STEVE Bruce says Darren Bent missed out on the chance of becoming an all-time Sunderland great when he quit the club just 16 months into his stay at the Stadium of Light.
But the Black Cats’ boss says that this Saturday’s game against Aston Villa – which marks Bent’s first return since engineering a shock transfer in January – is about far more than one player.
“For me, Darren did fantastically well and no-one can deny that,” said Bruce.
“His goalscoring record here was quite staggering and I think you could argue that the goals he gave Aston Villa when he left us last season probably kept them up.
“He could have been, in my opinion, one of the greats of Sunderland, and I’m talking about up there with the very best goalscorers in the club’s history, if he had hung around.
“The way he had started at Sunderland, I’m convinced that had he been willing to commit a substantial part of his career to the club he would have broken a lot of records and gone on to be a major figure in the club’s history.
“But that didn’t happen and it’s gone now, it’s finished, it’s history and we all have to move on.
“As far as I’m concerned, the over-riding thing is to focus on Aston Villa and not get sidetracked by the sideshow of Darren Bent’s return to the club.
“What is gone, is gone. We move on from it. And all I care about is how we perform in the game on Saturday and how important it is for us to try and get that win.”
Bruce has the deepest respect for Villa’s strength and the quality of individuals that manager Alex McLeish can put out, but also points out that the team Sunderland did the double over last season, with a pair of 1-0 wins, has also lost a couple of key players.
He said: “When you look at Villa’s side, you have to give them the utmost respect – terrific spine, with the goalkeeper and two centre-backs of the highest quality and they also have two top full-backs in Alan Hutton and Stephen Warnock.
“Apart from Bent, you look at the fact that they have matchwinners like Gabriel Agbonlahor or Charles N’Zogbia and you can see how dangerous they are.
“But they’ve also lost Stewart Downing and Ashley Young since we last played them and losing players of their calibre will hurt any side. They have the nucleus of a very decent side but then, if we play well, so have we.
“And we have more than enough in our locker to cause them problems this weekend and I believe that we have the ability to beat Villa this weekend.”