Villa v Sunderland preview: Vlaar backs rearguard to hold nerve
Ron Vlaar has backed Villa's defence to come of age during the tense top-flight survival battle.
The boys in claret and blue have kept just five clean sheets this term - one of those coming against tonight's opponents Sunderland back in November.
With games at this stage of the season often decided by such narrow margins, Vlaar insists it is imperative Villa "get the basics right" during the final four games.
But he believes they are capable of shutting out the Black Cats for a second time this term.
"As defenders and of course Brad Guzan as well, we really want to keep a clean sheet, but it's not always happened," said the skipper.
"It would be great to do that, especially on Monday. I think if you look at the game against Fulham they had one chance and it was an own goal, which cost us points.
"We defended well as a team, but it was still a draw. Sometimes that's frustrating but we have to deal with it.
"You have to get your basics right. You take a step back and play it simple and then if you do well you get confidence and move on again."
Vlaar predicts an electric contest at Villa Park against a Sunderland side who have been rejuvenated by the arrival of Paolo Di Canio.
And while the new Black Cats manager's colourful touchline antics are sure to add to the occasion, Vlaar insists Villa won't let the 'Di Canio factor' be a distraction.
"It's obvious there is some new spirit in the team there and they won the last two games with good results," said the Dutchman.
"They come to Villa Park now and we definitely want to win the game. I think with the fans behind us it's going to be a good game.
"Yes, Paolo Di Canio is really enthusiastic. It is not distracting because you are just focused on the game you are not looking to the manager of the other team or the crowd. It's just about focussing on where the ball is."
Vlaar reckons Sunderland won't relish facing 19-goal Christian Benteke, who he rates as one of the most feared forwards in the Premier League.
The Belgian - who missed out to Tottenham's Gareth Bale in the PFA Young Player of Year award last night - is sure to be a major asset during Villa's final games.
"He's only 22. I don't think there are young players who have done more than him this season," added Vlaar.
"He has been very important and he will be important again in these last couple of games for us.
"That's for sure because all the defenders are always busy with him.
"You can see that in games. When Brad plays the long ball a lot of times he just can take it on his chest and they don't bother to challenge him because he's too strong."
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Joe Bennett was the only fresh injury concern following last week's defeat to Manchester United.
The former Middlesbrough left-back was replaced by Ciaran Clark in the clash at Old Trafford after picking up an ankle injury.
However, manager Paul Lambert said last week that he was hopeful Bennett would recover in time to face the Black Cats.
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Villa will be wearing their traditional claret and blue home kit.
Villa go into this clash having only lost one of their last six matches.
Last Monday's defeat at Manchester United was the first time Paul Lambert's side have failed to score in 14 games.
However, the claret and blues have gone 18 matches without keeping a clean sheet.
Sunderland's five-match unbeaten run against Villa came to an end at the Stadium of Light in November.
The Black Cats have seen more opponents sent off than any other team this season .
The previous 23 Premier League fixtures between these clubs have yielded only 40 goals - an average of 1.73 per match.
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Go to full match coverage for Aston Villa 6 - 1 Sunderland (29th April 2013) >
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