As the pressure really, really begins to mount in the battle for Premier League survival, Paul Lambert has already targeted Monday's clash between our two sides as "must win" and is optimistic of taking all three points - do you share your manager's confidence?
Robert Lintott: It's hard to be confident of taking three points when the club has only done so eight times in thirty-four tries this season. That said, Aston Villa have looked significantly better in the past few weeks than they did at the beginning of the season. Yes, they just got trounced by Manchester United, but drawing conclusions from that would be a bit like saying that the new family car is really rugged, but we're worried that it may not hold up given its experience with the atom bomb.
So I'd not say confident of three points, but I do think it's a distinct possibility. I am confident of the side getting something from the match, though.
Despite an obviously difficult season there have been a some performances of note; firstly Brad Guzan who was "released" in the summer before going on to win back a place in the side and impress with a string of good performances this term - what have you made of Guzan's turnaround in fortunes?
RL: I think that a lot of people who closely follow Villa and the USMNT aren't actually all that surprised in Guzan's ability. He's always been a solid keeper, though we generally only got the chance to see that in cup play. As great as the Christian Benteke signing was, re-signing Guzan may have been Lambert's smartest move of the year. He's got great reaction time and seems to command the box better than Shay Given ever did. Plus it's nice to continue the tradition of a bald American Brad in goal for Villa.
The other Villain who will provide the American shot stopper with competition for player of the year will undoubtedly by Christian Benteke who has looked fantastic over the course of the season. Just how good is the Belgian now you've seen more of him?
RL: He's significantly better than his transfer fee, that's for sure. One of the most obnoxious story lines of the early season was Belgian experts who kept saying that Benteke was overrated and would never amount to anything. And yes, he does have matches where he disappears. But overall he's been a commanding presence on the attack who combines the sheer physicality of an Emile Heskey with creativity. It's amazing to know that, should Villa's best striker get the ball in a less-than-optimal position, he will be able to do something with it. Which reminds me of...
What does the future hold for Darren Bent?
RL: Assuming the club doesn't lose Benteke over the summer (an assumption I feel more and more confident about), I hope they find some way to drop Bent. It's not that he's not a good player, it's that he's a bad player for Villa's system. The club has never had many particularly great creative people to get the ball to Bent where he can score. The half-season we saw with a decent Marc Albrighton and a better-than-he'll-ever-be-again Stewart Downing showed that Bent can score at will so long as people put him in position to do so. Without that help though, he's pretty much useless.
RL: Ugh. I'm so tempted to just say, "That's MON for you!" but that seems like the lazy way out. From what I can tell of MON he can be a very effective manager if all the pieces fall precisely into place, and is totally lost if they don't. At Sunderland, as with his last months at Villa, it seems like the pieces weren't there that he wanted and so he was at a loss. Seems like a very one-dimensional manager.
On to Monday's game; are there any weak areas of this Sunderland side that you believe Lambert's Villa could look to exploit?
RL: Well, the current Sunderland isn't exactly a scoring machine, so if Villa can hold down the fort and score a goal or two, I think they'll get the points they need so badly. That said...
Vice-versa, what weak areas of the Villa setup do you believe Di Canio's men could exploit?
RL: Villa have the same problem, to a larger degree. So Sunderland could do exactly the same. And if you're looking for a chance to get that goal try getting a corner. Villa can't defend those to save themselves. Given the two teams' ineptitude at scoring, though, I imagine this may be a dull affair.
Prediction for the game?
RL: With that in mind, I think Villa end up winning 2-1. God knows they need the points more than Sunderland. Best of luck!
Many thanks to Robert for joining us this week to provide the Villa perspective ahead of Monday's game. Be sure to follow Robert on Twitter for all your Villa needs and also be sure to check out 7500 to Holte