The time has finally arrived for the first local derby of the season and with it comes the first chance to earn the bragging rights of the city. Paul Lambert takes his Aston Villa side to The Hawthorns for the big Monday night football match and the claret and blue faithful will be looking for their first victory in the midlands derby at the seventh time of asking.
It is fair to say that West Brom have been the better of the two sides over the past few seasons, and any Villa fans who don’t admit that are kidding themselves, but the margins between the two sides are now a lot slimmer and this match is likely to go right to the wire.
Despite starting the season poorly, the Albion players have picked their game up considerably: a win at Old Trafford and only getting a draw at Stamford Bridge instead of the victory they deserved has shown that they are going to steer well clear of the relegation battle for another season. Indeed, the possibility of another top ten finish is very much on the cards.
On the other hand, our beloved Aston Villa players are also starting to gather momentum and a vital home win against Cardiff last time out has positioned them smack bang in the middle of the table, one place below Monday night’s opponents on goal difference.
Another positive for the fans of the B6 club is the fact that they have recorded three successive clean sheets on the road and if that record could be extended to four come Monday evening then the chances of victory for our team will have been greatly enhanced.
The Villans are suffering an injury crisis at the moment. However, that crisis looks set to ease slightly for the trip to The Hawthorns on Monday. Fabian Delph is expected to be back and Andreas Weimann, Antonio Luna and Gabby Agbonlahor are all making good strides in their recoveries and some of them may even be fit in time for the big match. Brad Guzan is also set to feature as he has shaken off a back injury which ruled him out of the USA squad for the recent international friendlies against Scotland and Austria. Joe Bennett is set to remain sidelined along with long term absentees Jores Okore and Gary Gardner.
With those injury updates in mind, I expect Agbonlahor to come back into the squad if he has recovered in time as we all know he is at his best in derby matches and his local pride and passion could be vital in order for Villa to secure a positive result. Libor Kozak will more than likely keep his place, with Weimann starting on the substitutes’ bench if fit. Despite impressing last time out, Aleksander Tonev will probably drop down to the bench to make room for Fabian Delph, whose energy and battling qualities will be much needed in this contest.
The Baggies have also had to contend with a considerable number of injuries lately yet they too are set to welcome back key players for the match on Monday. Forward Nicholas Anelka is set to return (from a groin injury) along with Scott Sinclair (hamstring), Billy Jones (hamstring) and Boaz Myhill (calf), which will give manager Steve Clarke a wider variety of options when it comes to picking his best XI in a bid to get the better of Villa.
Currently sitting tenth in the table, Albion, like Villa, will be looking to push upwards and more towards the European places in the table rather than sliding back down towards the relegation zone. With both sides out of the Capital One Cup and the international breaks finally over until March, Clarke and Lambert can concentrate solely on the Premier League and on getting as many points on the board as possible so that it can be a season of cheer for both sides.
Kick off: 8:00pm
Venue: The Hawthorns
Tickets: The away allocation is sold out!
Referee: Michael Oliver
Previous meeting: West Brom 2-2 Aston Villa
West Brom 1-1 Aston Villa – @MrOMeara
West Brom 1-1 Aston Villa – Mark Lawrenson
West Brom 1-1 Aston Villa – Paul Merson
Aston Villa to beat West Brom! Exclusive 9-1 odds!