No love lost between Firm friends in Second City derby

Just as, in Arsène Wenger's immortal phrase, everyone thinks they have the prettiest wife at home, so football fans the world over believe theirs is the most passionate derby. In England's second city, where Aston Villa meet Birmingham for a high noon shoot-out today, they are no exception.

The respective managers, Martin O'Neill and Alex McLeish, are not about to play down the rivalry, but they do have the advantage of having experienced the sharp end of what can be described as the unique confrontation that is Celtic versus Rangers. For three-and-a-half seasons they were on opposite sides of Glasgow's great divide. So, while fully aware of all the elements of today's passion play, each can keep it more easily in perspective than those in the stands around them.

"Fantastic occasions, the build-up was intense and I enjoyed them – when we won," O'Neill says of the Old Firm battles. "I remember Walter Smith, although he wasn't there during my time, saying about the derbies that if you won, your first feeling wasn't of euphoria, it was relief. I know what he means. You get a perverse enjoyment out of them, there's no doubt."

After winning his first Old Firm match 6-2, O'Neill established a record between the clubs of seven successive victories, and won 10 of 20 direct confrontations with McLeish, drawing three. His success has continued with Villa, who have won the past five games against Birmingham, including a 1-0 victory at St Andrew's in September, the Blues' nemesis Gabriel Agbonlahor scoring the only goal. More memorably, the last Villa Park confrontation two years ago finished 5-1 in the home side's favour, effectively confirming Birmingham's relegation. Today, they arrive in much better shape, a first season back among the big boys and a chance of the club's highest finish since 1959.

"They've done excellently," O'Neill concedes. "Alex is a very, very good manager, as I experienced in Scotland. If you can come back immediately [from relegation], it's no bad thing and they've got stronger. Stabilising a team in the Premiership is not easy."

Portsmouth's doomed attempt to play in the Europa League next season means Villa will be guaranteed that privilege by finishing at least seventh if they win today. It would have been considered the minimum target for the current campaign, and if fourth place is a bridge too far, the top six should be within reach. Throw in two visits to Wembley in the cups, bringing controversial defeats by Manchester United and Chelsea, and O'Neill believes he was entitled to lambast any suggestion of underachievement, as he did recently when sending out a message about his future that was either confused or carefully couched, according to point of view.

Birmingham, if currently resigned to being second club in the second city, also have an ambitious foreign owner in Carsten Yeung, the colour of whose money supporters will want to see this summer. McLeish was allowed to spend £6 million of it in January, the half spent on Villa's closet Blues fan Craig Gardner proving a better investment than the £3m on Spanish midfielder Michel. Gardner has slotted in well into what has occasionally been an all-British XI at a patriotic working-class club.

Their incentive today, in revenge for the 5-1 thrashing, is to deny the posh neighbours any realistic chance of Champions' League football.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future