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Vlaar takes positives from Man Utd loss

Ron Vlaar believes the mental strength shown by Aston Villa in the second half of the 3-0 defeat at Manchester United has improved the club's chances of avoiding relegation.

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Villa, who have never lost their Premier League status, head for a crucial meeting with relegation rivals Sunderland at Villa Park on Monday night, a game that manager Paul Lambert has already placed in the "must-win" category.

Villa are currently just three points ahead of third-bottom Wigan and could be back in the drop zone by the time they play Sunderland, if Roberto Martinez's side beat Tottenham on Saturday.

Vlaar, a £5 million summer signing from Feyenoord, has never experienced such pressure, but he believes Villa can take encouragement from the mental resolve they displayed at Old Trafford to avoid a repeat of the 8-0 humiliation they suffered against Chelsea in December.

Robin van Persie's first-half hat-trick had the alarm bells ringing for the Dutch defender, but Villa refused to capitulate and showed the courage that will be needed in forthcoming games against Norwich and Wigan.

Echoing comments from Lambert, Vlaar said: "It's a positive thing. We all know what happened at Chelsea and it didn't happen this time. Some people expected it but it's a positive and improvement.

"The second half was a lot better. We had better positions. We didn't lose possession and kept the spaces a lot smaller. It was more difficult for them. We had some chances in the first half as well but every time we lost the ball they killed us.

"You have to move on but it would be nice if we could have done more to stay in the game and get a result. After ten to 15 minutes the game was over but we have to go on, and what we showed in the second half was a lot better. We have to go on with the way we played in the second half."

Lambert expects defender Joe Bennett to be fit to face Sunderland after picking up a second-half injury against United, which led to a return from injury for Republic of Ireland defender Ciaran Clark.

"I think because Joe's got a full week to recover he should be okay, but he just hurt his ankle there," Lambert said. "Ciaran was unlucky with the Irish team when he hurt his shoulder. If we can keep everybody fit then we'll be okay."

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