BY RICHARD CAWLEY
Macauley Bonne used to wear a shirt with Darren Bent’s name and number on it. Now he is scoring goals for Charlton Athletic – just like his idol did at the Valley earlier in the millennium.
“In some ways, it doesn’t feel real.” That’s a comment that the 24-year-old forward, who was a cut-price signing from Leyton Orient in the summer, uses more than once when I caught up with him on Tuesday.
But Bonne is getting used to his Championship surroundings – he scored his sixth goal of the season in Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Sheffield Wednesday at The Valley.
The Ipswich-born frontman came through the youth ranks of his home town club when Bent was the crown jewel in the Tractor Boys’ first team.
“He was the first striker I really remember,” said Bonne. “When I was a kid at Ipswich I used to get compared to him.
“It was Darren Bent and Darren Ambrose who were the ones who stood out. I ended up playing with Darren Ambrose at Colchester. He is a very nice guy and we’re friends. It doesn’t seem real.
“I remember watching Darren Bent when I was seven or eight. I’ve still got a shirt at home with the number 18 and his name on it.”
Bent was top scorer for two consecutive Premier League seasons for Charlton – a snip of a buy at £2.5million. He was sold for a club record £16.5m to Tottenham in 2007.
Bonne had told the South London Press in the summer that he was nowhere near ready to play in the league for Charlton.
But his chance has come – due to injuries to more established frontmen Lyle Taylor and Tomer Hemed – and he has taken on the challenge.
“I’ve been thrown in and I’ve had to man up,” said Bonne. “I’m learning the Championship in every game and I’ve enjoyed it so much.
“I feel a lot more comfortable getting on the ball.
“I’ve learned you need to be a clever player at this level. When I was playing in the Conference last season you don’t get defenders who are strong, fast and tackle hard – but some can do everything in the Championship.
“They play tight to you and you have got to be clever with your movement in and around the box to free up a bit of space, to give you that half a yard to score a goal.”
When asked for his most difficult defensive opponents this season, Bonne picks out Sheffield Wednesday’s Dominic Iorfa and West Brom’s Semi Ajayi, once on the books of the Addicks.
“I don’t fear anyone but they have been the toughest,” he adds. “You’ve got to get them out of position to try and move other players into the game.”
Bonne keeps every matchday programme and also has the Charlton shirts he wore for his debut – the 2-2 draw at Barnsley in August – and his first start. The latter was a dream, scoring the only goal as Leeds were vanquished 1-0 in SE7.
“I don’t remember much about how it went in [the ball being pushed back out by Leeds keeper Kiko Casillas and striking him]” he said. “Of course they all count – if I hadn’t been in the area then the ball wouldn’t have gone in.
“If it says ‘Bonne goal’ on the scoresheet then I don’t care how they go in.
“I like all my goals. Derby County was probably my best finish. But if I had to pick one it would be scoring on my birthday at West Brom, especially at The Hawthorns – I used to watch them on Match of the Day when they were a Premier League team.
“I’d like to get to double figures but I’m already grateful to have six Championship goals in my first season. Everything now is a bonus for me. All I’m worried about is Charlton winning.
“I’ve been waiting two years to get a proper chance in the big leagues. Hopefully now people can see I’m taking my chances.”