Darren Bent admits that Aston Villa midfielder Conor Hourihane has been “hard done by” after struggling to nail down a place in Dean Smith’s side this season.

The former Villa and England striker, speaking exclusively to Football Insider assistant editor Russell Edge, says that the Republic of Ireland international has rarely let his side down when called upon by his manager.

Hourihane has played eight times in the Premier League this season but has only started consecutive top-flight games twice.

Having seen the 28-year-old return to the starting XI against Newcastle United on Monday evening, Smith playing him alongside Douglas Luiz and John McGinn, Bent says he has been unlucky not to play on a more regular basis.

Bent told Football Insider: “He has been hard done by but I think really, I like Douglas Luiz, I like the three in there of Douglas Luiz, Jack Grealish and John McGinn – when you play them that’s a hard three to crack.

“He can count himself unlucky but all he can keep doing is do exactly what he did against Newcastle, which is make an impact and make a difference. Scoring one and making one, he can’t do any more than that.

“He did the right thing, he reminded Dean Smith that he’s still there, that he’s still going to put a shift in and that shows the attitude and character of himself.”

Hourihane has a total of 11 games under his belt this season, playing every minute of the Villans’ League Cup campaign alongside his Premier League duties.

He has contributed two goals and two assists in his eight Premier League outings to date.

In other Aston Villa news, Alan Hutton has suggested that Smith could hand a rarely-seen player a surprise run-out soon.