In retrospect, the writing was on the wall for Darren Bent when Aston Villa decided to appoint Paul Lambert. Wedded to a specific system that proved so successful at Norwich last season, it was inevitable that he would become Simeon Jackson to Christian Benteke’s Grant Holt. An impact substitute with £65,000-a-week wages. As expected, Brendan Rodgers deemed Andy Carroll surplus to his stylistic requirements at Liverpool and it looks like the same fate may await Bent.
Since leaving Ipswich, Bent has spent no longer than two years at his subsequent clubs – Charlton, Tottenham and Sunderland. He celebrates his two-year anniversary at Villa in January and this cycle may continue if the club can find a buyer willing to pay a sizeable chunk of the £18m that owner Randy Lerner parted with to acquire his services. Bent is also unlikely to be content with a bit part role, with designs on returning to the international fold. Having missed the European Championships in the summer with an ankle injury, he has also been omitted from every squad since.
Lambert is keen to utilise Benteke as the focal point of his attack with the likes of Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann supporting from advanced wide roles. Intensity and work ethic are of paramount performance and despite 20 league goals in 43 starts, Bent offers little besides his predatory instincts. He lacks the work ethic, physicality and discipline to play up front on his own, while Lambert appears unwilling to alter his system to accommodate two conventional strikers.
Lambert is perfectly entitled to stick to his principles, regardless of the players at his disposal, but his treatment of Bent does appear to have been particularly harsh. Having initially praised Bent and made him his captain ahead of the current campaign, he has since been stripped of the captaincy and relegated to the bench. Sunday
In Bent’s absence, Agbonlahor has returned from injury, scoring twice against Manchester City in the Carling Cup and netting his first league goal of the calendar year in Villa’s last outing, a 1-0 win at Sunderland. That was their first away win since January and best performance yet under Lambert, while the assist was provided by Benteke. The powerful Belgian scored on his debut, with Lambert referring to his marquee £7m signing as “unplayable.” He opened the scoring in the 1-1 draw with Norwich and also bagged a brace in the Carling Cup, during a 3-2 win at Swindon.
Unbeaten in three games, Bent’s exclusion would appear to be justified at present, as Villa look to climb the table. Currently stationed just above the relegation zone, Villa face a daunting run of fixtures, beginning with the visit of Manchester United on Saturday, a side they have beaten only once in 33 league games during Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign. They then visit Manchester City before hosting Arsenal, while their record signing watches on from the sidelines.
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