There was a time when Sunderland fans proclaimed that Darren Bent was "effing dynamite in red and white". Yesterday he was vilified as a pantomime claret-and- blue-clad Villan as Wearside hailed an explosive new goalscoring hero.
Nine months on from his£24 million deadline-day move, Bent could hardly have endured more dog's abuse had he taken to the field in a black-and-whiteNo 9 shirt. "One greedy bastard," the locals declared, with scant regard for factual correctness. There have been a fair few greedyso-and-sos in the top flight other than the man who moved to Villa Park to be closer to his family, to further his England ambitions – and for a reported £30,000-a-week wage hike.
It was not the happiest of returns for Bent, nor the best of days for Villa, who – not for the first time this season – contrived to snatch a draw from the jaws of a looming victory.
In his 18 months in the Sunderland No 11 shirt Bent plundered 36 goals. Yesterday he drew a blank, denied with his best effort by the left boot of Kieran Westwood, Sunderland's substitute keeper. "What a waste of money," the home fans mocked.
It was a point for debate. At £8m, Connor Wickham cost £16m less than Bent, and on the evidence of his first two Premier League starts since his move from Ipswich in June the 18-year-old looks a good-value bet to fill Bent's goalscoring boots on Wearside. Impressive in Sunderland's 2-0 win at Bolton the previous Saturday, the 6ft 3in teenager showed a deftness of touch from start to finish yesterday, not least when he landed his first goal for his new club seven minutes before the interval.
Sunderland had started the brighter but were a goal down at that stage – a good goal down. With 20 minutes on the clock, Gabriel Agbonlahor's low cross-field pass had found Alan Hutton on the right and the full-back rolled the ball inside to Stiliyan Petrov, who let fly with a left-foot drive that flew into the top-right corner of the net.
It was a superbly crafted strike, and so was Wickham's in the 38th minute. Kieran Richardson played a prompting pass to Stéphane Sessègnon and the Benin international worked the ball to Wickham, who angled a low, left-foot shot past Shay Given from the left side of the box.
Bent then came in for more abuse before the locals proclaimed that their new No 10 was "effing dynamite". Emile Heskey's elbow was pretty explosive too. In a challenge five minutes into the second half the former England man left Simon Mignolet with a broken nose, prompting a call from bench duty for Westwood.
It took a while for the summer signing from Coventry to get into the action on his Premier League debut. Until the 73rd minute, in fact, when Bent prised open the Sunderland defence, playing a neat wall-pass with Agbonlahor only to see his close-range shot stopped by Westwood's outstretched left foot. It was a fine save by the Irish goalkeeper and it drew a wry smile from Bent.
Villa's No 9 and his team-mates were celebrating in the 85th minute, however. Petrov dispatched a free-kick from wide on the left and Richard Dunne rose to glance a header beyond Westwood.
With the clock running down, it looked like the veteran centre-half had scored the winner in this fixture for the second successive season. Last time round he did so with an own goal, and in the metaphorical sense the Villa defence were guilty of another yesterday.
With a minute of regulation time remaining, Sebastian Larsson clipped a free-kick into the goalmouth and the unmarked Sessègnon beat Given with a header that earned Sunderland a deserved point.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Mignolet (Westwood, 53); O'Shea (Bardsley, 35), Turner, Brown, Richardson; Larsson, Vaughan (Meyler, 82), Colback, Sessègnon; Wickham, Bendtner.
Aston Villa (4-2-3-1): Given; Hutton, Dunne, Collins, Warnock; Petrov, Herd; Agbonlahor, Heskey, N'Zogbia (Albrighton, 88); Bent.
Referee Chris Foy.
Man of the match Agbonlahor (Aston Villa).
Match rating 7/10.