Traditional rivalry glossed over nationally
25 November ~ Supporters of West Bromwich Albion and Aston Villa would probably agree that their local derby is deserving of national recognition, beyond being broadcast live on Sky. The clubs are, after all, just four miles apart, were founder members of the Football League and have contested three FA Cup finals against each other. But the makers of this weekend's Football Focus obviously didn't see tonight's game between the two as significant enough even to warrant a mention. The BBC must have their reasons, and the Monday night "graveyard slot" could be one.
Games played at this time, even between traditional rivals, do have that air of afterthought about them. Then there's the fact that Albion and Villa occupy mid-table positions, although there have been clear signs of improvement from both.
Since Albion's early season home defeats to Southampton and Swansea they have settled down and lost just once in eight games. As for Villa, victory over Cardiff two weeks ago eased concerns over their home form. On opposition territory they generally give an impression of solidity and reassurance and will look to extend a sequence of three away games without conceding.
Or maybe there were diplomatic reasons for the BBC's failure to give Albion v Villa even passing acknowledgement. The studio guest on Saturday's Focus, former Baggies player Kevin Kilbane, was on the pitch when Villa won 4-0 in a 1998 FA Cup fourth-round tie. His former club have endured some poor seasons, including three Premier League relegation campaigns, since then, but it was the last time they failed to properly compete in a meeting with their neighbours. Indeed, not once in the clubs' last 14 top-flight clashes has either won by more than a single goal. Seven, unsurprisingly, have been drawn.
Villa have not won any of their last five encounters with Albion. Yet Albion's 2-1 win at The Hawthorns in April 2011 was their first of any sort over Villa since 1985. Six months later they recorded a first success at Villa Park for 32 years. And Villa will not be without some good memories from the most recent games either. Last January at The Hawthorns, for example, they outplayed Albion for the first 45 minutes, taking a 2-0 lead, and the home side needed a frenzied effort in the second period to salvage a point.
That 2-2 draw was the first time since the aforementioned cup tie that an Albion v Villa game has produced more than three goals and it is difficult to see tonight's being high scoring. Villa's last few away performances suggest they are happiest when allowing opponents to take the initiative and waiting for opportunities to counter-attack. The same is mostly true of Albion, even in home fixtures.
It should still be worth watching, though. The authorities might be relaxed enough to allow the game to take place on a Monday evening (a Birmingham v Villa or Albion v Wolves clash might have been deemed too risky), yet Albion v Villa could never be called a "friendly derby", least of all when the clubs are the only two in their region currently in the top division.
Managers Steve Clarke and Paul Lambert are both respectful and wary of each other, attitudes likely to be reflected by their respective teams. A winner would move into the top half of the table with a sense of genuine momentum about them. Whether that's "sexy" enough for the likes of Dan Walker and Kevin Kilbane is another question. James Baxter