It is billed as the biggest Second City derby since Birmingham beat Aston Villa in the third Football League Cup final 47 years ago. But with his focus on reaching the Carling Cup semi-finals tonight against City's fiercest rivals – especially with their nemesis Gabriel Agbonlahor fit to return – any sepia-tinted sub-text was lost on Alex McLeish.
Asked if there had been much talk around the club about the two-leg affair in 1963 which brought Birmingham what remains their only major national honour, their manager replied: "What happened then? I'm not aware of the history. Shame on me. I'll probably get chastised for that."
McLeish was in short pants at the time and now he is concerned with weightier matters – such as the recovery of the new, bulkier Agbonlahor, who has scored Villa's winner in the dying minutes of each of the past two St Andrew's clashes. This time Birmingham are arguably favourites. They are one place higher in the Premier League and face an under-strength Villa on home turf.
Agbonlahor's comeback will fire the visitors' optimism, although the striker is cutting a different figure these days. "When you build up too much it affects your joints and muscle," said the Villa manager Gérard Houllier of his striker's changing shape. "The fact is, I think he should stop – he's too stocky. The Gabby I saw when I was watching TV in France was different to what I see here. He was thinner, more wiry and, wow, quick. I've told him to lay off the weights. Sometimes they do too much."
The Frenchman has reason to remember this competition fondly, having been Liverpool manager when they beat Birmingham in the 2001 final, the first of three prizes they collected that spring. McLeish hopes for an occasion and a result to match the 2002 tussle when a scouting mission as the Rangers manager led him to watch City win 3-0 in a match famous for a howler by the Villa goalkeeper Peter Enckelman. "There was a wall of noise from start to finish," the Scot said. "I could understand the Villa players being nervous that night, and let's hope our fans can do that again. We want Villa to be apprehensive."
Reminded that recent meetings have been marked by violence outside the grounds, and with West Midlands Police appealing for a trouble-free night, McLeish added: "The bitterness that exists in derbies is something no one likes to see. We'd like the banter and the friendly rivalry."
History favours Villa. They had won the previous six derbies in the League before this season, while in 11 cup ties, City's first-leg success in 1963 remains their only win. McLeish, however, has only one player out, Alexander Hleb, whereas Houllier may have as many as eight first-teamers missing injured.
Birmingham City (possible, 4-4-2) Foster; Carr, Johnson, Dann, Ridgewell; Larsson, Ferguson, Bowyer, Fahey; Zigic, Jerome.
Aston Villa (possible, 4-4-2) Friedel; L Young, Dunne, Collins, Warnock; A Young, Bannan, Clark, Downing; Agbonlahor, Carew.Reuse content