Remember when Aston Villa had to cancel their Goal of the Month competition in October because they didn't score a single goal the entire month? Do you recall Villa's goal-drought that lasted 10 hours and 59 minutes? How about the astonishing 0.48 goals per match ratio under Paul Lambert? I'm sure you do. You may be asking, "Why are you bringing up these awful memories?" Excellent question. I've been tasked to review Aston Villa's forward line, which contrary to popular belief, actually did exist last season. Now, a lot of it's not pretty, but I think a sense of closure would be good so we can finally put this disaster of a season behind us. So let's get to it, and then we never have to talk about those terrible statistics ever again.
Final Line: 30 starts, 4 substitute appearances - 6 goals, 1 assist, 7 yellow cards, 1 red card
Season Review: A mixed-bag for Gabby. After scoring in back-to-back victories over Hull and Liverpool, he signed a 4-year contract to remain with Villa. He scored again in Villa's 1-1 draw with Southampton, but then things started to go downhill. He received a questionable sending-off against Manchester United, and as Villa entered the part of the season where they decided to give up scoring, fans (myself included) became increasingly frustrated with Agbonlahor, arguing that he shouldn't even be on the team sheet. But then, Tim Sherwood happened. The energy Sherwood brought to the club gave new life to Gabby. He scored in the crucial West Brom fixture, and soon after scored twice during Villa's 4-0 romp of Sunderland, looking as dangerous as we've seen him. Unfortunately, he picked up a hamstring injury that left him absent for the run in, a time when Villa could've used his pace and energy.
High Point: His goal versus West Brom. It was the most typical Gabby Agbonlahor goal ever. He waited for a flick from Benteke, then he sprinted past Joleon Lescott to slide the ball underneath the on-rushing Ben Foster. It was a huge goal for Gabby, and a huge goal for the club.
Low Point: Basically everything up until that West Brom match. He had an absolutely dreadful spell prior to that match, and many had given up on him. His first touch was dreadful, he couldn't hold the ball up, it even looked like he might have been losing some of his dangerous speed. Thankfully, Timmy Sherwood essentially raised Gabby from the dead to become an asset once again.
Future Outlook: Gabby's a tricky one to figure out. He's given the club a lot, and shown incredible loyalty to Villa. He has always been up-and-down; although to be fair to him, since Sherwood came in, he's been much better. Even during the terrible showing in the FA Cup Final, he came on for twenty or so minutes and at least injected a bit of desire and fight into the game. If he can maintain the form he showed under Sherwood, he will no doubt be in the gaffer's plans for at least the 2015-2016 campaign.
Final Line: 26 starts, 3 substitute appearances - 13 goals (Plus 2 more in the FA Cup), 2 assists, 1 yellow card, 1 red card
Season Review: Towards the end of the 2013-2014 season, Benteke ruptured his achilles, and missed the World Cup. I can only imagine how devastating that had to have been for him, and it seemed like it took a toll, both mentally and physically, as he certainly didn't look back to his dominating self at the beginning of the season. We saw flashes, like his brilliant goal against Manchester United, but he could never quite reach the form we had seen from him previously. It probably didn't help that the rest of the team became allergic to the opponent's 18-yard-box. When Sherwood came in, the hope was that he could resurrect Benteke's form in a similar fashion to what he did when paired with Emmanuel Adebayor at Tottenham. And thankfully, that hope turned into reality. Under Sherwood, Benteke scored 11 goals in 9 matches. To put that in perspective, under Lambert's 25 games in charge, Benteke scored only 2 league goals. So yeah, I think it's safe to say that Sherwood delivered.
High Point: His hat-trick performance against QPR where he single-handedly earned a point for Villa. He got a bit lucky with the deflection for his first, he showed amazing poise and patience for his second on the counter, and this free-kick in injury time was simply stunning. I remember at the time being absolutely distraught, down 3-2 to a relegation rival...at that point, I was certain we were going down. But as he's done so often, Benteke provided a lifeline to the club, and if he does move on over the summer, I'll remember that game fondly as the highlight of Benteke's time at Villa.
Low Point: It could be a few different instances (his injury, his poor run of form) but his red-card against Spurs really irked me. Sure, it was controversial. Yes, Ryan Mason provoked him and tempers were flaring after a few rash challenges. But it shows a side of Benteke's game that he needs to grow out of. He's only 24, and I'm sure these things will come with experience. I'm all for passionate play, but the line between that and foolish, costly mistakes is one Benteke often finds himself on the wrong side of. At that point in the game, Villa were playing well, and if calm-heads had prevailed, we may have seen the game out for the three points. But down to 10 men, the ending was almost inevitable as we gave up two goals in the last six minutes.
Future Outlook: Oh man, where to even start. Benteke's future is a source of constant debate. I don't think there can be any doubt that he is a world-class striker. I certainly can't blame him for wanting to play Champions League football, and 32.5 million pounds is a lot of money for Villa; enough money to plug a few holes with quality signings. But as we saw with Liverpool's spending spree after Luis Suarez left, simply having buckets of money doesn't necessarily solve every problem. I'm torn - it's how I imagine sending a child off to summer camp feels. If he goes, you'll have tons of free time, and he needs to go out and spread his wings...but you know you'll miss him, can't he wait just one more year?
Final Line: 20 starts, 11 substitute appearances - 3 Goals (Plus one in the FA Cup), 2 Assists, 5 Yellow Cards, 0 Red Cards
Season Review: Like Villa, Weimann started the season well, netting twice in the first three games, including the winner at Stoke City on the opening day. But after a quick start, he faded, putting in some shifts but with no end product. He scored in the FA Cup against Bournemouth, but when Tim Sherwood took over for Paul Lambert, Weimann quickly fell out of favor and only started once for Sherwood in the 3-1 defeat to Manchester United. Even when the Austrian did come in off the bench, he rarely provided the spark that Sherwood would've hoped for.
High Point: His goal versus Bournemouth in the FA Cup 4th round, which turned out to be the winner. Weimann showed his stellar work-rate to get into a good position in the box. And the finish was very smart, opening up his body for a first-time finish with his left-foot.
Low Point: Weimann has disappeared in a number of matches, but I‘d argue his performance in Lambert's last game, the 2-0 defeat to Hull City, was his worst. Weimann was virtually invisible the entire first-half, recording a team-low 22 touches, and was taken off at half-time.
Future Outlook: Listen, I like Weimann. I want him to succeed. I love his energy and willingness to put in a shift. But he lacks consistency, and he tends to panic once he's on the ball, often losing control or picking the wrong pass. It's easy to forget that Weimann is still young at just 23 years of age, and with time, I think Weimann could turn into a serviceable Premier League player. But it's looking unlikely that it will be with Aston Villa, as it's looking more and more likely that he may end up at Derby County, potentially joining another ex-Villain striker, Darren Bent.
Final Line: Sighhh. None.
Season Review: Played only 67 minutes with the second-team as he returned from a fractured leg.
High Point: There really wasn't a high point for poor Libor this year. He did actually heal enough to return to the second-team and play 67 minutes, but he then injured his back and was subsequently ruled out for the season.
Low Point: After a long recovery, we were all looking forward to seeing Kozak return to the team towards the end of the fall, especially as Villa needed goals. But in early October, as Kozak was nearing a return, it was announced that there were complications with his rehab - his leg hadn't healed properly, and he suffered a major setback in his recovery. It was a blow for the club, but an even bigger blow for the player.
Future Outlook: I'd actually like to see what Sherwood could do with a little bit of time with Kozak, but he's been rumored to be on his way out of the club, and I think that's fair. For all that Kozak's been through the past year, maybe a fresh start at a new club would do him a world of good.
Final Line: Three touches, but they were three really good touches.
Season Review: Fairly uneventful 7 minute debut at the end of Villa's 4-0 victory against Sunderland.
High Point: Getting his Premier League debut at only 16.
Low Point: Not scoring a hat-trick in those 7 minutes?
Future Outlook: It can't be anything but good, right? He's 16. Having Sherwood as a manager certainly works in his favor. He got his debut in the Premier League. It would be silly to expect anything out of such an untested youngster, but the future is certainly bright.
Callum Robinson & Darren Bent
Honorable mention for the other two strikers at the club, who both spent the majority of the season scoring for clubs other than Villa.
The promising 20-year-old Robinson scored 4 League Goals and 3 Cup Goals for Preston North End. He was annoyingly recalled from his loan by Paul Lambert in November, who then proceeded to ignore Robinson for two months until he was loaned back out to Preston North End. I will never understand that move by Lambert, but Robinson should be given every chance to win a place in Tim Sherwood's squad for next season.
Bent scored twice in his brief spell at Brighton & Hove Albion, and then scored 12 goals on loan at his now permanent club, Derby County. It's for the best for both sides to move on, Bent getting a chance at regular football and Villa finally free of his large wages.