A derby with an edge
England's second city will come to a standstill on Sunday lunchtime as Aston Villa and Birmingham City lock horns in the Birmingham derby. The city will be divided and both supporters will be desperate to head home with the bragging rights.
Martin O'Neill's side come into the game on the back of a 2-0 midweek victory away to Hull and in impressive form following a run of ten points out of a possible twelve.
That sequence of results has pushed them firmly into contention for that fourth Champions League spot.
A win over their bitter cross-city rivals would see the Villains move level on points with Tottenham, the side currently occupying that final Champions League qualification place.
The only injury doubts for Villa are the three players who picked up knocks at the KC Stadium. Stiliyan Petrov, Richard Dunne and Stephen Warnock will be given as long as possible to prove their fitness ahead of this pivotal clash.
Villa have dominated recent history in these battles, winning the last five meetings. They are odds on at 8/13 to dispatch the Blues once again at Villa Park.
City's match odds of 9/2 reflect the poor run of form that they currently find themselves in. They are without a win in seven and recently shipped seven away to Manchester City. Alex McLeish knows his side can ill-afford anything like that performance. I'm sure the Blues' players pride will see to that though.
Birmingham have no fresh injury worries ahead of this encounter. They will be able to count on three former Villa players in their squad, adding further spice to the match. Kevin Phillips donned the Villa shirt while Liam Ridgewell and more recently Craig Gardner have both made the transfer directly across the City.
Birmingham's players and fans will want to avoid a repeat of the scoreline from their most recent trip to Villa Park. They humiliatingly lost 5-1 on their way to relegation from the Premier League in 2008.
What is refreshing when punting on this derby is that both sides are established in the league, Birmingham have never looked like being relegated all season and there was talk of European football a few months ago. At the start of the season, Villa fans will have been licking there lips at the prospect of sending Birmingham down come the end of the season.
In the September meeting at Villa there was no thrashing dished out by O'Neill's boys and the Blues now not only have the endeavour, they also have the guile.
An interesting market is the Total Match Cards, under 4 cards at 4/1, the match will never lose its edge but both teams play good football, O'Neill will not want his players suspended with fourth position still on the horizon and rather than ninety minutes of mayhem it could be an exciting affair with free-flowing football. Ridgewell and Gardner used to play at Villa and will not be kicking out at their former teammates.
Although Aston Villa do not have Enckleman in goal to misjudge a routine throw-in from a Villa centre back, it could still be an entertaining affair.