Date: 10th November 2007 at 1:02pm
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Former Blues captain Ian Atkins has backed Liam Ridgewell to deal with whatever abuse Aston Villa fans throw at him during the Birmingham derby tomorrow – but admitted he may have problems if Martin O’Neill recalls Norwegian striker John Carew to his starting line-up.

Atkins, like many fans and pundits, has been impressed with 23-year-old Ridgewell since the defender moved from Villa Park, and away from long-ball tactics, for around £2million in the summer.

However, despite all of the hard work and effort Ridgewell put in for Villa during his six years with the club, there is little doubt the visiting fans will give him the sort of abuse that should be reserved for mass murderers – not professional players who made a career move in order to earn a wage.

Atkins was quoted in the Birmingham Mail as saying: “He’s won them over because of his performances. He’s just knuckled down and getting the captaincy has made him more aware of his duties. Sometimes that can keep you on top of your game.

“What’s always been levelled is that he’s got a mistake in him. But so has Rio Ferdinand, and he plays for England, one of the best club sides in the world and cost £30million.

“Olof Mellberg has got a mistake in him, a lot of players have. Yes, there might be lapses of concentration, but he’s no different to any centre-half.”

Atkins also had a dig at one of Martin O’Neill’s more questionable transfer moves (and there isn’t a shortage of questionable O’Neill transfers!) by asking whether £3million Zat Knight is any better than Ridgewell (note: he’s clearly not!).

However, the suggestion that Ridgewell may struggle against the tall and physical John Carew may or may not be a fair point. While Carew does have the physical presence to put the Birmingham defence under pressure, the fact of the matter is he is not a very good striker.

In fact, Villa are currently suffering from a shortage of goals – and whether bringing the injury-prone Carew, who has yet to show he is any better than Milan Baros, the man he replaced, would be a good move for O’Neill is something the former Northern Ireland international will have to decide.