Last week`s 4-1 defeat away to Manchester City was no big surprise but Villa will be hoping to bounce back with a win against the Baggies this afternoon.
In truth, we did not play particularly bad last week as the scoreline suggests. The players were fairly comfortable in the first-half up until Mario Balotelli`s piece of brilliance unhinged Alex McLeish`s tactics. Nevertheless, even Eck himself will freely admit that anything we gained from Eastlands last week would have been a bonus due to the superiority of our opponents.
Now attention turns to West Bromwich Albion who have been hit and miss all season. They have been fairly inconsistent but are unbeaten in their last three and have just come off a vital 2-0 win against bitter rivals Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Gaffer Alex McLeish is under no illusions that West Brom will pose a considerable threat, especially with Shane Long leading the line.
Speaking to The Sun, the Scot said:
‘West Brom have pace in attack and a lot of experience. Big ugly defenders, all the ingredients of a good side.’
‘Long is a handful and Tchoyi is interesting. I watched him when he was at Salzburg, one or two of my coaches have seen him as well and we’ll have to be very aware of him.’
He then went on to praise Gabby Agbonlahor who has been in sterling form thus far, netting four goals in the process and being pivotal to the Villa attack.
He even admitted that it crossed his mind whether or not to give him a ‘slap` when they first met at Bodymoor Heath – meant in jest of course – having been on the receiving end of Gabby brilliance in the ding dong derbies when he was Birmingham boss.
‘He was definitely a difficult customer whenever Birmingham played Villa. That is one of the reasons why I had to try and resurrect Gabby Agbonlahor and get him back to the potent force we are seeing just now.
‘I said to him when I arrived ‘I should slap you’ but now I am working with him it is great to see him showing so much confidence and belief in himself.’
Meanwhile, Roy Hodgson believes Eck had the simplest of decisions in jumping ship from Blues to Villa in the summer.
With all the turmoil and controversy that surrounded the move, he thinks his counterpart made the right call.
Speaking to the Birmingham Mail, he said:
‘I don`t know why it should be considered a bold move to move from a team that has been relegated to the biggest team in the Birmingham area – at least traditionally.’
‘Certainly, if you talk in terms of financial resources and financial power, they are the biggest team in the area. I don`t think ourselves, Wolves or Birmingham would compare ourselves to Aston Villa. If you look at the money they pay for players, you don`t see the other teams doing that. They`re the ones with the money and the power and the ones who are expected to get into the top six far more than us others.’
‘It seems to me to be a fairly simple decision to make if you`ve got the chance to move to that club from a club that has been relegated.’
Aston Villa Team News:
James Collins is back in contention after missing last week`s trip to Manchester. Nathan Delfouneso and Jermaine Jenas are still ruled out.
Player to watch: Gabriel Agbonlahor
We all know how Gabby loves a derby and today will be no exception.
His desire to work for the team as well as his potency up top will give Roy food for thought in trying to quell his influence.
West Bromwich Albion Team News:
Zoltan Gera should return in some form – either starting or on the bench – after recovering from a long term ankle problem. Steven Reid is also back but it remains to be seen if striker Peter Odemwingie starts up front.
Player to watch: Shane Long
The 24-year-old striker has settled in brilliantly since his £4.5m move from Reading back in the summer. He has netted three times this season with two coming against both Chelsea and champions Manchester United.
Match Facts & Stats
Five of the last six matches between Villa and the Baggies have ended with a 2-1 scoreline.
Villa have lost just one of their last 15 Midlands derbies at home.
Villa narrowly won last year`s fixture 2-1 and I think we are in for more of the same. Hodgson`s team will be more than resilient and make it difficult for us. We will need to be patient in the middle of the park and utilise Gabby`s pace down the left-hand side where he will look to give Steven Reid a torrid time. Will be a toughie but I think we will edge it – just. 2-1 Villa.
Sunderland away next Saturday.