Gabriel Agbonlahor turns on the style to ease Aston Villa past Wigan

A day that started with questions over Alex McLeish's future ended with the Aston Villa manager celebrating a comfortable victory that lifts the his side to sixth place and maintains their unbeaten start to the season.

Gabriel Agbonlahor was once again Villa's inspiration, the striker scoring his fourth league goal of the campaign – more than he managed in the whole of last season – before setting up Darren Bent for the second to provide a timely reminder to Fabio Capello.

It is two years since Agbonlahor pulled on an England shirt, but there are clear signs that he is recapturing his best form after a torrid time under Gérard Houllier. He left the field to a standing ovation after an outstanding performance that confirmed there is more to his game than searing speed. His goal was expertly taken but there was also much to admire about the way he created Bent's chance on an afternoon when Villa condemned Wigan to a fourth successive league defeat for the first time in three years.

"Agbonlahor's pace today was frightening. I would hate to play against him in his current form," McLeish said. "But we're really worried about him. I took him off partly for the standing ovation that he got but also because he's been struggling with his back. I dare say our doctor will have a conversation with the England doctor. Whether he has to report [ahead of Friday's Euro 2012 qualifier against Montenegro], I don't know. I've had an indication that he's one of the players being considered."

McLeish took a gamble by dropping Charles N'Zogbia, a £9.5m summer signing from Wigan, and changing the formation – Villa played with a midfield diamond and two out-and-out strikers – but the decisions were vindicated as the home side controlled the game for long periods. Barry Bannan was often at the centre of their brightest moments and the only real disappointment was the contribution of Fabian Delph, whose poor use of the ball prompted McLeish to throw a water bottle to the floor.

The breakthrough arrived after Stephen Warnock dispossessed Mohamed Diamé before feeding Bannan. The midfielder promptly clipped a fine pass into the left channel that Agbonlahor ran on to before cutting inside Gary Caldwell and thrashing a right-foot shot inside Habsi's near post. Another Wigan player, James McArthur, had his pocket picked in the lead-up to Villa's second goal, when Agbonlahor robbed him before beating Emmerson Boyce and crossing for Bent to tap home.

But for Habsi, who brilliantly denied Bent, Bannan and Stilian Petrov, Wigan could have suffered a heavier defeat. The visitors were, however, denied a clear penalty when the referee, Mark Clattenburg, refused to point to the spot shortly after the restart, when Alan Hutton bundled over Franco Di Santo. "For me, it's a clear penalty," said the Wigan manager, Roberto Martínez, who turned down the Villa job in the summer. "But I am not going to blame that decision for the reason we lost. We were a bit naive and careless."

Powered by article was written by Stuart James at Villa Park, for The Observer on Saturday 1st October 2011 17.33 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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