Lambert hails 'world-class' Benteke
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert described Christian Benteke as "world class" after the striker's hat-trick opened the door to Premier League safety by inspiring the 6-1 home victory over basement rivals Sunderland on Monday.
Benteke's three goals came in a whirlwind 17-minute spell in the middle of the second half as a game that had been balanced on a knife edge went spectacularly the way of the home side.
Villa are now five points clear of 18th-placed Wigan and have edged above Newcastle on goal difference by joining Sunderland on 37 points. The visitors' night of woe was completed by a straight red card for Stephane Sessegnon, although his manager Paolo Di Canio insisted afterwards an appeal would be lodged against his dismissal.
For Villa, it was good-news night and hopes of survival are now high, particularly with their strikers in such supreme form.
"When you have a front three like ours, you have an absolute threat," Lambert said. "I can't speak highly enough of Christian. People don't remember he's only 22. If he keeps his feet on the ground, he has a great future.
"Everybody can see his technique for a big lad is marvellous. First and foremost, we have won, pulled away from Wigan and brought other teams into it. But we have turned our goal difference round. That's a bonus and it could be significant."
Villa have won five of their last ten games and will reach the magical 40-point mark if they repeat their emphatic pre-Christmas Capital One Cup victory at Norwich by winning at Lambert's former club on Saturday.
Their confidence is sky high following a win initiated by stunning first-half goals from Ron Vlaar - the skipper's first for the club - and Andi Weimann.
Although Danny Rose made it 1-1 within two minutes of Vlaar's 35-yarder, Villa ran away with it in the end and Gabby Agbonlahor put the icing on the cake with the 88th minute opportunism that took him past Dwight Yorke as his club's top all-time Premier League goalscorer.
"The way we played right from the off in such a high-pressure game was outstanding," Lambert added. "It was fantastic.
"Look at our form since the turn of the year and we have been playing extremely well. We have young lads getting better and better and the crowd have identified with that. They are bouncing off each other, which is fantastic.
"You can judge by a crowd how a team are performing and the stadium here was absolutely rocking. That Holte End can be a magnet at times if you keep them on your side."
Villa's highest haul of goals in a Premier League home match since they beat Wimbledon 7-1 in February 1995 rekindled Sunderland's relegation fears following the euphoria of successive victories over Newcastle and Everton.
Di Canio, who was bated repeatedly by Villa fans who interpreted his hand gestures in the Capital One Cup tie at Swindon in the autumn as signifying they were going down, led his players over to the visiting supporters at the final whistle.
He held both his hands up and made it clear afterwards that he was saying sorry for the collapse.
"It is not acceptable," he said. "There were two different teams... Villa had desire and ferocity and looked like it was the last chance of their lives. It was like we had been in the last few weeks.
"My players didn't perform in the way we can. After two wins in a row, your stomach is full and you relax. We have to apologise because we have a big responsibility to the fans. It's beautiful to celebrate when you have won against Newcastle and Everton but you have to stand in front of everyone when you lose as well.
"We will be in tomorrow (Tuesday) morning and have to work hard with the blood in our eyes. We need three points, maybe four or five. The second (Villa) goal was not us. They are the best side on the counter-attack and we have to analyse deeply what we have done tonight and in the last two weeks."
In stressing that Sessignon's dismissal for a late 70th minute lunge at Yacouba Sylla was unwarranted, Di Canio confirmed an appeal would be launched.
"It's nothing," he said. "He didn't want to cause any damage. For sure we are going to appeal. I understand the referee fell into a trap... it's not fair for something that's not nasty. It's clear there was not any intention to damage the opponent."