KEVIN Phillips believes his former club Sunderland are paying the price for the loss of striker Darren Bent to Aston Villa during the January transfer window.
Phillips was looking to inflict more misery on the Black Cats when they visit his current side Birmingham today.
Bent was sold to Villa in a deal which could eventually be worth £24million to Sunderland.
But it has come at a cost as one point from the last eight games has seen Steve Bruce’s side slump from being European candidates to the verge of a relegation battle.
Phillips said: “I believe the loss of Darren Bent has been one of the major factors for Sunderland’s decline.
“We all know Darren Bent knows where the net is and Sunderland have certainly missed that.
“I think they went three games without scoring a goal, before last weekend (against West Brom).
“That just highlights the need for someone like Darren Bent.
“What he does for you is that he plays on the shoulder of people. I don’t think Sunderland have had that in the last few weeks.”
Phillips added: “Asamoah Gyan is an excellent player but he does a lot of work in unnecessary places for me, whereas Darren Bent, all he wants to do is get in behind and score a goal.
“Every team needs that kind of players because, simply, he scores you goals.
“It was a bizarre one (the transfer) wasn’t it? It happened so quickly and I commented on it at the time and maybe said something I shouldn`t have. But that was just a natural reaction.
“I was probably hurt as much as anything. Hurt and pleased in a way because if Darren had stayed, he would probably have gone on and broken all my records!
“But Villa have certainly got a goalscorer. When you are down in the regions of the league where we are, you need a goalscorer to get you out if it and he has chipped in with a few goals for Villa.”
Phillips said he would not be celebrating if he scores today and is glad that even if Birmingham win it will not have the consequence of sending Sunderland down.
He said: “I’ve sent a few clubs down over my time. I certainly wouldn’t want to be covering a game for the media next season if I did send them down.
“It won’t come to that. It’s always nice to play against your former team. I’d like to see them sitting in eighth, ninth, safe now.
“But that’s just the way football is.”