Gary Neville hails Christian Benteke after Aston Villa's 6-1 win over Sunderland
Gary Neville hails Christian Benteke as Aston Villa's saviour after his hat-trick against Sunderland.
Last Updated: 30/04/13 9:32am
Benteke, who joined Villa from Genk in August, struck three times in the second-half as Villa ran riot to record their biggest win at home for 17 years. Ron Vlaar, Andreas Weimann and Gabriel Agbonlahor were also on target for Villa.
The 22-year-old's second-half surge took him past 20 goals in his debut season for the club and Neville believes the striker has been critical to Villa this season and instrumental in their surge to the brink of Premier League safety.
"It is sad that when they have unearthed a talent like that now everyone will start linking him with different clubs," Neville told Monday Night Football. "But at 22 years of age, to do what he has done in his first season in the Premier League, is an outstanding achievement.
"He's at a club that has not always been at its best this season. It has been a tough season for Aston Villa, especially in scoring goals. But he has been absolute saviour for them."
Of the win, Neville said: "It was so unexpected. Tonight everything went right for Aston Villa. In the end it was an emphatic victory."
Danny Rose scored Sunderland's only goal during a nightmare evening for Paolo Di Canio's team, which was further soured by a red card for Stephane Sessegnon for violent conduct. Despite the recent upsurge following Di Canio's appointment, Neville believes Sunderland are far from safe yet.
"If Wigan get a win it really will make them all nervous," said Neville. "They (challenges such as Sessegnon's) are naughty little ones.
"The referee could have given a yellow but if you look at the reaction of Paul Lambert and his bench, they are not happy. They are incensed. They think he has gone over the top with studs showing. It is a dangerous challenge.
"But we have seen a lot of them in the last few weeks, some of them have been red some have been yellow; some have been free-kicks.
"Sunderland have got problems scoring goals and now they have lost their main player in the last couple of weeks in Paolo Di Canio's reign. I can't see it being overturned.
"It is a problem for Sunderland. If Wigan win at West Brom or against Swansea, there will be a couple of teams who will be really nervous, mainly the ones in the north east."
Villa's win took them level on points with Sunderland and Newcastle and five points clear of Wigan, who are in the final relegation place. And while Neville believes Villa, Sunderland and Newcastle should still be nervous, Wigan remain in a tough position despite having a game in hand on their relegation rivals.
"It is all on Wigan," Neville said of the FA Cup finalists. "The results have not been great but the performances have been ok. You wonder if that goal in the last minute by Tottenham on Saturday was a killer for them.
"For anybody who has ever played football at Wembley, particularly players who are not used to playing, it will sap their legs. I don't care what anybody tells me. It will do. It is an absolute fact.
"For them to go and play Arsenal a week later is a real complication for Wigan. It is tough enough as it is but that Cup final is a real complication for Wigan."