The Black Cats have never really recovered after losing the England striker with the goals he provided in the first half of last season never being replaced. Steve Bruce’s side slumped dramatically after Bent’s big money departure losing the momentum that saw them sitting comfortably in sixth place prior to his departure. That form has carried on into the current campaign with Sunderland conjuring up only two wins in the nine league game so far. Bruce also lost Asamoah Gyan in the transfer window but he was swiftly replaced by Nicklas Bendtner with the Dane hitting his second goal for the club in last week’s 2-0 win at Bolton. Despite a poor display the first half the Wearsiders turned on the style in the second scoring twice and winning for the first time three games. Connor Wickham started his first Premier League game since his big money move from Ipswich and the 18-year-old didn’t look out of place. His promising display coupled with the team coming away with three points seem to have halted the grumbles over the tenure of Bruce and the Stadium of Light faithful have got back to supporting the side instead of complaining about the manager. Bruce has no fresh injury concerns to worry about and is likely to stick with the same eleven that came away from the Reebok Stadium victorious last Sunday. There is no doubt the Black Cat’s fans will create a hostile reception for their former goalscoring hero and will do all they can to distract Bent from his task of scoring against them.
Should he find the net Bent has sworn not to celebrate but there is no doubt he will take great pleasure in inflicting defeat upon those who criticised his move to the Midlands. Villa have suffered back-to-back defeats after starting the season with a seven man unbeaten run only for that to be halted at the hands of Manchester City two weeks ago. West Brom beat them at Villa Park last week and another defeat would be their worst run of form since December when Gerard Houllier was charge. Things have changed under McLeish with the Villans now harder to break down and looking like a more formidable outfit. The Scot has tightened up a defence that was leaking all over the place under Houllier and they’ll be banking on Richard Dunne and James Collins to keep Wickham and Bendtner quiet up front. At the other end Bent and strike partner Gabriel Agbonlahor have been in steady goalscoring with the latter turning in some eye catching performances in the early stages of the campaign. The Midlanders will be confident of emerging victorious from this encounter considering they’ve lost only one of the last five meetings in the North East. McLeish will have to do without in-form midfielder Barry Bannan after his suspension from the club following his arrest for drink driving in the week. Former Newcastle midfielder Jermaine Jenas could finally make his debut after signing on loan from Spurs whilst Alan Hutton should play following a facial injury.
Sebastian Larsson – Arguably the most successful of Bruce’s summer signings the former Birmingham midfielder has been in superb form so far this campaign. His goals and assists have been key in recent games whilst his forays up and down the right wing provide the Black Cats with some much needed balance in midfield.
Darren Bent – Who else for Villa? The former Sunderland hero will be the pantomime villain on Saturday and he’ll be determined to silence the chorus of boos that is likely to coincide with his appearance at the Stadium of Light. They should be wary though of his sharp movement and penchant to play on the shoulder of a defence lacking in pace.