Olof Mellberg pretty much defined the Birmingham derbies of the noughties. From the highs of celebrating the utter demolition of Blues 5-1, to the genuine low of being the man who threw the ball to Enckleman that fateful night. In time he came to live and breathe the build up as much as any fan and right up until the end you knew it actually meant as much. Stuffing them really made his day.
This Sunday Villa go to the Blues needing a win. For the first time since the Graham Taylor era we are at the wrong end of the table and have to go to St Andrews and make it our own. And whilst the league table doesn’t lie, things are different. Villa have experience, not only in terms of established seasoned veterans but also of the derby itself. Reo-Coker, Dunne, Petrov, Agbonlahor, Friedel, Cueller have all been there and done it against the Blues. They have to steer the young guns to keep their cool and do a job, we need to keep our heads and steal the points from what is a very average Birmingham team.
There is an unnerving muttering from the Blue side of the city that they are improved. On closer inspection, particularly of their dismal showing against West Ham in the Carling Cup semi final just this week, reveals otherwise. Alex Mcleish has a plan of sorts, and it appears to be an attempt to forge an utterly savage bunch of underachievers into something that can scrape Premiership survival.
For once let’s leave Villa’s discarded squad players Ridgewell and Gardner out of this – the formers defensive frailties are well documented and the latter just wasn’t good enough. Carr is a thug. Foster is as big a liability as having Carson in goal. Hleb makes Pires appear a prudent acquisition. Zigic evidently has Bosko Balaban’s agent. Bentley is a desperate move for a desperate player. We just need to make sure that Kevin Phillips is locked away, the most likely place being an elderly care home.
The fact is that defeat cannot even come into it. The league is tight now, but in 2 or 3 games time things will start to look a lot clearer. Our upcoming fixtures against both halves of Manchester will feel somewhat easier, perhaps only marginally, if we secure a victory this Sunday. A draw is neither here nor there, though the fear has to be that our inability to make chances, let alone convert them, has to render this a distinct possibility. A defeat would leave us in a precarious position indeed. It is also worth considering that attempting to lure players to a relegation placed club in January will not be the easiest task. Further, we struggled with luring when finishing sixth, a point worth some quiet consideration for all fans and Mr. Lerner alike.
With that said I have an unquantifiable confidence going into the game. It is the tipping point, the time for senior players to be counted and for the youth to etch their names in derby history. Whilst Ashley Young’s petulance will not be missed, his ability will, but this opens the door for Albrighton and company to write the script. The results of late have been poor but there is a balance of experience and youth going into the match. Blues’ offering of has beens and no-marks should be used as the tool to inspire. Or just a picture of Roger Johnson’s mugshot. A face and name only a mother could love.
Villa have to put the early season’s erratic form aside, take the positives from improved outings against Chelsea and Sheffield United and drag the three points kicking and screaming back to Villa Park. Let us not forget we bossed the reverse fixture, our downfall was the lack of an end product. We should defend with the resilience shown at Chelsea and play some of the direct attacking football on show against the Blades.
There can be no predictions for this match. All out war on the streets is a given. On the pitch, anything can happen. Think of De La Cruz hitting the bar at 0-0, the horror tackle on Angel, them celebrating on our pitch after Stern John made it 2-2 in injury time. Heart racing? Think of the glorious 5-1. And breathe.