Andrew Tuft’s Monday Column – Wanderers’ warrior fighting his way to the World Cup

With just one friendly remaining before Fabio Capello announces his World Cup squad, fringe players and dark horses alike are running out of time to book a seat on the plane to South Africa. Wayne Rooney is the only forward guaranteed a spot, with Jermain Defoe, Peter Crouch, Carlton Cole and Emile Heskey jostling to start alongside the Manchester United player and Darren Bent and Theo Walcott cursing loss of form and injuries respectively as they desperately try to avoid spending the summer on a beach.

Capello has selected a veritable plethora of names as he searches for the strike-force to fire England to World Cup glory, with the seven forwards listed above joining the perennially out-of-favour Michael Owen, Gabriel Agbonlahor and the now-retired Dean Ashton to make a perfect 10 of attackers capped by the Italian in the two years and 21 games since taking charge. The aforementioned host of big name stars from some of the Premier League’s most glamorous clubs could soon have a new member – a journeyman striker from one of the top flight’s less renowned outfits. With only three U21 caps to his name and having barely topped 100 goals in nearly 600 games, 32-year-old Kevin Davies seems an odd proposition to consider taking to the biggest stage in football, but the Bolton Wanderers captain deserves to come under serious thought for a first senior appearance in an England shirt when the Three Lions meet Egypt next month. England’s hopes rely on getting the most out of Rooney, and there are few players as gloriously self-sacrificing as the former Chesterfield, Blackburn Rovers and Southampton target man.

There will not be many players whose career began at Saltergate being tipped for international honours, but that is where Davies’ story started. After making his debut in 1993, Davies had four years in Derbyshire, highlighted by promotion in 1995 and an FA Cup semi-final in 1997, departing that year after 148 games and 29 goals in the blue of Chesterfield. The first of two spells with Southampton was Davies’ destination, spending a year on the south coast before Blackburn took him back north for £7.5m – 10 times what Southampton paid Chesterfield. James Beattie moved in the opposite direction as Davies’ career ground to a halt, scoring just twice in 29 games for the Lancashire side. He returned to the Saints in 1999, amassing 95 appearances and netting 13 goals in a four year stretch interrupted by a loan move to Millwall.

To that point in his career, Davies had made 311 appearances and scored 59 goals, striking roughly once every five games – hardly the tally of a feared Premier League striker, but following his release by Southampton and move to the Reebok Stadium, Davies found his spiritual home. The goals may not have flowed freely yet, and to this day the burly forward struggles to break double figures for a season, but it was in the Wanderers’ white that Davies finally settled. He hit the ground running with 10 goals in his first season for Bolton, nine of which came in the league, a figure only bettered twice in his career previously and only once since – last year, when Davies scored 12 times, leaving him joint-fifth top scorer in the Premier League, and level with Agbonlahor, Bent, Rooney and Frank Lampard. His 2008/09 form led to rumours of interest from Chelsea and a call-up to a preliminary England squad ahead of a match with Ukraine, but Davies failed to make the final 23.

After coming so close to a full international bow last year, Davies’ England chances are in many ways tied to the player he is most often compared with in the national team set-up, the aforementioned Heskey. It is easy to see why a comparison is regularly made between the two – both are ever-willing workhorses, challenging for every ball, putting their bodies on the line for the cause and forgoing their own goal scoring record for the benefit of the team. It could be said there is no need to consider Davies for England with Heskey around, but the former Liverpool striker has spent much time on the substitutes’ bench this term, starting only 12 games out of a possible 25, and has frequently struggled with injury. Conversely, Davies has started 23 of Bolton’s 24 matches this year and rarely misses action with a lack of fitness. If Heskey is unfit or out-of-favour at Villa Park, Capello will be forced to examine other options and Davies should be one of them. Numerous combinations of the strikers picked by Capello have been tested, but the Italian clearly prefers partnering Rooney with Heskey in big games, granting the in-form Scouser the freedom to roam the pitch, safe in the knowledge his man-mountain of a teammate will lead the line. Should Heskey’s injury concerns return, or John Carew displaces him from the Aston Villa line-up, Crouch, Cole and Defoe would each offer positives from the outset but none would replace the ex-Birmingham City striker as seamlessly as Davies. Heskey is perhaps the quicker of the two but pace is not a vital component of either man’s game. The same is true of goals, although Davies does have a better strike record of late, scoring 17 goals this season and last, only slightly fewer than the 20 Heskey has claimed since 2006/07.

Davies’ combative style might raise a few eyebrows on the world stage and lead to more than a few free-kicks going against England, but he rarely bridges the gap between hard and dirty despite what his critics say. Yes, Davies is again guilty of committing the most fouls in the Premier League this season, but it is three and a half years since he was sent off, last seeing red in August 2006 for a debatable raised arm, with most of his offences being innocuous tugs of the shirt or the slightest of nudges to a defender challenging for a ball. Much of that is brought about by the way Bolton have played for the majority of Davies’ time there, sending long balls forwards for him to fight for. Now, under Owen Coyle, Davies will hopefully get the chance to show he can hack it in a more refined style – yesterday’s all-round performance against Tottenham Hotspur, in which Davies displayed a deft touch to go with his usual battering ram approach is the stuff England dreams are made of. For Davies, those dreams may soon become reality.

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