Bent makes point
Simon Wilkes looks back on Aston Villa's 1-1 draw with West Brom, with Darren Bent earning a deserved equaliser
Last Updated: 30/09/12 7:48pm
West Brom came into the Villa Park derby with confidence sky high and started brightly, with Shane Long missing a great early chance.
Brett Holman was Aston Villa's main threat in a lively first half, but it was Long who fortuitously opened the scoring on 51 minutes, turning in James Morrison's cross following poor defending from Ron Vlaar.
Villa are a different animal under Paul Lambert, though, and after the Scot sent on Bent, Charles N'Zogbia and Barry Bannan, it was the England striker who made his point, coolly netting the equaliser with 10 minutes left.
Lambert made the bold selection to drop Bent to the bench, preferring Gabriel Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke up front.
Agbonlahor revelled in a more central role and was a constant headache for Jonas Olsson and Gareth McAuley, while Benteke caused some problems but displayed some woeful finishing before making way for Bent, who quickly showed him how it should be done with a clinical left-footed strike.
The Villa manager made three other changes from the last league game at Southampton with left-back Joe Bennett, midfielders Marc Albrighton and Fabian Delph brought in for Eric Lichaj, Barry Bannan and the injured Stephen Ireland respectively.
West Brom boss Steve Clarke handed a debut to summer loan signing, left-back Goran Popov, in place of the injured Liam Ridgewell (thigh) while Shane Long returned in attack at the expense of Romelu Lukaku, who had started against Liverpool in midweek.
Long justified his selection with an impressive display, running the channels, heading home an offside goal and then breaking the deadlock with a poacher's finish where he was simply in the right place at the right time.
Steve Clarke plumped for the 4-2-3-1 formation which has served Albion so well so far this season, with Claudio Jacob and Youssouf Mulumbu providing a defensive midfield shield and Chris Brunt, Zoltan Gera and James Morrison offering attacking support for lone striker Long.
Lambert played a 4-4-2 with Benteke and Agbonlahor leading the line, but a lack of width in both teams led to a congested midfield, in which Holman dazzled, going on surging runs, testing Ben Foster with two decent attempts and displaying great energy in the engine room.
Lambert had the luxury of making purely tactical changes, sending on N'Zogbia (66), Bent (68) and Bannan (71) on for Albrighton, Benteke and Delph as the visitors sat deeper and deeper.
All three substitutes made an impact for the hosts, giving them fresh energy and impetus - but it was Bent who struck the telling blow, keeping his cool when Ciaran Clark's deflected shot fell into his path 12 yards out.
Baggies boss Clarke, meanwhile, was forced into two of his three changes, with skipper Chris Brunt limping off with a hamstring injury and Billy Jones also going off injured in the first half, to be replaced by Graham Dorrans and Gabriel Tamas respectively.
Centre-back Tamas playing at right-back seemed a possible Achilles heel for Albion, who also had Popov making his debut on the left flank, but the Romanian had a storming game off the bench, denying Benteke a certain goal with a brilliant tackle and testing Brad Guzan with a cross-cum-shot.
The one change Clarke chose to make was withdrawing Long after 72 minutes, giving Lukaku a chance to impress. And impress he did, providing deep-lying Albion with a decent attacking outlet before he nearly grabbed a breakaway goal on 83, when a looping shot beat Guzan but struck the upright.
Cheshire's Anthony Taylor had a decent game, letting the match flow at a decent pace despite some meaty tackles from both sides.
He had a decent view of an Albion penalty claim on 11 minutes, when Popov's cross from the left flank struck Albrighton's arm in the 18-yard box - but gave just a corner, when a spot-kick might have been harsh on the Villa man.
He booked one player apiece, with Tamas going into his book to join Delph, who saw yellow for a rash tackle on 23 minutes.
There were 34,489 fans at Villa Park on Sunday, and all of them will have been cheered by what they witnessed in a decent derby showdown.
England head coach Roy Hodgson was in the stands and will be proud of the job Clarke is doing with his former West Brom charges, who are well-organised, hard to break down and pose plenty of attacking threat.
The Baggies are sixth in the table, having won three out of three without conceding at home, and look well placed for a top-10 finish as they have a squad full of top-flight experience and a strong spine made up of Foster, Olsson, Mulumbu and Long.
Villa, meanwhile, are a work in progress as Lambert seeks to repair the damage done during the dismal tenure of former boss Alex McLeish.
The supporters are fully behind their new manager and like what they're seeing, with Villa playing with pace, power, tenacity and attacking verve.
The Villans are improving with each passing week under the Scot's tutelage - and in Agbonlahor and Bent they have a strike pairing that can score goals aplenty once they've got an understanding going.
Young full-backs Matthew Lowton and Joe Bennett have bags of potential, and Lowton will learn from his defensive error which opened the door for Morrison to break the offside trap and create Long's opening goal.
In Guzan they have a safe pair of hands between the sticks, and Holman is the driving force of their midfield.
Villa may be down in 15th place - but there are plenty of reasons for them to keep looking up, especially with Lambert at the helm.