Fulham defeat proves Benteke’s injury a double-edged sword for struggling Villa


Aston Villa’s 2-1 defeat at home to Fulham was a real disaster for Paul Lambert’s side. Not only were the visiting outfit firmly rooted to the bottom of the Premier League table ahead of their trip to the second city, but the defeat was Villa’s third on the bounce – following successive 4-1 losses to Stoke and Manchester United.

Felix Magath’s Fulham left Villa Park with all three points thanks to Kieran Richardson’s unstoppable rocket and a late Hugo Rodallega header, either side of Grant Holt’s first goal for the club he will spend the rest of the season on loan at, much to the dismay of the Villa faithful.

Those points, three very important points, lifted The Cottagers up off the cold, hard, lonely floor of the Premier League; up and above fellow strugglers Sunderland and Cardiff and into 18th place. They’re still some way from safety – five points behind 17th-placed Norwich, to be precise – but there is a renewed hope amongst Fulham fans that they can once again avoid the drop. They will take inspiration from their predecessors who managed ‘The Great Escape’ during the 2007/08 season under the patient guidance of Roy Hodgson.

But, away from Fulham’s woes for one minute. Villa, despite a relatively healthy numerical advantage over the chasing pack, are still in a relegation battle. The Claret and Blues currently occupy 13th place in the league, two spots higher than last season’s final league position, but, with a relatively tricky run-in up to the end of this sorry campaign, they should be looking firmly over their shoulder.

The news this week that Christian Benteke is to miss six months with a torn Achilles injury was greeted with mixed feelings from Villa fans. Gone is their talismanic striker until at least the end of September, leaving a giant goal threat-shaped hole in his wake. But also gone is the summer speculation that was certain to surround Benteke, linking the Belgian to a host of top sides, as was the case during last summer.

[Benteke ruled out of Brazil]

Villa only just managed to keep hold of their most-prized possession, while the likes of Tottenham, Chelsea, Manchester United and even Real Madrid (if rumours are to be believed) circled above, like a pack of hungry vultures waiting for the opportune moment to swoop down and snap up their prey.

But it wasn’t to be. Somehow, Villa managed to persuade Benteke to stay in the Midlands and keep pulling on that famous shirt week in, week out. Of course, a 100 per cent pay rise, taking his wages from £26,000 to £52,000 per week, will have kept his mind off those bigger, richer, more famous birds that hovered above.

But that situation is something the suits over at Villa Park won’t have to fret about this summer. Benteke won’t be finishing this campaign, and he won’t heading to Brazil with his national side – strutting his stuff on the biggest stage of them all. He’ll be sat at home, like the rest of us, watching the action unfold, dreaming of returning to action in September – a time in which the transfer window will be firmly shut.

Benteke will remain Villa’s most-prized asset – despite the striker enduring a tough second season in the Premier League – until January of 2015 at the very earliest, but his absence gives Villa fans another problem to ponder, to fret over.

The Fulham defeat was stark evidence that Villa have an obvious and severe lack of firepower. A lack in terms of strength in depth without Benteke, and a lack in terms of any real quality throughout the team’s other forwards. Loan signing Grant Holt was awarded the responsibility of leading Villa’s line against a side who had conceded 73 goals in their previous 32 matches prior to kick-off.

As it turned out, Holt grabbed Villa’s only goal of the game – his first for Villa since joining on loan from Wigan in January – but the lumbering journeyman, who has represented 14 clubs in his 15-year career, looked noticeably short of possessing the talent to fire Villa to league safety in their remaining six games.

A seven-point swing would be required if Lambert’s men were to fall through the trap door into the Championship. And, ordinarily with the likes of Crystal Palace and Swansea City still to play, one would think that the prospect of Villa being relegated to the second-tier of English football for the first time in 27 years would be way off, but performances similar to the showing against Fulham in their remaining fixtures would make it a cold, harsh reality.

Benteke’s unfortunate injury would have been viewed as a positive for the majority of Villa fans upon first hearing, but his absence is a double-edged sword. The striker will remain an Aston Villa player for the foreseeable future, but what league the Belgian and his teammates will be playing in remains to be seen.

Joshua Hayward - On Twitter: @JoshuaHayward99

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