Football: Little's passions stirred by derby date

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The Independent Online
BRIAN LITTLE, the West Bromwich Albion manager, is no stranger to the passion of Midlands derbies and believes that the heat will be on against Birmingham at St Andrew's today. The Blues are riding high in second place behind Ipswich and Albion have enjoyed an unbeaten start to the season.

Little, who is assured of a less than warm welcome at St Andrew's after spells at Aston Villa as player and manager, believes that even this early in the season the result could have a major bearing on the promotion race. "They're great games and they are always hard," Little said. "In this area at the moment there are so many teams in the First Division that the local derbies will have a bearing on the season."

It might not be a derby game but the Ipswich manager, George Burley, is still expecting a frenzied atmosphere against Portsmouth at Fratton Park. "The crowd there always have fanatical support for their team so we know there is going to be a lot of noise," Burley said.

Burley's opposite number, Alan Ball, believes the visit of Ipswich will give him chance to assess how much his side have improved: "I'm looking forward to the game because it will give me a chance to see how far we have come."

Crystal Palace also face a daunting task as they travel to Manchester City on the back of two successive defeats, while the Nottingham Forest player-manager, David Platt, is wary of a Swindon backlash when his side travel to the County Ground. The Robins have yet to register a point at home this season but Platt is urging caution: "I'm sure they'll be looking to turn things round."

With the departure of Robbie Keane to Coventry and the retirement of Steve Bull, Wolves fans are in need of a new hero in attack and the assistant manager John Ward believes that Ade Akinbiyi, the new signing from Bristol City, is set to fill the role at Molineux, beginning with the visit of Huddersfield. "There is a vacancy for a hero here and we are hoping that Ade will fill that," Ward said.

Elsewhere, Bolton travel to Charlton, Blackburn will be looking for their first victory of the season at Ewood Park against Tranmere, Norwich entertain Crewe at Carrow Road, Grimsby face the First Division new boys Walsall at their Blundell Park home, and Fulham travel to in-form Port Vale.

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