Early Doors

What next for Darren Bent?

Cast your minds back to February 1. Captain, leader, legend John Terry is still England's brave captain and leader, the world has never heard of South Korean pop chart-botherer Psy and his unutterably terrible 'Gangnam Style', and Darren Bent has just scored in four successive games for Aston Villa. A happier time for all, Early Doors is sure you will agree.

Switch back to last night and it was a rather different story. Aston Villa had to win at home to near relegation certainties Reading but with 10 minutes left it was 0-0 at Villa Park, Paul Lambert on the verge of a borderline disastrous result.

Bent, watching on from his box after being left out of the matchday squad entirely, was dressed in club suit and tie as his side struggled to find the elusive goal that he could have provided, the goal that would have propelled Villa to a crucial victory in their battle against relegation. A goalless draw would have brought intense scrutiny on Lambert's decision to exile him from the team, perhaps vindicated Bent in a small way.

But then Christian Benteke met a corner with a fine header after 80 minutes to give Villa the win, and quite possibly put the final nail in the coffin of Bent's Aston Villa career. Quite what it meant for Bent's enduring appeal as a footballer is now a subject open for debate.

It has been a spectacular fall from grace: from England's putative No. 9 approaching the Euros to a place behind Jordan Bowery in his manager's plans. A combination of a serious ankle injury, a loss of form and the fact that Lambert just simply doesn't fancy the man who cost Villa £18 million in January 2011 means he now fails to command a place in the squad of a side sitting 17th in the league table.

Bent's 2012 has only been marginally better than the BBC's - it has been an annus horribilis for the Aston Villa striker.

It was even rumoured at one point last night that having discovered he would not even be on the bench, Bent stormed out of Villa Park in a sulk. This was denied by a diplomatic Lambert after his side had snatched a late win.

"Did he storm off? No, not a thing," Lambert said. "I would tell you. I thought he was fine. I read the team out. The most important thing is Aston Villa. Darren was in the squad, it was the same on Saturday. I just picked the same group. I do what think is best for Aston Villa.

'But honestly, I don't have a problem with Darren Bent and I do rate him as a player. I've no problem with his attitude in training, none whatsoever."

If he did briefly throw a hissy fit then he certainly returned in time to watch Villa struggle for most of the match, only for Benteke to work his magic and continue the excellent form he has shown since joining the club from Genk for £7m in the summer.

It is not just Benteke's return of five goals from 13 games that have made Bent seem distinctly average by comparison - it is is all-round ability. Benteke has three more letters to his surname and about three more facets to his game. It is clear Lambert wants a multi-dimensional striker, not the Flat Stanley of football.

Lambert was effusive in his praise of the Belgian last night, and pretty firmly ruled out any suggestions that the two might play together in a two-man attack.

"He's done fantastic for me," Lambert said. "He was up against a big lad. It was a fantastic header. Bent and Benteke can play together - they did against Southampton. We got beat 4-1. I've got to pick a team I think will win. It's my decision and it's always going to be the case."

This difficult situation leaves Early Doors wondering what happens now for Bent - a man whose skill-set has suddenly come over horribly dated, like shiny skin-tight shorts and the League Cup. He is a player who has reduced his essence down to one simple thing: scoring goals. He does it fantastically well - and has done for years - but that is about all he does. For some managers that is not enough.

With Michael Owen turning his back on football to become a professional moustache grower, ED would be tempted to herald the death of the old fashioned poacher. Yet over at Bent's old club Tottenham, Jermain Defoe has held off Emmanuel Adebayor's rather unenthusiastic challenge to score 12 goals for club and country this season.

Goals are still a valuable currency in football, and though Lambert says he wants to keep the player, it seems a foregone conclusion that someone will decide Bent is worth the investment in January and take on his wages, pay a sizeable transfer fee and sign him up.

Liverpool have been mentioned as a likely destination and there is some logic to that: they are far too dependent on the goals of Luis Suarez at the moment. Conversely, though, why would you disrupt the Uruguayan's fantastic form as the lone striker in order to crowbar Bent into the side?

Less than a year after he looked a certain pick for club and country, Bent will surely be moving on in January, searching for a club where his predatory penalty box skills are valued. He must also try to prevent what is becoming an alarming slide into obscurity.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "The club regrets not having given more consideration before issuing a statement on the evening of Sunday 28th October. The club also regrets the subsequent impact the intense media scrutiny had on Mark Clattenburg and his family." - Peace on earth and goodwill to all men breaks out a few days before the start of Advent after Chelsea and the Premier League's referees have a kiss-and-make-up session at St George's Park.

FOREIGN VIEW: Shakhtar Donetsk striker Luiz Adriano has been banned for one game for unsporting behaviour during a Champions League match against Nordsjaelland last week. Rather bizarrely, the Brazilian has also been given one day's community service for scoring a goal when Shakhtar should have been playing the ball back to the Nordsjaelland keeper following an injury. Strangely enough, Taras Stepanenko has escaped punishment for tackling Nordsjaelland's Nicolai Stokholm when the home side expected to be allowed to dribble through to score from the kick-off in order to make amends.

COMING UP: We have a bumper night of Premier League action with eight games taking place. Manchester United play West Ham and Manchester City visit Wigan, but the undoubted highlight is Rafa Benitez's second game at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea welcome Fulham. All together now: Boooooooooo!

Before all that gets underway we have blogs from Jim White and Andy Mitten, as well as Alex Chick's latest edition of Tactical Brain. Oh, and a certain Fernando Torres goes Under the Microscope.