After becoming Villa's all-time Premier League leading scorer this seems as good a time as any to reassess the season and career of one of our post-January stand out performers: Gabby Agbonlahor. Is this statistic merely a meaningless Sky-term for 'best striker in a fairly arbitrary stretch of time since Villa last had a really good striker', or is it the sign of a legend and great club servant?
Agbonlahor occupies a near-unique position in that he has both exceeded and not lived up to the hopes of supporters. Seven seasons ago, when Gabby announced himself with a debut-goal at Goodison, the striker we had the highest hopes for was Luke Moore. In fact the majority view amongst the fans at the time was that the younger Moore brother was destined to spearhead our attack for years. Clearly we were wrong: Agbonlahor, despite the technical flaws that accompany his searing pace, has had a solid Premier League career with some memorable highs (the younger Moore brother, it should be noted, has not).
Those deficiencies have reared up throughout Gabby's career in the form of poorly-timed hacks or clod-footed ball-control, yet since O'Neill's last season at Villa Park the (now sadly) former England striker has frustrated supporters with his inconsistency. Long barren stretches became the norm; there is nothing worse than a striker who neither contributes goals or aids all round team cohesion and Gabby became that player. The criticism he received was often justified, and a non-Villa fan would have received a lot more.
However under Paul Lambert, and since both the team shape settled and he remained injury free, Agbonlahor has flourished. Suddenly we are consistently being treated to fine displays from an all-round performer; the goals are flying in (6 in his last 8 games, all contributing to victories), the old dribbling spark seems to be back, his work-rate and effort is tireless, and his awareness and link-up play with Benteke and Weimann is an asset and improving all the time.
I've always been a huge Gabby fan, and though he will eventually have to win something to become a true club legend we already have enough fond memories to last a long time. He did a piece on the official website talking about his five favourite goals last week; so to sign off here are my personal favourite Gabby memories (criteria: I was there to see them, though actually thinking about these made me realise how many good goals he has scored):
1. Gabby's first goal at the Holte End was a late equaliser against Everton, which came just when we looked like we might be dragged towards trouble. The goal was nothing special, a tap in from a cross/ricochet, but he'd clearly been waiting for the moment and wasted no time ploughing straight into the supporters.
2. Jose Mourinho arrived at Villa Park with a team of Champions packed with stars and reputations, and left with the deafening home-crowd roar in his ears and a cheeky handshake from Doug Ellis. No wonder it was too much for him and he left soon after. Gabby's role in this was to poach the sealing goal, tapping in Ashley Young's cross/shot, to set off utter delirium in the stadium and a real sense that the team was going places.
3. His deft, outside of the right-boot, finish to a free-flowing move in one of our (at one stage) annual Bolton thrashings. Actually this was the end of one of those barren patches, which made the cool finish all the more impressive.
4. The fifth goal of a barnstorming 5-1 thrashing of the Blues at Villa Park. One of those dream performances from the whole team, but this was the goal we really wanted.
5. Houllier's season was a non-event as far as Gabby was concerned, yet his knack for the crucial winner continued as he nodded in another Young cross. Memorable for being the last time this dependable combination brought a win, and also for another brilliant away day win.