We are currently trialling our new-look independent.co.uk website - please send any feedback to beta@independent.co.uk

Premier League

Paul Lambert backs Aston Villa youngsters to hold nerve in relegation battle

Villa play Stoke this weekend

Paul Lambert is backing Aston Villa's crop of youngsters to hold their nerve in the Barclays Premier League survival battle and believes the pressure is on Stoke ahead of tomorrow's clash.

Villa are currently in the bottom three but victory at the Britannia Stadium will leave them only one point adrift of the Potters, who have won only one of their last 11 games.

Lambert has seen Villa climb put of the relegation zone on four previous occasions this season and takes heart from the performance levels and confidence shown by his players in recent weeks.

He said: "When you look at the table, from 11th place down only four points separate the teams down to us. That's nothing. It's basically just one game.

"Everybody has to play some really hard fixtures. It's how you hold your nerve. We try to keep the place upbeat and we don't look like a team that is playing with nerves.

"You have to have a strong mentality so the pressure doesn't get to you and see it through. If you do that, that's half the battle.

"I have not spoken about relegation or anything like that. I think that breeds negativity. Form gives you confidence and we are playing well enough to get results.

"The thing for me is that they are confident in having the ball. It is not as if they are frightened by it and just want to launch the ball up the field. They are certainly play with a bit of freedom."

Lambert has plenty of respect for the success Pulis has enjoyed with Stoke but knows it is an opportunity for Villa to drag the Potters back into the thick of the relegation battle.

He said: "Maybe Tony didn't visualise Stoke were going to be in this position after the start they had, but the reality is they are not too far ahead.

"I am sure Tony would like more points than he has got but we are only four points behind them.

"The pressure is on them. It's on Stoke because they are the home team and they haven't won of late as well. There will be a lot of pressure there for Stoke as well as ourselves.

"It is a huge game. Every game you play is massive. We know if we win, we are only one point behind them and that's the way to go and view it."

Lambert is aware Villa have to match the physical challenge which will be provided by Stoke and is calling for a repeat of the performance that yielded a goalless draw in the reverse fixture in December.

That was the last time that Villa managed to keep a clean sheet in a run stretching back over 20 games.

Lambert said: "You know you are going to have to physically match Stoke.

"You know the ball is going to come into your box and, the tempo they play, you are going to have to match that.

"But we did it at Villa Park earlier in the season when we competed really well against them and we are going to have to do exactly the same on Saturday.

"You are going to have to be brave that's for sure.

"Stoke are a good side. They get unfairly criticised. But we are trying to catch them."

Central defender Ciaran Clark remains Villa's biggest injury concern with the shoulder problem suffered on international duty with the Republic of Ireland.