Aston Villa seem to be hitting home run after home run, despite taking a few pitches with a wobbly swinging arm. A win against Burton Albion had a few instances of madness as Villa enforced a 3-2 scoreline in what otherwise would have amounted to a routine win, while an away win at Sheffield United came down to a small moment of Robert Snodgrass magic.
Aston Villa will need to fix up in some small ways - because Birmingham City (in a spot of form, for once) are making the journey from Small Heath to Aston to reignite the Second City derby. Despite Villa’s supremacy, they might not get away with the mistakes they like to make this time around
What to know about Aston Villa
After tapping out to Brentford on Boxing Day, Aston Villa looked to be dead and buried - out of the promotion hunt as Derby County, Cardiff City and Wolverhampton Wanderers picked up the pace. A month and a bit later, some Villa fans might have one eye on the Championship trophy as the Villans are setting the standard for form in English football - let alone the Championship! It’s been win, after win for Steve Bruce ever since.
More on Bruce - despite suffering a family tragedy in the week - Villa’s manager will be back in Birmingham after winning the Manager of the Month award, showing some of the same spirit he has helped inject into the side. That’s incredibly brave of Bruce - who honestly should be staying with his family at this time, but it’s a massive credit to his character.
Somehow, his Villans are getting the job done - after trouncing Bristol City to open the year, they haven’t stumbled in terms of results. A win against Blues would make it seven on the trot in the league. That’s not to be sniffed at.
Jack Grealish is taking the headlines for all the right reasons, but Robert Snodgrass and Sam Johnstone deserve the plaudits as well. Sam Johnstone has saved points for Villa, especially against a Sheffield United team that should have taken a lead against Villa in that midweek fixture. Snodgrass has been responsible for some moments of magic as well, not least his goal in the aforementioned game.
Gabby Agbonlahor could steal the show in this match. It’s his personal Wrestlemania, his magic moment - if he’s ever going to show up for Villa, what about one last hurrah in this fixture? That being said, if he’s picked, it’s unlikely that we see Lewis Grabban on the bench for Villa. Giving up a bench spot for Gabby would be a tremendously gutsy move from Steve Bruce, as there’s plenty of players who could easily be picked head of Villa’s old boy. Still, we all know that this game is a one-off, so why not?
What to know about Birmingham City
Birmingham City’s form should not be ignored. They’ve dug deep and started fighting, picking up some much needed points to claw up and out of the relegation zone that they now find themselves four points clear of.
Credit where credit is due, but the bottom half of the Championship is a stacked, and uneven deck. It’s fluid down there, and teams usually spark up and ignite, before dying out. At least they haven’t accepted their predicament though.
Steve Cotterill’s boys will look to deliver a knockout blow to Villa. A loss for Birmingham is to be expected, and they probably won’t be too upset about a loss. There’s a lot more to lose for Aston Villa - and Villa Park has been quite nervy of late. That makes this the perfect opportunity to spring an upset. Still, Villa have sturdy management and a squad full of character - so expect the battle to be won by individual magic should the plans of the managers fall undone due to the fluid nature of derby battles.
Birmingham have a magician of their own in the form of Jota. Despite his form, he’s flopped when he has appeared on the big stage - not least when he failed to bury Aston Villa when his one-on-one with Sam Johnstone flied over the bar. He’ll look to right his wrongs at Villa Park. Villa must deal with him, and it will fall on Birkir Bjarnason’s shoulders to put a stop to Jota’s playmaking abilities.
I can’t look past a 2-1 win for Villa. Birmingham might open the scoring, but Villa will show that fighting spirit that has been pouring from them. They’ve got it in them to take this game to Birmingham.