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Will any Aston Villa locals feature in the Second City Derby?

With early season injuries, Aston Villa’s natives have seemed unlikely to feature at St Andrews, but is a miracle in the offing?

Aston Villa v Birmingham City - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images

The concept of a derby is rather foreign to American professional sports, so writing about it and covering it as a Yank is difficult. If a city in the States has more than one team in a specific sport the clubs have typically been cleaved apart in by the league in some manner. There are a few notable and curious exceptions like the Lakers and Clippers of the National Basketball Association sharing the same Los Angeles arena, or the Jets and Giants of the National Football League, though separated by conference, doing the same in New Jersey York.

Still this doesn’t get much consideration to a wider audience than those fans and really only exists as a bug rather than a feature of professional American sports. In cases like the 2000 World Series where the New York Mets (1960s Johnny-come-latelys to Major League Baseball after both the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants moved West) played the New York Yankees (classic trash). The five game series is only remembered as the time the one guy absolutely jacked up on some type of cocktail of steroids threw shards of a shattered bat in the general direction of another guy who was only probably absolutely jacked up on some type of cocktail of steroids. Nothing happened except for some shrugging and bug-eyed caterwauling and was much less interesting than earlier that season when the same absolutely jacked up on some type of cocktail of steroids guy knocked out only probably absolutely jacked up on some type of cocktail of steroids guy by aiming a 90+ mile an hour fastball right at his brain. It was a weird time for baseball, but it mattered little that these teams were from the same city except insofar as it mattered to New Yorkers. To the rest of us we just hated New York City all the more and only remember that one time when one of them was unconscious for a few minutes.

Derbies in club football, however, are most definitely a welcome feature! Two clubs organically rising through a city competing hundreds of times over decades until there is a declared undying hatred for one another? It’s amazing! Sating the Purge-like tendency to trivialize differences and tribalize our communities block by block by ball and net games instead of all-out race wars may have begun as a head scratching side effect, but it’s definitely evolved into one of the best aspects of professional sports. So it led me to wonder to which Villan would this match matter the most and who would be able to participate?

It was welcome to see Jack Grealish in action over the last few weeks with the U23 team. In Tuesdays match against Reading—which due to some very shoddy refereeing seemed as if it were coming to blows—Grealish looked fit if a bit frantic. With the ball at his feet at Madejski Stadium Jack had trouble directing his teammates to spots, hitting passes, and when he got near net looked to try to find space to get off his own shot against multiple defenders. He looked like he was pressing to make the point he was fit and wanted to bag a goal to put an exclamation point on it. I can only imagine his excitement as he was given the number 10 jersey, likely told that this team would be built around him and go as far as he led them, and then only had mere minutes to participate before finding himself in a hospital bed. Around similarly talented players in whom he can trust, I think he’ll return to form, so this was great news:

Aside from Jack, more negative news has been reported on Gabby Agbonlahor whose calf strain will likely keep him off the lineup card at St Andrews. It would be a shame if Gabby had to miss the match. Even if his place on the team is becoming further out of question, his goal last season was a sorely needed—if not a decently absurd—bright spot which showed that this period of the club’s history might not continue in tragedy. If such strangeness as Gabby’s replacement winner can occur, we might actually be in a comedy and a little deus ex machina can occur after all, isn’t that right Stevesy?

In addition to those two notable names, Andre Green is still out after surgery, and Cal O’Hare might be left off in a roster crunch with first teamers Henri Lansbury and Mile Jedinak maybe to return—look at the above tweets, their participation or lack shouldn’t surprise come Sunday. Either way, if it’s not this weekend for Green or O’Hare, their day will come—along with Easah Suliman, Rushian Hepburn-Murphy and the youth team—in future derbies. The emotion of the game is still secondary to the fact that with third and fourth placed Sheffield United and Leeds matched up against each other, Villa, if aided with three points, has a chance to climb another rung in the table this weekend and put a definitive stamp on the real competition with Birmingham City: the race back to where they belong in the Premier League while the Blues continue to fall to the relegation spots.