Former Birmingham City boss Steve Bruce will take his Aston Villa side to St Andrew's on Saturday and hope to show the Blues exactly what they have been missing since sacking Gary Rowett in December last year.

The Villans are fifth in the Championship going into Sunday's encounter while Birmingham, under the auspices of new boss Steve Cotterill, are perched just above the relegation zone in 21st.

Cotterill, whose last job was getting Bristol City promoted back to the second tier at the first attempt, is the club's third permanent manager since the controversial sacking of Rowett – now installed as Derby County boss – less than a year ago.

It has been a tumultuous period for the Blues and, gallingly for the supporters, mostly of the club's own doing. Birmingham were seventh in the Championship when the board decided to relieve Rowett of his duties in a decision which was met with universal condemnation.

The subsequent decision to hire former Watford and West Ham United boss Gianfranco Zola was also met with the derision.

The likeable Italian had shown little prior to his stint in the St Andrew's dugout, barring one season at Watford, to suggest he was cut out for management.

Fourteen defeats from 24 games followed and the former forward decided to cut his losses and quit in April. The next left-field appointment in an increasingly bizarre set of circumstances saw ex-Tottenham Hotspur boss Harry Redknapp take up the role with Cotterill his assistant.

Given just three games to save Blues from the drop, Redknapp picked up six points from nine losing, ironically, only in his first game at Villa. After a period of uncertainty, Redknapp took the job full time but Cotterill walked away. That proved a shrewd decision.

After six consecutive defeats and with Birmingham rooted in the relegation mire, Redknapp was surprisingly given his marching orders and Cotterill installed in his place.

As if shooting themselves in the foot over and over has not been torturous enough for Bluenoses, the contrasting form at Villa Park has rubbed salt in the wounds.

The brief reign of Roberto di Matteo was ended in October of last year with former Birmingham, Wigan, Sunderland and Hull boss Bruce handed the task of steering Villa away from the lower reaches of the table.

A Championship veteran with four promotions from the second tier – two from his time at St Andrew's – to his name, Bruce enjoyed an immediate upturn in form and wasn't beaten until his seventh game at the helm.

But it was two steps forward one step back for the Villans and they finished a campaign which had begun with great optimism in 13th place, 18 points shy of the playoff places.

Things had to change over the summer and Villa owner Tony Xia, having already backed his man to the tune of £22.5million in January, allowed Bruce to go big once more, if not in terms of transfer fees then on wages.

The signings of John Terry on a free transfer from Chelsea, as well as Republic of Ireland international Glenn Whelan from Stoke City, can't have come cheap.

Meanwhile, keeper Sam Johnstone returned on loan from Manchester United, Robert Snodgrass was borrowed from West Ham and Spurs prospect Josh Onomah also pitched up temporarily.

Bruce knew the recipe and with trust and patience from Xia he was allowed to mix it all together.

A stuttering start has given way to greater consistency and, at the time of writing, Villa have won five of six in the Championship and have lost just once in the league – against leaders Wolves – since the middle of August.

The Villans have been rewarded for sticking with a man whose team will never win any beauty contests but will get the job done. Ahead of Sunday's Second City showdown, Blues fans will rightly cast envious glances across to their deadly rivals and what they could have won.

 

Championship