Benteke signing should buy Lambert time
Former Aston Villa boss John Gregory believes the discovery of Christian Benteke alone should guarantee Paul Lambert another two seasons at the club.
Villa owner Randy Lerner may have been criticised for his lack of recent investment in the Midlands giants, but he has kept faith with Lambert. Gregory, Villa manager for four years between 1998 and 2002, feels Lambert has earned that trust purely by recruiting Benteke for a miserly £7million from Genk last summer.
"Purely signing Benteke is enough to keep Paul Lambert in work for another two years," said Gregory.
"It was a stroke of genius. Whether or not Villa are able to hang onto him in the summer remains to be seen but this guy is a real find. It amazes me the likes of Arsenal have missed someone of that calibre. He scored the winning goal against QPR and seems a complete snip at £7million."
Nevertheless, it has taken commendable nerve from Lambert, who has been given a little breathing space with successive wins over Reading and QPR even if he knows Villa will be back in the bottom three on Saturday evening should Wigan beat Norwich.
"Only time will tell whether the decision not to buy in January was brave or foolhardy," said Gregory. "But standing by Paul was the right thing to do to because the signs are there.
"It was a big shock that Reading parted with their manager at such a strange time. Had it been January you could understand it because the new guy would have a chance to bring in one or two signings. Now Reading can only play the same players until the end of the season."
Keeping out of that dreaded bottom three is the only task remaining for Villa now. With a team built around younger players, little can be taken for granted, and a last-day trip to Wigan has an ominous look about it. But Gregory feels that if the survival battle can be won, the future at Villa Park may be quite bright.
"Paul Lambert was given a very limited budget," he said. "The club weren't prepared to spend money willy-nilly because it didn't seem to be working. Instead, Paul has invested in youth. He lost one or two of his more experienced players through injury or bad form and has had to put out inexperienced teams week after week.
"They have not been particularly good defensively but I always felt they could nick something because they have good strikers with a lot of pace. If Paul can manage to negotiate this season and keep the club in the Premier League, you will see a much improved Aston Villa squad next year."