The Football League Paper - - MARATHON BET -

STRENGTH is great. Pace is bet­ter. But when it comes to suc­ceed­ing in the top flight, noth­ing tops in­stinct and tech­nique.

Charlie Austin’s eight goals for lowly QPR are tes­ta­ment to that. And it’s why Mid­dles­brough’s Chelsea loa­nee Pa­trick Bam­ford will surely follow suit.

The 21-year-old has now net­ted eight times for Boro to add to the 25 he hit for Derby and MK Dons last sea­son. Last week­end’s per­for­mance against the Rams was a mas­ter­ful ex­hi­bi­tion of all-round for­ward play that showed all the hall­marks of a class player in the mak­ing.

Many are the mus­cle­bound speed­sters who’ve ripped up the lower di­vi­sions by dint of over­whelm­ing phys­i­cal force, only to fluff it at the sum­mit of the game.

Rob Earn­shaw, Dave Nu­gent, Nathan Elling­ton, Mar­lon King – all of them ap­peared to shrink and slow in the face of top-flight de­fend­ers.

But those with wit and wil­i­ness, with that un­train­able nose for be­ing in the right place at the right time – they are the men no hulk­ing cen­tre-back can stop.

Play­ers with­out the phys­i­cal at­tributes sub­con­sciously com­pen­sate with tech­nique and in­tel­li­gence. If you can’t leave a man for dead or shrug him off, you need to shoot early or drift into his blind spot.

In the hel­ter-skel­ter Cham­pi­onship, that’s use­ful but not vi­tal. Higher up, where de­fend­ers are smarter and chances rarer, it is ev­ery­thing.

Bam­ford isn’t the big­gest, the fastest or the strong­est. Nor were Teddy Sher­ing­ham, Eidur Gud­johnsen or Den­nis Bergkamp. But all of them could craft a chance and fin­ish it, the sin­gle most valu­able cur­rency in the game.

Bam­ford – who looks like he’s run­ning in sludge but in­vari­ably hits the tar­get – is ex­actly the same.

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