Gabby Agbonlahor: Steve Bruce says Aston Villa striker may earn new contract

By Ged ScottBBC Sport at Villa Park
Gabby Agbonlahor
Gabby Agbonlahor's winner on Sunday was his fifth career goal against Villa's local rivals Birmingham

Aston Villa manager Steve Bruce says Gabby Agbonlahor's timely derby winner against Birmingham City may help earn the striker a surprise new deal.

The 30-year-old scored his first goal for 14 months in Sunday's 1-0 victory.

Agbonlahor started 2016-17 seeing out the penultinmate year of his contract as a virtual outsider, but was brought back into the fold by Bruce in October.

"When you bring someone in from the cold, if that's what it was, he has to react as well," Bruce told BBC Sport.

"Gabby was walking in the car park on my first day ready to join in with the 17-year-olds.

"But I wasn't interested in what's happened in the past. I was aware of what had gone on, but I told him he'd got to go on a fitness programme and shed the timber.

"He went away and did that. He was impeccable for the first two months. He lost something like 10kg, then got a horrible hamstring injury.

"He was just getting himself back in contention for when I needed him when Jonathan Kodjia was away in January."

Gabby fills gap left by Kodjia's absence

While top scorer Kodjia was playing for Ivory Coast at the Africa Cup of Nations, Villa went on a nine-game winless run which cost them any hope of promotion.

It looked like they might suffer again on Sunday from Kodjia's loss, this time through suspension, but Bruce discovered another match-winner.

"It's taken him until now to recover, and now he's got a big summer ahead," said Bruce.

"I can only go on what I've seen in the last five months but a fit Gabby Agbonlahor, certainly at this level, has still got something to offer.

"He's now got to try to earn a contract for next season. It's a big summer for him and he's got to keep himself fit.

"When you get to 30 now, winning a new contract is like winning the lottery."

Steve Bruce and Harry Redknapp
Steve Bruce's Aston Villa condemned Harry Redknapp to defeat in his first match as Birmingham City manager

'Birmingham needs the Second City derby'

As Birmingham City manager for seven years, Bruce always loved the derby game with Aston Villa.

His Blues team were unbeaten in their first six of them with him in charge, of which City won four.

As Villa boss, he is now unbeaten in two, having helped the club extend their unbeaten league derby record against Blues to 10 games.

But he fervently hopes that, although Blues have now won just twice in 23 Championship games, his latest derby triumph does not come at the expense of his former club being relegated to League One.

"I hope Blues stay up for the sake of the city," added Bruce. "We want to see occasions like this. It was fabulous. Everybody loves it.

"The second city needs a derby. And let's be fair, it should be in the other league."

As to whether Blues, having slipped so badly under Gianfranco Zola, can now stay up under Harry Redknapp, their new manager remains positive.

In hearteningly buoyant mood at the post-match media conference, 70-year-old Redknapp told BBC Sport: "I'll enjoy this two weeks, whatever happens.

"I'm not getting paid. I don't know if I'm even getting my petrol money," he joked. "I've only just got enough to put in my tank to get me home."

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