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By ESPN Staff

New contract for Villa defender Ridgewell

Liam Ridgewell has been rewarded with a new three-year deal at the club following his impressive season at the heart of Aston Villa's depleted defence.

The 21-year-old was not a first-choice centre-back for Villa a year ago but injuries to Martin Laursen, Mark Delaney and skipper Olof Mellberg meant he started 33 games last season.

The England Under-21 international has now set his sights on a regular place in David O'Leary's starting line-up next season.

'I am relishing fighting for my place,' Ridgewell said. 'It's the same for every player at the start of every new season.

'I'm definitely up for the challenge. I must make sure I'm the first choice when the campaign gets under way.'

Ridgewell gave away four penalties in five games prior to Christmas but his form recovered towards the end of the campaign, with two strikes in his last three games taking his tally to five for the season.

'One of the things in my favour is my goals ratio,' Ridgewell added on official website,

'I scored five goals last term, which I was pleased with. It's part of my game and gives the gaffer an added reason to pick me.

'I love scoring goals and will be looking to improve on my tally next season. It's up to me to be in the right place at the right time.'

His impressive displays led to praise from manager O'Leary - 'he has a great character about him', said the Villa boss - and ultimately led to negotiations for a contract while the young defender was away on holiday.

'My agent has been negotiating while I've been away in Dubai so it was a wonderful thing to come back to,' Ridgewell added.

'I can have a good summer now, knowing my future is secure. It was a difficult season but I learnt a lot from a personal point of view. I didn't expect to play as many games as I did so I was delighted to get that experience under my belt.

'The next thing I am looking at is pre-season and the start of the new campaign.'

O'Leary has been impressed with the character of Ridgewell, adding: 'Liam has stood up and has been counted. All of last season he was playing with different partners and did really well.

'One thing I noticed when I first came to club was one of his strengths was his gritty determination, the will to win and that's a very strong asset.'

Gary Cahill has also signed a new three-year deal at Villa, ending speculation surrounding his future at the club.

The 20-year-old centre-back appeared six times for Villa last season and scored with a spectacular overhead kick against rivals Birmingham.