Aston Villa’s manager, Paul Lambert, has warned Sunderland they are not safe yet as he looks to drag the resurgent Wearsiders back into the relegation dogfight in Monday night’s meeting at Villa Park.
Villa enter the weekend three points behind Sunderland, who have won their last two games under Paolo Di Canio, and Lambert admits his team must halt the visitors’ new-found momentum to keep their survival hopes in their own hands.
“We have to win,” Lambert said. “The next four games are massive but we also know if we win on Monday then we pull Sunderland right back in there as well. There’s only three points in it and we’re at home. I’d rather be at home than going away, that’s for sure. They are not [out of it]. There’s points to be won and points to be lost.”
Lambert predicts a spicy affair under the Villa Park lights. “When it’s at that stage of the season and teams are close to each other, things happen which might not happen earlier in the season,” he said.
The presence of the volatile Di Canio may add to that aspect. When Villa won 3-2 at Di Canio’s Swindon Town in the League Cup in October, the Italian was accused of making a series of “going down” gestures to the Villa fans, although he insisted he was simply pointing out that the home crowd had outsung their visitors. Either way, Di Canio can expect to hear plenty of noise on Monday.
“We’ll have the crowd behind [us], and the big thing is we’re playing well enough and creating chances,” Lambert said – and with some justification, given that before Monday’s 3-0 loss at Manchester United, Villa had scored 10 goals in their previous five outings.
They have won just one of their last four at home but they have performed well against the teams around them, having won six-pointers against QPR at home and Reading and Stoke away in the past two months. With trips to Norwich and Wigan still to come, the key could be to keep that record going.
“Two wins would be good; the important thing is it’s in our own hands still,” added Lambert.