Darren Bent claims that Aston Villa midfielder Conor Hourihane has put himself at the front of Dean Smith’s thinking for a return to the starting XI after scoring twice against Crewe.

Speaking exclusively to Football Insider, the former Villa and England striker was left applauding the Republic of Ireland international’s approach on Tuesday night, insisting he showed the right sort of attitude after being dropped from the starting line up in recent weeks.

The 28-year-old had started against Tottenham on the opening day of the season but has been left as an unused substitute for the last two league games.

Having netted twice in a 6-1 win over Crewe, Bent insists that Hourihane has put himself right back into contention after being left as a squad player of late.

Bent told Football Insider“Conor Hourihane, he’s a very good player, very professional, he could have been one of them where you go to Crewe and you’re like: ‘Ugh, I want to play in the big games.’

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“He’s gone there, scored two goals and he’s right at the front for team selection next week.

“It’s tough, you don’t want to drop out the side and then sulk and it’s further and further away to get back. It will have given him a lot of confidence and give Dean Smith something to think about.

Hourihane was a crucial member of the squad which earned promotion back to the top flight last season, playing 48 times across all competitions.

With his appearance on the opening day of the Premier League season, he has now played at every tier of English league football.

In other Aston Villa news, Noel Whelan has told Football Insider that the club are facing a “massive loss” after a crucial transfer admission.