Carsley sings the Blues for poor relations

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The Independent Online

There will be a solitary Brummie on either side, but Lee Carsley contends that today's Second City derby between Birmingham City and Aston Villa at St Andrew's will be as fiercely contested as ever, making it an occasion for ice in the veins as well as fire in the heart.

Carsley, the Birmingham mid- fielder who hails from "just down the road in Sheldon", and the Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor, from Erdington, are the only locally-born players likely to be involved in a contest studded with Americans and Bulgarians, Ecuadorians and Scots. Yet the 35-year-old, steeped in derby combat following his six years with Everton, needs no reminding about what the match means to Birmingham fans still living down the 5-1 drubbing Alex McLeish's side suffered in the last meeting, 18 months ago.

"There's no need to tell the foreign lads how important it is because wherever they're from, there isn't a player here that won't have played in some sort of derby," said Carsley, who signed for McLeish soon after the Villa Park humiliation and the ensuing relegation. "I'm not a Scouser but when I played in the Merseyside derby, I was still passionate about Everton getting the right result against Liverpool. That goes for all the non-Brummies here."

Despite growing up in a Birmingham-supporting family, the demands of his own career and what was often a chasm in status between Birmingham and Villa mean Carsley has never seen the rivals play one another, let alone appeared in the fixture. He is aware, however, that recent meetings have been combustible affairs. Memories remain vivid of the pitch invader who slapped Peter Enckelman, the Villa keeper, in the face, and of Villa's Dion Dublin butting Robbie Savage.

Only a fortnight ago, Savage was caught up in controversy in another bitter parochial confrontation when he objected to a provocative celebration by Nottingham Forest's Nathan Tyson. "There's a way of showing your emotions. I wouldn't necessarily say waving a corner flag in front of the opposing fans is the way to do it," Carsley reflected. "The crowd like to see players showing passion, but it's important to do it the right way. But these are tense encounters and if you took the passion away, you would take something out of the game."

During Birmingham's run to promotion last spring, Carsley was sent off for a reckless challenge on Wolves' Chris Iwelumo. "I actually had a cool head that night, to be honest," he said, laughing at how his protestation must sound. "That was just one of those things. This derby is more important than Blues-Wolves because of the history surrounding us and Villa."

The proud scorer of Everton's winner against Liverpool five years ago in the 200th derby, Carsley would later voice his team-mates' contempt for Rafael Benitez's churlish claim that Liverpool's neighbours were "a small club". Did he feel Villa viewed Birmingham as poor relations? "There is a bit of looking down on Blues, though I'd say the majority of Brummies are Blues fans – the People's Club! But Villa have spent a lot more money and it has helped with them playing in the Premier League as long as they have."

Carsley will captain Birmingham if he starts, although he has not appeared in either home game, which produced four points, while playing at Old Trafford and White Hart Lane, both of which they lost narrowly. "I'm at a different stage of my career to a lot of the lads, so it perhaps suits me better away from home, when the gaffer changes the system. But like everybody, I want to play in this one."

Today's games

BIRMINGHAM CITY v ASTON VILLA (Sky Sports 1, 12pm)

As former rivals in Glasgow's Old Firm derby, the two managers should not be fazed. But Alex McLeish admits he made a mistake in trying to take the game to Villa last time the teams met. Result: a 5-1 defeat and relegation. Martin O'Neill must decide how many new defenders to throw in.

FULHAM v EVERTON (Sky Sports 1, 4.15pm)

None of the previous 22 meetings between this pair has ended in a draw. After a hesitant start by both – one win and two defeats each – today could be the day. And Fulham's Andrew Johnson to score against his old club?

Steve Tongue

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