x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Darren Bent shows Aston Villa fans he was money well spent

Darren Bent went some way to repaying the £24 million outlay Aston Villa spent on him with a winning goal on his debut against Manchester City.

Aston Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor, right, tussles with Manchester City's Jerome Boateng.
Aston Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor, right, tussles with Manchester City's Jerome Boateng.

BIRMINGHAM // More money spent than Manchester City, up to £24 million (Dh140.4m) of it on the opinion-dividing talents of Darren Bent, Gerard Houllier accusing rival managers of ganging up on him because he is a foreigner.

"One of the most significant weeks in Villa's history," declared the club programme, capturing the agitation of Aston Villa's slump to the edge of the drop zone as much as the import of the events.

Manager and record signing had the most to prove. Houllier suddenly afforded the magnitude of spending so explicitly denied Martin O'Neill before his summer resignation; Bent required to justify bailing out on a Sunderland side 16 points and 11 places to the good of his latest employers.

Their vindication came early. Bent's predatory instinct carrying him to the six-yard box at precisely the moment Joe Hart palmed an Ashley Young shot into finishing territory.

The first shot of Bent's Villa career was unerring, virtually everything else that surrounded it defensive, but the combination sufficient to deliver just a second win in 11 league outings.

Villa's start was more energetic than focused, Richard Dunne directing an early corner kick over the bar before City steadily took control of the play. With Edin Dzeko used as a conventional centre-forward and Carlos Tevez buzzing free around him, first-half chances regularly fell the visitors' way without ever finding the net.

Impressively dominant, Aleksandar Kolarov almost caught Brad Friedel out with an inventively lofted free kick from acute angle.

Yaya Toure had a series of shots blocked in the area. Tevez completely missed a vicious Kolarov corner when unmarked in the six-yard box. Gareth Barry directed a header beyond Villa's goalkeeper only for it to drift a foot past the post.

In among all that Bent did precisely what he signed for.

Almost without a touch of the ball when Hart palmed out Young's low, curling strike, the England striker swallowed up the rebound and directed his first shot in Villa colours past the slow-to-react goalkeeper. Cue rapturous applause in Villa Park, yet no real alteration in their team's play.

Howard Webb's customary leniency allowed the home side to throw weight into their tackles as they attempted to close City down in their own half, but their attacking success before the break did not stretch beyond a brace of long-range shots. Mancini's interval alteration was to the formation, changing Dzeko's starting position to the left wing of a 4-2-3-1.

Tevez's tendency to drop deep was checked, while the Bosnian began the half with a blocked shot from the left and bullish header that flew marginally off target.

Villa continued throwing bodies at the ball - Marc Albrighton particularly stolid in taking a ragged Kolarov drive full in the face.

Mancini's next move was to alter personnel, withdrawing Barry - to the amusement of the midfielder's former supporters - for Adam Johnson.

Still Dzeko was asked to spend part of his time operate outside the striker's natural environment.

Friedel managed to get his body in the way of a Jerome Boateng's fine drive and Dzeko floated a weak header into the American's hands. Villa's opportunities were infrequent.

One break saw Young stretch Hart, another saw the England goalkeeper tee up the excellent Albrighton with a miscued clearance. Hart looks in increasing danger of succumbing to the national No 1's disease by the week.

Properly released on goal by Tevez, Dzeko drew his left-back to find the corner only for Carlos Cuellar to slide in and deflect the strike away. Further sterling defending saw James Collins, Ciaran Clark and Cuellar redirect a trio of netbound strikes, while Dzeko missed a target that appeared easier to hit.

An evening Villa spent heavily for. An evening City could ill afford.

sports@thenational.ae

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