Aston Villa defender Liam Ridgewell is a rugged, uncompromising operator, which is just as well as he is in line to face Geoff Horsfield and Kevin Campbell in Sunday's Premiership derby at home to West Bromwich Albion.

The knee injury Olof Mellberg sustained at Newcastle United last weekend required cartilage surgery yesterday and Villa's Swedish captain is likely to be sidelined for at least a month.

It is a significant blow to Villa manager David O'Leary before the team's final seven matches of the campaign.

But the Irishman can at least draw comfort from the form of fit-again centre-back Martin Laursen, who was exceptional at St James' Park, and the performances of Ridgewell, who has deputised ably this season.

The 20-year-old played 11 consecutive matches earlier this term and helped snuff out the threat of Alan Shearer and Kieron Dyer last Saturday when Mellberg hobbled off at half time.

Consequently, Ridgewell says Sunday's match against Albion holds no fears for him, and he is anxious to help Villa to a first victory against local opposition this season following a 1-1 draw at The Hawthorns last August and successive defeats to Birmingham City.

The England Under-21 international said: "We have not let people down but we haven't come out with the right result in other derbies this season.

"Hopefully we can put that right on Sunday and prove to a few people derby matches are important to us."

Villa, who are tenth, will be expected to beat Albion as O'Leary's side attempt to replicate their impressive finish to last season which helped them finish sixth.

However, Bryan Robson's team, who are third from bottom, have won three of their last four league matches and could yet escape relegation.

Ridgewell added: "Albion are no mugs, they are fighting for survival but Bryan Robson has done a great job there.

"I have seen a few of their games and they play good football - sometimes teams don't do that in their situation and it is great to see them doing it.

"Robson obviously has a style of football he likes to play and they are dangerous upfront.

"Horsfield and Campbell are good strikers and there is a threat from the bench in Rob Earnshaw."

Albion's two forwards hold the ball up well and are useful in the air but Ridgewell believes they will find Laursen and himself a difficult proposition.

The Dane has been in imperious form recently while Ridgewell showed he is comfortable on the big stage at Newcastle.

"I was delighted to get on," he said. "I didn't expect it but I am always ready and willing.

"It was the first time I have played with Martin because we both had injuries earlier this season.

"Martin is very good in the air and strong. He has played all around the world and he is a great international so I have a lot to learn from him.

"But I just took my chance earlier in the season and played about 13 games for Villa. I have had to take a back seat and watch Martin and Olof play recently but I want to take my chance again now."

With O'Leary set to spend about £20 million on new players in the summer, Ridgewell's return to the side has come at an ideal time.

He said: "There have been reports of the manager coming into a bit of money so places are up for grabs.

"People are willing and ready to show what they can do and I am no different - hopefully I can get out there and prove my worth."

Aside from strengthening his own position in the Villa squad, Ridgewell also knows the club's remaining fixtures will dictate where they finish the campaign. To equal last season's haul of 56 points, Villa will have to win five of their last seven matches but Ridgewell has not given up on that ambition.

Villa's assistant manager Roy Aitken was at Ashton Gate on Tuesday night watching Bristol City's prolific striker Leroy Lita in the Robins' 2-0 defeat to Bourne-mouth in a League One match. The 20-year-old England Under-21 international - valued at about £1.5 million - has scored 27 goals this season.

Gavin McCann made a promising return after a three-month lay-off through injury as Aston Villa reserves twice hit back from a two-goal deficit only to lose 7-5 to Sunderland at Durham City last night.

Villa central defender Kevin Mulcahy was sent off in the 75th minute for kicking out at Michael Bridges.

Kevin Kyle ran riot by scoring five of the home side's goals, including two in the opening 16 minutes.

Villa responded through Shane Paul (21 minutes), and Luke Moore (29), only for Bridges to restore Sunderland's lead.

Kyle completed his hat-trick from the penalty spot in the 47th minute but Villa were again on level terms through Paul Green (54), and a thundering 30-yard drive from Peter Whittingham (60).

Bridges scored in the 65th minute and Kyle was on target again twice late on. Villa scored in injury time through Moore.