Football: Merson has ban cut to booking

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The Independent Online
THE MIDDLESBROUGH midfielder Paul Merson has won his appeal against a pre-season sending-off in the Netherlands, after the Football Association agreed to reduce his three-match ban to a booking.

Merson and the Middlesbrough manager, Bryan Robson, attended an FA hearing in London yesterday with video evidence to back up their claim for wrongful dismissal during the game against Heerenveen.

The FA's disciplinary committee agreed that the match referee should only have booked Merson instead of giving him a red card, and the England international is now available to play for Boro at home to Derby on Saturday.

The FA press officer, Steve Double, said: "Paul Merson's claim for wrongful dismissal has been accepted and his three-match ban has now been reduced to a caution." The decision is unlikely to please Chelsea's captain, Dennis Wise, who was given a three-match ban by the FA after his pre-season sending- off for violent conduct against Atletico Madrid.

The Leicester City manager, Martin O'Neill, is ready to sign the Belgian right-back, Olivier Suray, from Standard Liege. The former Charleroi player flew in to play for Leicester's reserves at Preston last night, and is expected to tie up a deal this week. He is available on a free transfer under the Bosman ruling.

Aston Villa have vowed not to rush into frittering away manager John Gregory's pounds 30m transfer kitty on glamorous big-name signings.

Villa are flush following the sale of Dwight Yorke, to Manchester United, and David Unsworth, to Everton, for over pounds 15m last week. The incoming cash adds to Gregory's already burgeoning transfer funds, but the club's secretary-director, Steve Stride, said yesterday that Villa will not be rushed into gambling the money on expensive foreign signings.

"I know all the rage is for big, sexy signings, like the ones Chelsea have made," Stride said. "But they haven't won a game yet. And you miss them for two weeks in January because they have to travel halfway around the world to play for their countries."

Gregory added: "Ever since the Dwight business finished last week I've had the names thrown at me.

"There's a member of the World Cup-winning French team being touted around. But the last thing he is going to want to do this year is come to an English club he probably knows very little about and have to work his socks off just to get a place in the team. He's looking for a nice comfy season somewhere like many of them do - and it won't be with us."

However, one key man Gregory may have to do without next season is the Australian goalkeeper, Mark Bosnich. The Villa manager believes Bosnich will quit the club next summer unless they can secure a place in the Champions' League.

Gregory said: "I personally think Bosnich will want to leave in the summer for mega-money somewhere. The only reason he will stop is if we have a good season and are among the top teams. If we're not in the top two in the Premiership or don't win a cup, then we don't stand a chance of keeping him."

West Bromwich Albion are giving trials to the two Grenadan internationals: the Caribbean country's captain Franklyn Baptiste and the utility player Anthony Modeste.

This summer, the Baggies' manager, Denis Smith, has already signed the Italian midfielders Enzo Maresca and Mario Bortolazzi and the Dutch striker Fabian De Freitas. Modeste, 22, has already started training, while the central defender Baptiste will fly in to link-up with the club next week.

The Scotland manager, Craig Brown, faces a familiar dilemma going in to the qualifying matches for the 2000 European Championship.

Brown names his squad today for the opening match against Lithuania in Vilnius a week on Saturday. However, he is no nearer finding the perfect striking partnership.

Kevin Gallacher will almost certainly play, even though he is no longer a regular at Blackburn Rovers. Who will partner him is a different matter, as Gordon Durie is ruled out with a serious ankle injury. Simon Donnelly, Darren Jackson and perhaps Billy Dodds could all come into the reckoning.

Brown will also have to juggle his midfield as Craig Burley is suspended after being sent off against Morocco in the World Cup finals. Scot Gemmill is also unlikely to figure as he is still in dispute with his club, Nottingham Forest. That could open the door for the likes of Steve Fulton, who has been outstanding for Hearts, and David Hopkin of Leeds.

Scotland's "senior citizens" in defence are all approaching the end of their international careers, but Brown is reluctant to make sweeping changes. However, Fulton's Tynecastle team-mate, Gary Naysmith, is pushing for a place at left wing-back while the Wimbledon goalkeeper Neil Sullivan could be selected in preference to the 40-year-old Jim Leighton.