He may be deemed surplus to requirements at Villa Park, butDarren Bent’s loan arrangement with Derby County seems to be working out quite nicelyfor Steve McClaren’s men at the moment. His double against Blackburn aftercoming on as a second-half substitute for the Rams, ensured that County movedback level with Bournemouth at the top of the Championship table. They now onlytrail the league leaders on goal difference. Bent now boasts an impressiverecord of three goals in as many matches for his new side, as they look tomaintain their position in the automatic promotion places.

With Derby and Blackburn having safely negotiated theirfourth round FA Cup matches at the weekend, confidence was high in both campscoming into the midweek fixture. Derby had enjoyed a comfortable victory overChesterfield, while Blackburn took the Premier League scalp of Swansea City.

Derby found their opponents in resilient mood and it wasnot until the introduction of Bent in the second-half, before they were able tobreak them down. Utilising his predatory instincts, developed over many yearsin the game, he scored the opener on 68 minutes from Ryan Shotton’s long-throw.

The home fans were grateful for the reactions of their goalkeeper Lee Grant to maintain their slender advantage, as he repelled efforts from both Chris Brown and Tom Cairney for the visitors, as they sought the equaliser.

Derby continued to be the dominant force for much of the game but seemed unable to reflect that superiority on the scoreboard.     

Indeed, it was not until the dying moments of injury time before the game was madesafe for the home side, when Bent was again in the right place to stab in arebound, after fellow striker Chris Martin’s shot have been initially saved.

In an intriguingbattle at the top of the table, five teams are now separated by only two points,with sixth place Watford only four points from the summit themselves. Itpromises to be an entertaining run-in until the end of the season for theneutrals, if the positions continue to chop and change on a weekly basis, as seems likelyat present.