Five conclusions from Aston Villa's 1-0 win at Crystal Palace on Tuesday night.
Problems far from solved
Villa might have picked up their first three points since September 13 at Selhurst Park, but most of the same problems from their nine-game winless run were again evident on the night.
Paul Lambert’s side were overrun in the midfield, pinned back in their area for long stretches and failed to create chances in the final third – just as has been the case all season.
Were it not for a typical moment of brilliance from Christian Benteke then the manager would likely be facing further questions over his future at the club.
Benteke head and shoulders above the rest
With the exception of perhaps Brad Guzan, there’s no other member of the Villa squad who even comes close to matching Benteke’s influence, and that was made evident again on this occasion.
He didn’t see has much of the ball as he would’ve liked, but marked his return to the line-up from his three-game suspension with a fine finish just after the half-hour, running half the length of the pitch to shoot past Julian Speroni for what proved the winning goal.
Lambert claimed his star man could become “one of the best in the world” following the match and, while that might seems a tad outlandish, there’s no doubt that he has game-changing qualities which few other Premier League strikers possess.
As long as the imposing Belgian is in the line-up then Villa have a chance of making a run up the table, even with the lack of creative options behind him.
Joe Cole is done
Speaking of creative options, fans were left wondering whether Cole could well be the answer to Villa’s playmaking problems following his impressive performance in the 1-1 draw at Burnley, but it appears those questions have now been answered.
After scoring in his first league start for the club, the veteran lasted just nine minutes into his second consecutive appearances before limping off injured, and it remains to be seen how serious the problem is.
Arriving on a free transfer in June to low expectations, the former Chelsea man also picked up a thigh strain in pre-season which has so far limited his involvement, and it seems doubtful that he will ever remain fit enough to make a difference during his time at Villa Park.
While there was cause for concern when Ron Vlaar, Philippe Senderos and Nathan Baker all went down injured before the Southampton game, Okore and Clark have since quelled those fears with three superb performances each.
After 14 months on the sidelines, Okore is demonstrating the promise which saw him linked with a move to Chelsea prior to arriving at Villa last summer, while Clark looks to be putting his disappointing 2013-14 season behind and earning back the claret and blue faithful’s trust in the process.
At this rate, Vlaar and Senderos might find it hard to win back their spots in the line-up once fit.
Callum Robinson should be back at Preston
Robinson was recalled from his successful loan spell at Preston North End after Darren Bent was allowed to join Brighton & Hove Albion until December 29, but one has to question whether it was a wise move on Lambert’s part.
The 19-year-old striker was getting valuable experience with regular playing time in League One, scoring five goals in 11 total appearances, but wasn’t even named on the bench against Palace.
Both he and Jack Grealish are the club’s most promising prospects but, at the moment, the pair are wasting their development on the Villa bench.