Lambert braces for Brittania battle

Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert expects taking on Stoke at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday to be just as tough an assignment as it was when Tony Pulis was in charge of the hosts.

Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert

Being hard to beat at their own ground was a key feature of the Potters under the management of Pulis, who guided them to relatively comfortable finishes around mid-table in the Premier League every season after overseeing their promotion to the division in 2008.

He was succeeded over the summer by his fellow Welshman Mark Hughes and there have been signs this term of the Staffordshire outfit playing in a more flowing, passing style than they did under their previous manager.

But while there might be change on that front, results would suggest Stoke - currently 13th - remain as difficult to defeat on their own turf as ever, having lost only one of their eight home league games so far in 2013/14.

And ahead of Villa's league visit this weekend to the Potteries stadium, with its famed atmosphere, Lambert said: "I don't think it'll be any different from what it was up there last year.

"Mark took over from a really successful manager in Tony and he's added one or two of his own type.

"But no matter what type of football Stoke are playing, it's a tough place to go."

He added: "Tony had them playing the way he had them playing and Mark has gone in there and in a short space of time has tried to put his stamp on it.

"Whether it's fully in his way, it's too short a space of time to say. But at any time, going to Stoke is tough."

Villa actually managed to claim all three points at Stoke last season, with two late goals - including a wonder-strike from defender Matthew Lowton - steering them to a 3-1 victory.

And they have fared well away from home this season, with 12 of the 19 points they have accrued after 16 games being picked up from their eight matches on the road.

Lambert is in no doubt that his 11th-placed side have been playing with more freedom on their travels, but is not sure why.

He said: "Away from home we seem to be a lot more free for some reason.

"We don't ever set our stall out to do anything other than going to try to win a game, and on Saturday we'll do that.

"The results suggest that it seems to be that we play better away.

"But it's up to us to rectify our home form."

Villa will be without forward Gabriel Agbonlahor, who is suspended after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season.

Midfielder Fabian Delph is back available following the completion of the ban he was serving for the same reason.

Gary Gardner has returned to first-team involvement having recovering from a back complaint and fellow midfielder Chris Herd should be fit to play after a facial injury.

But captain and defender Ron Vlaar (calf) is still a major doubt, while it remains to be seen whether or not striker Christian Benteke - now without a goal in his last 10 Villa appearances - keeps his place in the first eleven.

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