McLeish expects Old Firm atmosphere at Villa Park

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The Independent Online

The Birmingham City manager, Alex McLeish, is convinced his side's derby match with Aston Villa tomorrow will be the equal of anything he has experienced north of the border.

McLeish and his Villa counterpart, Martin O'Neill, were both involved in Old Firm ties in Glasgow during their spells in charge of Rangers and Celtic respectively. The Blues also face a fight against relegation, making the three points at stake at Villa Park just as important as local bragging rights.

"Sunday's game will compare favourably with the Old Firm matches – derby games are the same throughout the world," McLeish said. "There is great passion between the players as could be seen the other night and also the fans. I always like watching these games. Regardless of the fact that sometimes they are not the prettiest to watch, the will to win the games is always evident among both teams.

"So I'm looking forward to it. It is another great part of my education in professional football and I will experience a different derby in a different country. Any derby you get a victory in is always special. I suppose my first Old Firm one, which was a cup semi-final at Hampden Park, when we beat Celtic 2-1, was very memorable. There was also a cup final as well."

McLeish is looking for his team to avenge the 2-1 defeat suffered at St Andrew's last November. The Scot, who enjoyed seven wins and three draws over Celtic while in charge of Rangers, said: "For me it is all about looking forward to the next challenge. It's the most exciting thing for me and that is why I'm anticipating the Villa game with relish. There is always a lot at stake regardless of where you are in the Premier League. There is always the pride, the bragging rights, the fans' banter. Some fans base the entire season on how we do against the old enemy. I know how much it means to them – it means as much to me. There is no one who takes losing a football match worse than me, regardless of how loyal a fan is to his team."

But one thing McLeish does know is that Villa are the favourites to win on Sunday. Birmingham have not won on the road since McLeish's first game in charge at Tottenham back in December.

"Villa are certainly in great form at the moment and they have had two fantastic results," McLeish added. "They seem to be playing with a bit of freedom and they have got the goals to boot. So we have just got to make sure that we give a performance and every Birmingham player comes off the pitch knowing that they have worked their socks off."

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