No loyal show from Lambert
Paul Lambert pits his wits against his managerial mentor for only the second time on Saturday and we reckon his Aston Villa side can compound Martin O'Neill's misery with victory over Sunderland at the Stadium of Light. Take some of the odds-against quotes about Aston Villa (+0.25) on the Asian handicap.
Lambert, of course, spent five years under the Ulsterman at Celtic where the two men developed a huge mutual respect, so it was no surprise when O'Neill helped him find his way on the managerial ladder by putting his name forward for the Wycombe job six years ago.
Now Lambert sits in the hotseat that O'Neill used to occupy at Villa Park, having followed in his footsteps from Adams Park to Norwich, looking all the while like a clone of O'Neill on the touchline, kicking every ball from the technical area with trackie bottoms tucked in socks.
However, Lambert was humbled when he crossed swords with O'Neill for the first time last February when Norwich went down 3-0 on Wearside. Now a reversal in fortunes with the Midlanders could signal the passing of a baton from sorceror to apprentice with the Black Cats going backwards under a regime for which they had such high hopes.
Defeat at home to Middlesbrough in the Capital One Cup on Tuesday will have been a bitter pill for the Mackems to swallow and while O'Neill is quick to refute any talk of a crisis, murmurings of discontent could surface here if Sunderland follow-up with another poor show four days on.
The problem is plain for all to see. The Black Cats desperately lack creativity and it's a weakness that was covered up by Steven Fletcher's blistering scoring streak at the beginning of the campaign. The £14m striker netted five goals with his first five shots on target but those efforts remain the only Premier League goals scored by any Sunderland player.
The league table suggests Villa have fared worse with three points fewer having played an extra game but they do seem to be moving gradually in the right direction. And they will head up the A1 in a relatively positive frame of mind having side-stepped the banana skin of Tuesday's trip to Swindon, albeit after complacency got the better of them at 2-0 up.
All of which considered, you'll understand why we want to keep the draw onside. It's unlikely to be a scintillating encounter with confidence in the balance on both sides and the stalemate might well be suitable all round if inspiration proves difficult to come by.
Meanwhile, Lambert must run the gauntlet when he returns to Carrow Road in a few weeks after Villa were paired with Norwich in the Capital One Cup, but the Canaries could pay a high price for their late exploits against Tottenham on Wednesday when they entertain Stoke.
Chris Hughton's men produced a remarkable turnaround against the Lilywhites with two goals in the final six minutes and now the prospect of a Wembley final might be turning a few heads in a squad almost entirely made up of players from humble beginnings.
That's not to say Norwich will be taking their league position lightly but the motivation for Stoke is much clearer as they bid to make a return to European competition. The Potters, spurred on by the memory of those exhilirating highs in last season's Europa League campaign, won't be dropping points lightly and they look worth an interest at 9/5.
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