In the space of eight days, Aston Villa face successive Sunday battles against West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City that can either make or break their season.

Undeterred by a run of five matches without a win, Villa are seeking their third Midland derby victory of the season against Albion this weekend.

In the previous two local matches, Kevin Phillips scored the only goal of the game at St Andrew's in October to give Villa their first Premiership win over Blues and there followed a 2-1 defeat of Albion in early January, thanks to goals from Steven Davis and Milan Baros.

David O'Leary, the Villa manager, was not always keeper of the bragging rights. Having stopped the previous season's rot with a 0-0 draw at St Andrew's in the autumn of his first campaign, O'Leary then watched in horror as Villa threw away a two-goal lead in the return - a 2-2 draw that seemed more like a defeat. Steve Bruce put the Indian sign on Villa again last season when Thomas Sorensen's fumblings handed Blues a double.

Villa twice failed to beat Albion in 2004-5, drawing 1-1 in both games. Roy Aitken, O'Leary's assistant manager, demanded an improvement in their derby record at the start of this term and is impressing upon his players the importance of doing so again this week.

"Our inability to win derby games was something that was regularly pointed out to us over the last two seasons by the fans," the Villa No 2 said. "It was also targeted at the start of the season by the players as a way to improve. We've now put that to bed.

"But we've said all along, ever since we came here, that it's far more important to finish higher up the table than to win the derbies and earn our local pride that way.

"We know the bragging rights are important for the supporters. I should know better than anybody, having played in more derbies than anyone else for Celtic in my time in Glasgow.

"But ask me what was more important, beating Rangers three or four times a season or finishing above them in the league and it would be finishing above them every time, because that is what gives you the right to say you're the top side in the area.

"Winning on the day gives you the glory but what counts most is where we finish. It's important that we finish the top Midlands side and, if we beat West Brom and Blues again, it would go a long way

to doing just that. But we also know just how tough it will be. We're up against two good clubs managed by two good managers, who are just having difficult seasons.

"You never go into any game expecting anything to be made easy and you'd certainly never think that with derby games. Even when we play Sunderland on the last day, you'd never go in think-ing that way."

With both of Villa's recent derby victories coming away from home, the only thing left is to put things right at Villa Park and midfielder Gavin McCann says that the motivation is there.

"In our last two derbies at home, West Brom equalised in the last minute and then we got beat at home by Blues," said McCann.

"Right from the start of season, the lads just wanted to put that right, which we did in the games at St Andrew's and The Hawthorns. But we want to do it for the home fans at Villa Park too. Apart from the fact that both the games are on Sundays, which nobody likes, we're really looking forward to them both."