The view from the Midlands

Albion's claim as pride of the Midlands

February 19, 2013
By David Instone

'Pride of the Midlands, we know what we are'... it's a sentiment that could have been belted out any number of times at Villa Park over the years. For the last quarter of a century, in fact, and more.

Chris Brunt celebrates after netting against Aston Villa
PA PhotosChris Brunt: Urging his team-mates to make amends for the Norwich showingp

But the advent of this particular ditty has not come about during the long era of claret and blue domination in the West Midlands and been echoing around Witton, Erdington and the like. Instead, it has been heard at The Hawthorns - the bragging rights having moved a few miles up the A41.

A whole generation of West Bromwich Albion fans missed out on the opportunity to crow over the carcass of their traditional old rivals and those blessed with the chance now are clearly not prepared to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Albion are in the top half of the Premier League and looking towards Europe, whether or not they fancy all those Europa League Thursday nights. Villa, dumped from the domestic cups in quick succession by teams in divisions below them, have nothing more to look forward to than a grim battle for top-flight survival.

With Birmingham City in crisis off the field and Wolverhampton Wanderers in good financial shape but unthinkably threatened by a second successive relegation, these must be good times to be a Baggies fan.

And all this on the back of 2011-12, a season in which their side - under current England manager Roy Hodgson - finished six places and nine points above Villa, with the other local foes either already down or going down.

But do these statistics resemble a lull in the established order or a more permanent shift in the balance of power? Are Albion going to remain looking down on the Villa?

What is indisputable is that Steve Clarke's team will not be relegated this year, but Paul Lambert's might. And, if those circumstances came to pass, Villa would be in a lower division than their rivals for the first time in exactly 40 years.

What's more, when Albion topped Villa in the final table last spring, it was the first time in an astonishing 32 years that they had done so. Their away win in the autumn of that season was their first league victory at Villa Park since 1979, so we're not exactly talking of normal routine when the Baggies are giving it large to their nearest and dearest.

With a sizeable, easy-on-the-eye squad, it would appear West Brom are going to be around among the elite for at least the foreseeable future. In the likes of Youssouf Mulumbu, James Morrison, Shane Long, Jonas Olsson, Ben Foster and even the headache that is Peter Odemwingie, they have the talent that should ensure they do not flirt with relegation any time soon.

Gabriel Agbonlahor
PA PhotosAgbonlahor and Villa have suffered a tough season so far

There is one hurdle they have to overcome, though, if they are to keep a top-flight Villa in the shade; the Dan Ashworth factor.

Much of the credit for the club's excellent recruitment has been laid at the door of the man who is shortly to link up again with Hodgson, and Ashworth's Hawthorns successor Richard Garlick has some big shoes to fill when he packs his passport and A to Z of World Footballers to go off in search of more Mulumbus and Claudio Yacobs.

If that off-field transition is seamless and Jeremy Peace's Albion - the one so many see as a model of pragmatism and good housekeeping - emerge entertainingly and successfully on the other side, their fans might be justified in thinking the status as West Midlands top dogs is theirs for keeps.

But Villa have had 25 successive years of top-flight membership and have been unchallenged as kings of the manor around here. It would be wise for Albion fans to have their fun but retain a sense of perspective.