Football: Collymore frustrated at fringe status

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STAN COLLYMORE, Aston Villa's record signing, has spelt out his disappointment at having only a "bit part" to play in manager John Gregory's current plans. The pounds 7m signing from Liverpool is concerned that his "peripheral" role is wrecking his chances of resurrecting his England career.

Gregory said last week that Collymore was "winning me over" with his attitude and commitment despite being unable to dislodge the Dion Dublin- Julian Joachim striking partnership. But that is little consolation to Collymore, who believes he deserves a place in the starting line-up at what he feels is the peak time of his career.

Collymore enjoyed a rich vein of form in the pre-Christmas period but his sending-off against Liverpool and a subsequent injury have cost him his place in the starting line-up.

"I've scored twice in the last four games and even in the times when I've come on as a substitute I have made a difference," Collymore said. "Seven goals in nine full appearances would be enough to get into a lot of sides. I have looked at the statistics for the various partnerships and when I've played with Dion Dublin he has scored goals and, when I've played with Julian Joachim, so has he.

"It's down to the manager because he picks the team but it is very disappointing for me at the moment not to be getting into the side when I feel I'm playing well enough to warrant a place and to be influential. It's a case of having to deal with it. I've done nothing wrong and I can't see what more I am expected to do.

"The disappointing thing for me is that by being overlooked week in and week out means it is becoming more and more obvious that I am a peripheral figure - and I've never been that in my career. That is something, if the situation goes on, that I will have to look at. It is making me take a step back in the England reckoning.

"Glenn Hoddle was at the Everton game on Monday but it doesn't matter if I'm sitting on the bench."

Middlesbrough yesterday confirmed the career of their Italian striker Marco Branca is over. The former Internazionale player has made just one appearance as a substitute for the Teesside club this season after damaging a knee in April last year, and has been back in his own country battling for fitness since the summer. Boro admitted yesterday that he will not return to Premiership football.

John Hartson has vowed to return to his aggressive old ways in a bid to recapture his best form. The pounds 7.5m striker is hoping that his move to Wimbledon to will put his career back on track after a poor first half to this season.

Hartson believes a get-tough policy is the right way for him to re-establish himself as one of the best frontmen in the Premiership.

"Now I'm at Wimbledon, I want to get back to my best, putting myself about," the 23-year-old former West Ham striker said. "I think that in the past, when I was getting booked a lot and I was flying around, that was when I was playing at my best. When I haven't been putting myself about, I haven't been at my best because I'm not the same player. Aggression is a big part of my game and I'm not going to lose that."

Wales will, after all, have the chance to play Denmark in Cardiff. The last obstacle has been removed to Wales' desire to switch the European Championship match with the Danes on 9 June from Anfield to Ninian Park.

The Danish Football Association has confirmed that it is very unlikely to raise any objections to the change. Stjerne Hansen, the Danish FA's general secretary said: "If Wales want to play the match in Wales, there's not much we can do to stop them."

The Fifa Fair Play prize for 1998 has been awarded jointly to the national associations of Iran, the United States and Northern Ireland.

Sepp Blatter, the president of the world sport's governing body, said the joint-award was proof of football's role as a mediating force.

The Fifa Fair Play prize for France 98, jointly won by England and France, will also be presented at a gala evening in Barcelona on 1 February.