Birmingham City and Aston Villa will hardly be short of incentives when they meet in the Carling Cup quarter-final at St Andrew’s on Wednesday – but, as well as considerable local bragging rights, the victors will also be able to enjoy some very favourable omens.
For the two old rivals have met in the competition three times before – and on two of those occasions, the winners of this local skirmish went on to lift the cup itself.
In 1963, Blues had only minutes to wait to collect the silverware after beating Villa in the two-legged final.
But 31 years later Ron Atkinson’s Villa side had plenty of work still to do after seeing off Blues in the second round but ultimately tasted glory five months down the line with a memorable victory over Manchester United at Wembley.
So both clubs have done it before – won the derby and then lifted the trophy. What price that being the case in 2010-11?
Blues’ triumph in 1963, which remains the only senior trophy they have secured, was actually clinched in their neighbours’ back yard at Villa Park.
It was a thoroughly deserved success of which the foundations had been soundly laid four days earlier when Gil Merrick’s side won 3-1 in the first leg at St Andrew’s.
Ken Leek’s double and a lovely goal from Jimmy Bloomfield, a neat finish after tricking two defenders, put Blues in charge as Villa could muster only a Bobby Thomson strike in reply.
Joe Mercer’s men needed to be much better in the second leg – but they weren’t.
Two years earlier Villa had reached the final of the inaugural League Cup and lifted the trophy after turning round a two-goal first-leg deficit to Rotherham – but there was to be no repeat of the revival.
The second leg ended in a dreary 0-0 draw, much to the delight of a Blues team which, the hard work done in the first leg, displayed a pragmatic approach in the second, using plenty of time-wasting devices even before half-time. As the old Chinese proverb says: “Patience is a tree with bitter roots that bears sweet fruits”.
If the first Second City derby in the League Cup was high-profile, the second, 25 years later, was a much lower-key affair.
The clubs met in the second round in 1988 and Villa took revenge against down-in-the-dumps rivals who were not only a division below them but near the bottom of that division and struggling badly.
Villa won the first leg at St Andrew’s 2-0 thanks to well-taken first-half goals from Kevin Gage and Andy Gray and then ran riot in the second leg.
They rattled in four goals in the first 17 minutes as Derek Mountfield headed home after just 45 seconds, Gage scored twice, including a 25-yard cracker, and 18-year-old debutant Ian Olney nodded the fourth. Tony Daley added a second-half scorcher to make it 5-0 and complete a 7-0 aggregate win.
Villa’s League Cup run that season ended at West Ham in the quarter-finals but in 1993 their second-round win over Blues proved to be a stepping-stone to Wembley – and glorious victory over Manchester United.
The first leg at St Andrew’s ended 1-0 to Villa after John Frain fired a first-half penalty straight at goalkeeper Mark Bosnich (who had just come on for the injured Nigel Spink) and was fully punished for the error when Kevin Richardson finished off an angled pass from Steve Staunton seven minutes from time to secure Villa a slender first-leg advantage.
Blues had it all to do in the second leg but they fought tigerishly and kept an absorbing contest alive right through to the closing stages.
Even with an injury-list including Andy Saville, Paul Peschisolido, Ted McMinn, George Parris and Paul Moulden, Terry Cooper’s men pushed Villa all the way.
Bosnich twice denied Carl Shutt with fine saves and at half-time it was still 0-0 with Blues just one flash of lethal incision from parity.
Their big chance arrived early in the second half but Shutt could not deliver that incision. The opportunity was lost – and Blues’ challenge faded on the back of two blows, one unlucky, one self-inflicted.
The misfortune arrived when full-back Scott Hiley was injured and had to be substituted. He had done an excellent containing job on Daley but the winger started to flow in his absence.
Then the terminal blow for Blues arrived on 63 minutes. Midfielder Paul Tait was the victim of a bad tackle from Richardson near the touch-line and reacted by shoving the Villa man into the crowd.
Referee Gerald Ashby had no hesitation in dismissing Tait – and with him went Blues’ chances of retrieving the tie.
In the 83rd minute, exactly the same point of the game in which they scored in the first leg, Villa struck again to seal their passage to round three. Richardson, whom Blues had felt was guilty of over-reacting when Tait was sent off, won the ball in the centre-circle and fed Dean Saunders who calmly strode forward to score.
Blues’ dogged challenge had been subdued.
And the defensive resilience which saw Villa through that challenge was to shine brightly throughout the months ahead as they negotiated difficult away draws at Sunderland, Arsenal and Tottenham before squeezing past Tranmere Rovers in the semi-final and then conquering United – Steve Bruce, Roy Keane, Paul Ince, Eric Cantona and all – in the final.