London: Paul Lambert described his time at Aston Villa as the "toughest challenge" of his career on Thursday following his dismissal as manager, but expressed pride over his achievements there. The 45-year-old Scot was sacked late on Wednesday after a run of 10 games without victory saw Villa slide into the Premier League relegation zone.

Reflecting on his two and a half years in the role, Lambert said he had fought a constant battle to satisfy owner Randy Lerner's instructions for him to overhaul the squad while cutting wages. "I am extremely proud to have managed Aston Villa, a founder member of the Football League, and this sentiment will always remain with me," Lambert said in a statement released by the League Managers' Association. "My initial remit was to conduct a massive overhaul of the playing squad, lower the overall wage structure of the playing staff and achieve this whilst keeping the club in the Barclays Premier League.

"There was also a concerted effort to purchase and develop younger players who would provide a solid footing for the football club to move forward and enhance the value of the playing squad in the future. "When I came on board the club's owner, Randy Lerner, warned me that I was embarking on the toughest challenge of my working life and he was not wrong.

"But I have never stepped away from hard work and I put my heart and soul into the job from my first day until my last." Lambert also paid tribute to Villa's players and staff, as well as their supporters, who he described as "among the most passionate I have ever encountered".

Lambert took over at Villa in 2012 and led the Midlands club to 15th-place finishes in his first two seasons, but the former Scotland midfielder had come under pressure from fans following a poor run of recent form. Villa recently went 659 minutes without scoring a league goal and supporters unveiled a banner calling for Lambert to leave during their 2-0 loss at fellow strugglers Hull City on Tuesday.

First-team coach Scott Marshall and goalkeeping coach Andy Marshall have been placed in temporary charge ahead of Sunday's FA Cup fifth-round tie at home to Leicester City.

Former Tottenham Hotspur manager Tim Sherwood, Real Madrid assistant coach Paul Clement and United States head coach Jurgen Klinsmann have been installed as the favourites to replace him by British bookmakers.