Substitute Darren Bent grabbed a late equaliser for Aston Villa in a 1-1 draw with midlands rival West Bromwich Albion on Sunday, denying the in-form visitors a victory that would have lifted them to third place in the Premier League.
The England striker lashed in a left-foot shot from close range in the 80th minute, making a statement to new manager Paul Lambert after being stripped of the captain’s armband and then being dropped to the bench following a barren start to the campaign.
“It’s obviously been a difficult couple of weeks, losing the captaincy first off then finding out I wasn’t playing today,” Bent said.
“But I managed to score the goal to get a point.”
Shane Long put the visitors ahead in the 51st when he showed quick reactions to guide home a low finish after Villa defender Ron Vlaar’s attempted clearance flew straight at the Ireland international.
While sixth-place West Brom have now made their best start to a top-flight season in 34 years, Villa stayed 15th in the 20-team standings having won just one of their first six games under Lambert since he joined from Norwich in the close season.
But Villa bossed possession for long spells of a match that only sprung into life after Long’s goal, his fourth in all competitions this season.
“The response of the players to falling behind was excellent – I cannot ask for any more,” Lambert said.
“Everybody is in it together, we need every player to perform.”
Substitute Romelu Lukaku, on loan from Chelsea, nearly won all three points for West Brom when his deflected shot brushed against the post with injury time approaching.
But that would have been unfair on Villa, which also went close through Christian Benteke and Joe Bennett after the break.
In the end, they needed record signing Bent to get them out of trouble and he couldn’t have picked a better time to show his eye for goal, with England manager Roy Hodgson in the stands.
Bent has been ignored in recent months by Hodgson and is no longer a regular with his club either following the summer signing of Benteke from Belgian side Genk.
But he showed he is one of the country’s most lethal strikers by taking just 11 minutes to make his mark after coming on, lurking at the back post after a bit of pinball in the area after a corner to steer home a predatory finish.
It was only the fifth goal West Brom has conceded in six games under Steve Clarke, who is defying the critics who said he would struggle to make the step up to manager after 12 years as an assistant coach at Chelsea, West Ham and then Liverpool.
“Having been 1-0 in front and with decent control of the game for long parts, we are a bit disappointed not to win,” Clarke said.
“But then again, if you said before that we would come away from a difficult away game with a point, then we would have taken that.”
In a nice touch by Villa fans, a minute’s applause was dedicated to club captain Stiliyan Petrov in the 19th minute – the number of his jersey – with the Bulgarian still out of action after being diagnosed with leukemia in March.