Paul Lambert admits Aston Villa's season is on a knife edge

 

Rather a lot has happened in the life of Paul Lambert since 13 May. That was the day of last season's Premier League finale, when the disgruntled Aston Villa supporters in the away end at Carrow Road began singing the Scot's name as they saw their team go down 2-0 to his Norwich City side.

Those Villa fans got their wish when Lambert replaced the unpopular Alex McLeish at the beginning of June but almost five months on the 43-year-old faces a reunion with his old club at Villa Park today that comes loaded with anxiety.

Few would have envisaged that Villa would be looking up at Norwich in the Premier League table, following their worst start since they were relegated in 1986-87. If that makes this a match that Villa really must win, the tension will not be limited to the field of play either after Lambert's admission yesterday that he would shake the hand of only "some of the people" he worked with during a highly successful period in Norfolk in which he oversaw two successive promotions.

"There's some good people there, really good people – some," he said pointedly, and it is assumed that number does not include the Norwich chairman, Alan Bowkett, whom Lambert claimed yesterday he had not spoken to for two years. It was Bowkett who discussed the legal battle between Lambert and his former club at a recent fans' forum – they are suing each other for breach of contract over his departure for Villa, a matter to be decided in the new year by a Premier League Managers' Arbitration Panel.

As a former Celtic player, Lambert is used to the stick that may come his way from the Norwich supporters – "I come from a city [Glasgow] where half the city doesn't like you" – but there was a hint of dismay at the thought the ongoing row might tarnish his achievements. "Myself, Ian [Culverhouse] and Gary [Karsa] had three fantastic years at the football club. I think what probably bothers me the most is the fans' perception of it, that's what hurts the most," he said.

Ultimately, though, that is a mere sideshow; what matters is his increasingly challenging job of reviving Villa's fortunes. So far Lambert has been unable to halt the downward slide that began with Martin O'Neill's departure in 2010 and owner Randy Lerner's tightening of the purse strings. Whatever the excitement of the 4-2 League Cup victory at Manchester City, Villa have won one of his eight league fixtures in charge and scored only six goals.

Lambert admits they must generate some momentum somehow. That might have come in the recent 2-0 reverse at Tottenham where his promising but raw Belgium striker Christian Benteke – whose starting role has ruffled the feathers of Darren Bent – missed a free header at 0-0. "If that goes in it's a different game. Football's a fine line but I'm not too despondent with the way we're playing," reflected Lambert, who also saw Benteke squander an opportunity to equalise at in the 1-0 defeat at Fulham last weekend.

In one sense he has been here before: he began his first managerial role at Livingston in 2005-06 with a near-identical record: two league draws and six defeats, together with two League Cup wins. "They were a young side as well and they gave us absolutely everything they had," Lambert remembered. "I think we're playing well enough to win games [but] you have to get a little bit of momentum going. At Livingston we couldn't get that."

At Livingston, he was also sacked in the February of that first season, but at Villa, they appear to be looking at the long term given Lambert's template is for young, ambitious players. Dave Woodhall, editor of the Heroes and Villains fanzine, says there is an acceptance that Lambert needs time. "It's a case of realising it is going to be a long haul, it's been a strange couple of seasons with lots going wrong, it is not going to be fixed overnight.

"They could muddle around buying experienced journeymen, permanently finishing mid-table not doing anything and eventually getting relegated when it's their turn or they can do what they're doing now and hopefully build a side from there."

"We're Aston Villa, we're passing the ball" was one chant heard in August by Villa fans enthused by the change in style under Lambert but while summer arrivals Matthew Lowton and Brett Holman have caught the eye, one widely held view is Villa are struggling for a lack of experience – a situation not helped by the absence of Stiliyan Petrov and Richard Dunne. At Fulham their entire back four had 35 Premier League outings between them. This helps explain their inconsistency during games as only once – the 3-1 home defeat to Everton – does Lambert think they simply have not performed.

"This league is unforgiving, that's the big difference," he said, comparing his task at Villa with that of restoring Norwich's fortunes. "In League One you could play badly and still win games. This is a totally different animal." One, he hopes, that will not come back to bite him today.

Villa: Season starts

After eight games under McLeish

W2 D5 L1

After eight games under Lambert

W1 D2 L5

After eight games in 1986-87

W1 D1 L6

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea