Forgotten man Darren Bent still worth a punt

Posted by Martin Laurence, WhoScored.com

Neville Williams/Aston Villa FC/Getty ImagesDarren Bent remains one of only six Premier League players to have netted more than 50 goals in the last four seasons (53).

Rewind three years. Sunderland's 2009/10 season ended with an unspectacular 13th placed finish, but in Darren Bent they possessed the Premier League's third top scorer (24), with the Englishman netting half of his side's overall goal tally.

Fast forward another 12 months and the striker had kept Aston Villa in the top flight with nine goals in just 16 appearances following a huge money move in January of 2011. The 29-year-old was a regular fixture in the England set up before an injury hit campaign under Alex McLeish saw him feature in just over half of the 2011/12 season.

- Bent would take pay cut for Toon move

Upon Paul Lambert's arrival at the club it seemed that the team would be shaped around the Londoner, after the former Norwich boss immediately installed Bent as club captain in the absence of Stiliyan Petrov. However, it took just three games for the armband to be strapped around the considerably larger arms of summer signing Ron Vlaar, and it was a decision that, while underplayed at the time, did not sit well with the forward.

Ultimately, though, the emergence of Christian Benteke has been Bent's downfall, with the 22-year-old Congo-born Belgium international scoring on his Villa debut against Swansea and though Bent opened his account for the season the following week at Southampton, he was subsequently dropped in the home derby against West Brom.

At the time, Bent stated: "It's been a crappy couple of weeks for me, finding out I was no longer captain before the Swansea game. And again on Sunday (vs WBA) to find out before the game that I wasn't playing."

The season went downhill from there; with injuries hampering what would only likely have been cameo appearances, and even when fit he was often omitted for the likes of Jordan Bowery, who had only previously played at League One level. He did sign off with a goal, and decent finish too, in the final game of the season, but it was a match that he only played due to a suspension to the talismanic Benteke.

While the young Belgian is at Villa Park, Bent is deemed surplus to requirements under Paul Lambert, but a player with his undeniably impressive goal record could surely benefit a number of top-flight teams.

It seems bizarre then, with it being common knowledge that Bent is up for grabs for a fraction of the £24 million that the Midlands outfit spent on him, that no concrete interest appears to have been shown as of yet, with both Fulham and Newcastle rumoured to be keen.

It's worth noting that, despite starting just 29 of a possible 76 league games in the last two campaigns, Bent remains one of only six Premier League players to have netted more than 50 goals in the last four seasons (53).

In that time, of the 42 players to net more than 20 goals, only three have averaged fewer touches per goal than Bent (64). Meanwhile, only Javier Hernandez has a better shot accuracy and chance conversion rate than the Englishman, whose respective figures since the start of the 2009/10 campaign are 46.2% and 19.1%.

It's common knowledge that Bent doesn't offer a great deal in terms of all round team play. Indeed, the striker has picked up just three assists for team-mates in the same timeframe, but he leads the line well, winning 2.2 aerial duels per game in his 54 appearances for Villa, and there are teams in the Premier League that were crying out for an out-and-out goalscorer this season.

A look at the lowest conversion rates of teams' starting centre forwards this season brings up an interesting bottom four of Everton (7.8%), West Ham (8.3%), Chelsea (8.6%) and Newcastle (9.5%), with the latter seemingly the front runners for Bent's signature at this early stage. Meanwhile, with Benteke around, it is evident that Villa had no such problems this season, with only United's starting strikers scoring a higher percentage of their shots (16.4%).

While a move to Chelsea is certainly off the cards, with their sights set on a far more high profile signing, the other three sides mentioned could potentially profit.

Some may say that a side of Everton's quality, who finished sixth this season, could aim higher, but Bent is proven at this level when chances are put on a plate for him. The Toffees ranked fourth for 'big chances' created this season (73), but only Manchester City missed more clear cut opportunities (66) over the course of the season. With a player like Bent leading the line, you'd expect those figures to improve markedly.

The forward's wages, however, could be a major deterrent to a board that are, shall we say, more frugal than most for much of the time. In turn, links to Newcastle make a little more sense, while that sort of money is seemingly also available at West Ham, who may well spend big on completing a deal for Andy Carroll.

Any such transfer, however, could yet depend on the Magpies stance over their former front man. However, while manager Alan Pardew seems less desperate to force through a return for Carroll, it's predictable that Sam Allardyce may have a breakdown if he is unable to secure the services of a man that his team were sculpted around this season.

If Bent were to make the switch to St. James' Park he could maintain the fact that his career hasn't taken a step backwards, though it wouldn't be the most popular transfer on Tyneside. He may favour a move back to London, with Fulham linked with an interest, but Newcastle seems a more viable financial and footballing option.

Bent's conversion rate this season, despite only starting eight league matches, was 15.8%. That's a respectable figure, and becomes more so when considering he didn't get a run in the side. In comparison, Newcastle's leading man Papiss Cisse failed to live up to his billing from the second half of last season, and despite improving in the second half of the current campaign, his conversion rate was down at a meagre 9.3%.

It seems clear that Bent's future lies away from Villa Park, but where is yet to be decided. Any transfer fee in the region of £5-6 million, however, he could still prove to be a real bargain.

All statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com, where you can find yet more stats, including live in-game data and unique player and team ratings.

ESPN Conversations