It goes without saying that fans are the heart of any football club. Paul Lambert’s declaration that the support of Aston Villa’s loyal disciples matched the passion of Champions League semi-finalists Borussia Dortmund is high praise indeed. Now if Lambert could get his side playing like Dortmund the threat of relegation would soon cease. With their Premier League status under serious threat the Midlands side have improved markedly to win three of their last six games to give themselves a fighting chance of survival. Results fell kindly for them at the weekend and victory over Sunderland would lift them five points above 18th placed Wigan and potentially above beleaguered Newcastle if they netted five or more. The race is most definitely on.
The Black Cats, meanwhile, are searching for a third consecutive win under new head coach Paolo Di Canio that would ensure they’ll be playing top-flight football next season. The Italian has triggered a stunning revival in his first month on Wearside taking six points from a possible nine, as well as guiding the Black Cats to a stunning Tyne-Wear derby victory a fortnight ago. With that much sought-after 40-point mark in their sights Di Canio and his player can’t afford to let up if they’re to reach it before time runs out.
Paul Lambert goes into the game with no fresh injury concerns with Gabriel Agbonlahor fully fit after he completed 90 minutes against Manchester United last week following a groin injury.
Sunderland have Craig Gardner back to face his former club after the midfielder completed a two-match ban. Phil Bardsley (ankle) is a doubt, while Connor Wickham misses out with a calf problem.
What the managers said…
“I’m not sure because you don’t know how other results go. But you won’t be far away from it. ‘It’s in our own hands, that’s the good thing. It would be different if we had to rely on other people but we don’t. You look after your own, and if we do that then we’ll see what happens. I don’t think you can (get too caught up in the permutations), then you start to deflect from what you want to do yourself.” Paul Lambert isn’t sure 40-points will be enugh for Aston Villa to survive (Daily Mail)
“It was a strange moment, a strange situation in time those three days [after becoming Sunderland manager. But he rang me and backed me all the way. He said, ‘Proceed because you have complete support from the board’. From there, I felt even more energy, I was even more focused and even more determined to get the best out of the team, and I believed that no matter what the split with fans, I would look to make them happy as quickly as I could.” Paolo Di Canio admits he feared the immediate sack after his political beliefs overshadowed his appointment at Sunderland (BBC Sport)
Pre-match Statistic: Expect a feisty match at Villa Park! There have been five red cards in the last eight Premier League square ups between Villa and Sunderland.
Prediction: Aston Villa 1-1 Sunderland