While Aston Villa are currently struggling to create any kind of attacking threat against their Premier League rivals, two of the club’s loanees appear to be producing the goods in the lower divisions.
22-year-old midfielder Gary Gardner has now scored in consecutive games for Sami Hyypia’s Brighton & Hove Albion after establishing himself as a regular in the line-up, while 19-year-old front man Callum Robinson made headlines on Monday night by bagging a hat-trick in Preston North End’s FA Cup win over Havant & Waterlooville.
Despite their lack of top-flight experience, the fact that Villa have managed to record just one goal in almost 11 hours of football leads one to wonder whether manager Paul Lambert could in fact use the pair for the second-half of the season.
Both are currently scheduled to return to Birmingham at the start of January and, while they have each expressed interested in extending their respective spells if there’s no place for them in the first-team squad at Villa Park, a few more impressive outings over the coming weeks could convince Lambert of their worth.
Gardner has made 18 appearances for Villa since his first-team debut in December 2011, but his progress has been hampered since damaging his ACL for the second time in his career at the start of the 2011-12 campaign.
Nevertheless, now rediscovering his form, Fabian Delph’s uncertain future means there could well be an opportunity for the youngster should the club opt to sell their star man in January, rather than risk lose him for nothing at the end of the season.
After all, neither Ashley Westwood nor Tom Cleverly appear capable of producing much going forward, and a midfielder who could provide at least some degree of threat in the final third would be a major boost.
Robinson, meanwhile, first joined Preston in mid-September on a month-long loan, but his impressive attacking outings moved the League One side to have his spell in the North West extended until January 3.
Considered one of Villa’s brightest prospects, the England Under-20 international made his senior debut in a 4-0 Capital One Cup defeat to Tottenham Hotspur in September 2013, before going on to make four Premier League cameos towards the end of last season.
He had been training with the first-team at the start of the new campaign, despite not seeing match action, and his pace and dynamism through the middle our out wide has earned him favourable comparisons to the younger version of Gabby Agbonlahor, who thrived during the early stages of Martin O’Neill’s reign.
Of course, the fact that Lambert is still to give the highly-rated Jack Grealish a fair run in the side doesn’t bode well for their chances but, considering the Scot’s current setup simply isn’t working, new ideas and fresh blood have to be instilled.
How Villa fare between now the New Year will likely determine what happens with Gardner and Robinson but, given the way their parent club’s performances have been going of late, it would be foolish to dismiss their potential contributions during what could be a fourth-consecutive relegation scrap.