Blow for Aston Villa as Ron Vlaar is ruled out again

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Aston Villa will have to tackle Stoke without captain Ron Vlaar as he was today ruled out for a third consecutive game.

Manager Paul Lambert confirmed the Dutch defender's calf muscle injury was still troubling him and that he "did not expect him to be available".

It leaves Lambert once again relying on the youngest team the club have ever fielded in the Premier League.

But Lambert said: "In the last seven games, only the two Manchester clubs have beaten us. "We are moving in the right direction.

"Everyone is performing very well in training. This team can play – some of the football we have produced is excellent.

"Stoke are ahead of us in terms of their stability and the longevity of the squad. But we have to use our strengths to combat them tomorrow."

Although another of his novices, defender Enda Stevens, is also expected to be missing, Villa have been given a boost with Charles N'Zogbia returning to training after a six-week absence.

Villa, meanwhile, today denied reports claiming the January sale of Darren Bent has been ratified by owner Randy Lerner providing an £18m fee is agreed.

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