Lerner's backing offers Lambert breathing space
Villa owner gives manager go-ahead to spend after calamitous Christmas defeats
Paul Lambert takes his listing Aston Villa team to Swansea on Tuesday reinforced by the unconditional backing of the club's American owner, Randy Lerner. There is money to spend in the January transfer window, should Lambert find the player of his dreams, and more importantly there is faith in the path the manager is pursuing.
Lerner's attendance at Villa Park for the 3-0 defeat to Wigan Athletic on Saturday added urgency and drama at the end of a six-day spell in which Villa shipped 15 goals without reply. But there was no sense of desperation as Lambert conducted face-to-face discussions with Lerner and the chief executive, Paul Faulkner, over the weekend instead of the weekly telephone exchange.
Lerner, who has spent almost a quarter of a billion pounds since his acquisition of Villa in 2006, including more than £20m on nine new faces in the summer, the fifth-biggest outlay in the Premier League, remains committed to a strategy focused on the Villa academy and the development of home-grown talent. Equally, he accepts that the club's plight demands further transfer activity to secure Premier League survival.
Buoyed by the chairman's support, Lambert restated his optimism for the future and believes that the events of the past week will have no bearing on his ability to attract players to the club. "I always speak to the chairman and to Paul after games. Obviously, the discussions will remain private. I have a good relationship with the chairman but football is a results business," Lambert said.
"I can only work with what I have, and that is the same for any manager, you try to do your job the best you can. Everybody says that January is an absolute nightmare of a month for the transfer window because people can panic and all those things, prices are inflated, people don't want to sell, so it is a tough one. But it is pretty easy to sell the club. The stature it has got, you don't need to be Einstein to try to sell this club. It is huge."
Swansea were unbeaten during the Christmas fixtures and did Villa a festive service with their victory on Saturday away to Fulham, who are only three points ahead and one of half a dozen teams within six points of the drop zone. No such concerns attach themselves to Swansea, who begin the new year in mid-table heaven, on the same 28 points as Liverpool and with the same plus-five goal difference.
The Swansea story is part of a footballing upswing in South Wales that includes Cardiff City's ambitious push for promotion to the Premier League. Michael Laudrup's team plays with the same verve established under Brendan Rodgers. There is also a pragmatic quality associated with Swansea, which militates against getting carried away when the opposition arrive in desperate straits.
"So many times over the years we've had teams coming to us in poor form but they have raised their game at the Liberty," said the club captain, Garry Monk. "We won't be taking them lightly. They beat us 2-0 at their place earlier in the season, so we know the quality they possess. And after the results in their last few games, they will be fighting for every single thing. But we'll be fully charged up too, because we want to start the year on a positive note."
Kick-off 3pm Referee M Halsey (Hertfordshire) TV Highlights, 10.25pm, BBC 1.
Odds: Swansea City 3-5 Draw 11-4 Aston Villa 5-1
New villans? Transfer targets
Tom Ince, 20, Blackpool
Would not provide the experience Villa require, but fans are keen on the midfielder who is also wanted by Liverpool.
Raoul Loe, 23, Osasuna
Villa sent a scout to watch the French defensive midfielder, who has been likened to Patrick Vieira. Could be available on the cheap as Osasuna have financial problems.
Nigel Reo-Coker, 28, Ipswich Town
Former player who made more than 100 appearances for Villa. Knows the club, available this month and always ready for a scrap. EMILY LEES
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