GABBY AGBONLAHOR has hailed strike partner Christian Benteke – the man keeping Darren Bent out of the Aston Villa starting line-up.
Summer signing Benteke has been preferred to former Sunderland marksman Bent in five of Villa’s last six games and Paul Lambert’s decision has paid off, with the Belgian scoring in last weekend’s draw with Norwich and then grabbing a brace in Tuesday night’s Capital One Cup victory at Swindon.
Benteke’s involvement since his £7million summer move from Genk may have prompted speculation over Bent’s future at Villa Park, but Agbonlahor believes the 21-year-old has a “big future” at the club.
Agbonlahor said: “Christian gives us a different option and he can hold the ball up similar to when John Carew was here.
“He can also win a lot of aerial balls and he can finish as he showed at Swindon. It was world-class finishing.
“When you’ve got a striker like Christian who can finish the chances, it is a big boost.
“You know if he gets those sort of opportunities, he will put them away.
“The good thing is he is only 21 and can get better and better.
“People were surprised when Christian first came here that he is 21 given his physical stature. He is still learning but game by game he will get better and better. He is working hard and you can tell by his performances how good he is. He can have a big future.”
Bent is likely to remain on the bench for Saturday’s trip to the Stadium of Light, where a hostile reception inevitably awaits for the England international.
The clash also reunites Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill with his former employers, who are as equally desperate for points after taking just six from their opening nine games.
But Agbonlahor hopes progression to the Capital One Cup quarter-finals will begin to turnaround Villa’s worst ever start to a Premier League season.
“We’ve got to try and improve on our league form and go and get three points versus Sunderland,” added the 26-year-old.
“The win (at Swindon) will give us a lot of confidence for the games coming up.
“People might say we’ve beaten a League One side but it was a tough place to go and they are a good team. The players can be proud of their performance against a side which, after all, had won at Stoke in the competition.
“It was good to get it out of the way because it was potentially a tricky tie.”
Boss Paul Lambert stressed the importance of people fighting for places with Bent now having a battle with Benteke, Agbonlahor and Austrian Under-21 player Andreas Weimann.
The Villa manager said: “You need the competition. It is the whole team ethic you need to have and that’s what I look for.
“You win games with individual brilliance but you need the team and I can’t ask for any more effort than what they have given me.”