Aston Villa owner Randy Lerner has reiterated his support for manager Paul Lambert ahead of tomorrow's crunch Barclays Premier League clash with fellow strugglers Newcastle.
Lerner, the American entrepreneur who has invested £250m in Villa since buying the club in 2006, gave his last formal press conference in 2010 and has not agreed to be interviewed by an English football writer since 2011.
Yet the mounting pressure on Villa manager Paul Lambert following the ignominy of two cup defeats in four days to lower-league opponents has prompted Lerner to break his silence by reaffirming his backing for the beleaguered Scot.
Lerner himself has been under fire for failing to support Lambert during the transfer window despite a woeful Premier League record of four wins in 23 matches that has left them one point above the relegation places.
In a statement issued ahead of tonight's critical Premier League match at Villa Park between Villa and a similarly shaky Newcastle United, Lerner said: "In the time that I've come to know Paul what is clear above all else is his strength of character and belief in his approach to football.
"Fortunes can shift quickly in this game and a sense that one has it right can become grave doubt in a matter of a few games.
"The Villa board knew that with Paul we would begin to address the club's multi-year lack of competitive stability by reshaping the squad with seven new signings in the summer. It has been rewarding at times this season although certainly frustrating as well, particularly recently.
"During January, Paul and the board have discussed a variety of players although nothing has yet materialised, which I know also can be frustrating as fresh players always give at least a sense of progress and optimism.
"Finally, and on a very personal note, I would reiterate that Paul has achieved success at many levels of professional football and I believe, given support, he will continue to do so for us."
Lerner's comments – he gave similar backing for Alex McLeish in April last year, three weeks before terminating his contract – came after Lambert had launched a strong defence of Lerner's stewardship.
Lambert missed out on several potential January signings because he could not meet the asking price. One of his targets, the 23-year-old French midfielder Moussa Sissoko, signed instead for Newcastle.
But he insisted that Lerner's shift towards the young, cut-price players that dominated last summer's Villa Park intake was not "a flawed plan" and denied that the owner had lost interest in the club.
"The conversations I have with him will remain private but they have been really good and I have faith in his plan for the club," Lambert said. "I don't think it is a flawed plan.
"When I came I knew it was going to be a rebuilding process but to rebuild something you have to strip it back first. I knew the remit for the job.
"He has certainly not lost interest or washed his hands of the club. After putting in the incredible amount of money he has put in that is not going to happen.
"It will take two to three years easily and relegation is not part of the plan. No one is prepared to accept that. But I still believe we will survive because there will be twists and turns before it is over."
Lambert hinted he may be prepared to welcome back Richard Dunne, the 33-year-old Republic of Ireland centre-back whose days at the club looked numbered but whose return to training after a long-term groin injury offers the prospect of reinforcing an inexperienced defence. That rearguard has so far leaked 44 Premier League goals and was exposed by both League Two Bradford City in the Capital One Cup and Millwall of the Championship in the FA Cup last week.
"Richard has been round the block, he has that desire to compete and put his head on the line, to go in where you might get hurt, which is what our players have to do now," Lambert said. "He is a good talker too and we could do with that. He is not feeling too bad at the moment and I will go by how he feels but you can't rush someone into doing something he is not comfortable with.
Villa defender Alan Hutton is on the verge of a move to La Liga side Real Mallorca. The 28-year-old right-back, who is out of favour at Villa Park, will join on loan with Mallorca to the end of the season with a view to a permanent move in the summer. He was signed for £3m from Spurs in 2011.