Birmingham City vs West Brom: Friendly rivalry still matters for Darren Moore
Darren Moore’s phone hasn’t stopped buzzing and ringing all week in the build up to this game.
Born and raised in Handsworth, Moore has plenty of ties to the city of Birmingham and plenty of friends who will be rooting for Blues tonight.
Being well-versed in West Midland rivalries, he’s acutely aware that this fixture lacks the same ferocity of others, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be keenly fought.
“Both clubs get on well with each other,” admitted Moore. “A few years back when we both won promotion (2001/02), the clubs got in contact with each other and wished each other well.
“It might not be a hotly-contested rivalry but it’s a local derby and both teams are trying to win.
“My phone hasn’t stopped all week from both sides because I’ve got friends in the Birmingham area.”
This is the first league meeting between the two clubs for seven years, although Albion are unbeaten in their last four matches with Blues.
But more pertinently, Albion travel to St Andrew’s in fine form, with five wins from their last six games in all competitions. Blues, on the other hand, have not won a game this season and off-field problems surrounding Financial Fair Play is currently clouding the mood.
But Moore is a believer in that old adage; form goes out of the window for games like this.
“You’re never favourites in a derby because of the excitement that builds,” said Moore. “It adds a different flavour to the match.
“Birmingham are performing well too, they haven’t won a league fixture yet but the performances are there. They’ve been a whisker away.”
Not only will Albion’s head coach have friends in the stands, but he will also have one in the opposite dugout.
Garry Monk is a man Moore knows well, because he came through Torquay’s youth system around the same time as the Baggies boss was a trainee at Plainmoor.
“Garry is a leader,” said Moore. “He’s got a great managerial record to date.
“There are things happening around the club that he can’t affect, despite that the team is performing well.
“Credit to Garry. They’ve got the right man for the job.”
Albion are expected to stick with the same 3-4-1-2 system that has proved so successful in recent weeks, and Moore does not have any injury concerns.
Matt Phillips and Oliver Burke pulled out of international duty but should be available and James Morrison, who missed the victory over Stoke with a muscle strain, is also back in training.
Albion’s boss is unlikely to tinker with the team that outperformed Stoke City two weeks ago, which means Phillips will be the only one out of those three to start.
But the first derby of the season – regardless of how friendly it is – is likely to pose a much different test to that match.
The Opposition: City’s Blues may not be as bad as they appear
On the face of it, things are looking bleak for Birmingham City.
Not only are they winless in the league, but they also have the possibility of a 12-point deduction looming over their heads thanks to Financial Fair Play breaches.
But results have not necessarily tallied with performances for Garry Monk’s men, and at St Andrew’s in particular, they are tough to beat.
Since losing his first game in charge at home to Middlesbrough last season, Monk is unbeaten in eight games in Birmingham, including three draws from three so far this term.
Despite the slow start, there is a sense that St Andrew’s could become an all-important fortress for Blues.
And the players are hoping to draw on that atmosphere tonight.
“Since Garry’s come in there’s been a real connection between the players and the fans,” said captain Michael Morrison.
“The football club has really improved and you can see that in our results – our home form has been really good since he’s taken over.
“When there’s that many people behind us – games like Fulham, at the end of last season – it makes a difference and we want to put a show on and make sure we get that first win for everybody.”
City’s problem is clear for all to see. They’ve failed to find the net in four of their six league games so far and all four of their goals have come from separate scorers.
That is in stark contrast to Albion, who arrive at St Andrew’s as the Championship’s top scorers.
“They clearly carry a real goal threat and experience up front,” said Morrison, a centre-back. “They’ve got arguably Premier League class strikers.
“Me and Harlee (Dean), the whole back four, and the team is going to be aware of that and we’ll have to be on our game.”
Morrison’s centre-back partner Dean believes Blues can stop Albion’s deadly strike force if they stick to what they know.
Monk’s team have only conceded six goals this season, which is fewer than the Baggies, and have kept two clean sheets too, something their visitors are yet to do.
“It’s about keeping to the plan, doing what we have been doing,” said Dean. “We are not going to change for any other team.”
This is unlikely to just be attack vs defence, because Blues have been impressive in between the boxes this season.
So far they’ve lacked the cutting edge in front of goal but Dean is hoping the team will raise their game for what is a special occasion.
“It’s always special under lights on a Friday night,” added the defender. “We are in a confident mood, albeit we haven’t had the results.
“We just can’t wait to get into the game and are looking forward to performing.”
Danger man: Jota
Blues have struggled to put the ball in the back of the net so far this season, but the long-haired Spaniard has at least looked threatening.
The club’s record signing was brought in from Brentford last year for more than £6million and the long-haired attacking midfielder is the creator his team-mates regularly look to.
Pie and a pint:
The Old Crown in Deritend has been going 650 years, so they must be doing something right. Burgers cost £8.50 and they have a selection of beers.
On a Wednesday night in November 2001, Andy Johnson moved Albion up into second with their first win at St Andrew’s in more than four years.
Key Man: Harvey Barnes
Blues are hard to break down at home, and the Baggies will look to Harvey Barnes to pick the lock. Will the youngster cope with the added pressure?