Crystal Palace-Aston Villa Preview
By KEVIN CHROUST
(AP) -- Aston Villa feel they can climb the Premier League table as quickly as they've fallen.
Having lost their last three, they now look to a Boxing Day match against Crystal Palace at Villa Park with hopes of making the most of a busy holiday week.
"We go again. We have nine points to play for in a week," Villa manager Paul Lambert told the club's official website. "The games come thick and fast. But I feel if we do that more times than not, we will win games. We will pick up points, no doubt about it."
The recent stretch of losses for Villa began at Fulham on Dec. 8, continued at home against Manchester City on Dec. 15 and reached its current state on Saturday in a 2-1 defeat at Stoke City.
Lambert left forward Christian Benteke out of the starting 11, instead going with Libor Kozak. Benteke, who hasn't scored since Sept. 14 despite making eight starts, is nursing a knee problem while working through fitness concerns. He is unlikely to be ready against Palace.
Kozak scored his team's first goal in 256 minutes to even the match in the 66th minute, but Peter Crouch scored the winner for Stoke soon after in the 70th.
Kozak has scored in three of his last four starts, and Villa are 3-2-2 when the Czech striker is included in the squad.
"I have been very impressed with what I have seen of Libor since he arrived at the football club," fellow striker Andreas Weimann said. "He's a big, strong forward who will hold the ball up for you and bring others into play. He doesn't give centre-halves a moment's peace because he's always competing very hard. But he certainly knows where the net is also. He's a good finisher. He's proved that already in the short time he's been here."
With Swansea City coming to Villa Park two days after Palace and an away fixture with Sunderland on Jan. 1, Villa have three matches in seven days against teams in the bottom half of the table. Palace and Sunderland currently sit in the relegation zone and present a prime opportunity to stop the slide that has them in 13th position in the table.
"You have to try and put a stop to it as quick as you can," Lambert said. "You look at that mid-table region. There is absolutely nothing in it. One win catapults you up."
Palace (4-1-12) have won once away from Selhurst Park and scored four goals in eight away matches.
The Eagles will have to try to fix that without forward Marouane Chamakh against Villa. Chamakh, who has three goals in his last four starts, is suspended to add to the club's already existing injury issues.
They played without midfielders Kagisho Dikgacoi and Stuart O'Keefe in a 3-0 home loss to Newcastle on Saturday, which forced manager Tony Pulis to move defender Joel Ward into the middle.
"We're very unfortunate in that we lost two players last week in the same position, O'Keefe and KG and we put Wardy in there," Pulis told the club's official website. "He's played really well at left back and if you look at the game they had so much play down their right-hand side and caused us so many problems. I think they got in about 15 crosses on our left-hand side in the first 20 minutes."
The loss at Selhurst Park puts them in a bind with a match at Manchester City looming two days after traveling to Villa.
Updated December 24, 2013