Often Partisan

Villa preview

As much as some Blues and Villa fans try to deny it, tomorrow is the big tamale. The second city derby, home leg. Yes, it’s seen as a bit small time to treat the derby game as a big game – after all, it’s a bit of a relegation six pointer – but despite what some supporters say, it’s all about bragging rights.

Blues have the edge so far this season; at Villa Park it was a draw but Birmingham City in my opinion were unlucky not to win. In the league cup, it was Blues who took the honours, via an unfortunate deflection which Friedel just couldn’t keep out. No matter, they all count and we Blues fans celebrated it just as much as we’d celebrate a thirty yard blockbuster.

Tomorrow is going to be a tough game, for both sides. Birmingham will be missing one half of what is seen as one of the best up and coming defensive partnerships in the Prem, as Scott Dann nurses an injured hamstring. McLeish has to decide whether to play a rusty left back in David Murphy, and move the in-form Ridgewell to centre back; or to play a rusty centre back on his Premiership debut in Martin Jiranek. Make the right call and he’ll be lauded a hero; things go tits up and he’ll be lambasted on the boards. On the plus side, Eck has new loan signing David Bentley added to the squad, and if the David Bentley that got into the England side turns up, then Birmingham will be a much more potent attacking threat.

Villa have slightly more problems. Heskey, who celebrated his 33rd birthday on Monday, will be out suspended as will Ashley Young; new signing Jean Il Makoun is awaiting a work permit which is expected to keep him out until the end of January; Fabian Delph, Steven Ireland and Luke Young all miss out with knee injuries. On the good news front for Villa is that John Carew will be fit to play – whether Houllier plays him or not is another thing – and Agbonlahor is certainly fit to play, and all Blues fans know he loves scoring at St Andrews.

I think this one is tough to call. Derby matches are notoriously scrappy affairs anyway, and as there is so much riding on this one with both teams in trouble at the wrong end of the table I think there will be more of an element of both sides not wanting to lose, rather than trying to win. What I am hoping for, especially as I’m taking my young daughter to her first derby game, is that there will be no repeat of the trouble that marred the end of the League Cup tie in December. As much as people blamed the fans, the stewards need to be given a sharp lesson in how to stop trouble; it needs to be ensured that no one tries to sneak a flare or some other proscribed article into the ground, and WM Police need to earn their overtime pay by actually doing their job rather than just filming the perpetrators to pick up in their own time.

My prediction? An optimistic 1-0 win to Birmingham City, and bragging rights ensured until next season at least. Let’s hope McLeish can deliver.

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