In an Aston Villa season deserving of the label ‘relegation battle’, the majority of the headlines have come from Christian Benteke’s goal tally, with the performances of players such as Andi Weimann, Brad Guzan and Matthew Lowton also getting warranted recognition. But playing a decisive but often-overlooked role in the fortunes of Aston Villa has been their longest-serving player, Gabriel Agbonlahor.

Agbonlahor has polarised opinion amongst fans for much of his Villa career. There are those who  see the 26-year-old Villa player as a born-and-bred, true and loyal Villan, a talisman that should be one of the first names on the team sheet.  Others though, argue that the only reason he’s been at the club for so long is, unlike the likes of Milner, Young, Downing and Barry, that nobody thought he was good enough to buy; largely due to a questionable scoring record considering his duration at the club.

Indeed, at several points during his Villa career so far, Agbonlahor has been one of the more heavily criticised players at the club. This is probably down to the fact that his form has varied wildly since his first-team debut against Everton on 18 March 2006, a 4-1 defeat in which he scored Villa’s consolation.

Yet, by scoring Villa’s sixth in their 6-1 demolition of Sunderland, Agbonlahor secured the place in Villa’s history that he deserves by becoming Villa’s outright Premier League all-time record goalscorer.

 

gabby silences doubters
Gabby finally beginning to silence his doubters

 

His two goals at Carrow Road last Saturday were vintage Agbonlahor – the first a driving run from his own half before firing into the bottom corner from 25 yards, and the winner coming from a wonderfully timed run (the fact Villa now have a player in Ashley Westwood who can slide passes through a defence rather helps their cause) and a trademark low finish into the same bottom corner.

With Agbonlahor, one feels it is all about confidence. These were two goals that it was almost impossible to imagine Agbonlahor ever scoring at this stage last season. He went eight months in 2012 (from January to September) without scoring in all competitions, with an even longer dry spell in the league – after scoring in the 3-2 home win against Norwich on 5th September 2011, he did not score a league goal until the winner at Sunderland on 3rd November 2012.

Any Villa fan who has been a regular at Villa Park throughout Agbonlahor’s career will have seen both the best and the worst of his football. From the start of 2008-2009 to the end of 2009-2010, he scored 29 competitive goals for Villa; in the next two seasons he scored a total of 11.

When on form he is lethal in the opposition third and a nightmare for any defender. When off form, the goals dry up and his head often drops.

However, despite his youthful age, Gabby is Villa’s longest-serving player and record Premier League goalscorer for a reason. He was Villa’s lone centre-forward in the  season under Martin O’Neill during which Villa set a club record of seven consecutive away wins in the league, and genuinely looked like they might qualify for the Champions League until their season began to tail off in February.

 

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2009 – 26 years of pain then Gabby popped up with a winner at Old Trafford

 

Even when on a goal drought, Agbonlahor carries a vital threat for Villa, whether playing centre-forward or, as is the custom in recent seasons (and which goes some way to explaining his declining seasonal goal tallies) as one of the wide men in an effective front three.

Agbonlahor’s pace has always frightened defenders (the pure desperation on Vidic’s face as the Manchester United defender hauled him down to prevent him running through on goal in the opening minutes of the 2010 League Cup final springs to mind), and allows Villa to stretch the game and get in behind teams.

However, following his bulking up of his physique with the aim of becoming more of a traditional target-man striker in Villa’s final season under O’Neill’s leadership, Agbonlahor was left looking a yard off his usual pace in Gerard Houllier and Alex McLeish’s Villa sides, and rather more cumbersome than Villa fans prefer to see him.

But in recent times Gabby has looked fitter than he has for a few seasons, and has become the perfect blend of his customary frightening pace and a more recently acquired power.

The spectacular goal-scoring success of Christian Benteke this season has also meant that, whereas Agbonlahor found himself tightly marked every week as Villa’s danger man under O’Neill, this season he has had more space to exploit as teams prioritise attempting to mark the big Belgian out of the game, often double-teaming him.

And this has proven profitable for Agbonlahor, as he’s scoring goals again. Slipping under the radar somewhat as Benteke and Weimann take the plaudits, the importance of the goals Agbonlahor has scored should not be underestimated. Remarkably, whenever he has scored this season, Villa have not lost.

He had already struck in successive Capital One Cup games – two in the fabulous 4-2 win over Manchester City at the Etihad, and Villa’s second at Swindon in the following round – before ending his league drought.

 

gabbystatpic
(pic by whoscored.com)

 

Since doing so,Agbonlahor has hit eight in the four months of 2013. He scored in the away draws at the Hawthorns and Goodison, and has netted six goals in his last seven games – the winner at Reading, Villa’s first goal in the wins over QPR and Stoke, and the final goal in the rout of Sunderland, before winning the game for Villa with his two strikes at Carrow Road last weekend.

After the latter game, Paul Lambert described Agbonlahor as a “terrific weapon”. If Gabby can return in August in the same frame of mind as he’s finished 2012-2013 in, and if this season’s headline pairing of Benteke and Weimann remain at the club over the summer, Lambert will be confident that bigger and better things await Villa next season. Agbonlahor may experience playing with the best generation of Villa team in his career yet. UTV

Please leave your opinions on Gabby in the comments section below

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9 COMMENTS

  1. Words fail me when writing about Gabby – he’s a special, special player.  He and Villa need trophies now.

  2. I luv Gabby!  Not the sharpest tool in the box BUT 100% Villa.
    What I particularly admire about Gabby is that is able to go away on a summer break and come back having clearly worked on one aspect of his game and having improved it.  The problem for Gabby, IMO, is that the constant chopping and changing of managers (and, as a consequence styles – MON counter attack, Ged possession, McTool ultra defensive, and now Lamberts mixed possession and counter attack – have left him with little consistent direction, positioning or coaching.  I believe that the retention of PL will see Gabby improve materially over the next few years (already started over the latter half of this season).

    • Barrysboots A good point on an interesting angle. 
      Definitely agree, I don’t think Gabby minds whether he plays centrally or wide, attacks or tracks back, and I think he could find success in any of them, just as long as he is given time to develop his play in the required way. Managers’ continued altering of the role they want him to play has done his game no favours whatsoever.

  3. I watched Gabby come through the youth and reserve squads and he was a real prodigy. Playing up front on his own for MON was OK to start, then he started getting marked out of games. This is where the problem began, MON and his staff weren’t good enough to coach him in advanced forward play, they only knew counter attack long ball and  wide crossing of the ball. Under Houliier and McLeish he lost his way. Now Lambert has come, he can see what gabby has and what he is capable of if you coach him in different methods of finishing and put the belief in him that he can adapt and do different things in his game, he looks fitter and happy playing. Long may it last ……. one of us. UTV

  4. For Gabby, it’s all about the finishing. Even when he is in a goal slump, he makes good runs, and works hard on both sides of the ball. I think he’s always an asset, but when he’s finishing well, opposing defenses neglect him at their peril.

  5. Gabby is brill and as you say this formation with the current personnel suits him. The three are just so mobile when we break it’s scary. All are quick and work well together, the runs provide options and pull the defence around making space. It’s working well.
    Bowery has played reasonably well when Gabby has been out but I’m not sure the Zog grafts enough to fulfill the wide role, although even the Zog is vastly improved this season. Maybe we’ll get someone else in to help as wide back up

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