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Lambert tips O'Neill to bounce back

Paul Lambert is convinced that Martin O'Neill has another high-profile return to the game left in him despite his sacking by Monday's Villa Park visitors Sunderland.

Questions are being asked in some quarters as to whether O'Neill has managed at his last club, with his successor on Wearside, Paolo Di Canio, inspiring a dramatic improvement with two victories and a narrow defeat (at Chelsea) in his three games in charge.

But Lambert believes there's plenty of life left in O'Neill, who led Villa into the last 16 in the Europa League and to three successive sixth-place finishes, and is stunned by suggestions the Ulsterman has lost his touch.

• Hughes: Villa, Di Canio resume their rivalry

"That's people who probably haven't been a manager calling him that," he said. "It's shocking, woeful.

"He was a breath of fresh air at Celtic. He was absolutely brilliant. He took the club by the scruff of the neck. It was dead, on its knees, and he got us to a European final and won us titles.

"I have spoken to him and I'm pretty sure he will bounce back pretty quickly."

Seventeenth-placed Villa trail Sunderland by three points and two places and were spared a slip back into the bottom three on Saturday only by the last-gasp Emerson Boyce own goal that cost Wigan a win over Tottenham.

Monday's game is one they feel they can win and so turn the pressure back on the North East duo as well as leaving Roberto Martinez's FA Cup finalists in big trouble.

Beyond this penultimate home game, Villa have trips to Norwich and Wigan either side of a visit from Chelsea and Lambert will be looking for improvement at the back. His side have gone 23 games and four and a half months since last keeping a clean sheet.

The manager has nevertheless insisted that young right-back Matt Lowton, who he signed from Sheffield United last summer, will remain a Villa player despite reported interest from Arsenal.

"You can't stop people speculating," he said. "That's football all over the world. But he's our player and he has been playing very well. If people are talking about him, that means he's playing well.

"It becomes frustrating if you do have to lose players when you're trying to build. The decision is my own if I let people go. That would always be the case."

Lowton has played every minute of every game in his Premier League debut season and hit a stunning late goal to set up the recent victory at Stoke.

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