Aston Villa's fit-again captain Gabriel Agbonlahor is key to inspiring a turnaround in the club's fortunes starting against Tottenham Hotspur, according to caretaker boss Kevin MacDonald. Agbonlahor has made just three starts for the Premier League's bottom club in the top flight this season amid a campaign wrecked by injury.
The 29-year-old was injured at the start of the season during a pre-season friendly against Midlands rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers, before suffering a calf problem in the Capital One Cup win over another local foe in Birmingham City. Agbonlahor has since returned for the defeats to Swansea City and Southampton and is now ready to play a pivotal role for his hometown club.
Agbonlahor is expected to lead the Villa attack for the visit of Tottenham, with the club looking to end a run of six successive league defeats and secure what would be their first win since the opening day of the season. Interim boss MacDonald is preparing to call upon Villa's record Premier League goalscorer and has sent a rallying cry in the direction of the former England international.
"Gabby's season has been very stop-start," he told the club's official website. "He's been picking up niggles - and then the injury that's kept him out for the past few weeks until he got back in. Gabby is a player this club will need for the rest of the season to start really bringing up big performances.
"At Leicester, he was probably the focal point for us going two-up because I thought he was fantastic, running beyond defenders and pushing them further back, which allowed Gilly [Carles Gil] and Jack [Grealish] to get on the ball and start to cause them problems.
"He has a big responsibility," added MacDonald, who is expected to be replaced by incoming boss Remi Garde following the game against Tottenham. "He knows that. He is club captain. He's been at the club all his life. This will be hurting Gabby probably more than most because he will not want to be at a football club as big as Aston Villa and get relegated.
"There is the potential for Gabriel to still do better, but so has everyone at the club because we're bottom of the table at the moment. There's never been a lack of desire from Gabby to score more and more goals. He just sometimes needs a little bit of luck – as I think the club needs to turn things around. It might be a lucky 1-0 victory or a lucky goal in the last minute to get a draw somewhere."
Tottenham represent daunting opposition for Villa, having embarked on a nine-game unbeaten run since the opening-day loss to Manchester United to slowly creep up the table. Striker Harry Kane has recaptured his best form too, scoring a hat-trick for Spurs in the 5-1 demolition of Bournemouth in their previous game.