Aston Villa have received a pre-Christmas boost with joint top scorer Darren Bent returning to training ahead of the Boxing Day game against Stoke.

Five-goal Bent has missed Villa's last two games, against Liverpool and Arsenal, because of a thigh injury and also upset some fans when he was spotted Christmas shopping during the latter stages of the Liverpool game, for which he apologised.

But he was back involved with his team-mates at Villa's Bodymoor Heath training complex on Thursday morning, and manager Alex McLeish said: "Darren Bent trained this morning. It looks like good news. I saw him having shots at goals with the injured leg and there was no flinching at all. It looks as if he will make it for Monday."

Fellow striker Emile Heskey (Achilles) and central defender James Collins (knee) are also winning their races to be in contention for the trip to the Britannia Stadium.

McLeish said: "With Heskey, we think he should be ready. Collins should be okay. He trained this morning and we had to stop him doing extra.

"He is one of these guys who wants to extra but, because he has had a bit of a niggly knee we told him to go inside, but he should be ready."

McLeish is not expecting to be involved in any major business during the January transfer window.

He said: "Whether there will be any trading in January remains to be seen - but I don't expect to be too busy."

Source: PA