Gerard Houllier faces a tough task matching his predecessor’s record in Second City derbies as Aston Villa prepare to renew rivalries with Birmingham City this weekend.
At Villa Park at noon on Sunday, Houllier will embark on his mission to live up to Martin O’Neill’s 100 per cent return of four victories from four clashes against Blues.
O’Neill did the home and away double over Birmingham in both of the seasons when his claret and blues came up against their near neighbours, winning 2-1, 5-1, 1-0 and 1-0.
“It’s now down to us to work hard together to bring joy and success to the fans who are the most important,” said Houllier.
“I know the fans have got to be better here because you have strong local rivalry with Birmingham, Wolves and West Brom.
“The players are not necessarily from the area, from Birmingham. But they know what a derby is because at other clubs they knew what a derby was like and they know what the fans are like.
“Our aim is to make our fans happy and hopefully win the derby. It is more than three points - it is a derby.”
Houllier has a impressive record in derbies, having won six and drawn five of his 12 Liverpool versus Everton clashes and he kicked off his Premier League managerial career with Villa with a win at Wolverhampton Wanderers.
“We have six derbies this season – Birmingham, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton and they will all be tough,” he added.
“I have a good record in derby games. At Liverpool I think we drew twice and then won four times on the trot.
“Do I like derbies? Yes. The players like them too. At Liverpool I had Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher, who was an Everton fan when he was younger. Motivation flows from itself.
“The first derby I was in charge of we had three or four sendings-off! Composure is a key element. It’s very important to stay composed.”
Houllier will have to manage without derby day specialist Gabby Agbonlahor who scored in three of O’Neill’s derby day victories over Birmingham.
Agbonlahor is still convalescing after minor groin surgery and is unlikely to be in contention until the trip to Fulham on November 6. It was hoped the Brummie striker would be back a fortnight ago, but his recovery is taking longer than expected.
“Gabby has had the groin operation and it will soon be time for him to do the training,” added Houllier. “I don’t think he will be back for the derby – the earliest option could be Fulham.”