New Year's Day media watch: Benteke backed to fire
Birmingham Mail: Paul Lambert has challenged Christian Benteke to ring in 2014 with a scoring spree - as the Aston Villa boss ponders a defensive quandary ahead of the Sunderland trip. Benteke has resumed training after a knee injury and is set to be involved in the New Year's Day clash against the bottom club at the Stadium of Light. Ron Vlaar's availability is less clear and with Ciaran Clark suspended and Jores Okore and Chris Herd injured, Villa could be down to just one centre-half, Nathan Baker. Benteke returned to Bodymoor Heath at the start of the week after visiting Belgium to be treated by respected physio Lieven Maesschalck, who works for the Belgian FA. He has missed the last three games after a recurrence of the knee problem he originally sustained in training on international duty in November. In the Premier League, the 23-year-old striker has scored just four goals in 12 starts and two substitute appearances and is stuck in the longest drought of his career. But his current top-flight scoring record is not much different to last season when at the same stage he had notched five goals from 15 starts and two substitute cameos. It was in the second half of the season that Benteke's scoring streak really took off, with 14 league goals helping to preserve Villa's Premier League status. Lambert hopes Benteke can kick-start a similar run by ending a ten-game goal drought when Villa play their first match of 2014 against Gus Poyet's lowly team.
Mirror: Paul Lambert has backed Christian Benteke to go on a similar goals run to last season. The Belgian is back in the Villa ranks for New Year's Day's trip to Sunderland after a season marred by hip and knee injuries. He has not scored since September, 10 games ago, but his manager reckons the New Year brings the best out of him. Benteke, 23, grabbed 14 goals in 19 appearances in the second half of last term, including a stunning hat-trick against today's hosts.
Express & Star: Paul Lambert today backed Christian Benteke to spearhead a Villa revival in the second half of the season. The boss was considering recalling the striker ahead of today's game at Sunderland after his recovery from a knee injury. Benteke had scored five league goals at this stage last season and has five this term but has not netted in his last 10 games. Villa were winless in five going into their trip to the Stadium of Light. But Lambert expects the Belgian hitman to rediscover the form which saw him hit 15 goals after the turn of the year last term.
Birmingham Mail: Paul Lambert has revealed for the first time his disappointment at Aston Villa being out-played by their rank and file Premier League foes. Lambert has previously dismissed possession statistics as an irrelevance and insisted the only stats he is interested in are results. But the Villa boss admits he does find it frustrating when his side are dominated by mid-table opponents. His comments come after Swansea boasted 73 per cent possession against Villa in Saturday's 1-1 draw at Villa Park. Villa were similarly outplayed at Southampton in early December, despite emerging with a 3-2 win, while they have enjoyed more of the ball than their opponents just a handful of times this season. Lambert remains relatively pleased with Villa's Premier League placing, in 13th, ahead of their New Year's Day trip to face bottom club Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, but admits there is room for improvement with their performances. After 19 games last season, Villa were 16th on 18 points with a goal difference of -21. They currently have 20 points with a goal difference of -7.
Goal.com: Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert has conceded he is surprised to see Sunderland prop up the Premier League table. The Stadium of Light outfit have endured a poor season, and lie bottom of the table at the halfway stage of the campaign with just 14 points ahead of Villa's trip to the north east on New Year's Day. Sunderland have improved in recent fixtures however, with three draws and a win in their last four outings and Lambert sympathises with opposite number Poyet after successfully staving off relegation himself last season. "They are a club that not a lot of people would not have to be where they are," said Lambert. "Gus has gone in there after another manager change and has tried to pick the club up. It's tough when you are down there, we were down there last season and you have to grind through it, but it is a big job."
Sunderland Echo: Sunderland are set to bring Ji Dong-won back into the fold for today's game against Aston Villa. And that will give the South Korean the chance to reprise by far his best moment in a Sunderland shirt - when he scored the winner against Manchester City on New Year's Day, 2012. Gus Poyet confirmed to the Echo: "I plan to include Ji in the squad for the game against Aston Villa. "He's an interesting character because he is different from the other strikers we have and the bottom line is that we do not have many selection choices when it comes to attack."
Daily Express: Gus Poyet may be known as one of football's nice guys, but the Sunderland boss insists he is not too pleasant when his team lose. Poyet's mood has been lightened over the festive period as his side won at Everton and came from two down to get a draw at Cardiff. It means Sunderland are now within touching distance of safety, whereas only a few weeks ago the Wearsiders looked certainties for relegation. Poyet said: "I am a normal person when we win, but I'm a bad loser. If we lose I am not a nice person to be around. "I try to be realistic but for me football is so important and I get so involved, so I forget about the rest of my life, my family, my health and all the rest."
Setanta Sports: Former Republic of Ireland international Shay Given has extended his loan spell with Middlesbrough until February 28. The Aston Villa goalkeeper joined the Teesside club on November 28 on loan from his parent club Aston Villa and has impressed enough to be offered an extension. The 37-year-old, who is Ireland's second most-capped player of all-time on 125 appearances, has kept four clean sheets in his seven games for the north-eastern side. "We are extremely delighted to secure the extension of Shay's loan until the end of February," said Boro chief executive Neil Bausor.
Best of the Rest
BBC Sport: Everton manager Roberto Martinez is convinced the club's strong financial position means they can resist bids for midfielder Ross Barkley in January. Barkley, 20, has been linked with a £50m move to Manchester United.
Sky Sports: Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has ruled out another bid for Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, but will strengthen his squad if a 'special' player becomes available. The Gunners head into the New Year as leaders of the Premier League, with some of their title rivals tipped to spend heavily as they enter the second half of a fiercely contested title race.
BBC Sport: Cardiff City caretaker boss David Kerslake is "in the dark" about who will replace Malky Mackay as manager and when an appointment will be made. The 47-year-old has been in charge since Mackay was sacked on Friday and does not want the job permanently.
*The extracts on this page are taken from various newspapers and media outlets. They do not necessarily reflect the views of Aston Villa.