Sunday 31st October 2010
Opponent: Birmingham City
Venue: Villa Park
Kick Off: 12:00
Sunday afternoon sees this season’s first encounter of fierce rivals Aston Villa and Birmingham City. Both sides have had inconsistent and somewhat disappointing starts to the campaign but, rest assured all will be forgotten with a victory in the biggest game of the calendar year for both sets of fans. Villa play host to the Blues in a game which sees the two sides separated by just 1 point in mid table positions. Villa sit in 10th with Birmingham close behind in 12th but a win means so much more than points and league standings for the opposing fans. Villa have ruled the roost in the second City bragging rights for many years and City manager McLeish is yet to rack up a win against his rivals. Villa have come out on top in the last 6 meetings between the two sides with memorable moments bringing unbridled joy into the hearts of Villa fans including my own in recent times. The 5-1 thrashing and a late Gary Cahill acrobatic winner among the very best and much needed pick me ups of the home crowd in past encounters.
For Gerard Houllier, this is undoubtedly his biggest test yet at the helm of Villa, despite having faced Tottenham and Chelsea, this is the be all and end all for the club. The Frenchman will be concerned that added to this pressure are some untimely absences and selection issues that will have Blues fans hoping to wash away their derby day misery. In terms of suspensions there is good news and bad news. Stephen Warnock returns having missed the midweek game with Burnley after incurring 5 yellow cards in just 9 games! On the negative front, winger and local lad Marc Albrighton will miss the tie having taken one for the team in getting sent off in the closing stages of the Cup tie.
A clean bill of health from the start of the season, barring long term injury to Fabian Delph, has multiplied and now may force the team to pick itself for Sunday’s crucial match-up. Stiliyan Petrov became the latest player to inhabit the treatment table with the captain likely to miss out for at least two months of action. He joins Luke Young, who had been enjoying a fine return to form, and Gabby Agbonlahor, who may well be the biggest loss of the lot. The striker, who hails from Birmingham, knows exactly how much this game means to the fans and to the City in general and backs this passion up with an impressive record in recent encounters. The 24-year-old has scored in 3 of the last 4 games between the sides, winning the decisive penalty last time out. John Carew is a doubt after coming down with an illness prior to the Carling Cup clash with Burnley, meaning Emile Heskey is likely to play the lone striker role supported by Stephen Ireland.
The visitors have received good news ahead of Sunday’s game with on-loan Barcelona man, Aleksandr Hleb declared fit to start. The midfielder had been linked on more than one occasion, to the former Arsenal player but Birmingham pulled off a surprise coup in capturing the Belarusian. Fellow new signing, Michel has also overcome shin injury to put himself into contention for a start at Villa Park. James Collins is likely to be the man in charge of dealing with the ridiculously tall Nikola Zigic (6’8”). McLeish does have injury problems of his own though, with forwards Cameron Jerome, Jean Beausejour and James McFadden all out. The game sees another return to Villa for Liam Ridgewell who took the step down 3 years ago after struggling force his way into MON’s plans. He was joined last year by another ex-Villan in Craig Gardner whilst Heskey spent 2 years with Blues netting 14 times in 68 appearances.
This game really does represent the perennial ‘must win’ cliché with a draw doing nothing to boost Villa’s mid-table mediocrity thus far this season. Decent football has been quashed under Houllier’s reign and the tenures of many managers before him by a lack of fire power and goals. Stewart Downing is the clubs top scorer this term with 3 league goals, 4 in all competitions, with Heskey and Young having just one league goal to celebrate. It’s worth pointing out that Heskey also has four in all competitions and the Big Man will probably be our biggest hope in front of goal this weekend which, with all due respect with his overall record, is slightly worrying for the club. Nevertheless we have to have faith in our boys to go out there and beat inferior opposition in this year’s biggest game. UTV!
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