Sunderland chairman Niall Quinn sensed Darren Bent problem weeks ago

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NIALL Quinn admits he sensed there was something wrong with Darren Bent weeks before the striker opted to leave the Stadium of Light.

Ever since recovering from the hamstring injury sustained on England duty in November, Bent has looked a shadow of the player who helped himself to 24 Premier League goals last season.

It seemed the striker was simply enduring a slump in form yet his transfer request just two hours after Sunday’s Wear-Tyne derby and subsequent move to Aston Villa suggests Bent was already looking at leaving Wearside.

Chairman Quinn (right) suspected as much and set his sights on maximising Sunderland’s income with Villa paying more than £24million to land the 26-year-old.

“I wasn’t surprised when he put the transfer request in because I had an inkling,” Quinn said.

“Darren is a terrific guy who has been great for us.

“He’s done loads of work for the club beyond playing football. He’s a really bubbly guy.

“Three or four weeks ago, I went up to the training ground and I just thought there was something up with him when I looked at his demeanour. Having been in the game, you can tell when there’s something up in someone’s head.

“It transpires that that’s what had happened. They were setting him up to come.

“They tempted him and he took the bait.

“When the transfer request came in that was the final nail in the coffin if you like. We could have tried to stop it but it was really hard after hearing he was already down there.

“All we could really do was try to get as good a deal as possible for the club and to start finding a solution to the problem he’s given us.

“I would never knock him for what has happened. It’s a tough one for us to accept but it happens in football.

“There’ll be people out there saying you can’t blame him because he’ll have had a very big pay rise to go to Aston Villa.

“I find it difficult because I would have been more motivated to try to get the club into Europe first. But it’s gone and happened.”

Quinn confirmed Sunderland will now look to inject a physical presence into their forward line before the end of the January transfer window with a more long-term solution likely to come in the summer.

But Quinn reiterated that Sunderland will not be making a move for Tottenham striker Robbie Keane – forever linked with a switch to Wearside.

“What we’re probably looking at to support Gyan and Danny Welbeck is a physical presence,” Quinn added.

“We just might need to toughen up. Robbie works well off a big physical player but we don’t have that now.

“Robbie doesn’t quite suit us now.

“We’re not going to replace someone like Bent perfectly in the next 10 days I don’t think.

“We’ll try hard and we might find a bit of a solution. But then we’ll look long term to find a solution too.”