Stoke City v Aston Villa: Paul Lambert backs misfiring striker Christian Benteke to prove critics wrong after 'pussycat' jibe

Jamie Redknapp said Benteke was 'playing like a pussycat' which led to much harsher remarks about his recent form coming from his native Belgium

Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert is sure Christian Benteke will be feeling determined to respond to criticism of his form by “ramming it back down the throats” of his detractors.

Benteke, who scored 23 times for the midlands outfit in all competitions last season, is without a goal in his last 10 Villa appearances and has been under considerable scrutiny in recent weeks.

A few days ago pundit Jamie Redknapp said the striker was "playing like a pussycat" and it seems a subsequent translation of that quote by the media in Benteke's native Belgium may have given a cruder impression, with the word "cat" being dropped.

Lambert said on Thursday: "If he (Benteke) has read it, or has heard of it - which I'm pretty sure he would have with it being his native country - I'm pretty sure he would have thought 'I'm going to ram that back down your throat'.

"He is going through quite a hard time, the kid, but he'll come back from it."

Lambert was speaking at his pre-match press conference ahead of Saturday's Barclays Premier League trip to Stoke, and it remains to be seen whether or not Benteke will be given the chance to end his scoring drought against the Potters.

The 23-year-old suffered a hip injury in September that sidelined him for two league games and then a knee problem in November while on international duty.

Lambert says that, with Benteke having been "carrying a few knocks", the frontman's confidence has been affected.

And he has indicated he may opt to drop the player at least out of the first XI on Saturday, as he did for the 3-2 win at Southampton on December 4.

Asked about possibly taking Benteke out of the firing line, Lambert said: "I might have to look at that. I need to get him at 100 per cent.

"He always wants to play and he is not in pain as in 'I can't do this' or anything like that. But it is just little things hindering him from having the movement that he had.

"The league is too powerful for players to go in there not at 100 per cent.

"I think the (hip) injury was his first ever injury in football, so how he handled it, with it being his first, I'm not so sure.

"It is not that he is not trying, not at all. I've never known a footballer go out there and not try. But you might get them lacking a wee bit of confidence when things are not going their way.

"Because he set himself such a high standard last season, I think the little knocks that at the moment he is probably carrying are not helping him. My job is to try to rectify that.

"I just think it is a bit of a confidence thing.

"He is still a big, imposing guy when you stand next to him. He has definitely not shrunk, that's for sure!

"But the confidence thing is major. I think - ask any footballer - that if you are confident, you will do things off the cuff and will not think about it.

"He is maybe thinking about things too much. He is trying to impress and trying to give it back. But I know the injury situation is hurting him a wee bit."

Forward Gabriel Agbonlahor will definitely not feature against Stoke due to suspension after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season, but Fabian Delph is set to return having now completed the ban he was serving for the same reason.

Fellow midfielder Chris Herd should be back available after a facial injury, but Lambert says Villa captain and defender Ron Vlaar, who has been nursing a calf problem, is "still a major doubt".

Villa head into the Britannia Stadium encounter lying 11th in the table and having lost their two matches - against Fulham and Manchester United - since the Southampton win.

PA

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