Football: Forest deny Atkinson rumours

THE NOTTINGHAM Forest chief executive, Phil Soar, has dismissed speculation that Ron Atkinson, the former Aston Villa and Sheffield Wednesday manager, is poised to take over as manager at the City Ground.

Dave Bassett's future as the Forest manager is uncertain - the club have gone a record 17 Premier League games without a win, and there was speculation around the City Ground that the former Wimbledon and Sheffield United manager was about to resign after Forest's humiliating FA Cup defeat at the hands of Portsmouth on Saturday. However, Soar said yesterday: "As far as I'm concerned the manager's position remains unchanged. I know nothing about Ron Atkinson."

Michael Owen has been defended against accusations of diving by the Port Vale centre-back he tormented in Liverpool's FA Cup third-round win.

Liverpool's teenaged forward was booed by Vale fans who claimed he made a meal of a penalty area challenge during the 3-0 victory, but Vale's Paul Beesley insists it was only the England player's phenomenal speed which made it look like a dive. "If I had to face him every week, I'd be grey. He doesn't dive, he's just so damned quick it looks that way," the 33-year-old Vale defender said.

Owen won the penalty, scored it himself, and created the third for Robbie Fowler.

The Aston Villa manager, John Gregory, yesterday admitted his side were missing Dwight Yorke, the striker they sold to Manchester United, but is hoping Paul Merson can fill the void as the Premiership title race gathers pace. Merson is back in training after having an injection to ease the back problem he has been suffering for the past three months.

Gregory said: "We are still missing Dwight Yorke at times. There were times last year when Dwight won us matches away from home when we were under the cosh.

"Paul Merson is very similar. He can do the same sort of thing. You never know with back problems what can happen, but he seems okay."

Lee Sharpe yesterday became David Platt's first signing as Sampdoria manager when he joined the Italian club on loan for the rest of the season. The Leeds winger, put on the transfer list by the Elland Road manager, David O'Leary, last year, has moved to the Serie A club with a view to a permanent transfer.

Sharpe, a former England international, together with Tomas Brolin, was the Yorkshire club's record signing, costing the then manager, Howard Wilkinson, pounds 4.5m when he moved from Manchester United in 1996. However, a serious knee injury set him back and even when he was fit, he fell out of favour with George Graham and then O'Leary.

The Everton manager, Walter Smith, is interested in taking the Celtic striker Simon Donnelly to Goodison Park. The former Rangers manager is hoping to open discussions with Donnelly, who is out of contract in the summer.

Smith could offer a nominal fee to Celtic for Donnelly of around pounds 300,000 to sign him now or wait until he is a free agent.

The former Crystal Palace midfielder Darren Pitcher is taking legal action against Huddersfield Town and their former defender, Paul Reid.

The lawsuit has been filed after a challenge between the players in the match at the McAlpine Stadium on 31 August 31, 1996, which left Pitcher with damaged cruciate ligaments.

Two months ago, the Bradford City striker Gordon Watson won a High Court claim for negligence against Huddersfield and their defender Kevin Gray after Watson suffered a broken leg in a First Division match. Huddersfield insist they will defend any action in the case of Reid.