Gabriel Agbonlahor has been heralded by all and sundry this season which is no mean achievement for a player who found life in the Championship distinctly unpalatable.

The 20-year-old striker has recorded four goals this season at venues such as Stamford Bridge and Anfield as well as playing a pivotal role in Villa’s improved form under Martin O’Neill.

Villa’s new manager has already lauded the achievement of the club’s Academy after Steven Davis, Liam Ridgewell, Luke Moore, Agbonlahor and Isaiah Osbourne appeared on the conveyor belt of youth talent.

Agbonlahor potential was evident after his debut at Goodison Park last season, when he announced his arrival with a goal in an otherwise forgettable afternoon for the club.

He has since become an integral cog in a Villa system devised by O’Neill that has utilised his searing pace.

Nevertheless, it was a different picture last season as Agbonlahor desperately tried to make an impact at both Watford and Sheffield Wednesday in the Championship. Ten games and not a solitary goal in two loan spells suggest that Agbonlahor struggled.

Whilst it can be stored away under the box marked valuable experience, Agbonlahor is far more at home in the Premiership and the England Under-21 side.

His debut against Germany in the 2007 European Championship play-offs earlier this month is testament to his rapid ascent but he hasn’t forgotten his chastening introduction to league football.

"I can’t really put my finger on why it has worked out for me in the Premiership far better than it did in the championship," admitted Agbonlahor.

"I just didn’t click for whatever reason at Watford or Sheffield Wednesday. I feel far more comfortable at Villa as I know all the young players and have developed a good understanding with them over the years.

"Being from Birmingham helps too, as all my family and friends are Villa fans and it is good to feel comfortable in your surroundings.

"I really feel part of it now that I am involved week in and week out and not to have missed a minute yet is much better than I anticipated at the start of the campaign."

Whilst it was O’Leary who handed Agbonlahor his opportunity at first-team level, Villa’s expeditious striker is a convert to the O’Neill mantra.

"David O’Leary gave my chance last season at Everton and I will always be grateful for that," added Agbonlahor. "However, I knew I was only playing because all of our other strikers were injured.

"Since the gaffer has arrived he has given me masses of encouragement all the time and is always telling me to be positive. The confidence and belief he has in me is really helping my game and making me improve."

All of which has led to Agbonlahor revising his targets for the campaign. "I want to keep my place in the side and chip in with a few more gaols," he continued. "As a team, we want to beat the 16th place of last year and stay in mid-table at least.

"We have still got a lot of young players who are learning as we go along but I think the fact we have played together for so long helps us. It means that we understand each other’s game a lot better and that can only be beneficial.

"Mind you, when we have a five-a-side, I have to confess it is usually the old boys who win, as they like to tell us on a regular basis."

Teddy Sheringham has revealed that he came close to joining Villa in the summer. The 40-year-old West Ham striker considered an offer from O’Neill after growing frustrated by his lack of opportunities at Upton Park.

"When I am not involved in the 16. I sometimes wonder if I should move on. Aston Villa came in for me earlier in the season and I thought ‘that would do for me’," said Sheringham. "I sometimes wonder why I put myself through this and then get disappointed in not being involved."

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