Club Focus – Aston Villa – O’Neill calls upon his attacking force to deliver

As the final quarter of the season approaches, the Villans will need to find the consistency that evaded them this time last year. With 12 Premier League fixtures remaining, plus an FA Cup semi-final tie against Chelsea, points will be vital if the Midlands side are going to pursue fourth position in the league.

The Villans have an extremely fortunate run-in to the end of the season with all of their opposition below them in the table, bar Chelsea. With the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur coming up against more than one top four opposition from now until the end of the campaign, the Birmingham side certainly have the best chance of earning three points in each of their matches. There is no surprise that Villa manager, Martin O’Neill has called on his strikers to deliver in order to keep the Villans on course for the FA Cup and the Champions League spot. After having been criticised for their impotency upfront, Villa responded with a 5-2 thrashing of Burnley and a 4-2 victory over Reading last Sunday. However, his strikers need to continue their deadly form upfront as the Birmingham side face some tough away fixtures against Stoke and Wigan and goals will be essential if Villa are going to leave with all three points.

Gabriel Agbonlahor has been the most potent of the three main Villa strikers so far this season with 14 goals in all competitions, closely followed by John Carew with 10 and Heskey with five. Agbonlahor is always first on the team sheet but there has been much movement between Carew and Heskey as O’Neill seeks to find the most effective strike partner for the England international upfront. Each striker approaches the game in a different way, leaving O’Neill the difficult choice of seeing which two complement each other the most. Agbonlahor’s main attribute his pace which is a constant thorn in the opposition defence. Aerially he is effective as he is when one-on-one with the keeper. However, although he has totalled 14 goals already this season, his tally could be much greater if he took more of the chances that are presented to him. He has been guilty of squandering excellent opportunities on goal and he will have to be much more lethal if he even wants to be considered by Fabio Capello for the World Cup in the summer.

The most obvious strike partner is Emile Heskey who brilliantly organises the attacking distribution with top quality link-up play. Not only is Heskey able to create space for Agbonlahor upfront, he is also able to provide quality through balls that his strike partner can run on to. Although he is not potent in front of goal, it is his overall contribution to the match both on and off the ball that make him an integral part of the Villa squad. Carew is just as effective in holding up the ball, however, he is a much more clinical in front of goal as he prefers to play as far up the pitch as possible, poaching goals from the six-yard box. His hat-trick against Reading last Sunday proved that, when on form, Carew has what it takes to be one of the best strikers in the Premier League. The Norwegian fits into Villa’s wing-play strategy as he is always in the box to convert deliveries by the two wingers, whereas Heskey prefers to play deep in order to send the wingers through. It will not be surprising if O’Neill chose Carew over Heskey in the match against Stoke just to see whether or not he can remain consistent in front of goal.

The Villa manager called for his strikers to see the team through to the rest of the season with more goals, “We have scored a flurry of goals recently against Reading and Burnley. I think the players are improving in that aspect. They want to get into the penalty area to score. I hope between that talented group of players we get enough goals to see us through. We are still in there fighting.” The number of goals scored will definitely have an impact on Villa’s final position come the end of the season and as long as the defence remains resolute, The Midlands side may find themselves in a promising position on May 9th.

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