McLeish ponders Benitez option

Posted Sunday, September 13, 2009 by PA

Birmingham boss Alex McLeish is weighing up whether to hand a full Barclays Premier League debut to striker Christian Benitez in the derby with Aston Villa at St Andrews.

Benitez has impressed as a substitute since his summer move from Santos Laguna after slowly building up his fitness following a shoulder operation.

It may depend on Benitez's physical condition after returning from two World Cup qualifiers with Ecuador.

Fellow striker Cameron Jerome is again sidelined with an ankle injury while former Villa striker Kevin Phillips is likely to be amongst the substitutes against his former club.

City midfielder Lee Carsley is adamant his former Republic of Ireland team-mate Richard Dunne will not be suffering from debut nerves when he makes a derby bow for his new club Aston Villa.

Dunne, who signed for Villa in a #6million deal from Manchester City on transfer deadline day, has already been earmarked to play a key role in the plans of manager Martin O'Neill, starting with tomorrow's grudge match at St Andrew's.

Carsley knows Dunne better than most having played alongside him at international level and believes the 29-year-old centre-back will have no trouble coping with the big-match atmosphere.

The former Everton midfielder said: "Richard Dunne will not be fazed by a local derby even if it is his debut for a new club.

"He has played in big games for Ireland as well as the Manchester derbies so this should not be a problem. He is good player and he will be fine.

"Personally, I was surprised that Manchester City let him go because he is one of the best defenders I've ever played with."

New defensive duo Dunne and James Collins are both in line to make their Villa bows.

Dunne and Collins were signed for a combined #11 million from Manchester City and West Ham respectively at the end of the summer transfer window.

Curtis Davies is likely to be out until the new year after undergoing surgery on a long-term shoulder problem, while Luke Young is not yet ready to return from a pre-season thigh setback.

Striker Emile Heskey is battling to recover from the tight hamstring suffered in England's World Cup qualifier against Croatia at Wembley.

Villa newcomer Collins is bracing himself for a baptism of fire against Birmingham - and hopes tempers do not become as frayed as during his last derby experience.

Collins was an unused substitute when he witnessed the mayhem of the Carling Cup tie between West Ham and Millwall at Upton Park two and a half weeks ago when supporters clashed on the pitch.

Since then he has completed his #5million move from the Hammers to Villa.

Collins told Press Association Sport: "This has been a busy few days for me, with the move to Villa, being away with Wales and the likelihood that my debut could be the derby with Birmingham on Sunday.

"I have been concentrating on Wales for this past week but now I cannot wait to get started on a new career path with Villa for myself.

"It does not really feel like I have joined a new club yet because I signed and then was straight off to be with Wales. I can't wait to get my teeth into things and really get started with my new club.

"I can't wait for the derby. I'm aware it is a passionate derby, and something to look forward to. I'm passionate about any game I play, but derbies have a bit more spice in them, more about them."

Collins added: "The last West Ham game I was involved in was as an unused substitute in the Carling Cup tie with Millwall, and that was something of a crazy night.

"I'm sitting on the bench watching people run all over the field.

"The rivalry between West Ham and Millwall is very strong, and now I'm going straight into a midlands derby that I am told can be pretty tough too. Hopefully we don't see anything of what we saw that night."

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