This is a big local derby. It’s now also a massive promotion clash.
Whether Villa versus West Brom is a “true” derby or a “fierce rivalry” is a conversation that will run and run.
The Hawthorns is just over 3 miles from Villa Park. It’s also the 9th closest in terms of two clubs proximity to one another in England, so this is very much a local affair.
For comparison, Villa Park and St Andrews are 2.5 miles apart.
In terms of it feeling like a “true” derby, there is also a generational aspect. Villa/Blues is a big-city derby by nature of the geography, but the fact is that there were long periods where the clubs rarely competed.
This has seen the relevance of Villa facing Albion growing in modern times.
However, what had evolved into a mainstay of the Premier League calendar, now finds itself in The Championship.
The importance of the game cannot be under-stated for either team.
It’s about pride, perception in the wider game, looming financial implications and as importantly; aspirations for promotion.
These types of games are also the classic brand of difficult pressure fixtures can define promotion seasons.
They aren’t make or break in defeat, confined to a single match, but they can provide priceless upward momentum towards the summit in victory.
Villa, after labouring in this division for two seasons finally appear to have galvanised with Dean Smith, under the watchful gaze of CEO Christian Purslow.
Smith took a couple of weeks to steady the unbalanced ship he inherited, but since then, has methodically set about improving Villa’s entire style of play.
The change has been genuinely stark.
We are finally pressing teams, utilising our array of attacking options and purposefully going about winning football matches.
This has translated into not only a visible improvement in our football, but it’s also reaped some impressive results that have in themselves turned heads.
The 4-2 victory over Blues was hard fought, 3-0 away win to Derby eye catching, the 5-5 draw with Forest evidenced much guile but the 3-0 win against high flying Middlesbrough sent out a real statement.
Albion are without doubt a dangerous team, under the calm leadership of Darren Moore and are themselves attempting to build a steady upward trajectory.
Albion’s recent form is interesting and difficult to interpret.
Wins against bottom side Ipswich and indifferent Swansea can reasonably be marked “to be expected”. A 4-1 drubbing of Leeds underlines United’s erratic form as much as Albion’s qualities. Further, a drab, at times wasteful and ultimately disappointing home draw against Brentford should give cause for optimism amongst Villa fans.
Villa go into the game looking to properly strike at the playoffs for the first time this season. Indeed, if results go in our favour, we could climb to a heady fifth.
Irrelevant of this, any victory would itself represent a massive additional confidence boost at a key moment of the campaign.
- Alan Hutton returns from suspension. However, Ahmed Elmohamady impressed in the 3-0 away win against Middlesbrough, giving Dean Smith a welcome selection head-ache.
- We haven’t won at The Hawthorns in six attempts.
- We last won a Friday night game in 1972 – Wrexham! (thanks to BBC for that fact).
- Albion has lost 4 of their last 5 games on a Friday.
- Tammy Abraham has 7 goals in his last 4 games. Prolific.
- See Villa’s injury updates here.
- Villa Form: WWWDW
- WBA Form: LWWWD