Aston Villa V West Brom at Villa Park : Match Preview
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Lambert expects atmospheric derby
Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert is hoping to give West Brom counterpart Pepe Mel a baptism of fire when the Albion boss gets his first taste of an English local derby.
Clashes between the West Midlands' top two sides have been exciting in recent years, not least at The Hawthorns earlier this season when Villa battled back from 2-0 down to grab a draw.
Since that clash in late November, Albion have sacked head coach Steve Clarke and brought in little-known Spaniard Mel.
The former Real Betis coach oversaw a creditable 1-1 draw with Everton in his first game in charge and will experience an intense atmosphere in his second match as a Barclays Premier League boss at Villa Park on Wednesday.
"It could be harder for us, preparing to face a team with a new manager," Lambert said.
"Regardless of who is in charge, though, a derby game will take care of itself and the atmosphere will lift everybody. It doesn't matter who is in the technical area.
"In a derby game anything can happen. It doesn't matter who is on form or who is not. I think I said that the last time we played them.
"We've got a lot of confidence at the minute from our draw at Liverpool the other week and that's evident.
"The atmosphere won't need lifting. It will be there anyway. We'll have the majority of the crowd on our side this time and they'll get right behind us, I've got no doubt about that."
Despite being relatively unknown in England, Mel emerged as an early favourite to succeed Clarke at The Hawthorns before Christmas.
His achievements at Betis and pledge to play attractive, attacking football won over the West Brom supporters quickly and Lambert is interested to see how he fares in English football.
"If you walk into a new club and a new job and you don't get a welcome on your first day then there's something wrong," the Scot said of Mel's reception for his first match at home to Everton.
"His reputation is there for everybody to see, and what he's done in Spain. It's new to him. The league's new to him. West Brom is new to him. We'll see.
"I think anybody that watches football and scrutinises it, you tend to find out who's out there. He's not a bad manager to be managing in that league or that team that he managed."
Lambert is unsure just how different Mel's Albion side will be to Clarke's, despite the amount of attention being paid to the new man's coaching techniques.
"It's hard to say because when I played Steve's team in the last couple of years it was roughly the same," he said. "The atmosphere takes over in a derby game, you do things, you probably get caught up in the game at certain times. We'll see what happens."
Striker Gabriel Agbonlahor (foot) could miss the match but Lambert has plenty of confidence in recent loan arrival Grant Holt's ability to step in.
Baggies head coach Mel has been studying Aston Villa closely ahead of Wednesday's clash.
He has wasted no time in preparing for what he describes as "a big game", taking in Villa's 2-1 home loss to Arsenal - played four days after his January 9 appointment - and 2-2 draw at Liverpool that followed, as well as watching back their meeting earlier this season with the Baggies, which also finished 2-2.
Asked how much he had seen of Villa and where he felt they could cause his team trouble, Mel said: "I watched their last two games, at Villa Park and Anfield.
"They are a very good team on the counter-attack, but they are also good playing it long and winning the second ball with Christian Benteke.
"My players know this and we have worked hard on stopping these things.
"On my day off (on Sunday) I watched the last game, the 2-2 draw at The Hawthorns.
"It was a good match, but it is important for us to get three points this time."
Certainly, it would be a major early boost for Mel's tenure if he could guide Albion to victory over their local rivals, and the Spaniard said: "It is a big game for us - the fans, the players, the club.
"We need to win. The only thing is to win."
Mel said striker Nicolas Anelka has a "99 per cent" chance of playing against Villa - Albion's first match since the Frenchman was charged by the Football Association over his 'quenelle' goal celebration.
Forward Stephane Sessegnon, who is undergoing groin surgery and expected to be sidelined for a month, is the only player unavailable, with defenders Gareth McAuley and Goran Popov ready to return after hamstring and neck problems respectively.
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