Sunderland manager Steve Bruce has claimed that Darren Bent`s move to Aston Villa was the reason why his former striker had been off his game in recent weeks.
The England international finalised a whirlwind £18million move to the midlands club on Tuesday night, just 24 hours after news of his likely departure from the Stadium of Light had emerged.
"It`s hugely disappointing that Darren has decided that his future lies away from Sunderland and the players, our supporters and the club as a whole has every right to feel massively let down," Bruce said in a statement on Sunderland's official club website.
"The timing is especially hard to take, given that we are progressing positively and are in a great position to push on.
"Everyone has been nothing but supportive of Darren in his time at Sunderland but it`s obvious he`s not been himself in training and and we`ve certainly not seen the best of him in games in recent weeks - and now we understand why.
"I`ve always stated that my aim is to build a talented, young squad for the long-term to help the club achieve sustained success and I want Sunderland fans to know our ambitions haven`t changed on that front."