Aston Villa vs West Brom preview: Rematch is just the tonic Tim Sherwood needs

A second meeting in the space of five days gives the Villa manager more reward than risk

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The Independent Football

Tim Sherwood is trying to spark Aston Villa into life and he could not have asked for a better schedule for the task. On Saturday evening Villa host local rivals West Bromwich Albion for the second time in five days. The first game was a thriller – Sherwood said it would have been the perfect script – and ended a run of seven straight Premier League defeats. Saturday’s game is an FA Cup quarter-final.

If Villa win it will send them to Wembley and inject them with the confidence and belief which utterly drained out of the club during Paul Lambert’s tenure. If they lose, well it is only the Cup and they can focus on their 10 remaining games to keep them in the top flight. The reward is certainly greater than the risk.

On top of all of this there is the special tension of the derby and the needle of a game in which the fresh animosity – Tony Pulis, the West Bromwich manager, was not especially impressed with Sherwood in midweek – has not yet dissipated.


These are all the ingredients Sherwood could hope for in his mission to reinvigorate the atmosphere and the players at a club which had gone stale. He has told players like Tom Cleverley and Gabriel Agbonlahor to play in the way they most enjoy, and on Tuesday night he was rewarded with a positive, confident performance and three invaluable Premier League points.

“If I could have written a script, I wouldn’t have wanted to win 3-0,” Sherwood said on Thursday afternoon. “If I could have known the outcome, I would have taken that: to win 2-1, in a local derby, in the 94th minute, with two strikers scoring, blooding a young kid [Jack Grealish] for 35 minutes... I don’t think I could have dreamt it up.”

Sherwood knows that effort and motivation are not enough, that they are only a means to playing with the quality and confidence required to win games at this level.

“We had to earn the right to play [on Tuesday] and we did that,” he said. “Not only with blood, thunder, tackling and running around – we did that – but we also showed quality, recognised when to slow the game down, kept the ball off them and created chances.”

For all the changes Sherwood wants to make, he knows that success on the pitch is needed before anything else. “In the end, you have to win,” he said. “You get their ear more once you get the three points. They show me respect, and I respect them, but when they get the points, that’s when they start listening a bit more.”

So what Sherwood hopes for from this evening’s encounter is a repeat. Cup games are different, of course, and the freedom from relegation dread might work in either side’s favour. Sherwood, though, hopes to expel all of that nervousness from his club.

“I am trying to dispel that [fear] in their minds anyway,” he said. “I just want to go and play against 11 other men and try to outplay them. If they win enough of their personal battles, they’ll win against a lot of teams.”

Sherwood celebrates Christian Benteke's late penalty to give him his first Villa win

To do that, Villa need their individuals to play better than they have been doing, and Sherwood has been trying to rebuild the confidence of players who felt little engagement with the old regime. He describes Agbonlahor and Christian Benteke – both of whom scored on Tuesday – as “the best strike force outside the top six, on history”.

Sherwood wants Agbonlahor to be as dangerous as possible. “Every game I have asked him to get on the shoulder and look to get in behind,” he said. “I am telling him to go and play where he thinks he can hurt them.”

The same goes for Cleverley, who is being given the faith and trust he clearly needs to play at his best. “I told him I want him to express himself,” Sherwood revealed. “If he felt like the shackles were on him, now he doesn’t. He’s free to roam, get on the ball and make us play. That is what we need.”

Benteke celebrates scoring the winner for Aston Villa

Pulis’s approach to the game is slightly different. He already has West Brom very well organised and he will be desperate to avenge Tuesday’s defeat – and not just because he wants to get to Wembley. He did not appreciate Sherwood’s conduct on Tuesday, especially his comment that West Brom would need to improve for the re-match.

“It would be lovely to prove him right,” Pulis said. “We’re talking about a game that got away from us in the last 30 seconds through a mistake. It didn’t get away from us because Villa were pounding us. They didn’t murder us, it wasn’t that.”

Pulis is a man with his own way of doing things, and it was clear what he meant when asked about Sherwood’s own exuberance.

“I am the manager of West Bromwich Albion,” he pointed out. “While I am here, we’ll do it the way I want to do it. Other people have different ways of doing it. That’s fine by me. It’s a diverse country. Everybody’s got the opportunity and the chance to express themselves. It’s brilliant. That’s why it’s such a great country.”

Pulis will look for revenge against Villa

The West Brom midfielder Craig Gardner, who used to play for Villa, is happy with the new manager and hopes for his own bit of revenge this evening. “Tony Pulis has come in and it’s two defeats in 12 games now – I think we got the right man, don’t you?” he said. “When you are a local lad and you’re walking down the street after beating them [Villa] you’ve got the biggest smile on your face ever. But when you’re walking down the street after losing you don’t want to come out of your house. But that’s football and that’s what makes the game so good.”