The Football League Championship season is now in full swing, and Aston Villa have made themselves at home, taking four points from the first three games.
The narrow loss to Sheffield Wednesday was unfortunate, but Villa bounced back well, securing a second successive 3-0 win over Rotherham. The 1-1 draw against Huddersfield was not ideal, but the performance was largely positive for the men in Claret and Blue. It is also worth noting that Huddersfield have already beaten Newcastle this season, so a point was gained over promotion rivals. Not a bad way to look at it.
Next up for Aston Villa is a short trip to the East Midlands to face Derby County, who Villa haven't faced since County were in the Premier League back in 2008. Check out what happened back then.
The last time we met
20 years ago yesterday, David Beckham scored one of the best long distance goals in Premier League history, against Wimbledon. Widely regarded as the best long distance goal, this honour is one that many Villa fans, including myself must disagree with. Indeed, that title belongs to none other than our own Stiliyan Petrov, who scored a sublime goal the last time Aston Villa faced Derby County.
Derby County were well on their way to the lowest Premier League points total ever before Aston Villa visited Pride Park in April 2008. Indeed, having won just one game all season, Derby were already relegated, and powerless to stop a rampant Aston Villa side from winning 6-0.
Ashley Young and John Carew opened the scoring for Villa before Petrov added a third, with the aforementioned wonder goal. Derby offered nothing in the second half and Gareth Barry, Gabby Agbonlahor and Marlon Harewood all joined in the fun, giving Villa their biggest win since a 7-1 win against Wimbledon back in 1995.
The loss was Derby's joint highest of the season (also losing 6-0 to Liverpool), and the fourth time that they would concede six in one game. No Premier League team has ever finished with fewer points than Derby that season, though Aston Villa ran them pretty close last season.
Even though they haven't been able to return to the Premier League since then, I'd argue that Derby are a stronger team now. The Premier League Derby featured veteran players, but lacked any individual players with the ability to change a game. Now featuring the likes of Tom Ince, Will Hughes, Johnny Russell and Jeff Hendricks, Derby are a side that should be pushing for a top six finish this year.
Derby also boast a couple of familiar faces. Goalkeeper Scott Carson spent a season on loan at Aston Villa, and actually played for Villa against Derby the last time the two sides met. Aston Villa's most expensive transfer ever, Darren Bent, now finds himself as a rotation option for Derby, and will almost certainly find himself in the 18 man squad this Saturday. It might even be worth sticking £1 on him getting a goal too. Finally we have Andi Weimann, one of my all time favourite Aston Villa players. Stupidly, Tim Sherwood let him go to Derby, which in my opinion, is unforgivable. Weimann is currently injured though, and won't be available this weekend.
Aston Villa peaked the season that they last played Derby. They finished 6th in the League, and though they matched this position the next two seasons, they were never able to build upon this. Martin O'Neil then left, to be replaced by Gerard Houllier, and the rest is history. Gone are the John Carew's, and the Ashley Young's. But to Aston Villa's credit, this season they have the players to threaten Derby's defence. Ross McCormack will want to build upon his first Villa goal, Jack Grealish will want to continue his form, and Jordan Ayew has a point to prove. Chances definitely will come.
Like Aston Villa, Derby currently find themselves with four points this season. An opening day draw against Brighton was followed by defeat to Barnsley, which the Rams were able to bounce back from with a 1-0 win against Preston. Two sides with the same number of points, both have new managers, and both will expect promotion this season. Expect a close game. Closer than the last time, at least.