Lambert hopes Villa handle pressure
Published 02/05/2014 | 18:42
Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert knows the buck stops with him as he tries to see out a difficult season by at least preserving the club's Barclays Premier League status in a "cup final" against Hull on Saturday.
The Scot is well aware his struggling side can effectively secure their place in the top flight by improving their woeful home record against the Tigers at Villa Park.
With two matches remaining away to Manchester City and Tottenham after Hull's visit this weekend, the pressure is on Villa to do the business against Steve Bruce's side.
And while Hull have an actual FA Cup final on their minds, Lambert admits this league scrap is one of the most important matches in his players' careers.
"If we win then it virtually gets us out of the relegation battle," he said.
"That's how big the game is. Everybody knows it. I said the other day that this is like a cup final and we're at home, with the backing of 38,000 people. That will have to drive us on as well and if the lads perform against a good side who have had a really good season then we'll do it.
"The ironic thing is that if we win, we can go above Hull."
Experienced striker Gabriel Agbonlahor labelled the match one of the biggest of the players' lives and Lambert can appreciate his forward's sentiment.
"It's pressure and you deal with it," he said.
"Gabby is saying that because they're still young. When they're 29, 30 years of age, hopefully if their careers keep going they'll have massive games to play in.
"I understand what Gabby is saying about it being a cup final, and that is how we have to treat it. You have to give it everything you've got and if you win then it puts everything out of the road."
Lambert and his players bore the fans' frustrations after last week's 4-1 loss at Swansea but the manager hopes they can put those emotions to one side for the good of the team.
"The fans will be there, they'll come in their thousands to watch us and they will get behind us," he said.
"That's important because the lads will need that backing from them. I've no doubt that's what they'll do. "
Hull manager Steve Bruce would happily shake hands on a dour goalless draw if it meant ensuring Premier League football next season.
The Tigers already seem safe, with a five-point buffer and a game in hand on the bottom three, but that assumption could become a mathematical fact if results fall favourably over the weekend.
A draw at Villa Park would take Hull to 38 points - a mark that is virtually certain to guarantee safety this season.
Bruce would accept a repeat of the sides' tepid encounter at the KC Stadium in October as a means to an end.
"A dull 0-0 will do me on Saturday," he said.
"Last time against Villa was an awful affair. Me and Paul Lambert both said it was arguably the worst game we'd seen in a long time. This one must be better because it couldn't be much worse.
"Yes, we are in the entertainment business, but the main aim for us is to stay here in this division and it looks like we're nearly there, which was the biggest challenge to us all when we came up."
Bruce also believes Lambert, whose side have taken only one point from their last six games, would be able to rest easy with a share of the spoils.
Having long predicted a final-day finish to the relegation scrap, Bruce now believes the picture is starting to clear, with Cardiff, Norwich and Fulham having just two games to lift themselves clear.
"It's very, very difficult for the bottom teams to get to 36 now. It looks from afar like the bottom three have got it all to do, they have to win," he said.
With an FA Cup final on the horizon and a Europa League place a done deal if their final opponents Arsenal stay in the top four, the future looks bright for Hull.
Bruce has been the driving force behind their return to prominence and reports have emerged that the club's owner Assem Allam is looking to turn his 12-month rolling deal into something more permanent.
Bruce would not elaborate too much on that issue but said: "The owner is delighted, like we all are.
"I go and see the owner once every two or three weeks for a cup of coffee and I'm due again next week probably.
"It'll be terrific to talk about next year now and start putting plans in place.
"We'll sit down, see where we are and plan ahead."