Aston Villa chairman Randy Lerner turned up at Fratton Park to witness for himself just how acute his manager Martin O'Neill's need is for a new striker in the January window.

 But he returned to the United States on Saturday night comforted at least that Villa have one star attacker in their ranks in Gabriel Agbonlahor.

 O'Neill has been quick to play down suggestions, in the wake of recent praise from England manager Steve McClaren, that a forward with only five senior goals to his name might be ready for full international recognition. But, after speculation to the effect that Agbonlahor might be in need of a rest having not missed a single minute of first-team action for Villa this season, the England Under-21 striker responded with a lively contribution to Saturday's 2-2 draw at Portsmouth.

 Not only did his pace earn Villa their opening goal from the penalty spot but he remained the visitors' biggest threat after the break. Although it was goals by joint top scorers Gareth Barry — with Villa's seventh successful spot kick from nine attempts this season — and Juan Pablo Angel's late deflected equaliser, that won O'Neill's men their point at Pompey, it was Agbonlahor who again most caught the eye.

 "I thought he was exceptional for us," O'Neill said. "With that pace, Gabby is always a threat."

 With Chris Sutton still nursing a calf muscle problem, and having again been disappointed with his #16 million combination of Angel and Milan Baros in the home defeat to Manchester City on Wednesday night, O'Neill had felt a need to tinker with his frontline again in a bid to find the most effective partnership.

  He opted to bring Agbonlahor in from his wide right role to use his speed down the middle against rejuvenated former England defender Sol Campbell.

 "Secretly, Gabby will be quite pleased," O'Neill said. "He's been playing wide for us. But he's already proved this season that he's capable of scoring a few.

 "He's gone up there to inject a little pace, which is not something we've got a great abundance of, but he was a handful all day and, to go up and play against Sol Campbell, he did ever so well."

 Agbonlahor had one new admirer in Portsmouth boss Harry Redknapp. "He keeps you at full stretch with the pace he's got," Redknapp said. "One ball and he's off and you really have to keep an eye on him."

 Although his Villa team again missed the chance to go third in the table, O'Neill was also pleased that his decision to drop Angel, rather than Baros, had paid off, when the Colombian came off the bench to score for the first time in a month.

 "Juan Pablo has played all the games for us this season," O’Neill said. "At the moment we're just a bit short, and I thought it might make more sense to go in with a bit more pace, knowing that there was always a possibility of him coming on and doing something. And, although it was a deflection, he'll still take it.

 "He played alongside Chris Sutton at Everton and then with Milan on Wednesday night and nothing's been going brilliantly for him.

 "But we have to change things round occasionally and, in the last two games, he's been suffering a bit from lack of confidence. He just needed a goal, he's got the goal and that will give him an enormous boost.

 "And I also thought Milan's overall performance was encouraging for us too."

 It's hard to imagine that Lerner will not be flying home, however, without some clearer idea of how exactly O'Neill hopes his frontline will look over the second half of the season.

 "There was always a fear once the August deadline had gone and you weren't able to do anything about it," O'Neill said. "Obviously I took Stiliyan Petrov and the possibility of young James Milner fell through. But I had to try to get some idea of the quality of our squad before I started delving into the market.

"And I know the chairman has good intentions. He has given every indication that we are in here to try to improve the team. But this idea, when the window opens, that we've already got five, seven, ten things in place is not the case. I've not opened negotiations with any club about any particular player."

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