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May 13, 2013

Lambert refuses to criticise Benteke

Christian Benteke, the man who has lit up Aston Villa's difficult first season under Paul Lambert, is suddenly in danger of undoing much of his hard work.

Villa were within touching distance of guaranteed safety and putting a happy end to nine months of struggle when the striker followed up his 23rd goal of the season with a sending-off against Chelsea that bordered on recklessness.

The already-booked Benteke caught John Terry with a late and high challenge that left an imprint of his studs on the defender's chest. Luck had been on the Belgian's side when he escaped with only a yellow card for what appeared to be a first-half elbow into the face of Cesar Azpilicueta.

Paul Lambert sidestepped the temptation to publicly criticise Benteke, who now has to sit out the final week of the season. Instead, he chose to vent only some of the anger he obviously felt with Lee Mason, calling the referee's performance "poor".

But how the manager must be seething with the former Genk man as well, even if Villa would have been doomed long ago had it not been for his outstanding contribution.

Victory was there for the taking when he took the long walk off, head bowed, just before the hour. What should particularly pain him is that his side were not only one goal up at the time - expertly despatched by himself - but also a man to the good as a result of Ramires' more debatable dismissal.

And so comfortable were Villa in the first 15 minutes after half-time that it appeared they had only to keep their heads to keep a hold on all three points.

"At 1-0, we looked so confident," Lambert said. "It was a huge point in the game and gave Chelsea a lift.

"If Christian has elbowed him in the face (earlier), I'll have to sit it back. He takes some knocks himself and isn't a shrinking violet. He's looking at the ball (when he catches Terry) and I always thought the referee was liable to do something."

It will still take a strange combination of results to relegate Villa. They will be sure of survival unless Wigan's FA Cup final euphoria spills into another win at Arsenal on Tuesday and they still have the safety net of their own last-day game, although that, intriguingly, is at the DW Stadium. A Sunderland defeat at Tottenham next Sunday is another way of ensuring they stay up.

Sunday results this weekend have left their plight more nervy than it might have been but a show of common sense from Benteke would surely have got the job done with time to spare.

"A lot of things happened in the game," said Villa skipper Ron Vlaar. "It was played at high speed. We were right on top at one stage and we played a pretty good game. But we have no points from it and that is too bad for us with one game left."

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