Paul Lambert is demanding more from Christian Benteke – despite the striker’s dramatic double firing Aston Villa through to the Capital One Cup quarter-finals.
Benteke started and finished the scoring during a captivating 3-2 cup victory at Swindon Town on Tuesday with his winning strike coming in stoppage time after Villa had squandered a two-goal lead.
Despite Benteke’s brace taking his tally to four goals – after strikes against Swansea and Norwich – Lambert insists the Belgian battering ram’s overall game was sub-standard.
But the manager insists he never contemplated substituting Benteke because he knows how much of a handful the 21-year-old powerhouse can be to opposition defences.
“Benteke has had a quality start at Villa but his game wasn’t up to my standards,” said Lambert.
“His two goals were world-class finishes but you set yourself a standard and we’ve got to keep him up to that standard.
“Why did he fell short? I don’t know.
“But he has been brilliant since he came here and I think he will get better. He is only 21 and has been a pleasure to work with.
“He is going to be a big player and plays in a brilliant Belgium team.”
Lambert felt complacency crept in as Benteke’s first goal on 30 minutes and a Gabby Agbonlahor strike on 40 minutes were cancelled out by a brace from Swindon sub Miles Storey on 78 and 81 minutes.
“At 2-0 we were really comfortable and doing well and could have got another goal just before half-time.
“You become complacent and credit to Swindon for trying to play the right way but we deserved to win this game.
“I know how hard it is coming here and you’ve got to earn the right to win. It is not all glamour. It is a big win for us.”
At the final whistle Paulo Di Canio appeared to taunt Villa fans that their club was going down – but the Swindon boss claimed his hand gestures were simply intended as light-hearted banter. He insisted: “No, that was not the case. I was saying to my fans that they had been brilliant and their support was so good that they were up there and Villa were below them.
“I was saying it was my fans are the top and they are underneath you.
“It was banter but it was not an insult.”
Chris Herd added to Villa’s injury worries by hobbling off with a knee problem after half-an-hour and he joins defenders Richard Dunne, Ciaran Clark and Nathan Baker on the sidelines.
Karim El Ahmadi will miss Saturday’s Premier League trip to Sunderland through suspension after picking up his fifth booking of the season in Tuesday night’s tie.
But Joe Bennett will be eligible to play after serving a one-match ban, following his sending off against Norwich.
Meanwhile, skipper Ron Vlaar says he would love to lift a trophy for Villa at Wembley after the heartbreak of missing out on a Dutch cup triumph through injury.
Feyenoord won the KNVB Cup in 2007-08, and while Vlaar was pleased for his team-mates, it was hard to feel fully involved as he recovered on the sidelines.
“I dream about lifting a trophy with Villa, of course,” said Vlaar. “You want to win every game and cup games are something you look forward to. It’s a long way off yet but to play at Wembley would be amazing.
“We won the cup in Holland but I was injured that year so I didn’t play. It was a hard year for me but because I didn’t recover at the club I wasn’t there a lot.
“So when they won the trophy I was really happy and it felt good, although it was different for me.
“I also won two Under-21 European Championships in a row, which was great.”
Vlaar has been a Premier League ever-present for Villa this season and the only match he has missed in all competitions is the Capital One Cup win over Tranmere at Villa Park when he was rested.