higher division or their club is a success and promoted. Sigh.
But heck, when two strikers click, it can lead to some spectacular results in front of goal – and this ruthless lot all fed off each other brilliantly and wreaked havoc on the league.
Here are five of the best partnerships that i've enjoyed over the years, and most definitely was jealous of them:
1. Darren Bent and Shefi Kuqi
What a partnership this was. It had everything. From deadly 18 yard box instinct, to Kuqi’s hold up play and power. Literally everything. It was so good that between them in the two seasons they played together they scored 65 goals. It is a travesty that the pair never got a chance to thrive together for longer.
Ipswich Town failed to get promotion in 2004 and 2005, with Bent even saying himself that it was crazy they didn’t manage it. For two players to score 38% of a teams goals over two seasons is staggering and they were amongst one of the most frightening attacks to have graced the Championship.
Alas, it wasn’t to be though. Kuqi moved onto Blackburn Rovers and Darren Bent to Charlton Athletic where Bent continued to score goals Kuqi never quite capturing that form he had for the Tractor boys.
2. Nathan Ellington and Jason Roberts
This is up there as one of my favourite partnerships, in one of my favourite Championship XI’s featuring my favourite second tier striker.
Nathan Ellington’s goalscoring record at Championship level was already ridiculous before Roberts arrived. He’d already hit 18 in the season prior to Jason Roberts scoring, then to pair him up with the experience of Jason Roberts just wasn’t fair.
To make matters worse, the due already had a stint at Bristol Rovers together where Ellington was just coming through and Roberts already established.
But in that 04/05 side, they were terrific. Again, a partnership that had everything. Ellington was clever with his feet and his finishing ability was even better. Roberts, a more rounded number 9 complemented Ellington, and Ellington complemented Roberts.
In that season, the Ellington hit 24 and Roberts 21, both being voted in the PFA team of the year and both being promoted with Wigan. Sadly, Ellington moved onto West Brom and Roberts stayed at Wigan, enjoying a fruitful couple of seasons in the Premier League before moving to the cult Blackburn Rovers side that featured the likes of Emerton, Gamst Pedersen and Santa Cruz.
3. Danny Ings and Sam Vokes
Talk about coming out of nowhere. Before being paired up together for the 13/14 season, Danny Ings was a back up striker, impact at best for Burnley and only scoring 6 in 47. Vokes was a bit of a journeyman, gracing 8 clubs, including 6 loan spells out. Also only managed 4 goals the season prior to 13/14.
But it just clicked. Sean Dyche made it click. I’ve never seen a duo complement and punish sides the ways these two did.
Danny Ings helped himself to 21 that season, his career best to that date. Vokes hit 20, his career best. Given that Vokes is somewhat of a target man, to hit 20 is an incredible return for a player who hadn’t really settled anywhere before joining Burnley.
Their careers have gone in different paths since, with Ings moving onto Liverpool and then Southampton where he is on course for an International call up. Vokes is now at Stoke City after staying at Burnley and forming another pretty decent partnership with Andre Gray.
4. David Johnson and Marlon Harewood
Marlon Harewood had everything. Good in the box and in the air, tireless, could finish and was quicker to the ball than the defenders. Johnson had a point to prove following a big money move to Forest under DAvid Platt that didn’t get going.
That was until 02/03 under Paul Hart when the pair were unplayable as Forest secured a place in the play offs. Any Championship (First Division at the time) fan who had the unpleasant experience of watching this pair dismantle their team should have taken it all in. As it was never quite the same.
After they hit 45 between them in a very attack focussed side under Paul Hart. It never got going again. Johnson suffered a number of long term injuries that would eventually lead him to prematurely call time on his career. Harewood continued to be a bagsman, moving to West Ham in the 03/04 winter transfer window and helping them to promotion.
5. David Nugent and Jamie Vardy
On paper, it should never have worked. But it did.
David Nugent, a Championship legend alongside £1m non-league signing Jamie Vardy. Who knew it would work out so well.
They were part of the Leicester 13/14 side who were ruthlessly efficient in all areas. Defensively solid, tireless midfield, goalscorers upfront. What more could you ask for?
The two forged an incredible partnership upfront, hitting 36 between them in the season they won the Championship. It was the classic modern partnership. Nugent drops deep on the turn, Vardy runs in behind.
But it nearly didn’t happen. Vardy struggled to settle at Leicester after the jump from non-league. David Nugent was a huge helping hand in getting Vardy going, and the strike partnership even blossomed into a friendship with Nugent being the best man at Jamie Vardy’s wedding.
Of course Nugent is still in the Championship for Preston following spells at Boro’ and Derby, and Vardy is a Premier League winner and England International. But remember, Nugent did that bit first.