As Aston Villa managed to take a 1-0 win and the three points from Sunderland in Saturday’s game, yet more of Paul Lambert’s impact appear to becoming evident.
Villa, one of the top teams for first half performances in the league, managed to close out the game and take a win, something that has otherwise eluded them so far this season. What was a positive sign from the game was the contribution of the team, and their work as a unit, with the lineup showing something about how Lambert expects his teams to work – together.
Missing on and off the pitch
Darren Bent didn’t travel with the team with the club citing a foot injury as his reason for being left in the Midlands. Whatever the reason for his exclusion, his role is becoming increasingly precarious in the team due to his one-dimensional play – many may cite his goal scoring record as fantastic, but the fact remains that his low work rate sits at odds with the way the manager wants to play.
In these circumstances, there are obviously arguments for and against the inclusion of Villa’s record signing, but his involvement has become increasingly marginal as the season has worn on. At the start of the season, Bent had been selected as the captain of the team – a surprising choice in the eyes of many fans – before losing the armband to Ron Vlaar.
Vlaar has, of course, displayed performances that vindicate Lambert’s selection of the Dutch international as the centre of the team, with “Concrete” Ron regularly keeping pace with even the fastest players in the league.
Bent, on the other hand, seems to have seen the removal of the armband as some kind of sleight on his character as he has withdrawn into his shell slowly after a positive start to the season.
This backwards slide has disappointed me as I thought he was going to turn a corner, and clearly the manager has felt similarly judging by his exclusion of a man who used to be the first name on the teamsheet.
Disappointed? I was after a great start by Darren
As I said in the last paragraph, I was impressed by Bent’s work rate over the first few games in terms of his role in the team, but I didn’t feel he was doing enough to keep the captaincy.
Evidently Lambert felt similar by taking the armband off him, presumably believing that the weight of responsibility was weighing on Bent’s shoulders, and not giving the boost he has intended it to. What had worked for Grant Holt at Norwich City sadly failed for Villa’s poacher.
Since then, the former Tottenham Hotspur striker has lost his place as well as his armband as Lambert begins the process of rebuilding the club in his image. Some are suggesting that the manager’s lack of use of Bent is almost malfeasant, as though the manager has some kind of axe to grind with Villa’s number nine and that, all things being equal, he should be back in the team as soon as possible.
Another statement that has arisen from fans is that Bent is being treated unfairly because the team is not creating chances for the striker, as though there is some kind of squad wide axe being ground. The same people are then pointing to the fact that chances are being created when Bent is removed as some kind of vindication.
Which is, to be frank, quite an outlandish conspiracy theory. If there is to be a simple explanation of the current situation, it is that the team work harder when Bent is not playing by virtue of the extra man trying harder for the ball. In terms of goals being scored, Christian Benteke looks every bit as good as Bent in the box, whilst also having more to his game via attacking the goal at range. The future for Villa’s front line looks increasingly Belgian led.
Looking ahead to January
With Lambert making noises to suggest that the team will be added to in the January transfer window – something that really is of no surprise to many of us – Bent may well be on his way out. This isn’t to say that he is definitively gone already, but rather that Villa’s team may need reinforcements that could be bought out of the sale of a player who is currently occupying the bench.
For example, Vlaar needs a partner, and Villa could do with a solid, commanding midfielder to partner Karim El-Ahmadi. In the eyes of Lambert, and with his ability to find bargains at home and abroad, the sale of Bent alone could buy two players that would help shore up Villa’s defensive record. Compare that to the cost involved to buy players that suit Bent’s style of play, and it works out as a simple decision in both financial and football terms.
I’d love nothing more than to see Bent win his way back into the team after he contributed more earlier in the season but, after injury has kept him out of a valuable win against Sunderland and our former manager Martin O’Neill, it becomes increasingly unlikely that he will push into the team, and increasingly unfair to drop players who have, at last, started winning.
If Villa continue to play well minus their record signing, the writing may well be on the wall for Villa’s number nine come January, much to the dismay of many of the club’s fans. Whatever the outcome in January, Bent will either be challenged by new additions or moving on to pastures new – either way, the England international would do well to work hard whether to help Villa or find a new employer as time on the bench only serves to increase Roy Hodgson’s overlooking of a former Fabio Capello favourite.
The time has come for action as only Darren Bent can make the effort to keep himself in the Midlands or find himself a new home. All that matters to fans is that he does what is best for the team, whatever the outcome.