Aaron Hughes has been ruled out of Aston Villa's match at home to Middlesbrough on Sunday after undergoing surgery for a hernia - but the Northern Ireland international defender should be fit to face Birmingham City two weeks later.

The right back, who joined Villa in the summer from Newcastle United, had the operation on Tuesday night and will also miss his country's World Cup qualifying matches early next month.

David O'Leary, the Villa manager, has the option of using Mark Delaney or Ulises de la Cruz on Sunday. Delaney has just returned to action with the reserve team, having recovered from a knee injury, but might need at least another week before playing in a Premiership match.

O'Leary said: "It is a blow because he has been a good solid player for us but it is something that needed doing. He had the operation and we are hoping, with the international break, he will be back for the Birmingham game. I don't know whether that is possible, it's too early to say, but that is the target."

O'Leary is without Kevin Phillips, Gavin McCann and Martin Laursen, meaning that the Villa squad is already under pressure. Ideally, O'Leary would not want to take a risk with Delaney. "It still might be too soon because he has been out a long time," the Villa manager said.

Phillips, the former England striker, is also ruled out until the match against Birmingham. He sustained the calf injury during the warmup before the match at home against Tottenham Hotspur 11 days ago.

McCann is likely to be back in November after sustaining a knee problem, while Eirik Bakke, on loan from Leeds United, is also on the mend after injury.

Despite some progress, Phillips learnt this week that he will definitely miss the Middlesbrough match.

"I am stepping up my workload but there is no chance of me being for for Sunday," Phillips said. "I had my injury re-scanned and it showed it is mending well. I am moving in the right direction and I will definitely be fit for the Birmingham game.

"It has been a frustrating start to the season for me, what with missing the Manchester United game with a side strain and now this. Touch wood, I can now go through the rest of the season injury-free."

Gareth Barry aims to emulate Lee Hendrie by earning a testimonial. The 24-year-old England international, who is under contract with Villa until 2008, made his debut in


"A testimonial was mentioned in the negotiations," Barry said. "The chairman said nothing would be written in but if it comes to that stage and I'm still here and still want one, then there wouldn't be a problem.

"If we get there, I'm sure the chairman will be good enough to offer me one. It makes it an even better achievement because there are so few players in today's game getting testimonials.

"There's only something like one a year being played now it seems and it would be a good achievement and very satisfying to do it as a club as big as Villa."

Alpay Ozalan, the former Villa defender, has clashed with Uwe Rapolder, his coach with FC Koln, over a difference of opinion over international selection.

Alpay has made the Turkey squad for the friendly match against Germany and the World Cup qualifying match against Albania.

The centre back, whose relationship with Villa deteriorated in 2002 after he revealed erratic behaviour, has played just twice this season because of injury but has enraged his club manager by agreeing to join up with his national side.

Rapolder called Alpay, aged 32, to a meeting where the player outlined his desire to help his country qualify for the 2006 World Cup.

"If I am fit, I am allowed to go," Alpay said. "I am fit so I am going."

Clubs must release players for international duty unless they are injured but Rapolder claims that Alpay should not be allowed to travel as his summer signing has not been fit since joining the club.