Bent’s injury meant he missed the majority of the second half of the season and had to watch tensely from the sidelines as Villa narrowly avoided relegation.
Despite missing so much of last season, the prolific hitman still managed to notch ten goals; a scoring rate that was severely missed with Alex McLeish instead having to rely on the much maligned force of Emile Heskey, the frustratingly inconsistent Gabriel Agbonlahor and the raw youthfulness of Andrea Weimann to get them out of trouble.
Things have changed at Villa however and they now find themselves in a very different position to last season. Alex McLeish was given the boot to the delight of most Villa fans, replaced by up and coming Scotsman Paul Lambert, who had impressed with his work at Norwich City.
Lambert has wasted no time in dipping into the transfer market with Brett Holman, Matthew Lowton and Karim El Ahmadi all bought for a combined cost of £5.5 million. These signings will all improve the Villa squad in ways that McLeish’s signings struggled to.
Holman brings European experience to the table along with a versatility that allows him to effectively plug the wing and striker positions, similarly El Ahmadi who has already looked a good find based on his pre-season run out against Burton Albion. In Lowton he has shown ability to pick out emerging talent, with the right back a product of the Sheffield United Academy that has produced high quality defensive players such as Kyle Walker, Phil Jagielka and Kyle Naughton.
The interest shown by Villa in Feyenoord centre back Ron Vlaar and Ipswich’s Aaron Cresswell show that Lambert is looking to fill his squad with players rated highly by their respective league peers, and add depth to a squad that looked very thin at times last season.
However the most important news for Aston Villa is Darren Bent’s return from injury, which will be like having a new signing having missed him for so long. Bent is one of the few English strikers capable of popping up with a goal when the chips are down. His record for Villa of 19 goals in 40 games is something that his strike compatriots Agbonlahor and Weimann can only dream of right now. Performances on the International stage for England have reinforced the belief that here is a player that can do it at a high level and Villa are very lucky to be able to call on such a potent option.
If Aston Villa can get the balance right under Lambert’s attacking tactics, Bent’s goals could be the difference between midtable mediocrity and a return to competing with the Premier League’s big boys.
image: © Ben Sutherland