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Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Aston Villa: Will Agbonlahor’s fitness make or break Villa’s season?

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It seems strange to say it really but Gabby Agbonlahor could have a huge influence on whether Villa play Premier League or Championship football next season.

No-one has ever doubted his quality but sometimes he can be soldier without a cause – as in he always tries but doesn’t always produce the goods.

However, before getting injured prior to the Fulham game, he had become instrumental in Villa’s fight for survival. That is perhaps the most frustrating thing about one of Villa’s long servants – who is still only 26. He has always had the speed and determination to change a game for his hometown club, and is obviously very fond of Villa and the whole set up, which is why we need him to start performing.

Despite the fact Gabby is Villa’s all-time leading Premier League scorer, with 60 – joint with Dwight Yorke – he is far from renowned as a prolific striker, but that’s not what his game is about.

During his 238 Premier appearances – the fifth highest of all time in the Premier League for Villa - he has caused defenders plenty of headaches, especially when he plays where he’s supposed to. But that’s another one of his most frustrating traits. When he starts or comes on as a substitute, he can be a game-changer, especially when playing out wide.

No defender can live with his pace and when he’s on song he is pretty much unplayable. Then he decides to drift inside and play almost on top of Christian Benteke in the middle and suddenly the threat has gone.

The reason for his sudden urge to play as a centre-forward has never been explained and only Gabby knows why he does it. However, if he keeps his discipline he can rescue Villa this season.

He hasn’t started as many games as he would have liked this year, mainly due to his niggling injuries, and we desperately missed him against Fulham last weekend. The game was crying out for someone who could offer something different, plus his speed down the flanks could have caused the visitors enough worries to sit back more and maybe not go for their one attack, which of course led to their equaliser.

Against Manchester United you need to play with a solid back line and try to it hit them on the break. We were never going to get anything out of that game, especially with United needing to wrap up the title, and perhaps it is a bad state of affairs that we were grateful it was kept down to three. Having said that, it was nice to know we did cause a few problems for them, especially in the second half, hitting them on the break, which is an area where Gabby can be so effective.

Incidentally, the last time we beat Man U was after a Gabby header in the second half on December 12, 2009, which gave us our first victory since 1996. Since that game, however, we have gone on another eight game winless streak.

But Gabby can score goals and he is more than capable of laying on a few too. Most importantly he’s got something no other player in the Villa side has got – out and out speed. He’s not always just a one trick-pony and before his latest minor setback, manager Paul Lambert was quick to sing his praises, calling him the most inform player at the club.

Gabby – who made his debut aged 19, making him Villa’s 16th youngest ever Premier League player – has notched nine goals in 33 games this year. Not a brilliant record, but not awful either.

Going back to Villa’s away win against Reading on March 16, which kick-started our late push for survival, he has been the player who has looked most likely to hurt defences.

Weimann and Christian Benteke have also been instrumental in most things Villa have done well this year, but Gabby has really started working hard.

At Villa Park the side still struggles, but away from home we have a real chance of beating the drop, and much of that is down to our counter-attacking style and pace on the break.

Agbonlahor, like many Villa fans and players, has only ever known top-flight football. It’s getting pretty desperate down at the bottom but hopefully some magic from Gabby will see us playing in the top flight again next season.

We live in hope, anyway.

Article by James Fisher

* Calling all Villa fans: Do you agree with James' view regarding Agbonlahor? Is he the man who can keep Villa in the top flight? Whatever your views, we'd love to hear from you.


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