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Villa manager Martin O'Neill set for derby debut

Nov 7 2007

By Bill Howell, Birmingham Mail

ASTON Villa manager Martin O'Neill has admitted it would be virtually impossible to treat Sunday's derby like a normal Premier League game, calling it a "special occasion".

Villa head to St Andrew's for the first time since October 2005 when a side containing three of the likely starters this weekend - Gareth Barry, Olof Mellberg and Wilfred Bouma - and two possibles in Luke Moore and Patrik Berger saw Villa end their 18-year wait for a league win on rival soil.

"Treating it like any other game is easier said than done,'' said O'Neill. "It is a special game."

O'Neill has been involved in some of the biggest derbies there are as a player and manager, and perhaps none more so than his seventh match in charge of Celtic in August 2000 when they became the first team since 1957 to score six in an Old Firm game, beating Rangers 6-2 - with one of the goals coming from Stiliyan Petrov.

Rangers, though it must be said, got their own back three months later with a 5-1 hammering at Ibrox.

What may work in Villa's favour is that Martin Laursen, Craig Gardner (as a substitute) and Gabby Agbonlahor, albeit for five minutes, have also tasted the derby.

O'Neill concedes there is simply no point in playing down Sunday's clash because he knows it is massive.

"When the dust settles there are three points on offer, so from that sense it is like any other, but it is very important to the people of both clubs," he said.

"To go and win the game, whether it is home or away, I just think that having been involved in other city derbies, this is very much a special thing.

"So there is no point in playing it down. The players tell me it is very special and are looking forward to it. So am I."


The Special One

Martin O'Neill today resisted the temptation to label Sunday's derby clash 'just another game', admitting: "This is special".

There is a tendency in modern football to downplay the importance of local showdowns, but O'Neill is relishing his first Second City clash.

The Villa boss knows to expect an electric atmosphere at St Andrew's and said: "Treating it like any other game I suppose is easier said than done. It is a special game and I also think it deserves its place, so it probably isn't just 'any other game'.

"When the dust settles there are three points up for offer, so from that sense it is like any other, but obviously it isn't because it is very important to the people of both clubs.

"To go and win the game, whether it is home or away, I just think that having been involved in other city derbies, this is very much a special thing. So there is no point in playing it down."

He continued: "Obviously I haven't experienced it, but the players tell me it is very special. So again it is getting back to the point, I wouldn't play it down.

"It is a big game, the lads are looking forward to it- or I think they are looking forward to it anyway, and so am I."


Ridgewell's new perspective

Nov 7 2007

By Ged Scott

It's only 19 months since Aston Villa won the honour of being top dog in the Second City when they beat Birmingham City 3-1.

Yet such is the turnover of players at both clubs that only three players likely to start this weekend's latest meeting at St Andrew's also started at Villa Park on Easter Sunday last year.

One of them, Maik Taylor, will be in the Blues goal. The other two are respective captains Liam Ridgewell and Gareth Barry, who will no doubt be reminding each other that they were on the same side, the winning side, when they last met.

Although Ridgewell is now part of the less successful of the city's two sides following his £2 million summer move from Villa Park, he has no regrets about moving on.

Not only has he nailed down a regular starting place, he has also been handed the extra responsibility of the captaincy, following the hamstring injury that has kept Damien Johnson out all season. And he certainly has no worries about how to handle the extra pressures of derby week.

"I don't think I've got a point to prove to Villa," said Ridgewell. "I came here to play football and get on and that's what I'm doing.

"I've had no bad reaction from Villa fans. I don't think there is a lot of baggage in moving from Villa. I go about my business, do what I've got to do and stay quiet about it. I stay in with the family, with the little one, keep myself to myself and get on with my football."

After all, it's not as if the young Londoner has swapped life at one end of the Premier League table for the harsher reality of a relegation dog-fight with Blues. That was pretty much all he was used to in his Villa days, particularly his one season as a regular two years ago when David O'Leary's side were very much part of the private relegation fight also involving Blues and West Bromwich Albion.

Having eventually been relegated, largely as a result of losing that six-pointer at Villa Park, Blues scrapped their way back to the top flight 12 months later. Now, his team rebuilt twice inside a year, manager Steve Bruce is simply seeking to establish his side in the top flight again.

It is with that in mind that he repeated his late-January deadline bid for Ridgewell. He finally got his man less than a fortnight before the start of this season. When Ridgewell leads out Blues on Sunday, he sees the game as simply being one piece of a 38-part battle to stay up.

"It was fantastic to get the armband and to still have it is fantastic," he said. "To captain the club to staying up would be a dream come true.

"Villa seem to have started well and I am sure they'll be hoping for a good season. But I'm proud of every game that I've led the team to victory in and this Villa game is just the same. Hopefully I can lead us to victory in that one."

Bearing in mind that the three points for Villa two seasons ago were inspired by a stunning strike from his centre-half partner Gary Cahill, it is also worth remembering that Ridgewell knows where the back of the net is. He scored his first goal for Blues in their last home game, against Wigan Athletic, just ten days ago.

With the derby just around the corner, Ridgewell admitted: "It was my first goal at St Andrew's and it was a special moment. Hopefully, it's good timing and maybe I can go on to stick a few more in.

"I didn't put a cross on the calendar but you do look out for the derby game, any derby, whoever you're playing for.

"It is one of those things moving across the city, but hopefully I can show to the fans my heart is in it.

"I play for the team, I've been doing it every week and hopefully that goal might convince a few more."


Agbonlahor too aware of derby importance

Nov 7 2007

By Lisa Smith

Aston Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor knows, more than most, just what this weekend's big Second City derby means to fans.

Being born and bred in Birmingham, he knows both Villa and Blues supporters and understands how important are the bragging rights for the victorious team come Sunday afternoon.

The Erdington-born England Under-21 international's own family will be sitting in the claret-and-blue corner of St Andrew's come the 1pm kick-off and, while Agbonlahor knows the atmosphere will be electric, he also insists his team will treat it like any other game.

He said: "I know a lot of Villa fans from where I grew up, but I know Blues fans as well. It is a massive game and everyone is talking about it, but we will just treat it like another game and be aiming to go and get the three points.

"I have watched a few Villa-Blues derbies myself and they are always great games. We will just have to go there and play our game, like we did against Derby County in the second half of Saturday's game [a 2-0 win]."

Agbonlahor can hardly wait to play his part in the game, which is the first match fans all over the city look for when the fixtures are released at the beginning of August.

He said: "Derby games are great for the fans. Most of my family will be going to the game and think I had better tell them not to wear a Villa shirt, just in case! But, seriously, all my family support me and are all Villa fans."

One person Agbonlahor is looking forward to seeing at the game is his close friend Liam Ridgewell, who became one of only a handful of players who have made the move across the city from Villa to Blues when he left at the start of this season in search of regular first-team football.

The two are great friends, although both know they have a job to do for their respective teams once the match gets under way.

Agbonlahor said: "I speak to Ridge every week. I speak to him quite a lot and I might ring him this week, to see if he can give me any team news!

"He wasn't getting his chance here at Villa, so it was a good move for him to go where he could get to play Premier League football. It can be a difficult move, to go across the city, but he wanted to play football and so that is the move he wanted.

"I hope to be running past him next week but then, knowing Liam, he will probably bring me down! He is a really good defender. He has real leadership qualities."

Agbonlahor believes Villa's supporters can also play their part in the fixture, even though their number will be limited to just a couple of thousand as visitors to St Andrew's. He continued: "The fans help us a lot. They really got behind us against Derby County and they really helped in the second half."

Meanwhile the youngster, who looked as if he had jettisoned his England Under-21 career last summer when he missed his call-up, has gone on to make such an impression in Stuart Pearce's side that he is now being tipped for a full senior international call-up.

Agbonlahor said: "It would be nice to be considered for the next England squad, but my mind isn't really on that when have such a big game against Blues this week.

"If I get that call, it would be great, but I just want to keep my mind on our next game, really."


Carew Straight In?

Martin O'Neill is considering throwing John Carew straight back into action in Sunday's big derby clash at Birmingham City.

The Norwegian international has been sidelined with a knee injury since September, but is now back in training and should be fit for the trip to St Andrew's.

Carew has missed six games, but O'Neill revealed: "Big John Carew trained with us yesterday. We did some running with him. We will see. He didn't play on Monday night for the reserves, so we'll see how he is.

"There's no question that we have missed his presence in the side. But we have hung in there without him if we have to wait a while longer then we will just have to try to do that."

So could Carew slot straight back into Villa's starting line-up? The Villa boss continued: "I really would have to look at that.

"I think all the Premier League games are high intensity - or certainly that is your view of them beforehand, as they don't always turn out that way - but this is one game that we know will be high intensity.

"He says, that in terms of his fitness work, that he has been pretty good. He has done a lot of stuff here whilst his injury has been improving. I will see.

"I will have a word with John, I will have a word with the physios...we will see. He should be really ready to play now."


Young Injury Update

Ashley Young appears to be winning his fitness race ahead of Sunday's derby trip to neighbours Birmingham City.

The England forward limped out of Saturday's 2-0 victory against Derby County with a groin strain, but remains hopeful he will be fit for the Second City showdown.

Young has been a key man for Villa this season and bagged his second goal of the campaign against the Rams.

Martin O'Neill is keeping his fingers crossed the 22-year-old will recover in time. He said: "Ashley is improving. He did a wee bit on Monday and yesterday and I am hoping he was going to more today.

"Ashley has been a central figure. Sometimes it is how seasons pan out, that you have somebody doing brilliantly for a period of time until other people get their game together, and you are hoping that the torch passes to someone else for a wee while.

"But in fairness, when you are talking about the two young forwards, you have to say that Ashley and Gabby have been terrific all season. Really, all season.

"And their confidence is pretty high now. Whilst we all accept that confidence is pretty brittle, in general it would take a bit for them, they would have to go through a sustained poor patch, before it affects them which is great for them. They have come to terms with it all."


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For those who dearly want Villa to win, get the 3 points and smash the shit out of sha, solidarity.

For those who feel a win be "so positive", happy that there'll be even more people "enjoying the ride", with a resulting increase in "the feelgood factor", due to the "Great PR"... well, enjoy. :?

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Isn't there a 120 page 'Predictions/Discussion Thread' already? :?

Thanks for pointing that out i had not noticed! I have changed the title to reflect as the other one was a predictions thread, this is a discussion thread hence all the news from today at the top to talk about :D

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Nice post Jez, good to get the previews in 1 place!

Looks like Young will start. To me the only questions are Carew and possibily Petrov or Gardener.

I personally think Petrov will play for his experience, but i've got a feeling Carew will miss out.

What does annoy me is this quote "......saw Villa end their 18-year wait for a league win on rival soil." Fair enough we didn't record a league win for 18 years, but that was partly because they wasn't in our league for years!!!!

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Isn't there a 120 page 'Predictions/Discussion Thread' already? :?

Thanks for pointing that out i had not noticed! I have changed the title to reflect as the other one was a predictions thread, this is a discussion thread hence all the news from today at the top to talk about :D

Makes sense.

Plus, it is of course only 120 posts. 120 pages would be a little excessive.

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GENERAL Charles Krulak did not apologise to David Gold over the 'pig in mud' affair, according to the Birmingham City chairman.

Gold has been left aghast at Randy Lerner's claim that General Charles Krulak apologised to him over the 'pig in mud' affair.

The Blues chairman said the letter written to him by Lerner's right-hand man in the aftermath of the controversy was anything but contrite.

Gold said he would welcome Lerner and Krulak to St Andrew's on Sunday for the Blues-Villa derby, but also take them to task over the issue that has refused to die down.

"To be honest, what this General wrote to me was not an apology but a load of waffle," Gold told the Birmingham Mail. "I have seen what Randy Lerner has said about the letter but I don't think he has actually read it himself. I'm not sure if he's aware what's going on here.

"It was nothing like an apology, more like a justification. If General Krulak had apologised to me then I would have said 'okay, fine, let's move on'. But he hasn't and that disappoints me.

"In the first instance I felt he was outrageous, but he has tended to get away with it Scot free. And, to be perfectly frank, I am fuming even more after what Randy Lerner said to your newspaper.

"I am not saying that I should be sent 12 red roses. I just think this General was totally wrong to use me in that analogy and should have been big enough to realise that.

"Instead it's been like 'hey, it's okay, don't worry about it' and people have been portraying him in glowing terms."

Commitments in America with the Cleveland Browns gridiron team might mean that Lerner and Krulak do not turn up at St Andrew's on Sunday.

Gold said: "Like any visiting directors, they would be granted the usual courtesy and hospitality.

"I hope Randy Lerner does come because I have not met him and I am looking forward to making his acquaintance.

"From what I have seen and heard, he is a decent chap and I like the way he has gone about things since he took over Villa.

"If General Krulak doesn't come then in a way I will be pleased but on the other hand I would like to confront him and talk to him face-to-face and tell him how I feel and that we are all in this together.

"I feel I have been an orchestrator of good relations and behaviour between our clubs over the last 15 years and then this guy comes from nowhere and insults me.

"I don't want there to be any bad blood between Birmingham City and Aston Villa but, in this instance, I feel aggrieved. I have been insulted and I don't deserve it.

"I have had nothing in the way of an apology, so how does all that work out?"

Krulak made his comment on a fans' internet message board, responding to questions about Blues charging a top price of £45 for the derby, revealed just as Gold spoke out about his 'vision' of Premier League clubs reducing admission.

He replied: "Not sure what Mr Gold is after other than publicity. When you get down in the mud and wrestle with a pig, the pig loves it - and you get muddy. I think I will just let him to continue to talk."

Gold added: "I will admit, if we beat Villa on Sunday I will derive extra pleasure from it."


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Shut up gold you pig.

I'd love to seem him stand up to the General, I know who my money would be on.

Ive never known such a childish reaction to a 'nothing' comment in all my life and I can't believe the Mail still insist on reporting the swill that he continues to squeal.

Pathetic little Pigwolf.

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This game is going to be so immense come saturday!!

If Carew is fit, he should make the bench and not thrown straight back in like its been suggested!

Id also play Gardner at RB and move Mellberg back into DC for this one!

A midfield of Petrov - NRC - Barry - Young* (pending fitness)

Views everyone....

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I'll say it now and I'll say it honestly - I would gladly take a 0-0 on Sunday.

They're certainly no mugs at home so far this season. A point away from home is always a good point in my book. Every season we're in the same division I always think "draw at theirs, beat them at ours". And its no different this season as far as I'm concerned.

Any talk of us crushing them is just pie in the sky. It'll be a draw, or one goal in it either way tops.

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"I feel I have been an orchestrator of good relations and behaviour between our clubs over the last 15 years and then this guy comes from nowhere and insults me.

GOOD RELATIONS?? BETWEEN VILLA AND blosers? What is this guy on?? They're scum, and all Villans know it! Go on The General!!!

"I don't want there to be any bad blood between Birmingham City and Aston Villa but, in this instance, I feel aggrieved. I have been insulted and I don't deserve it."

Has there ever been any 'good blood'? They're not blood, they're illegitimate b**s**ds!

(Apart from my missus, who, shockingly for such an avid Villa fan, is a BlueNose. I'm working on converting her to the lightside tho!) ;-)

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