Paul Lambert takes his Aston Villa side to the Stadium of Light to face Martin O’Neill’s Sunderland and both managers have a great mutual respect. O’Neill managed Lambert when the pair were at Celtic, enjoying a great spell of dominance in Scottish football, but the friendlies will be left for the pre-match handshake as both are desperate for victory.
Villa are perilously close to the drop-zone and have made their worst start to a season for 43 years. The signs are troubling for Lambert, who saw his side struggle to a 1-1 draw with Norwich last weekend, despite seeing them take the lead through Christian Benteke. Lambert has a selection dilemma over whether to start the Belgian or former Black Cat Darren Bent up front with the latter expecting another frosty reception after he left Wearside for the Midlands in a £24m move. Joe Bennett returns from a one-match ban, but Karim El-Ahmadi serves a ban after accumulating five yellow cards. Chris Herd and Ciaran Clark are doubts with knee injuries.
Sunderland are in mid-table, but if it wasn’t for Steven Fletcher, they could be in serious danger. The Scotsman has scored all but one of their league goals so far this season and O’Neill will be looking for other players to lessen the burden on the £12m summer signing from Wolves. The Black Cats were beaten in midweek in the Capital One Cup and also scrambled to a 1-1 draw against Newcastle last weekend, despite the visitors having 10 men for 60 minutes of the game.
Both sides have a distinct lack of goals so far, with just 13 between them, and these two managerial friends will be looking to get one over on the other in a bid to get back to the top-half. Lambert has a lot of work to do at Villa and O’Neill will not mind beating his former side to ensure Sunderland get back to winning ways and plunder Villa deeper into danger.