Monday media watch [29.04.13 AM]: Sunderland previews
Daily Express: Aston Villa captain Ron Vlaar says Christian Benteke is scaring teams and can end Paolo Di Canio's flamboyant Italian party at Sunderland tonight because he is "concrete squared". Benteke is leading Villa's bid to stay in the Premier League and a win this evening would take them a huge step towards safety. Di Canio, with two wins out of three since taking over, has been sliding down the touchline with joy, but Vlaar believes he will not get past tough guy Benteke. Belgium striker Benteke has already scored 19 goals in his debut English season, 15 of them in the league. Dutch centre-half Vlaar was nicknamed 'Concrete Ron' at his former club, Feyenoord, because he was so hard to beat. Vlaar looks at Benteke's 6ft 3ins, 13st frame and says: "He is concrete squared. He scares opponents. You can see that in games. Fortunately, in training he's always on my team."
Daily Star: Wacky messiah Paolo Di Canio has been warned his antics may come back to haunt him.Villa skipper Ron Vlaar reckons the Black Cats' madcap new boss might already have given Aston Villa fans the hump. Vlaar says Villa fans won't have forgotten the Italian's provocative gesturing to them back in October. A last-gasp Christian Benteke goal had knocked Di Canio's Swindon out of the Capital One Cup and he went on to the pitch at the end to make his feelings known. He appeared to gesture that Villa were going down, although he insists he was actually praising Swindon fans for being 'up there' and that Villa were below them. Dutch international Vlaar says Villa aren't on edge about the Di Canio factor going into tonight's crunch relegation battle. Vlaar didn't see Di Canio's antics on the County Ground pitch but insists sideline distractions won't have any bearing on the game.
Daily Telegraph: Ron Vlaar has warned his Aston Villa team-mates that relegation from the Premier League will have a major impact on the entire club. Vlaar insists Villa are not only fighting to stay in the league but are playing for the futures of the club's employees, with severe financial ramifications expected if Paul Lambert's team drop into the Championship. The new lucrative TV deal that starts next season guarantees every Premier League club a minimum of £60 million, ensuring the pressure on top-flight managers is arguably greater than ever. Lambert faces a crucial game against Sunderland on Monday night and remains under threat of becoming the first Villa manager since Billy McNeill in 1987 to take a side down. Villa are two points clear of the bottom three with four games left, and Vlaar has delivered a bleak reminder that relegation could have grave repercussions for more than just the playing staff.
Guardian: Ron Vlaar has admitted that Aston Villa's players are performing not only for their own futures in the final four games of the season, but also for the staff whose jobs could be on the line if the club are relegated from the Premier League. Villa take on Sunderland at home on Monday, desperate for the victory that would lift them five points clear of the relegation zone and haul them level with Paolo Di Canio's side. Although Vlaar acknowledged there is "some new spirit" in a Sunderland team rejuvenated since Di Canio took over, the Dutchman pointed to the fact that Villa have delivered when it matters in recent weeks, securing victories against fellow strugglers Queens Park Rangers, Reading and Stoke, as a reason to be upbeat about their prospects of pulling clear of trouble.
Daily Mirror: Ron Vlaar believes Paolo Di Canio's taunting of Aston Villa fans could return to haunt him. The Dutch international will captain Villa against Sunderland in tonight's crunch relegation clash. Villa have already got the better of Di Canio once this season in the Capital One Cup when they beat his Swindon side 3-2 in October. Di Canio responded by giving Villa fans at the County Ground the thumbs down to signify relegation. Now he takes his new side Sunderland to Villa Park after taking charge of the Black Cats three games ago. He has made an instant impact as Sunderland recorded back-to-back victories to move above Villa. But Vlaar believes the home fans will be particularly fired up tonight.
Daily Mail: If there is one ground where Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio is guaranteed a welcome as hostile as St James's Park, it is Villa Park. Although he has offered his explanation for the gesture at the end of Aston Villa's Capital One Cup win at Swindon this season, when the Italian manager was still in charge at the County Ground, Villa fans were incensed. Tonight he will discover they still are. Di Canio had just watched his League One side storm back from 2-0 down to draw level against Paul Lambert's team, only for Christian Benteke to score a late winner which sent the Barclays Premier League side into the last eight. At the final whistle, Di Canio went over to the travelling support and gestured to the heavens and the ground. He explained: "I was saying it was my fans that are the top and Villa are underneath you." The Villa support took it as a sign he thought their team would be relegated. The intention may not have been to offend, but Di Canio would not hide his desire to see Villa among the bottom three now. Villa or Wigan. Anyone but Sunderland, who will be in the Midlands tonight looking for a third win in four games under their new head coach.
Independent: Ron Vlaar knows how far-reaching the effects of relegation will be upon Aston Villa if they cannot drag themselves away from the Premier League's bottom three. Vlaar made a point of shaking the hand of every member of the club's staff on his first day after moving from Feyenoord last summer. Many of those people will lose their jobs if Villa lose the fight to stay up. "I know, we also play for them, that's for sure," the Dutch defender and Villa captain said. "We have to realise it's not only about the players, it's about the club and everybody involved in the club. I just want to stay up with Villa, that's the most important thing for now. If we play Premier League, that's good enough."
Sunderland Echo: Paul Lambert believes Sunderland will be dragged back into the thick of the relegation scrap if Aston Villa can triumph tonight. The Black Cats can boast a five-point buffer with the drop zone heading into this evening's clash at Villa Park after Wigan ended a run of two back-to-back defeats with a point against Spurs on Saturday. But Villa, lying immediately above the bottom three in 17th spot, would draw level with Sunderland if they can secure victory tonight, albeit Paolo Di Canio's side boast a far superior goal difference.
Sporting Life: Sunderland defender John O'Shea will use a little inside knowledge once again as he attempts to keep Christian Benteke at bay tonight. The Aston Villa striker has enjoyed a fine first season in English football despite his side's Barclays Premier League difficulties to date, and looks to be the man most likely to fire them out of relegation trouble by adding to his 19-goal tally in the remaining four games of the campaign. However, O'Shea revealed he and his defensive colleagues had a helping hand from Benteke's fellow Belgium international Simon Mignolet when the sides last met in November.
Sunderland Echo: Paolo Di Canio believes Aston Villa are approaching the last-chance saloon in their survival quest. Villa's breathing space with the relegation zone was reduced to two points after Wigan's draw with Spurs on Saturday, with the Latics still boasting a game in hand after Paul Lambert's side meet Sunderland tonight. Should Villa fail to record a first win in three this evening, then their final games are daunting ones too, with a trip to fellow strugglers Norwich followed by the visit of Chelsea and a potentially crucial last-day trip to Wigan. Although Di Canio is far from complacent about Sunderland's position in the relegation scrap, he claims the pressure lies with the hosts at Villa Park tonight.
Sunderland Echo: Sunderland have pinpointed Christian Benteke and Gabby Agbonlahor as Aston Villa's dangermen tonight. The duo are their team's leading league scorers and Black Cats head coach Paolo Di Canio has first-hand experience of the pair - when Agbonlahor notched an opener and Benteke scored two in the 3-2 Carling Cup defeat of his Swindon side in October. "We know all about the quality of Christian Benteke," he said. "Swindon played better than Villa did in that cup game, but Benteke made the difference when we made individual errors. "When Villa express their maximum potential, it is on the counter-attack - they can counter in an instant."
The Sun: Jonny Howson says Saturday's showdown with former Norwich boss Paul Lambert will be a dog-eat-dog clash. Lambert brought midfielder Howson to Carrow Road before quitting for Aston Villa. Now the two teams are locked in a relegation battle.
*The extracts on this page are taken from various newspapers and media outlets. They do not necessarily reflect the views of Aston Villa.