Form will favour us in derby, says Bruce

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And he believes fit-again striker Chris Sutton could have a major part to play in ensuring City hold onto their Barclays Premiership status for a fifth successive season.

Sutton came in for praise from Bruce for his performance in the 1-1 draw at Wigan last weekend after recovering from injury.

Bruce said: "Sutton came here from Celtic in January and we won two and drew one out of four games before he unfortunately got injured.

"He is a big-game player for us and he caused Wigan all sorts of problems with his sheer presence last weekend.

"When we are in the situation we find ourselves in, you need people like that on your side and we hope after getting a good hour out of him that he will stay fit for the remainder of the season."

Villa will be looking to complete a double over Blues after Kevin Phillips' goal settled the first meeting earlier in the campaign.

But the doom and gloom that surrounded St Andrews after the 7-0 FA Cup mauling by Liverpool three weeks ago has lifted after collecting five points from clashes with Chelsea, Bolton and the Latics.

Bruce said: "We are definitely on the front foot going into the derby. It is going to be a huge game. It has got a bit more spice added to it because of where the teams are in the league.

"But at the right time it looks like we've got a bit of momentum going.

"We had a very good week with five points from three games and only one goal conceded. It was a terrific response from everyone and let's hope we can keep that momentum going against Villa."

Bruce could have central defender Matthew Upson back in contention after he completed an hour for the reserves in midweek following two months on the sidelines with groin and pelvic problems.

But it would be tough for Bruce to leave out Martin Taylor after his fine display at the JJB Stadium.

Midfielder David Dunn is also being eased back into action after coming off the substitutes' bench to score the equaliser against Wigan and Bruce is optimistic Nicky Butt will have recovered from a hamstring setback.

Bruce said: "If I had been able to pick the 16-18 players available for the Wigan game, I know for a fact we wouldn't be in the bottom three or four.

"The unfortunate thing is we've had our big-name players missing for huge chunks of the season."