It is a tough time for several of the bigger Midlands based clubs in English football right now.
Wolverhampton Wanderers and Birmingham City are both toiling at the wrong end of The Championship, the latter also contending with serious financial issues. In the Premier League Aston Villa are enduring some particularly lean years, and currently find themselves in the relegation zone.
The one club from the region with anything to shout about are West Bromwich Albion who is enjoying their longest stay in the top-flight for some time. And they could make Villa a whole lot more miserable this weekend with a derby win.
Both are actually on quite dismal runs right now. West Brom is stuttering after a bright first few months to the campaign and has not won a game since Boxing Day. Villa’s last league win (admittedly a good one at Liverpool) was followed by that humiliating run of 15 goals conceded in three games.
A FA Cup Third Round defeat of Ipswich Town served as a brief respite only for Bradford City to win their Carling Cup semifinal first-leg 3-1.
Of most importance to Villa is the three points, but what should not be underestimated is the confidence boost Paul Lambert’s young team could get from a win over their regional rivals. If the Scotsman intends to persevere with the younger players (and he does not have much choice in some cases) a win in such a big match would provide some degree of validation for them, and it would not hurt to give the fans a reason to cheer either.
The Baggies have had a tough winter, several losses bringing them back to earth a couple of months spent hovering in and around the top four. It is testament to the good run they put together that they are currently only seven points off fourth place.
Perhaps Villa could not have hoped for a better time to play them. Yet even in their recent defeats West Brom have still played some pretty good football.
Having gone a goal down to Fulham on New Year’s Day they equalised early in the second half. For about 10 minutes West Brom looked like they might massacre the Cottagers as they overwhelmed them on several attacks. But then they got hit by a sucker punch in the form of a terrific goal scored by Alex Kacaniklic.
Last time out in the league at Reading, Steve Clarke’s team dominated the game for all but the last ten minutes. Scoring their two goals, Romelu Lukaku was almost unplayable at times while James Morrison especially providing some fine support. Almost unfathomably, West Brom blew their lead and lost 3-2, conceding all three goals in the last ten minutes.
On Saturday Villa might fancy themselves capable of causing that same defense a few problems, especially if they can get Christian Benteke into some dangerous positions. But down the other end they have plenty to fear in the form of West Brom’s own Belgian.
Lukaku has been one of the Premier League’s most impressive performers this season. To his manager’s credit, Clarke has carefully managed his game-time, allowing him more as he has grown increasingly familiar with the division.
At 19 he is not the finished article, which makes it all the more exciting/worrying (delete as applicable, depending on who you support) to wonder just how good he might become.
Villa boss Lambert stuck by young defenders including Nathan Baker and Ciaran Clark ahead of club captain Ron Vlaar in the loss against Southampton last week. With the Dutchman now fit again he is likely to be restored to the team as they look to engineer some much needed solidity.
Having drawn their last meeting 1-1 there is no guarantee it is going to be different, derbies can disappoint like any other game after all. Given both’s need for three points though, you have to think one team is going to come away happier than the other.
Where To Watch Online: West Bromwich Albion vs. Aston Villa