Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert lavishes praise on striker Christian Benteke

The striker joined from Genk for £8m in the summer

Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert has hailed the impact of striker Christian Benteke, who is bidding to become the first player in nearly a decade to score 20 goals in a season for the club.

Benteke, an £8million summer signing from Genk, chalked up his 16th goal of the campaign during the weekend win at Reading to lift Villa out of the Barclays Premier League bottom three.

The last Villa player to reach the 20-goal mark was Juan Pablo Angel during the 2003-04 season and Benteke has nine games remaining in which to reach that milestone.

Lambert said: "If he gets 20 goals, then he's doing something good for us.

"The big guy, over the course of the whole season, has been excellent for someone just 22 years of age,

"I don't need to say much to Christian. He is a young guy still learning but his performances have been exceptional.

"He has been massive to us and also scores goals for a very talented Belgium side.

"For his age, he has played so many big games already, internationals, and it looks like Belgium will qualify for the World Cup.

"The lad knows big-time football but whatever you can do to help him, then you will speak to him."

If successful, Benteke would become only the eighth Villa player since their First Division title winning season in 1980-81 to reach the 20-goal mark.

Peter Withe achieved it three times in four seasons between 1980 and 1984 and strike partner Gary Shaw managed the same feat twice in the same period.

Simon Stainrod (1985-86) and Alan McInally (1988-89) were followed by two players who twice struck 20 goals in former England skipper David Platt (1989-90, 1990-91) and Dwight Yorke (1995-96, 1996-97).

Colombian international Angel clocked up 23 goals during 2003-04.

Another Villa striker in record-signing Darren Bent is stepping up his attempts to return to fitness after an ankle problem.

Lambert said: "Darren is doing all right but is not quite ready. He is doing a bit of running which is better than he has been for the last few weeks.

"We will see how he is this week with his rehab."

PA

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