BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 12: Darren Bent of Aston Villa looks dejected during the Barclays Premier League match between Aston Villa and Manchester City at Villa Park on February 12, 2012 in Birmingham, England. (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
After coming in on the back of a record-breaking transfer in January 2011 to rescue Aston Villa's floundering season, a lot of Villa fans were looking forward to seeing what Darren Bent could do for the club in his first full season. Sadly, they were made to wait a while longer, as the top English goalscorer not named "Wayne Rooney" ruptured his ankle in a 0-0 draw against Wigan on February 25th and hasn't played a minute since.
Let's consider the games he actually did play, though, instead of mourning what could have been. According to WhoScored, Bent made 21 appearances in the league this season, scoring 9 goals. That's slightly less than one goal for every two games, which is what pure strikers like Bent tend to hang their hats on. He also scored in one of Villa's two FA Cup games, but it was the one that we don't like to talk about, so we'll leave it at that. Something that doesn't often get mentioned about the timing of Bent's injury is that he had really started to hit a decent patch of form in the new year, reeling off a goalscoring streak from the middle of January on into February after Gabriel Agbonlahor's hot start to the season had gone cold.
There were questions about whether or not he really fit into Alex McLeish's plans, as Bent is not known for his physical presence or heading ability. That said, it can't all be blamed on McLeish, as Bent suffered as much as anyone from the loss of Ashley Young and Stewart Downing on the wings. Their replacements were woefully inadequate, and the quantity of chances created for Bent in the opposition's box diminished drastically. If you were to describe Darren Bent's 2011-12 season in a picture, you'd probably use the one I did at the top of this post. Standing with his hands on his hips, alone and utterly powerless to contribute.
There have been murmurs, amongst a certain section of Aston Villa supporters, that the club should be shopping Bent around. He has a reputation, unearned though it may be, as a striker who gets his goals but won't help the club win. Discarding the rhetorical contortion required to imply that scoring goals won't win you games, I have a hard time tarring Bent with the "overrated" brush. He is what he is, a thoroughly one-dimensional player who will score bags of goals if you use him exactly as he's meant to be used. That said, when he's not "on," he can be tremendously frustrating. He gets caught offside regularly, and his first touch sometimes betrays him. Should he be sold? For the right price, yes, but I'd say that about almost any Aston Villa player at the moment. No one who watched Villa last season is convinced that our squad has "indispensables" in it, and I'd probably be sadder to see a homegrown player like Agbonlahor in a different club's kit. But I have a certain amount of faith in Bent after seeing what he did on his arrival to the club in the winter of 2011, and I have enough respect for Paul Lambert's intelligence to believe that if Darren Bent starts next season with the club, he will be back at the top of his game.