Football: Little's rule is over at Stoke

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BRIAN LITTLE has resigned as manager of Stoke City.

Little arrived at the Britannia Stadium in May 1998 and Stoke had a flying start to last season, winning their opening eight Second Division games. But their form slumped before Christmas and they eventually finished in eighth place in the table, missing the play-offs by seven points.

Little, who quit Aston Villa in February 1998, has been linked with the vacant manager's post at Nottingham Forest. Stoke's chief executive, Jez Moxey, confirmed that Little had resigned for "personal reasons".

"We have accepted the manager's resignation with immediate effect," Moxey added. "But Brian has not lost his appetite for the game and is now free to seek his footballing career elsewhere." John Rudge, who lost his job as manager of Stoke's neighbours, Port Vale, las season, is a leading candidate to replace Little. Other contenders may include Bobby Gould and Terry Yorath.

Another man linked with the Forest vacancy, Martin O'Neill, has ended speculation by committing himself to remain as Leicester City's manager until 2002.

Birmingham City's manager Trevor Francis has also ended queries over his future by signing a new three-year contract which will tie him to the club until 2002.

The former Sunderland manager, Malcolm Crosby, has been confirmed as Derby's first-team coach. He had been assistant manager at West Bromwich. He replaces Ray Harford, who left the Rams this week by mutual consent.

The Norwegian international defender Gunnar Halle has become Bradford City's first signing of the summer in a pounds 200,000 move from Leeds. Huddersfield Town have bought the central defender Chris Lucketti from Bury for pounds 750,000.