Sunderland have been shocked by the news that leading scoring Darren Bent has requested a transfer request as struggling Aston Villa prepare an £18 million bid for the England forward.
Bent is the Black Cats' leading scorer this season with 11 goals, but the 26-year-old has looked off the pace recently, leading to criticism from Sunderland fans.
Arriving from Spurs for £10 million in the summer 2009, Bent has scored an impressive 36 goals in 63 games, leading to his recall for England and his first goal for his country against Switzerland.
An under-pressure Villa boss Gerard Houlier is lining up the striker to solve his side's goalscoring problems, as they have managed just 24 goals from 22 games.
Emile Heskey has only managed three goals, while Gabby Agbonlahor and John Carew have both failed to find the back of the net in the Premier League this season.
Bent has failed to develop a potent partnership with club record-signing Asamoah Gyan this season, as Danny Wellbeck has been impressive at the Stadium of Light.
Bent struggled in the Tyne/Wear Derby yesterday; his only real chance coming early in the first half when he found space in the Newcastle box only to have his effort saved by Steve Harper.
The request still will come as a surprise to many Sunderland fans as they sit sixth in the Premier League and are on course for a shock place in Europe this season.
In contrast, goal-shy Villa sit in the bottom four, with survival the only thing on their mind.
A club statement released by Sunderland read: "The club can confirm that it received a written transfer request from Darren Bent following yesterday's Wear-Tyne derby match."
The club must now decide whether the £18 million offered is value for money; the deal may depend on whether Sunderland can find a suitable replacement for the forward before the transfer window closes at the end of the month.
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