Agbonlahor firing Villa to survival

Christian Benteke has grabbed the Aston Villa headlines this season, but Gabby Agbonlahor’s six goals in his past seven league games have been the catalyst to lift Villa towards league safety.

Three of those goals including the two yesterday have made Agbonlahor  Villa’s most prolific goalscorer in Premier League history with 63 goals.

“There is no doubt Agbonlahor’s on top of his game,” said Villa boss Paul Lambert. “His goalscoring has been excellent.”

Agbonlahor, a Villa fan and one-club man, is playing as a wide striker, with Christian Benteke at centre forward and Andreas Weimann on the other wing. It gives Agbonlahor, 26, the chance to use his speed.

He is in his best form for three years and Lambert said: “With his pace, you won’t catch him. When he goes on a run you need to be the Road Runner to catch Agbonlahor. When you have a player with pace coming at you, and he keeps coming at you, then you know you could be in for a hard time.

“The first time I saw it for us was at Newcastle, when he came on as a sub after his knee injury and he ran through the middle of the pitch in the second half.

“Agbonlahor must be one of the fastest – I’ve not seen anybody outrun him.

“He is a strong, powerful boy as well. He is definitely a handful.”

Former Villa favourite Stan Collymore is one of many who has has applauded Agbonlahor’s timely return to scoring form – and the helping hand he has given fellow goal-getters Christian Benteke and Andi Weimann.

 “Even when he is not scoring he is a vitally important player for Villa and it’s clear that Christian and Andi have benefited from his experience, judging by the way they have been knocking in the goals this season.

“That will have given Gabby a jolt and his return to scoring form over the past couple of games is a massive bonus in the battle for survival.

Lambert concurs. “Christian has been scoring all season, Andi is growing in stature all the time and with Gabby back to his lethal best that trio will pose problems to any defence.
Agbonlahor’s start to the season was delayed by injury, but he has 10 goals now, backing up Benteke on 22 and Weimann’s 12.

It is that firepower that is getting Villa out of trouble as they have now hit the usually safe mark of 40 points with two games to go.

“Agbonlahor’s only in his mid-twenties so he’s still got a lot of football left in him,” said Lambert.

“It’s a good thing if you can get that type of player. He’s a one-club man and that is unusual these days.

“A lot of things can be factors with players not playing well – whether it’s confidence, they don’t enjoy it, or they start to lose the feeling of winning.

“You have to play to his strengths. When Agbonlahor gets the ball and he’s on a run we’re asking him to make something happen, whether he takes somebody on or has a shot at goal.

“He knows the crowd at Villa, he’s been brought up with it, he knows the club like the back of his hand. If you have somebody that the fans can identify with because he’s local, it helps. Agbonlahor is the ambassador for the charity we support, Acorns, as well – which is a great thing and goes unnoticed in certain quarters. It is very important to him.”

When you are playing so well international football always comes back on the agenda for some.

Agbonlahor would be open to representing his country again for the first time since he won his third cap against Belarus in October 2009, but he is not sure he fits into Roy Hodgson’s current Three Lions selection policy.
 
“I’m not getting carried away,” said Agbonlahor following his crucial brace in Villa’s vital 2-1 victory at Norwich on Saturday, which took his tally for the season to 12 goals, including nine in the Premier League.
 
“The way the England squad is now, it’s different sort of call ups. He’s got players in there even if they are not playing.
 
“The likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, he’d not played much and then he gets a call up.
 
“It’s different to when Fabio Capello was here because he picked players on form. It’s different in that team now.
 
“But it’s the manager’s choice and I have just got to concentrate on Villa. I have always said that. Club comes first, and if country comes then it comes.
 
“If the call comes then I am ready, of course. But we will have to wait and see. All that’s on my mind now is playing for Villa and getting them safe.
 
Agbonlahor was last called up by Capello for the double header against Spain and Sweden for the double header in November 2011, but pulled out after being injured during England’s training camp.
 
“It’s hard to say if I am playing as well now as I was when I was called up,” he said.
 
"Playing for England is always a pleasure, but the main thing for me is playing for Villa and keeping fit because I’ve had a few knocks this season. I’m not really worrying about England at the moment.”
 
Agbonlahor has no regrets about opting to play for England instead of Scotland or Nigeria, who he qualifies to play for through his parents.
 
“No, I’ve got loads of family from there and Scotland, but my motto was you should always pick the country you were born in, definitely.”

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