Lambert ready for tough Stoke test
Paul Lambert admits Aston Villa may struggle to cope with Stoke's physical threat but challenged his players to capitalise on their own strengths to extend their mini-revival in Saturday's home clash.
Parts of Villa's new-look squad appear almost miniature-like in size and stature compared to their Stoke counterparts - with the exception of striker Christian Benteke.
But Lambert is seeing encouraging signs after a difficult start to the season and nine points from the last seven games have lifted them out of the Barclays Premier League bottom three.
He said: "Christian will cause problems although we are not big enough for the size of Stoke. I don't think you have to make an apology for being physical.
"But Stoke are not just a physical side. We have to use our strengths to play football and play the way we can. There's not a right or wrong way to play football and Tony Pulis has done a fantastic job at Stoke.
"They are in a rich vein of form but that is what a couple of wins can do, can catapult you up the league. This is a really tough game, different, but we are playing well enough to win."
Lambert added: "There are signs of progression. In the last seven games, only the two Manchester clubs have beaten us. I think people tend to overlook that.
"We've been unfairly criticised at times because we are young. People just think 'young team' but we look at the ways things are going at the minute and we are doing really fine.
"You try and give them belief that they can compete and they are more than holding their own and, if you are young enough, you are good enough to get thrown in.
"They have to get thrown in at some stage of their career but I have every faith in those lads to do everything they can for the football club. They have earned the right to play. It is not as if they are there by default."
Villa winger Charles N'Zogbia has returned to training after a six-week absence with a knee problem but Lambert is still to decide whether he will be involved.
Skipper and centre-back Ron Vlaar remains a major doubt with a calf problem which ruled him out of the last two games with Reading and QPR.
Left-backs Enda Stevens (ankle) and Joe Bennett (knee) are still sidelined as Villa look to extend their unbeaten run to four matches.
Stoke boss Tony Pulis feels his Villa counterpart is starting to reap the rewards of putting his faith in youth.
The teams Lambert has fielded since taking over as Villa manager in the summer have not tended to have a great deal of Premier League experience within them and have featured plenty of players in their early twenties.
Pulis has seen enough from Lambert's men recently to suggest that the Scot's selection decisions are beginning to really pay off.
"I think Paul has decided to go a certain way - he has brought the youngsters in," Pulis said. "We have watched the last few games and they have done exceptionally well.
"With youngsters you have to be patient. He has shown a lot of faith in them and I think they have started to reward him with some very good performances.
"I have a lot of respect for Paul - I think he has done smashing wherever he has been, and Villa is a great football club. We know it is going to be a very tough game."
A notable absentee from Villa's squad over the last few weeks has been England international Darren Bent. The striker's omission - he is not injured - has been a major talking point, but it is not something Pulis is keen to give his opinion on.
Asked about Bent's situation, Pulis said: "He is not my player. Whatever Paul does and whatever Darren does at Aston Villa is their responsibility.
"You have to ask Paul about that. If you ask me about someone else's players, that is none of my business."
Pulis is hopeful striker Peter Crouch will be able to return to action.
Crouch, who missed last weekend's 1-0 victory at West Brom having lost some teeth in a collision with Newcastle's Fabricio Coloccini in the previous match, has had a mouth guard fitted and is being monitored in training, while Pulis is also optimistic forward Cameron Jerome will be fit for selection after an ankle injury kept him out of the Baggies contest.
It remains to be seen whether or not fellow frontman Michael Owen, sidelined for the last few weeks by a hamstring problem, is ready to feature again, and the Potters will definitely be without midfielders Charlie Adam, who serves a one-match suspension, and Rory Delap (hernia), along with defender Marc Wilson (broken leg).