Lambert hopes for Gabby goals glut
Paul Lambert believes Aston Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor is back to his best as he looks to mastermind a rare victory for the midlands club against Manchester United at Villa Park.
Villa have beaten the Red Devils only seven times in 58 clashes in all competitions during the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
But one of those wins was courtesy of an Agbonlahor goal in a shock 1-0 result at Old Trafford three years ago.
The striker, who won three England caps earlier in his career, has looked sharp in recent weeks after returning from a pre-season knee ligament injury and scored the only goal in last weekend's win at Sunderland.
Lambert said: "I think Gabby at this minute in time is playing extremely well.
"There is a belief that he's starting to hit top form and is definitely a real handful. He's really quick.
"When he gets up to speed, he is a handful. If he can get goals to go with his game, he will be really fine.
"Gabby and Christian (Benteke) look a threat. The two of them are a handful at the moment for anybody."
Lambert is relishing rather than being fearful of a run of fixtures which sees Villa face United, Manchester City and Arsenal in successive weeks.
He said: "Any game in the Premier League is really tough whether you are playing Manchester United, Manchester City or anyone else.
"They are the fixtures we have to play next and you get on with it. It's something I will look forward to, not something I will think, `Oh here we go'.
"I know the task of it and the team know the task of it, but on any given day you just don't know what can happen.
"To beat someone like United you need a bit of luck.
"We also have to believe that we can win. The belief in the football team at the minute is there.
"We are going to have to play well against them that's for sure."
Villa midfielder Karim El Ahmadi will return after a one-match ban but defender Eric Lichaj will be banned from facing the Red Devils after reaching his fifth yellow card of the campaign.
Lichaj's fellow left-back Joe Bennett is struggling to overcome a knee injury so Enda Stevens is in contention to play. Striker Darren Bent is again absent with his ankle injury.
Meanwhile, Sir Alex Ferguson insists Manchester United are not too reliant on Robin van Persie.
The Dutch sharp-shooter has enjoyed a stellar start to his United career and took his goal tally to 11 in 14 games when he began the Red Devils' latest comeback in Braga on Wednesday.
Yet Van Persie's contribution, after he had started on the bench, raised question marks over United's ability to perform without him.
Ferguson's team have won every game in which the 29-year-old has scored on their rise to the Premier League summit and qualification for the Champions League group stages with two games to spare.
The United boss does not view it as an issue though.
"I don't think it's a problem relying on Robin," he said.
"Last year, we lost (the title) on goal difference. I don't expect us to lose on goal difference again."
There have been plenty of top strikers who have failed to match their billing following much-hyped arrivals at Old Trafford.
Not Van Persie though.
Indeed, his strike rate is better than that of fellow countryman Ruud van Nistelrooy, who took 19 games to reach the same figure following his transfer from PSV Eindhoven in 2002.
"Van Persie is experienced," said Ferguson.
"He had eight years at Arsenal and that helps. He has come to us at the right time."
And he is being given excellent support from Javier Hernandez, who has scored five times in his last four games, rediscovering the form he showed during his debut campaign, and also Wayne Rooney.
"The way Javier has started this season, I'm certain he'll get to 20 goals plus," said Ferguson.
"Wazza will get there too, he'll get 20 goals plus I'm sure.
"It's a healthy combination we've got there."
United will be without Nani with a tight hamstring but are hopeful of Jonny Evans' recovery from a groin problem, which would mean Ferguson did not have to force Chris Smalling back into action so soon after making his season's bow in Braga.