Football - Benteke a side issue - Lambert

Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert believes the pressure has been eased on under-fire Christian Benteke thanks to the goalscoring exploits of his team-mates.

After scoring five goals in his first seven appearances this season, Benteke has failed to find the net since returning towards the end of October after a month on the sidelines with a hip injury.

Without a goal for 485 minutes, Benteke was on the bench for Wednesday's 3-2 victory at Southampton as Villa stretched their unbeaten run to five matches.

There is a possibility Benteke could be restored to the starting line-up for Sunday's Barclays Premier League game at struggling Fulham.

In his absence at the St Mary's Stadium, however, both Libor Kozak and Gabriel Agbonlahor were on the scoresheet.

In fact, in Villa's last four matches in which they have scored seven goals there have been six different scorers.

With the goals being spread around, it means Lambert is far less concerned with Benteke's drought than might otherwise have been the case.

"It stops people from saying 'Christian Benteke, will he (score) in this one, or that one'. It becomes a side issue," said Lambert.

"We've 25 lads or so who contribute, and we've been scoring goals from all over the pitch - even the two full-backs have scored.

"The midfield lads have scored, other forwards have scored. You can't always rely on Christian to score.

"We're playing with a lot of confidence at the moment, and the lads are scoring."

At least Lambert obtained a positive response from Benteke ahead of the midweek trip from the south coast, and in his eventual appearance after 66 minutes.

"He was fine. I spoke to him earlier in the week and told him what I was thinking," added Lambert.

"His reaction in the game after he came on, he looked back to his old self."

Kozak, a surprise B£7million deadline-day signing from Lazio, has in the meantime played a significant role, scoring three goals that have helped Villa win three matches, to Lambert's obvious delight.

"He's scored some big, big goals for us since he has been here," said Lambert.

"I'm delighted with him and his contribution because he takes so many knocks, but he scored another goal (against Southampton) and it was a great header because he had to put his head in.

"Off the pitch he's a really nice, well-mannered guy, someone you sense is desperate to do well in this country."

The nine points accrued from the last five matches have helped lift Villa up to 10th in the table, one Lambert claims he does not look at "until some time in May".

At present Villa are one place and three points behind Manchester United, with Lambert adding: "I'm pretty sure if you had said that to anybody at the start of the season nobody would have believed you."

With Villa aiming to continue their run against a Fulham side that has lost its last seven matches in all competitions, Lambert could not be happier.

"We've done great. We're so far ahead from last year in everything we're doing, but we're still miles away from where we want to get to," said Lambert.

"But we're growing. We look really good at the minute. We're a young side full of energy and we just keep building the football club."

For the trip to Fulham Lambert faces defensive issues as captain Ron Vlaar is doubtful with a calf injury along with Antonio Luna who has a groin problem.