- Premier League
Lambert warns relegation battle is still wide open
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert insists even clubs in mid-table may have cause to fear the Premier League relegation battle this season.
Villa took a step towards safety by winning at Reading last weekend and face another critical afternoon with Saturday's visit of Queens Park Rangers. Victory would put serious daylight between Villa and the relegation places, but Lambert believes the jitters are being felt by other clubs as well.
"It's feasible that both Rangers and us could get out because there's nothing in it really from mid-table," the Scot said. "You just don't know which way it's going to swing. I think there are a few in there. There are going to be more twists and turns and there are a lot of teams involved in this whole thing.
"I don't really talk about relegation. We just focus on the game that is ahead. I've got great belief still that we are going to be fine and we will do everything we can to stay up. It's not something I've thought about.
"It doesn't prey on my mind and I always keep positive. I've been like that since I went to Germany (as a player with Borussia Dortmund), believing in people and that they can get results.
"We are in the mix with a lot of other teams. We don't look like a team playing with fear or trepidation and not making chances. Then, you would start to worry. We look a team that is capable of winning games."
Lambert's approach to a match that could have huge repercussions, good or bad, has been to keep things as normal as possible.
Villa Park is sure to be highly charged but the manager will not be attempting any masterstrokes aimed at stealing a key advantage and the only deviation from routine has been an appearance at the club from owner Randy Lerner.
"He has been great," Lambert added. "He has been how he has been since the first day I met him. Rallying the troops is my job and he was here just for a chat and a coffee. I don't know whether he will be at the game.
"I think he gets unfair criticism, I really do. He is a good guy who has done incredibly for the football club and we have a good relationship. I hope I would still be here if we go down. It's a brilliant club and I love it here."
Asked about the pressure and match-day atmosphere, Lambert continued: "The players will know about that as soon as they go out for the warm-up. I won't put more pressure on them. I will tell them what they need to know but they are fully aware of what's at stake."
One aspect certainly not lacking for the manager is confidence in his squad.
Apart from the victory at Reading, Villa have performed well against the likes of West Brom, Everton, West Ham, Arsenal, Newcastle and Manchester City in recent weeks and there is contentment that a consistent level of form has been achieved.
"Since the turn of the year, we have sustained performances," he said. "The players have been on it. They are a bit more mature and have that desire to try to see it through. I knew going down to Reading that we could win and this is the same.
"There are goals in us and we are a real threat. Gabby (Agbonlahor), Andi (Weimann), Christian (Benteke) and Charles (N'Zogbia) are playing well. If win this, it will be such a terrific few weeks for us and we are certainly playing well enough going into it.
"Harry Redknapp will say himself there is still a long way to go, even after this game. This game won't define anything. But momentum is vital. If you can get on a little run, it is huge. The most important thing for me is we are going into the game with the vibrancy to go and win it."
Villa have a chequered recent history in crucial matches, with the Capital One Cup semi-final letdown against Bradford City a prime example of their failings.
Lambert insists his side have improved considerably even from January, though, and his young players have learned to handle tension.
"They have to use the adrenaline from the crowd to spur them on and not let it frighten them," he said. "I have seen it loads at Celtic... people starting on the left wing and the next minute playing in the centre of midfield because they don't want to be next to the crowd.
"It's quite easy to hide at times but last week was a pressure game and I thought we played really, really well. The players are growing together.
"I think we're very much better equipped for these games now. If they come through this (survival battle), it will stand them in good stead. That's great for the future because it will stand you in good stead for playing in front of big crowds wherever you play. I have never sensed any fear from the players here."