Aston Villa V Crystal Palace at Villa Park : Match Preview

24 December 2013 03:01
Aston Villa V Crystal Palace - view commentary, squad, and statistics of the game live.

Lambert upbeat despite poor form

Paul Lambert heads into Boxing Day buoyed by Aston Villa's performance at Stoke even though it ended in a third straight defeat.

Villa have back-to-back games at Villa Park this week, with Crystal Palace the visitors on Thursday followed by Swansea two days later.

No team in the Barclays Premier League has picked up fewer points at home than Villa's seven, but Lambert believes there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic.

He felt the 2-1 defeat at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday was undeserved and is looking for a repeat performance, if not result, against Palace.

The Villa boss said: "If you look at the middle of the table, there's nothing in it. One win takes you up a few places.

"They're two hard games but we'll go and give it our all and try to win. If we play like that, then I'll be more than happy, just get the break and try to get a win."

Lambert has a decision to make up front after pairing Andreas Weimann with Libor Kozak against Stoke in the absence of the injured Christian Benteke and Gabriel Agbonlahor, who was serving a one-match suspension.

Benteke is unlikely to return against Palace as Lambert wants to give him more time to recover fully from a knee problem that has contributed to his struggles in front of goal this season.

Kozak, a summer signing from Lazio, made his seventh Premier League start against Stoke and netted his fourth goal, while he might have grabbed a draw for Villa but for an impressive save by Asmir Begovic.

Lambert said of the Czech: "I thought he was excellent, he led the line great, and him and Weimann linked really well together. He was a handful. The crowd have taken to him and, to be fair to him, his goal ratio is pretty decent."

Palace, who sit in 18th place, won three of their first four games after Tony Pulis was appointed manager but have lost their last two, most recently a 3-0 home defeat by Newcastle.

Lambert is a fan of former Stoke boss Pulis, who left the Britannia Stadium in the summer after seven years.

The Villa boss said: "Tony's given them a lift. He's an infectious kind of guy, I've been in his company a lot and he's good company.

"You look at the job he did at Stoke. I don't think he got given the credit for it. The club is the way it is because of him. He has his way of playing and you have to respect it - there's no right way and wrong way to play a game of football.

"Sometimes a manager goes in and gets a lift, sometimes it tails off, but it will be a tough game for us."

Another familiar face will be midfielder Barry Bannan, who spent nine years at Villa before leaving for Palace this summer.

"He played a lot of games for me, we just felt that we had to keep changing and he found something at Crystal Palace," said Lambert.

"He's only a young lad, he's got his whole career in front of him."

Goalkeeper Brad Guzan is eager for a quick response from Villa following their Britannia Stadium disappointment.

He said: "The good thing about the Christmas period is it's a quick turnaround.

"It's a massive game on Boxing Day, we have to make sure we come out and get three points. Nobody's happy when you're not winning games. We have to find a way to bounce back."

Villa have tightened up at the back this season but Guzan was disappointed with the goals they conceded against Stoke, particularly Peter Crouch's winner.

Geoff Cameron's low cross evaded both Guzan and Chris Herd, allowing Crouch a tap-in.

"We need to be able to deal with crosses into the box, myself included," said Guzan.

"We'll go back and look at it and make sure it doesn't happen again. I've got all the confidence in the world in the guys in front of me."

Midfielder Ashley Westwood serves a one-match ban after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season while captain Ron Vlaar is unlikely to have recovered from a calf problem in time.

Goal-shy Crystal Palace are in desperate need of greater firepower and more options up front, manager Tony Pulis has admitted.

Selhurst Park boss Pulis has challenged Palace's players to fit his regimented mould or face being shipped out in the January transfer window.

Former Stoke boss Pulis has confirmed he must sell before he buys in January, as he bids to keep Palace in the Barclays Premier League. Cameron Jerome and Marouane Chamakh have hit form since Pulis' arrival last month, replacing Ian Holloway.

But former Arsenal forward Chamakh is suspended for Palace's Boxing Day trip to Aston Villa.

Pulis said Dwight Gayle is Chamakh's obvious replacement, but refused to pin too much expectation on the former Peterborough striker.

Pulis said: "We've got Gayley who could play up there but that leaves it thin, that leaves us a little bit short.

"Gayley's been alright, there's no problems.

"It's just a very big ask for someone who was playing non-League football only a year ago to come up and play in the Premier League, especially for such a young lad as well.

"That is a big, big call.

"When you're in the position we're in, it's tough to get young players to carry the flag for you."

Pulis withdrew Barry Bannan at half-time in Palace's 3-0 home defeat to Newcastle last weekend.

But he could yet pair the former Aston Villa man with regular full-back Joel Ward in a re-jigged midfield. Palace are without injured midfield duo Kagisho Dikgacoi and Stuart O'Keefe, and Pulis conceded that almost inevitably means a tactical reshuffle.

He said: "I was really disappointed to get two players injured in the same position, and it's left us a little bit bare.

"You're hoping and praying that when you get quite a few long-term injuries you're not going to pick up any more, and that you're certainly not going to pick up any suspensions like Chamakh.

"It's just luck that's turned against us.

"And if anything we're in a worse position now than when I came in on that front.

"Barry's done smashing for us, I just didn't think Saturday was his day, and as a manager those are the decisions you make.

"Joel Ward's done fantastic since I came in and I actually think he did well at the weekend.

"And he might have to do that again on Boxing Day.

"It's five or six games, too early to tell about his long-term potential, but he's certainly impressed me.

"You've got to try to get the best players on the pitch.

"Last week we knew Newcastle would move the ball around in midfield, so we needed legs in there and Joel's got that ability to get around the pitch all the time from playing full-back.

"We could need that again, and it's about adapting with what you have and using it as best possible."

Source: PA