WEST BROMWICH ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 12: The new manager of West Bromwich Albion Roy Hodgson looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United at The Hawthorns on February 12 2011 in West Bromwich England. (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)
Let's be clear; yes, this is a derby. West Brom are a traditional rival, and one that's had our number in recent days. There's more to winning this game than actually winning this game. And so forth. But in reality, West Brom is a club Villa really desperately need to take three points from, especially playing at home. The whole regional pride thing is a nice little feather in the cap, but the far more important thing is to win winnable games. And this is pretty clearly a winnable game.
Take a look at Villa's fixtures over the next month or so. There's a struggling Sunderland side, newly promoted Norwich City, an always difficult visit to White Hart Lane and another recently promoted side in Swansea City. Not so bad right? Now take a look at December. This is an increasingly recurring theme, but still, ugh; United, Liverpool. Arsenal,, Stoke City and Chelsea. There's also a Bolton side that doesn't look too tough right now but has also gone through some pretty difficult injury struggles so far and sure looks a heck of a lot better at full strength. So as easy light as November may seem, Villa's December is the kind of stretch relegation fodder is made of.
Now, I know I talk about Villa's December a lot. But that's because it's really, really important. Villa could easily enter that month in a respectable mid-table position and exit mired deep in another relegation battle. Yes, Villa has pulled out a result or two each year for the past few. But that just cannot be counted on, because by all rights it shouldn't happen. So, in order to come into the new year in a respectable position Villa need to win all they an before they get to such a difficult stretch.
And West Brom is the kind of team from which Villa need to take all three points. Roy Hodgson may or may not have saved the Baggies from relegation last season, but what's certain is that this isn't a side that's going to be afraid of sitting back and taking what comes from the opposition. I'm a Roberto di Matteo fan, but if he had a failing as West Brom's manager it was a marriage to a certain style of football and damn the consequences. Ultimately the consequences got him sacked as the Baggies didn't really have the horses to pull off the style of play di Matteo hoped to institute. Under Roy Hodgson West Brom is a less fluid but far more well organized side not nearly as dangerous in attack but far more resolute at the back.
If you've been paying attention, that means the outlook for an exciting afternoon of football is somewhat grim. Villa under Alex McLeish is doing what has to be done but that doesn't really add up to an especially thrilling style of play. But if McLeush has something a bit more positive in his playbook, this is the time to unleash it. West Brom are a hanging-on team. That's not really a place Villa wants to be. If we're trying to keep hold of our proud history and all, playing negative football at home against a yo-yo regional rival doesn't send the best message. Now's the time to bring Charles N'Zogbia back into the XI, to put more faith in Barry Bannan's creativity than Emile Heskey's being a giant guy. Even a down-on-their-luck Villa should be rolling over this West Brom squad.
So Mr. McLeish, what say you? This isn't your old job. This is Aston Goddamned Villa. No one of a claret and blue persuasion wants to see anything but their club going to the throat of an historically inferior rival. But we're taking our cues from you. If we come out and play a negative 4-5-1, well, I'm not really sure why we should have a great deal of hope for the near future. But if we take things by the scruff and go after some weak opposition,, well, that might make me actually interested in watching this team play the rest of the year.