Weblog: The football punter
Villa value to beat Baggies in derby thriller
Sky Bet Championship
Sky Sports Football & Main Event, 8pm Friday
Aston Villa are playing well enough to upset the odds and take the derby honours against West Brom at the Hawthorns in a match which is expected to be full of goals.
A high-scoring contest looks assured given the two teams are the most prolific in the Sky Bet Championship, although it is Villa who look the better-balanced outfit.
Whether by coincidence or not, Villa have been a different side since Dean Smith replaced Steve Bruce as manager with the visitors getting on the front foot and piling the pressure on to the opposition.
Villa have won four and drawn one of their last five matches with a couple of those successes - 3-0 at Derby and Middlesbrough - suggesting they are more than capable of storming the Hawthorns too.
The draw during the hot patch was a crazy 5-5 thriller against Nottingham Forest in a match which Villa dominated, winning the shot count 26-8 with 12 on target to Forest's five.
Defensively, Villa still need to improve, yet their clean sheets in comprehensive triumphs at Pride Park and the Riverside bode well for this assignment.
Alan Hutton returns to improve the back four and Villa are full of talent going forward with Yannick Bolasie servicing Tammy Abraham from out wide, while Jack Grealish and John McGinn should get the space to play given West Brom are likely to match fire with fire.
West Brom, with 42 Championship goals, are the only side to notch more than Villa's 39 in the second tier and the hosts will be hoping for more magic from Harvey Barnes, Jay Rodriguez and Dwight Gayle.
However, Albion have managed just one clean sheet this season - the same as bottom club Ipswich - and a lack of concentration cost them dear on Monday in a 1-1 draw with out-of-form Brentford.
This is a short turnaround from that fixture, which is not ideal for Darren Moore's men, and the boss is struggling to find the right formation to fit in all of his key forwards.
Gayle has been on the bench recently with Hal Robson-Kanu, a more natural wide player, being used in a 4-3-3 formation but the Welshman is a major doubt, leaving Moore with a decision to make.
He must decide whether to use Gayle wide or move to a 4-4-2 which could leave West Brom light in midfield. Moore had previously used a 3-5-2 formation which exposed his defence and Villa look just as likely to win, which is not reflected in the prices.