With Darren Bent’s Aston Villa career offered a reprieve in recent weeks, teammate Jores Okore has hailed the striker’s commitment so far in preseason training.
Manager Paul Lambert had previously stated in April that Bent was unlikely to appear for Villa again, following a season-long at Fulham, where he scored just 6 goals in 29 games.
However, with the club in desperate need for help up front, as main men Christian Benteke and Libor Kozak continue to recover from serious injuries, the former Tottenham man appears to be back in the fold.
Entering the final season of his contract, the coming campaign could be a crucial one for Bent, as he looks to show his scoring touch has not deserted him, and Okore believes the striker will prove his doubters wrong.
‘Darren is a great player. He knows how to score goals and you can see that in training,’ he said. ‘Of course now he’s back he will sharpen the attackers.
‘I think last season we were a little bit unlucky in that we had a lot of injuries in that forward position, with Libor and Christian,’ he added. ‘They had some long-term injuries, so when they come back we will look strong with a lot of different players available.
‘We will have quality in the team and quality on the bench. When everyone is back, that's what I am looking forward to.’
For Bent, however, the eventual return of his fellow strikers could well be to his detriment, with Lambert in the past favouring to line up with just one man up top.
A pure goal poacher, Villa’s lack of true creative options in the midfield has hampered the front man’s impact over the last two seasons, while he’s also proved ineffective the few times he’s been in the starting XI alongside Benteke.
Prior to joining Fulham in August 2013, Bent had scored just 16 times in 48 games between the 2011-12 and 2012-13 campaigns, with his recent form in stark contrast to that which made him one of the Premier League’s most coveted strikers the past.
Arriving from Sunderland in January 2011 as Villa’s record buy, Bent managed to net nine goals in 16 games the rest of the way to see the club safely survive relegation under Gerard Houllier, but that was the last time Villa Park would see the productive version of their £18 million signing.
While some would argue that he was always going to struggle when surrounded by such little talent in the sides of old boss Alex McLeish and Lambert, Bent has managed to score on poor teams in the past, with 13 goals during Charlton Athletic's 2006-07 relegation season a prime example.
It’s evident that Lambert has never warmed to him since arriving in 2012 but, having been unable to offload him earlier this summer – a glaring incitement in itself – and with so few other options available to lead the line, the 13-times capped England international now has the chance to salvage some of his damaged reputation.
Having once enjoyed a 24-goal season with Sunderland in 2009-10, nobody expects those kinds of numbers to ever return but if Bent can at least hold the fort until Benteke and Kozak are back fit then that will prove a decent job done.
How soon that happens is unclear, but one would hope he can use last season’s snub as motivation, with perhaps an eye for a January move if he can demonstrate at least some hunger in front of goal over the first-half.
Once so well-regarded, those reserved expectations are an indication of just how far Bent has fallen over recent years and, now in his 30s, things aren’t likely to improve much from here.