Football: Dublin's neck injury could have left him crippled

THE ASTON VILLA manager, John Gregory, has said that striker Dion Dublin came within millimetres of ending up in a wheelchair when he broke his neck against Sheffield Wednesday on Saturday.

Dublin, who broke bones in his vertebrae in a clash with the Sheffield Wednesday substitute Gerald Sibon, will be out for up to three months, but the outcome for the 13-goal club leading scorer would have been far more serious had the vertebrae been severed.

"It is a major, major blow losing Dion Dublin but it hardly compares to the stark reality of the situation which is that he could have been in a wheelchair - that's how bad the injury was," Gregory said.

"I thought he had just taken a knock on the head and would be suffering from concussion. But when I went into the dressing-room after the game and saw that Dion, physio Jim Walker and the club doctor weren't there, it was then I realised how bad the situation was. It was very serious and Jim said he was gob-smacked by the complexity of the operation.

"It's been said in the past that football is more important than life but something like this puts that statement into perspective. There are certainly things which are far more important than being able to kick a bag of wind around.

"Dion's football career will last until he is 35 or so but he's got another 50 years after that - and we don't want them blighted by injury. But, thank God, Dion is now walking around and watching TV. He is coming along fine."

Southampton have signed the Latvian international Imant Bleidelis on a three-and-a-half-year contract, subject to a work permit. Saints have worked out a deal with Skonto Riga and the 24-year-old midfielder has agreed personal terms. Provided Bleidelis is granted a work permit he will link up with his compatriot Marian Pahars at The Dell.

The outgoing Leicester City plc chairman, Phil Smith, has accused boardroom rivals Sir Rodney Walker and John Elsom of hiding behind the Leicester manager, Martin O'Neill, after conceding defeat in the club power struggle.

Smith and his fellow directors Gilbert Kinch and Roy Parker resigned ahead of tomorrow's EGM after it became clear that Elsom, the football club chairman, and Walker, the plc chief, were heading for a landslide victory.

"It does not appear to matter that Sir Rodney Walker and John Elsom have offered no reasonable explanation either for the Worthington Cup tickets fiasco," Smith said. "They have instead chosen to hide behind the support of Martin O'Neill, who has left no-one in doubt as to his position and the possible consequences if we had won the vote. At no time has Martin O'Neill told us any concrete reasons as to why he is not able to work with us."