When Gabriel Agbonlahor first stepped on the grass of Goodison Park at the age of 19 for his Aston Villa debut against Everton great things were expected from the Birmingham-born striker. His lightning pace and direct runs coupled with his physique and agility made him a nightmare for opposition defences.
Impressively, Agbonlahor featured in all 38 Premier League games during the 2006-2007 season which actually was just his second season in the first team. His pace meant that he was often utilised on the wing but he still managed nine goals for Martin O’Neill’s side that season.
The following three seasons proved to be more prolific as he reached double figures in the scoring charts each time with 36 goals in 109 appearances. By the end of the 2009-2010 season, Agbonlahor could boast of three England caps and all this was before his 24th birthday.
Unfortunately, he never managed to repeat the feats that earned him a call to Fabio Capello’s England team and he is yet to reach double figures again in a Premier League season. Injuries and bad form played a big part as Aston Villa failed to build on the impressive performances under Martin O’Neill. From a side fighting to break the top four, Villa quickly regressed into a side fighting for survival season after season.
Gerard Houllier and Alex McLeish followed the North Irishman in the Villa hot seat and their conservative approach failed to get the best of Agbonlahor who was once more asked to cover defensively on the wings. This blunted his goalscoring abilities as the Birmingham side paid big money to bring in Darren Bent and later Christian Benteke to try and solve their shortage of goals.
Last season, Agbonlahor (who is actually the leading Premier League top-scorer in Aston Villa’s history) only managed four Premier League goals in 30 matches – one less than wingback Leandro Bacuna who featured in just 26 matches.
The Birmingham-born striker’s powers seemed to be on the wane and many felt that his time at the club was coming to an end with the owners looking to get rid of his wage bill.
However, as so often happens in football, the tables have been well and truly turned in a few matches. Villa’s impressive start to the current season has seen them collect 10 points from a possible 12th with Agbonlahor scoring two goals. His goal against Liverpool not only gave his side the three points, but it also showed that a predatory instinct that had been alluding him for years.
Against the Reds, Agbonlahor scored from the only real sniff at goal he had all game pouncing on a loose ball in the box by twisting his body to get a shot in. His agility was reminiscent of earlier years and his celebrations betrayed a sense of relief.
One must remember that Agbonlahor is going to be 28 in October so now is supposedly the time for him to reach his peak powers in his career. Injuries notwithstanding, the early signs this season are very positive and a recall to the England squad should not be to far down the pipeline if he can maintain his performances.
England certainly need another pacey option in attack to compete with Danny Welbeck and Daniel Sturridge, plus with Christian Benteke struggling for fitness, Agbonlahor has been presented with an opportunity to showcase his abilities in a central role. It’s an opportunity that he can’t afford to miss.
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