As part of an ongoing feature during the COVID-induced postponement of football, our writers and friends will share their favourite games at Villa Park.
Words: Mark Jirobe | @VillaMarkPGH
Note from the editor: Mark didn’t attend Villa Park for this game, living in the US – but should that really matter?
Living in the US, match days are either spent in a packed pub full of supporters from a wide range of clubs or in the comfort of my own home with a few friends. On this specific day, I decided to grab hold of a few football-loving friends to come over for food, beer, laughs and sport.
My friends were aware of the rivalry. And more aware of the tight grip that Villa had on the rivalry in more recent times. Separated only by goal difference and seven points from a play-off spot, there’s no mistaking how big this game was for both Midland clubs. On paper, there was a gulf in class with Aston Villa once again looking like they could best Birmingham City. Alas, the game is never and has never been played on paper. And that’s what makes football one of the most exciting games the world has ever seen.
With a beer in hand and a pizza on the way, I wondered what kind of majesty we would see at Villa Park. Yes, this oddly specific Second City Derby was played in the Championship. But the build up didn’t feel that way. The vitriol shared between the clubs for each other is a top-shelf local rivalry; maybe one of the most heated in the world. It had an air of being a top-flight, prime time, big event type of game.
And there was drama.
It took around thirty minutes for the game to really kick into gear, with both sets of teams going through a ‘feeling out’ process of sorts. Villa were trying to exploit the midfield areas, and for the first 27 minutes, it worked a real treat – visibly frustrating the Blues players at an increasing rate. Then on the 28th minute, Birmingham City did something they had not done at Villa Park since 2008. They scored.
It wasn’t the prettiest of goals mind you, but they count all the same. After a succession of corners, Lukas Jutkiewicz slotted a ball past Orjan Nyland after a fantastic deep cross from Connor Mahoney.
It felt as though the beer buzz was smacked from my mouth. It almost seemed sacrilegious. But Aston Villa were coming off scoring five goals in two games against Derby and Bolton, so the goals were there; it was just a matter of who would score them.
The sobering emotion of the Jutkiewicz goal almost doubled after a close effort from Che Adams clattered against the crossbar. Just a little less power behind his shot and Villa would find themselves 2-0 down and in a world of trouble. But Villa were starting to fight back, even with the half-chance from Adams still rattling the woodwork.
And then… the first bit of magic for Aston Villa, in the 37th minute.
Alan Hutton received the ball around the half-way line and started to slowly cut inside. The Blues player marking him thought Hutton would continue to cut in, but the ‘Scottish Cafu’ played a simple yet smart pass to the trailing Albert Adomah. Adomah smacks a wonderful cross into the penalty area where it whispered off the head of a defender and found Jonathan Kodjia. It was one of those brief moments where you wonder how a player could be so alone yet have the spotlight shining directly above him. Kodjia did well to chest the ball down, and fire the ball into the back of the net. ‘King Kodj’ wheeled away in jubilant, expressive celebration, the only way he knew how, whilst the sound of confidence floods throughout Villa Park.
Parity restored. But Villa were not content. It took all of two minutes for Aston Villa to grab another. It was almost a carbon copy of the first. Hutton received a pass from Conor Hourihane on the right flank, then dispatched it wide to Albert Adomah. Adomah takes a few cheeky step overs, and crosses the ball into the far post. Of all the Aston Villa players to score a diving header at the back stick, you would never have thought it was Jack Grealish. But there he was – the boyhood Aston Villa fan turned talisman, at the far post, waiting for destiny.
Two-one to the Villa in the 39th minute at Villa Park against the Blues. As the half came to a close, it became increasingly obvious that the Jutkiewicz goal was as sobering to our players as it was to me. The whistle sounded, and Aston Villa looked like a team who were very, very understanding about how much this fixture meant to those in attendance.
I remember talking with friends at half-time, all concurring that Aston Villa looked the miles better team.
The second half would start to get underway, and I remember vividly going to get a beer around the 49th minute. Screams from my living room shocked me back to reality.
Sprinting back to the glowing screen, I see referee Robert Jones surrounded by Birmingham City players, berating him over his claim that Tammy Abraham was clattered into in the penalty area. The Chelsea loanee stepped up to take the penalty, making no mistake as he sent City’s goalkeeper Lee Camp the wrong way. Three-one with almost an entire half to play.
The frustration took a hold of the Birmingham players and their play mirrored it. Cheap fouls, borderline dirty play, in the ref’s ear ad nausea. All the things you’d expect from that side on this occasion.
It took them a whole five minutes after the penalty to get a goal back. A cheap pass from Glenn Whelan to the feet of Tammy Abraham saw the striker swamped upon, and the play steered sharply towards the Villa goal. Che Adams would find delight in James Chester not closing him down on the left flank, and turned a cross into the trailing Kristian Pedersen who netted his first goal. The goal had a Football Manager feel to it; totally against the run of play.
Blues weren’t done though. A close effort from Che Adams into the chest of Nyland could have gone anywhere else, yet didn’t. They kept pressing forward and the feeling from the Villa players signalled that the confidence at the end of the second half wittled down to sharp and tense nerves. Albert Adomah would come close to scoring via a free-kick opportunity to the right of Lee Camp but ultimately fluttered it over the bar.
That’s when the nervousness set in from over three thousand miles away. I have this terrible, terrible habit of shaking my leg when I’m overly nervous. And it got so bad over the next nineteen minutes that one of my mates said:
“Take it easy over there, eh?”
It took 19 minutes after the Abraham penalty for the next and greatest piece of magic you’ll see in a Second City Derby, depending on who you call upon. The ever-present right back for Aston Villa was locked in and focused for Villa during the contest. Maybe not the most stylish knife in the kitchen set, but on the day he was as sharp as you could imagine. Alan Hutton, formerly of the “bomb squad” of Aston Villa past made one of the most unlikely plays in recent Aston Villa history on this day.
What people forget about this piece of magic, is that it all started with a bold and pretty unnecessary pass from Yannick Bolassie. The winger tried to ping a ball to the opposite flank but never had the mustard on it to truly get there. Pedersen, who scored earlier for Blues, made a sliding challenge to stop the ball from getting to its final destination… but Pedersen and the 41-odd thousand at Villa Park could never imagine what would happen next.
The ball fell to the feet of Alan Hutton. From behind the half-way line, Hutton began to bomb forward towards Birmingham City’s midfield. Hutton surged past two Blues players, still maintaining possession.
“Go on“, I said while inching up in my seat.
As quickly as I muttered these words, Hutton was almost in the penalty area by now. The Scottish Cafu was playing simple passes away from danger all game, practising his defensive responsibility to a maximum. Yet when Hutton kept running forward, the sea of Blues players parted in a biblical fashion. The centre-back for City got turned outside and then inside by a small feign on the ball from Hutton.
And then… pandemonium. A left-footed goal by Alan Hutton in the Second City Derby after running through almost every Blues player on the pitch.
Needless to say, there was beer everywhere and I was screaming at the top of my lungs. I was jumping up and down, no small feat for a man the size that I am and the words from commentator Gary Weaver will be imprinted into my memories for the rest of my life.
“The Holte End rises for the man they call the Scottish Cafu!“
Hutton would famously jump into the crowd, pounding the Villa badge that covered his heart. You can tell by his facial expression, all the emotion of his career at Aston Villa came flooding out. Hutton would receive a yellow card for his celebration, but he didn’t care. No one cared. Villa was up 4-2 after an unlikely hero put his stamp upon the contest and that’s the scoreline that would show at the full-time whistle.
This specific Second City Derby was a rollercoaster of emotions and will not be forgotten about any time soon thanks to one Alan Hutton.