I’m not sure what to make of this game. Our form is giving me a level of confidence that I don’t trust and whilst Villa are a team that probably think they should be challenging for things, they’ve been well off the mark in recent years and don’t look like changing that this season. There’s a back story to this one that might make things in the dug out a little more interesting though. During pre season there was a story doing the rounds that a premier league manager had approached Paul Jewell at some function or other and told him “Congratulations, I hope you manage to stay up this season” or words to that effect.
Jewell’s replied with “Thanks, I hope you do too”, the first indication that we’re not in this league to be patronised. If the rumour mill is to be believed, then the other manager was David O’Leary and thus Saturday’s game gives Jewell another chance to get one over on the manager who’ll no doubt be telling us about how his team is a bunch of kids at some point over the next five days.
On the pitch, it’s Saturday so it must be another ex-Liverpool striker. This time around it’s Milan Baros, a player who, despite good form for his country, has always flattered to deceive at this level. His partner will probably be Kevin Phillips, he may have struggled for form over the last few years but there are signs that he’s going to settle down in Birmingham.
Elsewhere O’Leary’s squad will be the usual bunch of kids with a smattering of experience, Lee ‘bad boy’ Hendrie will be missing from the midfield, but Bakke and Davies are more than capable replacements. The Irishman is certainly not blessed with anywhere near as much talent as he was at Leeds, his player seems to talk a good game though and you have to wonder whether this will be another example of a team turning up all peas above sticks and going home more than a little surprised by us.
For Latics there’ll definitely be one change. McCulloch’s rash challenge last week sees him sit out 3 games, providing a chance for someone on the fringes. The favourite to take the left wing slot has to be Alan Mahon, but we could quite easily see anyone of our reserve midfielders come in, or perhaps even Steve Macmillan, with Baines moving up to the wing slot. Jewell says he knows what he’s going to do already, but he’s playing his cards close to his chest. Mahon’s been playing regularly for the reserves and did little wrong in the Chelsea game so I’ll stick my neck out and say it’ll be him that starts on Saturday.
The rest of the team will probably be the same but, in part two of what may become a long running saga, you have to wonder about John Filan’s inclusion in the team. It’s not cost us yet but he’s been far from the steady influence that we have come to expect. If we hadn’t seen Pollitt’s performances earlier in the season, we might accept this as a sign of the step up in level and be keeping our fingers crossed that he’ll come into our own. As it stands we’ve seen a keeper who’s looked calm and assured already this season, one that was in the kind of form that can win you points. Filan is surely going to have to earn his shirt sooner rather than later.
Another possible change would see Camara dropped after his spat last weekend. We’ve had a very public apology and an equally public acceptance. If Jewell is to believed the matter is now closed and to be honest I can’t see Jewell destabilising his side, any more than he has to.
I’ve pretty much given up on predictions, but I can’t see this one being a goal fest. It could be our first goalless draw of the season but if pushed I’d go for a score draw. If there is a winner, it would be surprising if there was more than a goal in it either way, let’s go with a 2-2 draw.
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