English football's dying breed of strike partnerships

 

Roberto Di Matteo's decision to deploy Eden Hazard as his most attacking player in his final team selection as Chelsea manager may not have met with the approval of club owner Roman Abramovich.

But the Italian, sacked just hours after his side's 3-0 Champions League defeat by Juventus, was certainly in keeping with a tactical trend.

Gary Lineker and Peter Beardsley

Beardsley was the perfect foil for Lineker

With Barcelona's free-scoring Lionel Messi as their model, various managers have attempted to do without a traditional centre-forward. Most recently, Brendan Rodgers asked Jonjo Shelvey to plough a lone furrow in attack in Liverpool's 2-2 draw with Young Boys in a Europa League game.

Former England and Tottenham forward Gary Lineker took to Twitter to bemoan a "dying breed"  under the hashtag #prayforstrikers.

On Monday at 19:00 GMT, ex-England, Liverpool, Real Madrid and Manchester United frontman Michael Owen will debate the dearth of genuine strike partnerships when he appears on this week's edition of Radio 5 live's Monday Night Club.

So it seems the perfect opportunity to look back at a time when teams played with not just one but two men up front.

Premier League strike partnerships:

1993-94: Andy Cole & Peter Beardsley, Newcastle United, 55 goals. (42-game season). Promoted to the Premier League the season before, Newcastle stormed the top flight, finishing third as Cole and Beardsley plundered the goals under an attack-minded Kevin Keegan.

Other potent pairings

1995-96: Robbie Fowler and Stan Collymore, Liverpool (42 goals).

1996-97: Alan Shearer and Les Ferdinand, Newcastle (41 goals).

2001-02: Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Manchester United (40 goals).

2009-10: Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka, Chelsea (40 goals).

1999-2000: Dwight Yorke and Andy Cole, Manchester United (39 goals).

A 21-year-old Cole had arrived at St James' Park as a club record £1.75m signing in February 1993, with Beardsley, at the opposite end of his career, following in a £1.5m move from Everton in July at the age of 32.

The movement and finishing instincts of Cole allied with Beardsley's intelligence in a slightly deeper role provided a devastating double act.

Cole, who made one league appearance for Arsenal as a youngster, found the net in his third top-flight appearance for the club - a 1-1 draw at Manchester United - and went on to score 34 league goals.

Beardsley managed 21, which was the most prolific campaign of his career but the pair's partnership lasted only one whole season, with Manchester United prising Cole away from Tyneside in January 1995.

1994-95: Alan Shearer & Chris Sutton, Blackburn Rovers, 49 goals (42-game season). Owner Jack Walker once again signalled his intent for Blackburn when he broke the British transfer record to sign Shearer from Southampton £3.3m in 1992 and Kenny Dalglish's side finished fourth and second in the following two seasons.

Alan Shearer and Chris Suton

'The SAS' celebrate their Premier League win.

But the arrival of Sutton from Norwich for £5m, in what was another record deal, in 1994 took Rovers to another level.

The Shearer and Sutton partnership was quickly nicknamed 'SAS' as they battered defences. Both powerful front-men, they were given reliable service from wingers Stuart Ripley and Jason Wilcox and were also capable of stunning long-range efforts.

Shearer scored a total of 34 goals, while Sutton provided 15 as Blackburn won a first league title since 1914.

1999-2000: Kevin Phillips and Niall Quinn, Sunderland, 44 goals (38-game season). Just like Newcastle had been six years before, the Black Cats were the Premier League's surprise package in their first season after promotion largely thanks to this little and large combination.

Phillips had been playing non-league football at Baldock Town five years before but wasted no time in taking to the Premier League and ended up with 30 goals.

Target-man Quinn was 32 when Sunderland returned to the top-flight and contributed 14 goals of his own, his second highest tally in the top flight, as Peter Reid's men finished seventh.

English football's other deadly duos:

Gary Shaw and Peter Withe

Shaw and Withe spear-headed Villa's success

John Toshack and Kevin Keegan (Liverpool 1971-77). The classic big and little man duo, Toshack and Keegan once took telepathy tests and dressed up as Batman and Robin as well as forming one of the most potent partnerships in the history of the English game, winning three league titles and the European Cup together.

Gary Shaw and Peter Withe (Aston Villa, 1980-82). Withe arrived from Newcastle in 1980 and scored 20 goals in his opening season as Villa won the league in 1981, which saw Shaw voted PFA young player of the year, and then scored the winner in the European Cup final victory over Bayern Munich the following year

Kenny Dalglish and Ian Rush (Liverpool, 1980-87). Rush is Liverpool's record goal-scorer with 346 across two spells at Anfield and his combination with the creativity and similar scoring power of Dalglish was crucial for the Reds in the early 1980s.

Ian Wright, Mark Bright and Andy Gray

Wright and Bright fired Palace to promotion and a cup final.

Gary Lineker and Peter Beardsley (England, 1986-92). Years before he was paired with Cole, Beardsley helped get the best out of another poacher. Lineker, who rates Beardsley as the best strike-partner of his career, was the top-scorer at the 1986 World Cup with six goals and the partnership was still going when Bobby Robson's side reached the semi-final of the 1990 World Cup in Italy.

Ian Wright and Mark Bright (Crystal Palace 1987-91). There was more to this partnership than rhyming surnames and, after sharing 45 the previous season, they scored 44 goals between them to get the Eagles into the top division in 1989. They reached the FA Cup final in 1990 and the following season Wright and Bright fired Palace to a third-placed finish - as well as both scoring hat-tricks in an 8-0 League Cup win over Southend.

And from the lower leagues:

Alan Warboys and Bruce Bannister (Bristol Rovers 1973-74). The two Yorkshiremen were labelled 'Smash and Grab' by someone on the Rovers' marketing staff and they scored 40 goals between them on the way to promotion from the third tier.

Brian Clough

Clough suffered a "Smash and Grab" at Brighton

During their incredible campaign, they scored seven between them in an 8-2 victory at Brighton, who had recently appointed Brian Clough as manager.

"I got a hat-trick in the first half and big Alan got four," Bannister told BBC Sport. "Big Alan had a cut on his eye and he was going to get some stitches. Cloughie came in and said 'What's up with you lad? It must have been self inflicted because we didn't get within 20 yards of you all afternoon.'

"Someone at Bristol Rovers had thought up the catchphrase 'Smash and Grab' and put up 'Wanted' posters with us on all over town. We just clicked straight away. He's a big fella and was a very good player on the ball. It's just a matter of reading each other. I could play him in or he could get a touch or a flick and I'd say 'Thank you very much' and stick it away."

Steve Bull and Andy Mutch

Bull and Mutch were prolific at Molineux

Ken Wagstaff and Chris Chilton (Hull City 1964-71). The east Yorkshire club's top-two goal-scorers of all time were once described by Brian Clough as the best two players not to play in the top-flight.

A prolific striker with Mansfield before his move to the Tigers, Wagstaff, who celebrated his 70th birthday on Sunday, was voted player of the century by fans of both clubs.

Stocky and powerful, he combined perfectly with the taller and equally predatory Chilton, who is Hull's top scorer of all time with 222 goals in more than 400 appearances. Wagstaff almost matched him, finishing with 197 goals.

Steve Bull and Andy Mutch (Wolves 1986-93). In their first full season together, Bull and Mutch scored 53 league goals between them to earn the West Midlands club promotion from the old Fourth Division.

They shared 58 more to earn another promotion the following season, with Bull, still officially a third-tier player, winning the first of 13 England caps, scoring in a 2-0 friendly win in Scotland.

Signed from fierce local rivals West Bromwich Albion, Bull went on to score more than 300 goals for Wolves, with Mutch bagging just over 100.