Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert has backed Tom Cleverley to step up in the absence of star man Fabian Delph, and challenged the midfielder to add more goals to his game.
Delph is set to miss the weekend’s trip to Everton after injuring his shoulder in a freak training ground accident this week, and could face up to a month on the sidelines if he requires an operation.
Arriving on a season-long loan from Manchester United at the summer deadline after falling out of favour with new boss Louis van Gaal, Cleverley has since been an ever-present in the Villa lineup, helping the club to a shock 1-0 win over Liverpool on his debut.
While Lambert’s side have since suffered three consecutive defeats to Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City, respectively, the Scot has been impressed with his new signing’s performances, and expects him to push on to even better things in the coming weeks and months.
‘I think he’s getting better game-by-game for us,’ he was quoted in the Sutton Coldfield Observer.
‘He’s had a really tough start going into them four games. But I think last couple of games against Man City and Chelsea he’s started to look really good. He’s a really likeable guy as well.’
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Cleverley has scored just three goals in 59 Premier League appearances since making his senior debut for United in August 2011, with his last strike in fact coming against Villa in a 3-0 win last December.
However, having once netted 11 times in 33 games during a Championship loan stint at Watford in the 2009-10 campaign, Lambert wants the 25-year-old to rediscover his killer instinct.
‘He’s been playing well enough anyway. Hopefully now’s the time he can go on a bit of a goal run that will certainly help him in that aspect [confidence],’ he said.
‘Hitting the box is his strength. I think him and Kieran [Richardson] can both do that.
‘That’s his game: to hit that penalty box. I think with Benteke coming back he’ll be looking to make runs off him. We’re looking for Tom to be able to chip in with a few.’