Aston Villa V West Brom
Sunday, 30 September 2012 – Kick-Off: 16:00 GMT
Live on Sky Sports 2
Just the one match on Sunday, and it’s an all-Midlands affair between Aston Villa and West Brom at Villa Park – where last season the Baggies secured their very first Premier League win in this fixture at the sixth attempt. The bookies, though, despite how this contest panned out eleven months ago, have Villa down as favourites – tentative ones at that, mind – although I’m not convinced.
Down the years Villa have had a stranglehold in this fixture, winning three of their first five encounters at home to West Brom in the Premier League. That streak was brought to an end last season as the Baggies produced a 2-1 victory, despite falling behind early on to a Darren Bent penalty (though Villa were reduced to ten men). A sign, perhaps, that the tide is changing in this fixture – if not, the fact Villa finished nine points behind their Midlands rivals that same season is; or that, even at this early stage, they already trail them by six points after making a dire start to the new campaign.
Indeed, Paul Lambert’s tenure as Aston Villa has been one to forget thus far. Four points from his first five matches at the helm is well below the lofty standards supporters at Villa Park expect – and demand! But it has been the manner of their performances which will gripe on many; they were abysmal in their first two fixtures, in which they carved out very few openings in losing 1-0 at West Ham and 3-1 at home to Everton – the latter defeat comprehensive.
They did improve ever so slightly to take a point away from their trek up north to Newcastle (1-1), before clinically dispatching of Swansea (2-0) at home. However, Villa’s resurgence of sorts was short lived as Southampton – who had lost their opening four league games beforehand – put four past Brad Guzan in the Villa goal in a resounding 4-1 reverse.
Next up for Lambert’s beleaguered side are neighbouring rivals West Brom at home, a fixture he dare not lose if he’s to avoid alienating any more of the Villa faithful. It won’t be easy either, as the Baggies – under the tutelage of Steve Clarke – have made a phenomenal start. They’ll kick-off Sunday’s Midlands derby in 6th, with victory for the second year running at Villa Park enough to see them move above Tottenham, Man City and Man Utd into third. As incentives go, do they come much bigger than that?
I will be honest though, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the work Steve Clarke has done early into his first stint as manager – he spent numerous years garnering experience as assistant coach to the likes of Gianfranco Zola (West Ham), Jose Mourinho (Chelsea) and last season under Kenny Dalglish at Liverpool. And speaking of his former employers, it was against the Reds with whom West Brom got the balling well and truly rolling – an emphatic 3-0 victory on the opening day a dream start for Clarke and his new charges, who would follow that stunning result up with a hard-earned draw away to Tottenham (1-1) before another impressive victory at home, this time against inform Everton (2-0).
Then the Baggies were comfortably beaten 3-0 by Fulham at Craven Cottage. It was then we started thinking that they might just unravel, but that wasn’t the case – far from it – as they dug deep in their next fixture, at home to Reading, to grind out a thoroughly deserved 1-0 win. Although yet again the three points were earned at home. So that’s three consecutive victories at The Hawthorns, maintaining their flawless record on their own patch. However, they’re still searching for their first away – but where better to pick it up than down the road at your nearest and not so dearest?
Whereas I’m not in the slightest bit convinced Aston Villa have turned any sort of corner under Paul Lambert, I am confident West Brom still have plenty of early season vigour left, enough to seriously challenge for all three points here. Their cause will be aided significantly by news that midfielder James Morrison, who has been instrumental this season, is set to shrug of a minor leg injury to feature from the start. The 26-year-old playmaker pulls all the strings in the middle, feeding the ball to various outlets over the pitch. Although he certainly isn’t one to pass up a shooting opportunity.
It was Morrison’s 90th minute strike which rescued a hard-fought point at Spurs, while the Scotland international could have bagged a hat-trick in the hour he was on the pitch against Reading last time out, yet somehow failed to net at all. So just as I’ll keep faith with West Brom’s early season promise, I shall do the exact same with star man James Morrison. At 85/40 (BetVictor) and 11/2 (SkyBet) respectively, I think I may have unearthed some Super Sunday value deep in the Midlands.
Match Prediction: West Brom to WIN @ 85/40 with BetVictor
Recommended Bet: James Morrison to Score Anytime @ 11/2 with SkyBet