Aston Villa squad of the century: The strikers
This week the Express & Star has been revealing Villa’s squad of the 21st century so far, as chosen by supporters.
Today the final instalment focuses on the men who so often grab the headlines - the strikers.
The first to be included in our squad was the most popular choice among fans who submitted their selections online.
For three seasons between 2012 and 2015, Christian Benteke was the standout player in a Villa team which regularly battled relegation. In at least two of those campaigns the Belgium international’s goals were the difference between survival and demotion.
The marquee signing of Paul Lambert’s first summer in charge when he joined in a £7million move from Genk, Benteke took a few months to find his feet in the Premier League before bursting into life at the turn of the year.
His goal in a 2-2 New Year’s Day draw at Swansea started a run of 15 in 22 matches between then and the end of the season.
Though the 2013/14 campaign was blighted by injury, Benteke caught fire in spectacular fashion again toward the end of the 2014/15 season, scoring 13 goals from the start of March as Villa escaped the drop under Tim Sherwood and reached the FA Cup final.
His final haul of 49 goals in 98 appearances make him among the most prolific Villa strikers of modern times.
Big and strong but blessed with no little skill, Benteke’s failure to reach even greater heights after joining Liverpool for £32.5m in the summer of 2015 remains a surprise.
Joining Benteke in our squad is another popular powerhouse who rapidly became a fan favourite.
The signing of John Carew, in a swap deal for Milan Baros in January 2007, must surely still rank among Villa’s best pieces of transfer business since the turn of the century.
Norwegian international Carew arrived in the Midlands with no shortage of experience having played for Valencia, Roma, Besiktas and Lyon.
After scoring three times in his first half season with Villa, he would finish top scorer in each of the next two as Martin O’Neill’s team recorded back-to-back sixth-placed finishes.
At 6ft 4ins tall, Carew’s greatest strength was in the air but he was no slouch on the floor either. He left for Stoke in 2011 having scored 52 goals in 132 appearances.
Juan Pablo Angel
Carew’s 2007 arrival coincided with the final months of Juan Pablo Angel’s Villa career.
The club’s record signing when he joined from River Plate for £9.5million in January 2001, Angel’s time at Villa would have come to an end just two-and-a-half years later had it not been for the efforts of new boss David O’Leary in persuading him to stay.
That proved a good move for all parties as Angel went on to enjoy his best season for the club during the 2003/04 campaign, scoring 23 goals in all competitions, including a stunning strike in a League Cup quarter-final win over Chelsea.
A skilful player who could create as well as score, he eventually left Villa for New York Red Bulls in April 2007 having netted 62 goals in 205 appearances.
The final striker to make our list is Gabriel Agbonlahor.
There is no ignoring the fact Agbonlahor’s career suffered its share of serious lows, none more so than when he was stripped of the club captaincy after being pictured out partying on the night of Villa’s embarrassing 2016 relegation.
But there were plenty of highs too, particularly during the early years when often alongside Carew, he formed part of a fearsome forward line.
Academy product Agbonlahor’s blistering pace was quickly recognised as an asset by Martin O’Neill following his arrival as manager in 2006. He scored 10 goals during his first full season with the senior team, beginning a run of four straight campaigns when he hit double figures and won three England caps.
In truth, O’Neill’s 2010 exit also marked the start of Agbonlahor’s decline but there were still high points and with 75 goals, he is Villa’s top scorer in the Premier League.
THE MEN WHO MISSED OUT
The fifth most popular striker among supporters was Tammy Abraham, who became the first Villa striker since Andy Gray to score 25 league goals in a season while on loan from Chelsea during the 2018/19 campaign.
Dion Dublin, who scored 59 goals for Villa between 1998 and 2004, also received plenty of nominations but not enough to force his way into our squad.
Villa’s squad of the century so far (in full): Friedel, James, Heaton, Walker K, Delaney, Laursen, Mellberg, Southgate, Mings, Bouma, Wright, Barry, Milner, Petrov, Taylor I, Young A, Merson, Grealish, McGinn, Benteke, Carew, Angel, Agbonlahor.