Christian Benteke holds key for Paul Lambert as Aston Villa’s sorry strike rate takes its toll

Villa have not scored a goal in just under nine hours of football

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Aston Villa’s poor run began when they conceded goals to Arsenal’s Mesut Özil and Danny Welbeck, then Diego Costa for Chelsea and Yaya Touré and Sergio Aguero for Manchester City. Some defeats are understandable.

However, on Monday night they were outplayed by Queens Park Rangers – who recorded their second win of the season and only their second clean sheet – and their form suddenly looks rather more worrying.

Villa have now not scored a goal since Gabriel Agbonlahor did so at Anfield on 13 September. Since then they have played just short of nine hours of football without finding the net – in which time they have lost to Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City, Everton and now QPR.

At Loftus Road on Monday evening their only real chance came when Ciaran Clark  – a central defender – failed to capitalise on a Christian Benteke knock-down from a free-kick. There was little else of note.

The Villa manager, Paul Lambert, admitted that he was disappointed by the lack of cutting edge from a side who had possession and intent but none of the quality or confidence required even to create chances.

“I was pleased the amount of ball we had and what we were doing with it,” Lambert said afterwards. “It is just that we had to be more clinical. My main concern was that we haven’t scored when we were on top.

“If you don’t put the ball in the net, you’re not going to win games. It’s a concern when you don’t win football games and that losing streak has to stop – but we have another tough game on Sunday [against Tottenham].”

Paul Lambert's team have not scored in nearly nine hours of football

One of Villa’s many problems is their Benteke dependency. They struggle to score goals without their best player and ever since his Achilles injury in early April they have not been the same team. In the last seven games of last season, without him, they scored five goals. In their six league games before he came back this time, they scored four.

Benteke returned against Manchester City on 4 October, six months after his injury. Monday night was his third appearance and second start of his comeback, but he looked far from his powerful best, unable to impose himself on Richard Dunne and Steven Caulker and lacking sharpness in his first touch and his shooting.

“The injury he had was really severe and that’s only his second game in six months,” Lambert said. “It’s a long time to be out and we may have to wait six or seven games before he gets back up to speed. There were signs there tonight to show that he is getting there.”

The problem for Villa is that their whole system is built around exploiting the power of their front-man. Andreas Weimann and Agbonlahor looked blunt against the Premier League’s most porous defence, while in midfield Tom Cleverley and Ashley Westwood were tidy in possession without ever being incisive.

At the other end, the defence twice lost track of Charlie Austin and Villa succumbed 2-0. Lambert was understandably unimpressed. “I thought the two goals we lost were shocking, especially when we were on top,” he said. “I don’t think we defended well enough to win a game of football.”

Of course, when Benteke returns to form the whole team will be lifted. But, in Lambert’s third season as Villa manager, some Villa fans are starting to wonder if they might ever be able to hope for better than that.

 After a good start to this season expectations are already being re-adjusted downwards and, while Villa have a better chance than some of staying up, it is difficult to see the season providing very much in the way of inspiration or enjoyment.