FOR a man who made his name as a deep-lying central midfielder, who scored just 65 goals in 599 professional appearances, who prioritised breaking up attacks ahead of finishing them off, Tim Sherwood seems to know the secret behind getting a misfiring forward back on target.
When he took over at Tottenham midway through December 2013, one of his first acts was to bring the outcast Emmanuel Adebayor in from the cold.
The Togolese, who had only appeared once all season, repaid Sherwood by scoring 14 goals in 24 outings before the campaign end.
When the 46-year-old took over at Villa Park on Valentine’s Day, Sherwood’s new squad contained a hulking Belgian who became one of the most feared forwards in European football after scoring 28 times during his first season in English football.
But his time in the Midlands had turned sour. An injury- affected start to this term did not help, but former manager Paul Lambert had dropped him after a miserable run of form, which had yielded just three goals in 18 games before the new manager walked through the doors in February.
But, like Adebayor before him, Benteke has been rejuvenated by the former holding midfielder from St Albans, who has now steered a previously insipid Villa six points clear of the relegation zone.
The 24-year-old towered over Federico Fazio to power home the only goal of the game in the 35th minute, taking his tally to nine goals in the 11-game Sherwood era. And the new manager revealed the turnaround in form came only after a heart-to-heart.
Sherwood, who described this victory against his old employers as the most satisfying of his fledgling managerial career, revealed some of his rejuvenation tactics:
“I told him what I think of him, and how everyone in Europe seemed to want him a year ago, and that doesn’t just vanish, so let’s get him back to firing, let’s get him back to training properly, and scoring goals.
“He’s worked hard on the training pitch, everyone else has worked hard behind him. He’s got a good group behind him, willing to give him the chances because they know what a threat he can be.
“But it’s also about them applying themselves, like Ade, when I gave Ade a chance to come back into the group, he had to earn the right, and he did that by the way he trained, and Christian’s no different.”
In truth, the goal was the least Benteke deserved for a colossal performance which embarrassed Tottenham’s centre-back pairing of Fazio and Eric Dier, as well as the overmatched right-back Vlad Chiriches who was withdrawn to save him further embarassment 11 minutes from time.
When asked if he was now back to his best, Benteke himself replied: “I would say almost. I have a big faith. In life you have some bad times and some good times and maybe now it’s my good time and I’Il just try to enjoy it.”
Vorm 6; Chiriches 3 (Yedlin 6, 78), Fazio 4, Dier 5, Rose 6; Mason 6, Bentaleb 6; Townsend 6 (Lamela 5, 78), Eriksen 5, Chadli 6 (Soldado 6, 61); Kane 6.
Guzan 6; Bacuna 7, Clark 6 (Baker 6, 19), Vlaar 7, Richardson 6; Delph 7, Cleverly 6, Sanchez 5; Agbonlahor 7 (Cole 6, 69), Benteke 8, Grealish 6 (Weimann 6, 62).