Benteke strike vindicates Villa boss Lambert after latest Bent snub
Aston Villa 1
Darren Bent suffered another humiliating snub but just when Aston Villa's players threatened to further ridicule his continued omission, Christian Benteke spared his manager a more severe inquest.
Bent was the centre-page spread in Villa's match-day programme but is surely preparing for a new chapter in his career after being excluded from Paul Lambert's 18-man squad for the second successive game. He watched the match from his executive box and for 80 minutes it appeared his reputation would only be enhanced until Benteke vindicated Lambert with what could prove to be a crucial goal.
Benteke has effectively taken the place of Villa's England international since his £7m arrival from Genk in the summer and his fifth goal of the season enabled Villa to climb out of the relegation zone. But the Bent debate refuses to go away and despite this victory, Lambert is running out of reasons to exclude the £24m record signing.
Lambert was back in the dugout after serving a one-match touchline ban, but it was Bent who suffered the ignominy of being sat in the stands this time.
Lambert's high-risk strategy only increased the pressure to win the game, especially when you consider Villa's next match will see them attempt to ruin Harry Redknapp's Loftus Road coronation.
Reading managed 13 away wins last season as they cantered to the Championship title and have struggled to transfer those results to the higher level, but should have taken the lead in the 10th minute.
Jobi McAnuff's low cross created havoc with Brad Guzan saving from Hal Robson-Kanu before Adam Le Fondre fluffed an overhead kick after Villa's defence failed to clear.
But Villa recovered from a hesitant start, only to produce the sort of wayward finishing that underlined why Bent's exile could be so damaging. Benteke shot straight at Adam Federici from 10 yards before Andreas Weimann scooped his shot horribly over from even closer range.
Reading were tidy without ever threatening but Adam le Fondre, wasted a golden opportunity in the 59th minute. Nicky Shorey, the former Villa defender, bent in a corner from the right and Le Fondre headed over from four yards.
The visitors appeared untroubled and on course for a point but Benteke spared them a hostile reception at the final whistle when he nodded in Ashley Westwood's corner. Lambert jumped in the air to celebrate, vindicated but relieved. (© Daily Telegraph, London)