Football: Fulham's denial on Keegan

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FULHAM HAVE denied suggestions that their owner, Mohamed Al Fayed, is set to offer Kevin Keegan a new three-year contract after his success in guiding the club into the First Division.

Keegan's current deal as chief operating officer runs out in the summer of 2000 when he is tipped to take on the full-time role of England coach. And Al Fayed is said to be reluctant to let down England's supporters by offering Keegan new terms at Craven Cottage.

"It [the offer] is just hearsay. Just speculation," a Fulham spokesman said yesterday. "Kevin said last night that he had six games left for Fulham this season and he reiterated his commitment to see out his contract with Fulham. That is the situation."

After earning promotion to the First Division on Tuesday night with a 3-0 victory over Gillingham, the Londoners are confident they will reach the Premiership ahead of schedule. A place in the top division was the key element of Keegan's five-year plan for the club.

"The Premiership is achievable for anyone in the First Division," the spokesman said.

Keegan spelled out the reasons why he will be staying at Fulham next season, saying he would miss the day-to-day involvement with players if he took on the England job full-time.

"I don't think you can ever get that same sort of feeling for England - England comes and goes; you've got 12 games a year. I think a lot of managers have said in the past that what they really miss is that day- to-day involvement and I suppose I would as well," he said.

The most likely scenario remains that the Football Association will allow Keegan to continue his dual role with club and country past June and into the Euro 2000 finals.

Meanwhile, Kevin Phillips has set his sights on matching the Premiership's best marksmen after shooting Sunderland back into the top flight. The 25-year-old striker's four-goal salvo in the 5-2 win at Bury on Tuesday night ensured his side's return to the top flight after an absence of two seasons. It also took him past the 20-goal mark for the season despite an injury lay-off of three and a half months.

Phillips, picked up by Peter Reid for a bargain-basement pounds 300,000 from Watford in July 1997, is now relishing the chance to prove himself against the best defences in the country. He is refusing to be overawed by the prospect of lining up against the likes of Jaap Stam, Tony Adams and Frank Leboeuf and has set a similar goal target next season.

"I set my target at 20, and the way the team has been playing at the Stadium of Light we create so many chances," he said.

Sunderland's victory at Gigg Lane may have clinched promotion, but there are still four more First Division games.

Sunderland should clinch the championship at Barnsley on Friday night when simply avoiding defeat would see their captain, Kevin Ball, presented with the trophy following the last home game of the season against Birmingham on Sunday, 9 May. Phillips has now revised his own personal aims for what is left of the season.

"I enjoy playing the games, and we want to finish the season on a high," he said. "We're up now but we still need a point to clinch the championship and we want to finish by winning every game. We want to get 100 points and score as many goals as we can."