PAUL Lambert has played down Paolo Di Canio’s impact at Sunderland and feels the Black Cats are still right in the middle of the relegation battle.
Since taking over at the Stadium of Light last month following the sacking of Martin O’Neill, Di Canio has overseen two wins from three Barclays Premier League games to help the Black Cats climb six points clear of the bottom three.
Controversy over the Italian’s political beliefs dominated the days after his appointment but his flamboyant touchline antics during the brilliant 3-0 win over Newcastle drew focus onto the impact he could have on the field instead.
Victory over Everton followed and another three points at Villa Park on Monday would take Sunderland to the magic 40-point mark.
As a protege of O’Neill from the Northern Irishman’s Celtic days, Villa boss Lambert understandably feels loyalty to his former manager, and his focus is on engineering a Villa win that would bring the two clubs level.
Lambert believes Di Canio’s appointment can only be deemed a success if Sunderland stay up, and that is far from certain with four games to go.
The Scot said: “A lot can be made of a new manager coming in. You tend to get that little pick-up when somebody else comes in but the way they play, I think we know everything that goes on, and it’s up to us to combat that and go and try to win.
“I don’t want to get caught up in these sort of things. Sunderland made that choice but I know how good a manager Martin O’Neill is because I worked under him for five years.
“You don’t know if it’s worked, you have to wait and see, they’re still bang in it. I think Paolo would say that himself. You can talk about new manager syndrome or whatever but it’s the same group of players that were there before.
“I know they played Newcastle and I think anybody in a derby game (can win), it doesn’t matter if you’re top or bottom, it’s a great leveller.
“They got a result against Everton that was really good the way Everton have been playing but we’re at home and the onus is on us to make the running.”
This will be the second time the managers have faced each other this season after Villa’s 3-2 win over Di Canio’s former club Swindon in the Capital One Cup in October.
The Italian hit the headlines on that occasion after appearing to taunt Villa fans about relegation, although he denied the allegation.
Lambert insisted that will not cause bad blood between the two men, saying: “I didn’t know anything about it. I think I’ve got more things to worry about. I don’t really get wound up by that sort of thing.”
The Villa fans are unlikely to let Di Canio forget, but Lambert added: “When you’re an opposition manager going somewhere else you tend to expect a bit of stick.”
The former Norwich boss, meanwhile, will not allow himself to be distracted by any touchline antics his opposite number gets up to on Monday.
“We can’t really influence what happens,” he said. “The lads that go out and play, they’re the most important people along with the people that come and watch it.”