West Bromwich Albion arrived here yesterday looking to emphasise their newly acquired status as Midlands top dogs – and they very nearly rubbed Aston Villa's noses in it. Leading through Shane Long's 51st-minute goal, it took a late strike from Darren Bent to earn Paul Lambert's team a point.
It was one that Villa deserved on the basis of their vibrant first-half showing, and came as Bent proved a different kind of point. The England striker began on the bench as Lambert started with Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor in attack, but he came on for the former in the second half and gave a timely reminder of his predatory powers with a close-range finish late on.
Ron Vlaar nodded on a Barry Bannan corner, Ciaran Clark had a shot blocked and the ball ran to Bent who applied an impeccable finish, with a cool volley inside the far post.
Bent later told Sky TV he had endured "a difficult couple of weeks", losing the captaincy and then his starting place. Lambert preferred to focus on the goal. "It was a world-class finish. That is what he does."
The watching England manager, Roy Hodgson, may need some convincing about Bent, who has yet to feature in his squad, but Lambert said: "[Bent] has got nothing to prove to me. I know what he can do."
Bent's goal denied Albion a second successive victory at Villa Park, and stopped them climbing to third in the table. As for Villa, they sit 15th, with just one Premier League win so far, but there were more encouraging signs after last Tuesday's 4-2 victory at Manchester City in the Capital One Cup. Lambert wants young and hungry players and his starting XI featured six players aged 23 or under and just one survivor, Agbonlahor, from this fixture last term.
Villa's Australian Brett Holman nearly provided a spectacular goal after 25 minutes, launching a half-volley from 30 yards that would have dipped under the crossbar but for a magnificent save by Ben Foster.
Albion had little to show, yet six minutes after the restart they were in front. Villa captain Vlaar got to James Morrison's low cross first but swiped weakly at it and knocked it on to Long who tapped in.
"The response was great, especially after 120 minutes the other night," said Lambert.
West Brom boss Steve Clarke said: "The players were disappointed to come to Villa and only get a point. That speaks volumes."