Capital One Cup or not, weakened opposition or not, Aston Villa will have received a huge boost from their midweek victory away to Premier League champions Manchester City.
By all accounts it was a thoroughly deserved win, complete with the welcome addition of Gabriel Agbonlahor once again attacking with menace and finding the back of the net twice for his first goals since February.
Paul Lambert was one of the few managers from any division who opted to select a virtually full-strength side, which was a surprise in itself, given that a few days earlier his virtually full-strength side were routed 4-1 at Southampton.
Following on from the St Mary’s horror show, few would have predicted a performance of polar opposites over at Eastlands and quite whether their humbling of Roberto Mancini’s men will be a turning point or another flash in the pan is just as difficult to work out.
Certainly, Villa needed something to kick-start their campaign because just one win and one clean sheet in five has left them lurching inauspiciously in the lower half of the table. Beating a second-string City will do nothing to alter expectations that Lambert’s side are in for a tough slog over the duration of the season but at least in the immediacy it might massage their brittle confidence.
And nowhere is there confidence more in tatters than on their own patch. The Villans’ record at home has been criminally bad over this calendar year with just two wins from 15 games and a paltry 13 goals registered. They were dispatched 3-1 by Everton upon resuming duties at Villa Park but atoned for that in beating Swansea City and will complete a turnaround in getting the natives onside should they collect another three points against Midlands rivals West Brom on Sunday.
The problem here, though, is that the Baggies have turned themselves into a decent little outfit under first Roy Hodgson and now Steve Clarke and are sitting pretty in fourth after chalking up three wins from their opening five Premier League fixtures.
Clarke also chose to pick a strong eleven for Wednesday’s Capital One cup reverse to Liverpool but I’m tempted to ignore the goings on in that competition and instead focus on the business end of things in the league.
Last time out West Brom were solid, if unspectacular, in grinding out a 1-0 win over Reading, with loan recruit Romelu Lukaku proving a muscular menace in leading the line. Victories over Merseyside duo Liverpool and Everton, as well as a point at Tottenham, shows that tussles with West Brom will be far from a picnic for any side – even ignoring a bad day at the office away to Fulham a fortnight ago.
I’m still not entirely convinced which way this will go and those sentiments are shared by bwin’s oddsmakers, who have Villa slight favourites at 7/5, with West Brom at 19/10 and the draw at 9/4.
As I used to tell my ex-girlfriend, one swallow doesn’t make a summer and I’m not sure that a League Cup victory over City necessarily makes Villa 7/5 favourites here and although the easy option is the draw, I’ve seen enough from West Brom to back them for another derby-day delight on Sunday.
Under Hodgson the Baggies won this fixture home and away 2-1 last season and that score is definitely worth a look again at 9/1.
By the same token, if you fancy both teams to score but the Baggies to bag it, the visitors to win a game with over 2.5 goals is also very well priced at 18/5, or you could play it safe with under 3.5 and still get a cool 14/5.
For my money, West Brom are solid enough defensively to keep Villa quiet, especially if they can ride out the opening storm of optimism brewed by Villa’s result at the Etihad Stadium.
If the Baggies can take the sting out of the game and spring Lukaku when the time’s right, I reckon they will be in business and for that reason, I’m backing them to win this match following a half-time draw at 6/1.
Following my correct call in the Manchester United v Newcastle United game and my exploits in the £10 to £10k challenge, I have now successfully picked 13 outcomes from 17 attempts and if you fancy following my lead in this game, why not open an account with bwin and claim a free £20 bet?
Using that free bet on the half-time draw followed by a West Brom win could land you £140 (minus the price of a pint for me).
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