Bent in for hostile day but Black Cats have 'moved on'

Sunderland manager Steve Bruce expects Darren Bent to face a hot reception from the home fans when he makes his first return to the Stadium of Light with Aston Villa today.

The striker was involved in an acrimonious £18m move between the clubs in January after submitting a transfer request that shocked Bruce and the supporters.

"It's football so I think he'll be expecting it," said Bruce, who was also keen to highlight what Bent achieved in his 18 months at Sunderland, scoring 36 goals in 63 appearances.

"I think we have to acknowledge what Darren Bent did here, too. He was terrific here for 18 months – there's no disputing that – and, in my opinion, could have been one of the greats if he'd stuck around. He didn't, it's football, and sometimes it happens. All our disappointment was that it ended so quickly. But the great thing about football is we move on."

Sunderland were hit hard by Bent's departure and struggled for some time before recovering to finish 10th in the Premier League last season. Bruce has found himself under pressure after a shaky start to this campaign, heightened by the success of neighbours Newcastle, so a 2-0 victory at Bolton last weekend came at just the right time.

On the scoresheet at the Reebok Stadium were Stéphane Sessegnon and on-loan Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner, while 18-year-old Connor Wickham, an £8m recruit from Ipswich, made his first league start.

Bruce also signed 20-year-old Ji Dong-won in the summer, but he knows it will take time for either player to come close to emulating Bent.

He said: "It is very difficult to replace those goals. That's why Villa paid the money they did and that's why he's playing for England now. He is an out-and-out goalscorer, his goalscoring record here was fabulous, but we move on and we've invested now in Connor and Ji, and we've got Nicklas Bendtner on loan. We've brought in some good players here.

"In Ji and Connor, in particular, we've gone for the future. They're both learning their trade and we knew it would take them time to adjust but Connor last week was far better than when he made his debut a couple of months ago."

Last week's victory lifted Sunderland up to 14th in the table, three places and two points behind Villa. Bruce is confident better days lie ahead. He added: "Considering the disaster area we're supposed to be, if we win, with a quarter of the season gone, we'll be where we want to be, which is top 10."