Aston Villa v Liverpool: Fan unrest overshadows hosts' preparations
An under-fire Paul Lambert has implored the Aston Villa faithful to get behind the team when they take on Liverpool at Villa Park in the Premier League on Saturday.
Three unofficial fan websites have announced their intention to stage a protest during the opening eight minutes of the game, as they seek to express their unhappiness at the way the club is being run by chairman Randy Lerner.
Furthermore, a poll in a local newspaper showed that 67 per cent of those who took part no longer wanted Lambert in charge of the side.
When questioned over the criticism in a press conference on Thursday, Lambert responded: "It's not great. I'm human, like everybody else, but I'm also big enough and strong enough mentally to handle it.
"But what I don't want it to do is affect the players. The fans have been great with me up until late, and I guess now they are waiting for something to go wrong.
"All I would say to them is stay behind the side. We need their support when times are tough."
The reverse fixture in September saw Villa prevail 1-0 thanks to a Gabriel Agbonlahor goal - just one of 11 that Lambert's side have scored in 21 league matches this season - while a six-game winless run has seen them drop to 13th, just three points above the drop zone.
Lambert will hope the signing of attacking midfielder Carles Gil, who arrived from Valencia on Tuesday, will help to provide a greater threat going forward, although the Spaniard continues to await international clearance and may not be able to feature at the weekend.
Lambert's opposite number Brendan Rodgers, meanwhile, believes Liverpool are beginning to recapture their form of last season.
After their scintillating exploits in 2013-14, this campaign has been a different story, as Rodgers contends without the departed Luis Suarez and the injured Daniel Sturridge.
Rodgers said on Thursday that Sturridge was in "the final stages of rehabilitation" and the manager has been encouraged by a sequence of five wins and two draws in their last seven outings in all competitions.
"We're starting to return to the flow of our game and that is now getting us positive results," he said.
"We're defending strong and creating opportunities. The players are growing in confidence after a difficult period."
Raheem Sterling is "refreshed and ready to work" after being allowed leave for the 1-0 win at Sunderland last time out, while Glen Johnson (groin) has returned to training.
Steven Gerrard (hamstring) and Joe Allen (knee) trained away from the main group on Thursday and Adam Lallana's calf problem is being monitored.
For Villa, Ciaran Clark is suspended following his red card in the 1-0 defeat at Leicester City, while Ron Vlaar (knee) and fellow defender Philippe Senderos (calf) are still out.