Substitute Darren Bent grabbed a late equalizer for Aston Villa in a 1-1 draw with midlands rivals West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, denying the in-form visitors a victory that would have lifted them to third place in the Premier League.
The England striker lashed in a left-foot shot from close range in the 80th minute, making a statement to new manager Paul Lambert after being stripped of the captain’s armband and then dropped to the bench following a barren start to the campaign.
“It’s obviously been a difficult couple of weeks, losing the captaincy first off, then finding out I wasn’t playing today, but I managed to score the goal to get a point,” Bent said.
Shane Long put the visitors ahead in the 51st minute when he showed quick reactions to guide home a low finish after Villa defender Ron Vlaar’s attempted clearance flew straight at the Republic of Ireland international.
While sixth-place West Brom have now made their best start to a top-flight season in 34 years, Villa stayed 15th, having won just one of their first six games under Lambert since he joined from Norwich City in the close-season.
However, Villa bossed possession for long spells of a match that only sprung into life after Long’s goal, his fourth in all competitions this season.
“The response of the players to falling behind was excellent — I cannot ask for any more,” Lambert said. “Everybody is in it together, we need every player to perform.”
Substitute Romelu Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea, nearly won all three points for West Brom when his deflected shot brushed against the post with stoppage-time approaching, but that would have been unfair on Villa, who also went close through Christian Benteke and Joe Bennett after the break.
In the end, they needed record signing Bent to get them out of trouble and he could not have picked a better time to show his eye for goal, with England manager Roy Hodgson in the stands.
Bent has been ignored in recent months by Hodgson and is no longer a regular with his club either following the summer signing of Benteke from Belgian side KRC Genk, but he showed he is one of the country’s most lethal strikers by taking just 11 minutes to make his mark after coming on, lurking at the back post after a bit of pinball in the area following a corner to steer home a predatory finish.
It was only the fifth goal West Brom have conceded in six games under Steve Clarke, who is defying the critics who said he would struggle to make the step up to manager after 12 years as an assistant coach at Chelsea, West Ham United and Liverpool.
“Having been 1-0 in front and with decent control of the game for long parts, we are a bit disappointed not to win, but then again, if you said before that we would come away from a difficult away game with a point, then we would have taken that,” Clarke said.
In a nice touch by Villa fans, a minute’s applause was dedicated to club captain Stiliyan Petrov in the 19th minute — the number of his jersey — with the Bulgarian still out of action after being diagnosed with leukemia in March.