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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
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
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried