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Dec 7, 2012

Lambert impressed with Clark progress

Aston Villa boss Paul Lambert believes defender Ciaran Clark can shine in the face of Stoke's aerial threat when the two clubs meet under the watchful gaze of Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni on Saturday.

• Lambert: Stoke more than muscle
• Blog: Villa's Christmas wish list

Clark, 23, has been one of the stars of his club's recent revival and can expect a stern test, especially at set-pieces, against the likes of Peter Crouch, Robert Huth and Ryan Shawcross.

But Lambert believes he has the attributes to impress with Trapattoni die to watch the game at Villa Park.

"I think Ciaran has done great," Lambert said. "He's another one that is maybe overlooked because he's been here a long time. But I think he has got a massive future.

"He has been excellent for me. To make the grade as a footballer for club and country is great. The more caps you can accumulate, the better."

Clark was born in Harrow and represented various England age-group sides before opting to play at senior level for the country he qualifies for through his parents.

As a Scot, Lambert is neutral enough on the whys and wherefores of that decision but suspects he might have chosen wisely.

"Not that long ago, I found out that Gabby Agbonlahor has Scottish in him, so it's hard," he added. "England have got so many good centre-halves. It will be interesting to see how progresses. I think he is doing great and it's probably Ireland's gain. There are not many left-footed centre-halves, which gives him a great advantage.

"I thought he did really well against Greece when I watched him. It's there for him to go and do it and have a big career on the international stage.

"It definitely give your confidence a boost play because you go and play against the best in the world and if you can match them and compete with that, it gives your confidence a boost. Then you have got to try and stay in it - that's the big thing in international football because you know that other lads can come in."

Lambert, who believes centre-half is the best position for a player who can also line up at left-back and in midfield, admits that Stoke have caught and gone past Villa after being in their shadow for decades.

While Villa are again in a Premier League survival battle after their narrow escape last spring, Stoke are ninth, looking to build on their consolidation over four years in the top flight and the success they enjoyed in Europe last season.

"To be honest, I think Stoke are well ahead of us in the stability of the way they have built their squad and the longevity," he said.

"They were in Europe not long ago and are more established at the minute in terms of their squad and what they have done. It's something we will try to do, keep moving up the table, but we know how difficult it is going to be. We're certainly playing well enough.

"I'm not talking about it as a club, because Villa is a huge, huge football club that has been in the top flight for years and years and years and the history it has got. But, in terms of personnel, they are more established than we are. It's something we have to try and deal with and go up and compete against them.

"Are the players (here) gelling? Yes, I think they are. I think they have been unfairly criticised at times because they are young and people think they won't be able to do this or that.

"If they can use that, then they will be fine. But they can play the game. I see it every day in training. Some of the football they play is excellent. I saw it last Saturday for a spell. For a team to go to QPR in a hard environment... I thought they were really excellent."

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