Remi Garde explains why Gabby Agbonlahor is vital to Aston Villa's survival bid

Gabriel Agbonlahor

The pacey striker scored for the first time since last March in last weekend's 2-0 win over Norwich City to help close the gap to Villa's relegation rivals.

Gabby Agbonlahor will be key to Aston Villa’s fight to stay in the Premier League, says manager Remi Garde.

The 29-year-old striker ended an 11-month goal drought in last Saturday’s 2-0 home win over Norwich City when he doubled Villa’s lead five minutes after the break, racing onto a Jordan Veretout through ball before slotting past the onrushing Declan Rudd from a tight angle.

It was his second straight Premier League start since shaking off nagging back and hip injuries, and while he did not see a great deal of the ball, the long-serving speedster looked much sharper than earlier in the season.

Villa, who currently sit eight points from safety at the foot of the table ahead of Sunday’s visit of Liverpool, have been lacking someone who poses a direct threat on goal amid their battle to avoid the drop, and Garde believes his club captain can be the missing ingredient during the run-in now he is back to full fitness.

Speaking about Agbonlahor at his pre-match press conference, the Villa boss said: "He has different qualities from Jordan Ayew, Libor Kozak and Rudy Gestede. They are different players.

“Gabby is the one most attracted by the goal and the way he runs on the pitch is different. He likes to go behind the defensive line, which is very difficult to defend against because he stretches the opponent and sometimes he receives the ball because he moves well.

“But even when he doesn’t receive the ball, the way he runs deeps creates space for other players like Carles [Gil] and Jordan.”

Agbonlahor saw just one minute of action in Garde’s first 14 matches as Villa manager and was rumoured to be on the verge of leaving the club during the winter transfer window after the Frenchman admitted to a “disagreement” between the pair in December.

However, while Garde acknowledges that the two have had their differences since he replaced Tim Sherwood at the helm in November, he insists that the Birmingham-born front man’s extended absence from the first-team was always down to injuries rather than any kind of falling-out.

“He has been here a long time,” Garde added on Agbonlahor, who has made two league starts and one substitute appearance in the FA Cup over the past fortnight after sitting out the previous 10 matches. “He is a top goalscorer for Villa and I know he is very important.

"We missed time to know each other better because when I arrived he was injured and then I allowed him to go away for a long time to get treatment. Things happen like that.

"But then in life and in sport, you can sometimes have difficulties with people. I had a lot at Lyon because this is the way of the job and you have to cope with that.

“But you have to brave the situation and go forward, and that is what we have done with Gabby.”

Register for ASTON VILLA team updates

Register for HITC Sport - Daily Dispatch