Aston Villa 1 Reading 0: Who needs Bent when you've got Benteke Big Belgian saves the day for Lambert
02:08 GMT, 28 November 2012
Paul Lambert’s gamble on youth looked brave when he decided upon his Premier League strategy at the start of the season.
For 80 minutes, as Aston Villa made heavy weather of escaping the relegation zone, his decision looked increasingly desperate.
The former Norwich City boss stamped his credentials on the club within days of arriving in the post vacated by Alex McLeish. They were again evident as he once more omitted Darren Bent from his matchday squad.
Magic moment: Christian Benteke scored the only goal of the game with a late header
Rise and fall: Benteke leaps above the defender to break the deadlock
Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Baker, Clark, Stevens (Lichaj 24), Holman (Ireland 67), Westwood, Bannan, Weimann (Albrighton 68), Agbonlahor, Benteke.
Subs not used: Given, Ireland, El Ahmadi, Albrighton, Delph, Bowery, Lichaj.
Goal: Benteke 80.
Reading: Federici, Cummings, Morrison, Mariappa, Shorey, Robson-Kanu (McCleary 83), Leigertwood, Tabb, McAnuff, Roberts (Hunt 79), Le Fondre.
Subs not used: Taylor, Pearce, Pogrebnyak, McCleary, Harte, Gunnarsson.
Ref: Lee Probert (Wiltshire).
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But with 10 minutes to play of an
encounter with Reading that had only added to the air of general
frustration inside Villa Park, salvation was to hand.
It came in the shape of striker
Christian Benteke, an 8million signing from Genk on deadline day who is
rapidly proving to be one of the finds of the season.
He has the raw power of a young Emile
Heskey and his fifth goal of the campaign was one the former England
forward would have been proud of.
Ashley Westwood swung a corner to the
far post and the Belgium international out-jumped his marker, Sean
Morrison, to head home a goal that may prove priceless in the eventual
outcome of Lambert’s inaugural season.
In fairness to the Villa manager, his
side had looked by far the likelier of the two to find the net. The
noise which greeted Benteke’s winner was a mixture of relief and
And possibly nowhere more so was the
victory warmly received than on the home bench. Lambert swapped dug-outs
during the summer to be closer to Villa’s core support in the Holte
Although he has made the right noises
so far, those which were coming back at him were the voices of a
supporter-base that was growing increasingly tired of platitudes. After
all, this was just Villa’s third home league victory in 13 months.
Unsurprisingly then, Lambert hailed match-winner Benteke.
‘He’s been fantastic for this club,
and for the national team,’ he said. ‘He’s growing up. For his age, he’s
a strong lad with very good ability. He always seems to get a chance,
whether it’s a header or a shot. He’s becoming a real fans’ favourite.’
Blunder: Andreas Weimann (left) missed a great chance, while Barry Bannan and Jay Tabb fight for the ball
Take that: Villa's Nathan Baker (right) dives in on Jason Roberts
One person who is nowhere near the description of being a manager’s favourite, however, is Bent.
Despite the fact that Villa had not
scored in four of their last eight games and were struggling in front of
goal, Lambert believed untried signing Jordan Bowery carried more of a
goal threat than Bent.
‘I have no problem with his attitude
in training, none whatsoever,’ said Villa’s boss, ‘I watch him train
every day. I live and die by my decisions. I’ve picked a team to win,
not to lose.’ Asked what Bent needed to do to force his way back into
his thinking, Lambert replied: ‘Train well and play well.’
Lambert named a Villa team that
contained eight players aged 23 or under in a contest that for all the
world could be labelled a six-pointer. It was the youngest average age
of a Villa side in the Premier League era.
Attrition: Enda Stevens (right) vies for the ball with Reading forward Adam Le Fondre
Struggle: Reading's Shaun Cummings and Aston Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor battle for the ball
They were on top for long periods. It
will be of little relevance to Lambert that had Bent been on the pitch,
the contest may have been decided far earlier.
As it was, Andreas Weimann blazed over
the best chance of the first-half. Ciaran Clark was off-target with two
near-post headers and Benteke shot tamely into Adam Federici’s arms
Referee Lee Probert failed to award a
spot-kick after Adrian Mariappa’s clumsy challenge on Weimann as the
Austria forward was making his way away from goal. At the other end,
Brad Guzan had blocked from Hal Robson-Kanu during the early skirmishes.
What is this Brian McDermott looks on as the teams churned out a dull game
Until Jason Roberts twisted and turned
his way into the area only for Guzan to block a much simpler shot with
his legs, that was about as good as it got for the visitors.
The travelling support pleaded with
manager Brian McDermott to make a change. ‘It was a good idea, making a
sub,’ he said wryly afterwards. But Noel Hunt’s introduction had little
effect. Of far more relevance was the statistic that Reading have now
conceded 16 times in the last half-hour this season. It’s a trend that
could prove costly.
‘It was not a six-pointer,’ said
McDermott. ‘It’s a game of football. Villa have 13 points, they want
more than that. We have nine and we want more than that.’
But for Benteke, Reading would have.
Is that the time Paul Lambert checks his watch
Salvation: Benteke's goal was the highlight of the match
VIDEO: ASTON VILLA 1 READING 0: MATCH HIGHLIGHTS
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