Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert has defended his striker Gabriel Agbonlahor after claiming there was “nothing” in the challenge that left One Direction star Louis Tomlinson vomiting on the side of Celtic’s Parkhead pitch during a charity match last weekend.
Lambert has said that Tomlinson had been taken out of his comfort zone after he was barged to the floor in a robust but fair challenge from Agbonlahor. Tomlinson, who is one member of the five-strong boy band, was left limping away from the challenge before being replaced, where he was then pictured to be sick into his hands.
The match was taking place as a fund raiser for retired midfielder Stiliyan Petrov’s charity, who battled Leukaemia last year before announcing he was in remission in September 2012. Proceeds from the match Between Petrov’s two former clubs went towards the Stiliyan Petrov Foundation and other charities aiding research into the illness.
Following the match, a spoof Twitter account was set up under Agbonlahor’s name which was later bombarded with abuse and threats from “Directioners” – those who claim to be die-hard fans of the band.
Lambert admitted though that Tomlinson had been fine about the tackle afterwards.
“He’s (Gabby) taken the pressure off me,” Lambert joked. “There was nothing in it. It was just a great occasion. It was about Stiliyan (Petrov) and the charity. That was the most important thing. Celtic supporters were fantastic. It was a brilliant day.
“It’s a contact sport, regardless of whether it’s a friendly. There was nothing in it. The lad from One Direction was really good about it.
“I don’t know whether Gabby is going to speak to him. You are taking someone out of their comfort zone. He’s a singer and you’re putting him into a football environment.
“Footballers can do these sort of things. But it is was for Stiliyan. It was a tear-jerker towards the end of the game. But a fantastic occasion, nevertheless.”
Lambert also said that Agbonlahor would continue to work hard despite being constantly overlooked for Roy Hodgson’s England squad. While Rickie Lambert, Wilfried Zaha, Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley have been given the chance to impress, Agbonlahor hasn’t been called up since he earned his third cap back in 2009.
The Villa striker has hit a run of form off the back end of last season, and it’s something that Lambert hopes he can keep up for the Midlands club, although he stopped short of telling Hodgson how to do his job.
Hodgson suffered an injury crisis in the recent World Cup qualifiers – especially in attack – when Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge and Andy Carroll were ruled out through injury, while Danny Welbeck was suspended for the second match against Ukraine, leaving Hodgson with just Southampton striker Lambert and Jermaine Defoe of Tottenham to choose from.
“I'm not going to tell Roy Hodgson how to do his job,” Lambert admitted. “That's his prerogative, to pick the national team. It's hard enough to pick any team.
“From my own point of view he's been playing fantastically for me, he really has.
“In the last three games he's been excellent. He's been at the top of his game against the best teams in the land in Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool.
“To be fair to Gabby he hasn't let it bother him; he's just got on with it. You can't influence somebody to pick somebody. But for me and this football club, he's playing really well.”
Agbonlahor initially said he would apologise to the singer the next time he saw him, saying: : “It was one of those things. I'll apologise to Louis when we meet up with everybody after the game.
“I know he enjoyed playing in the game and it's fantastic that he took time out to be here, and the same with everyone else who played.”
But following a mixed response on social media site Twitter – many football fans praised Agbonlahor for the tackle while fans of Tomlinson criticised the striker and even sent death threats in his direction – Agbonlahor publicly apologised for the tackle.
Tomlinson is due to feature in a reserve team match for the club he has supported since his childhood, Doncaster Rovers, after signing a contract for them that will see him turn out for the side’s development team.
Proceeds from the match will go towards children's charity Bluebell Wood.