There was a time when Aston Villa were used to being ‘the best team in the midlands,’ to fans of the claret and blue it was almost a given.
Now times are a little different. After years of consistently finishing as the highest placed midlands team those in and around Aston Villa gave little thought to their “inferior” local neighbours.
Match days against Birmingham City, Wolves and West Brom provided little more than weekend bragging rights, knowing that in the long run it would be Villa fans that stood with their chests puffed out proud.
During the Martin O’Neill era the Holte End faithful had bigger dreams. With an abundance of England internationals, Villa were widely considered to be the most likely side to upset the top four and challenge for a place in the UEFA Champions League, but time can be cruel.
When their curly haired, bespectacled leader had a disagreement with stringent American owner Randy Lerner over transfers he waved a sad goodbye to Villa Park… a meltdown ensued.
Under the guidance of a weak Gerard Houllier, and a hated Alex Mcleish, the club continued to lose its best players and consequently slid down the league table as if it were a fireman’s pole coated with a thick layer of grease.
The Champions League became a filthy word of the past and ‘relegation’ became hot on the lips.
The climax of last season’s campaign ended with Villa finishing an embarrassing two points above the drop zone. But worst of all West Bromich Albion finished in 10th position and became the highest placed side in the Midlands.
Once again Villa now have a manager of a Martin O’Neill mould in Paul Lambert and will be wanting to look up the league rather than behind, but first they need to take little steps.
Already this season see’s Steve Clarke’s Baggies sitting above their midland rivals, and that will be a scenario that many football pundits believe will remain constant.
With Villa’s second city rivals Birmingham struggling in the Championship, this Sunday’s home match against West Brom represents their biggest, and only, derby of the season.
Villa fans will be looking for weekend bragging rights, but more importantly a platform to ensure that they will finish the season above the Baggies to reclaim the tile of ‘best team in the midlands.’
image: © ell brown