In a season when football in the West Midlands has been right under the spotlight, it could finally all be over for Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion if both clubs are relegated this Saturday.

And nowhere would the relief be more keenly felt than at Villa Park. Aston Villa still need a point to confirm their survival following the latest failure to impress their own fans against Manchester City on Tuesday night.

And, whether it was a feeling that the job was already done, or more likely a case of sheer apathy, this latest let-down came in front of just 26,422 people, Villa's lowest home league crowd since September 2002.

It was still more than the 23,000 who turned up for this season's FA Cup Villa Park clash with City in February; that, however, was on a Sunday night, at extra cost to season-ticket holders and before the BBC's live TV cameras. Yet it was 8,000 less than last season's average gate and, more depressingly still, it confirmed this to be the worst Premiership season Villa Park has witnessed.

Villa have picked up just 21 points in front of their home fans and whatever they now achieve against Sunderland on May 7, they cannot catch the 27 achieved in 1994-95.

Most worrying of all, though, was Villa's apparent inability yet again to lift themselves for an evening game.

While Villa Park had been a vibrant cauldron for the derby game against Blues, on Tuesday night it was transformed back into a graveyard as David O'Leary's men again hit the psychological stumbling block of playing under lights which has hampered them, not just this season but over the last 18 months.

Since beating Tottenham Hotspur on a Monday night in November last season, Villa have now won just once in 14 games under lights. When the Carling Cup defeat at Doncaster Rovers and the two fail-ures to beat Manchester City in the FA Cup are brought into the equation, it adds up to a real problem.

The lack of atmosphere was keenly felt by former Villa man David James but the Manchester City goalkeeper admits to not being surprised, pointing out that a reduction in crowd excitement goes hand in hand with poor results.

"Unfortunately, Villa have been plagued with low attendances," said James. "But that's because there's not been a lot for the fans to cheer.

"We reached the cup final in my first season at Villa in happier times but they're just going through a transition.

They won't go down and they've a chance next season to put things right."

Villa skipper Olof Mellberg refused to blame the lack of atmosphere for his team's woes, pointing out that there was nothing much wrong when James' point-blank save from his header capped Villa's bright start.

"We showed our best form in the beginning of the match," he said. "You cannot use the atmosphere as an excuse. We just struggled to get anything going and, mathematically, it leaves us still not safe.

"We had a disappointing season three years ago but I have not really thought too much about getting to 45 points.

"We hoped we could build on the Birmingham win against Wigan, who were struggling at home, then Manchester City who have struggled lately, but we struggled to get any possession and the ball just kept coming back at us in the back four.

"The fans were disappointed and so were we, especially in the second half."

To make it even worse for the Villa fans, City's goal came from Darius Vassell. After scoring just three times in 18 starts for Villa last season, he has now hit four in as many games against his former team this season, out of a mere ten for the campaign in total.

"He does quite well against Villa," smiled City boss Stuart Pearce. "I'm pleased for him, as he played even though he needs a hernia operation in the summer."