There have been 179 matches between these old West Midlands rivals, and few can have had as much incident as the opening 45 minutes yesterday. The tally at the end of a breathless half was a red card for Chris Herd, two yellows, two substitutions to injury and a penalty each. Darren Bent tucked Villa's away perfectly, Chris Brunt hit Albion's horribly wide, but Jonas Olsson headed an equaliser aminute before the interval; after which there was still time for Peter Odemwingie to have a goal ruled out for a marginal offside decision.
In the second period Villa, never fluent with 11 men, stumbled with 10, and after scoring from another corner Albion were able to contain and counterattack. They did so with efficiency allied to some of the smooth football that Roy Hodgson has instilled, and in the end comfortably achieved a first League win on this particular enemy territory since as long ago as 1979.
After beating Wolves, even closerlocal rivals, last week, Hodgson was justifiably delighted with everythingexcept Alan Hutton's challenge that put Shane Long out of the game. "If ever I've seen a challenge that merited a red card it was that," he said. "He could have had two broken legs."
Of the actual football, he said: "I thought we were already playing well before conceding a goal with a ludicrous mix-up and when they went down to 10 men, we controlled the game very well."
His opposite number would not be expected to see things the same way. Alex McLeish, however, offered few excuses. "The sending-off was the turning point," he said. "I felt we could still win the game with 10 men but we just huffed and puffed."
There was incident aplenty from the kick-off, starting with one of those Bent misses that Harry Redknapp always insisted his wife could have put away. Mrs R might or might not have beaten Ben Foster from six yards out but an England striker should have done when Barry Bannan's shot was deflected right into Bent's path. He smacked his effort over the bar.
The tackles flew in like a Sixties throwback. Herd, the young Australian brought in to stiffen Villa's midfield after a 4-1 defeat at Manchester City, was spoken to early on and would shortly become a central figure in the drama. Hutton, an old-school Glaswegian, beat him into Phil Dowd's notebook for cleaning out Long, who had to make way for Somen Tchoyi.
Billy Jones had his name noted too before, midway through the half, Dowd was pointing to the penalty spot. Steven Reid, the right-back, was at fault in trying to shepherd a through- ball to his goalkeeper instead of clearing it. Foster plunged at his feet but in doing so brought down Gabriel Agbonlahor and Bent put the penaltyjust inside a post with finesse.
Albion had constructed little until they were offered a route back into the game by the assistant referee Darren Cann, who was on the line for the World Cup final. Cann considered that the combative Herd, just warned again for tussling with Olsson at a free-kick, had stamped on him in the penalty area and held his flag across his chest to signal a penalty. After the straight red card, Brunt stepped up to the spot and put his kick yards wide, his third miss in five and one so bad it brought back memories of Chris Waddle in Italia 90. However, Hodgson insists Brunt will continue taking Albion's penalties after scoring two crucial ones last season.
If Brunt's free-kicks were similarlypoor, his corners were far better. In the 44th minute he flighted one perfectly for Olsson to head in, climbing above and in between the Villa centre-halves Richard Dunne and James Collins. As Tchoyi had just demandeda fine, one-handed save from Shay Given and Odemwingie was given offside by Cann as he ran on tobeat Foster, it was no more than the visitors deserved.
McLeish declined to make a change at the interval, but had to do so once Albion made three more good chances and scored from the last of them. Given pushed out Yousouf Mulumbu's 25-yarder, and after Olsson had almost replicated his headed goal from one Brunt corner, Paul Scharner controlled the next one smartly and hooked it in off the bar.
It was nevertheless an odd choice by the Villa manager to bring on Emile Heskey in midfield. Marc Albrighton soon joined him, but wasted his crosses, no doubt leaving Stephen Ireland wondering what he had to do to get on. Heskey jogged around achieving nothing, while Olsson and the former Leicester defender Gareth McAuley allowed Bent and Agbonlahor no scope. Collins heading one corner across goal was as close as the Holte End came to seeing a goal.
By the final whistle thousands of the occupants had disappeared and so had the banner reading "The City Is Ours". It has been for much of the club's long and distinguished history,and in the brief Premier League era Villa have been top dogs in the whole of the region for 17 seasons out of 19. Yet after a favourable run of fixtures left them unbeaten for the first seven games of the season, successive defeats have given their campaign a more realistic look. Meanwhile humble Stoke City are the current pride of the Midlands.
Aston Villa (4-1-2-3): Given; Hutton (Cuellar, 41), Collins, Dunne, Warnock; Herd; Petrov, Bannan (Albrighton, 78); N'Zogbia (Heskey, 60), Bent, Agbonlahor.
West Bromwich Albion (4-4-2) Foster; Reid, McAuley, Olsson,Jones; Brunt, Mulumbu (Morrison, 78), Scharner, Thomas; Long (Tchoyi, 19), Odemwingie.
Referee Phil Dowd.
Man of the match Olsson (West Bromwich).
Match rating 6/10.