Agbonlahor encourages expectations for club and country

Aston Villa 3 Norwich 2

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The Independent Football

If the jury is still out on Alex McLeish, the former Birmingham City Bluenose turned custodian of all that is claret and blue up the road at Aston Villa, there is no doubting the verdict on Gabby Agbonlahor. A unanimous 12-out-of-12 vote would verify not only his club credentials but his potential international merits, too.

From the moody figure drifting in a haze of uncertainty under the strange stewardship of Gérard Houllier last season, Agbonlahor has re-emerged as a jack-in-the-box forward full of pace, power and precision. Just what an initially Wayne Rooney-free England will need during their campaign in the 2012 European Championship finals.

Five goals and numerous assists, not least in the laboured win over Norwich City at Villa Park on Saturday, illustrate the rude health that Agbonlahor finds himself in this season. Spending a summer in Ukraine and Poland might not sound that attractive to most but it has already entered his thoughts.

"If the opportunity comes for me, then I'll take it," Agbonlahor said. "If you have a chance of playing for England, then you go. People say I'm playing well, which is nice. I can't really say it's a new lease of life but, yes, I'm enjoying it at the moment."

So is McLeish. "I challenged Gabby to live up to all the expectations and it's great to see him developing like he is," the Villa manager said. "He's looked at things, taken stock of what happened last season and responded in the manner we expected."

Opportunity knocked for the striker last night, when Fabio Capello, the England manager, included Agbonlahor in his squad for the friendlies against Spain and Sweden alongside teammate Darren Bent.

After recovering from the shock of going behind against Norwich, to a delightful Anthony Pilkington free-kick, an Agbonlahor-inspired Villa fought back. He crossed for Darren Bent to tuck in the equaliser, guided in the second goal himself and centred for Bent to add the third.

Scorers: Aston Villa Bent 30, 62, Agbonlahor 48. Norwich City Pilkington 25, Morison 77. Subs: Aston Villa Jenas 6 (Heskey, 67), Ireland (Petrov, 77). Norwich Crofts 5 (Johnson, 35), Fox 4 (Bennett, 63), Jackson (Hoolahan, 76). Booked: Aston Villa N'Zogbia. Norwich Hoolahan, Crofts, Barnett, Pilkington, Holt. Man of the match Agbonlahor. Match rating 6/10. Possession Aston Villa 49% Norwich 51%.

Attempts on target Aston Villa 6 Norwich 7.

Referee K Friend (Leicestershire). Att 35,290.