Football: No bad blood over Wise tackle, says Gregory

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The Independent Online
BRIAN LAUDRUP seems gone but not forgotten, Pierre van Hooijdonk is back but not forgiven, Dion Dublin is going but not to Blackburn, and Paul Gascoigne returns - but will it be long before all hell breaks loose around him once again?

Gascoigne and Van Hooijdonk have to wait until tomorrow's match at the Riverside to resume their associations with Middlesbrough and Nottingham Forest respectively following self-imposed exiles, although both may have to wait even longer for a playing role.

The fact that Laudrup is in Chelsea's squad at all today for Aston Villa's second visit to Stamford Bridge in four days is mildly surprising, to say the least. Having declared his intention to return to Copenhagen as soon as possible, Laudrup was widely assumed to have played his last game for the Blues. But Gianluca Vialli has decided to let Laudrup have his Danish and eat it.

The Chelsea player-manager might have been forgiven for welcoming the chance to ease his selection headaches with four other international strikers to choose from, one of whom scored a hat-trick in the 4-1 trouncing of Villa in the Worthington Cup, although leaving himself out will probably cause Vialli less grief than any other solution.

Villa have so far managed to avoid the four "big guns" in the league but, with indifferent early-season form behind them, Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea themselves are now hovering like vultures over the Villans and this will be the first genuine test of their Championship credentials. On Wednesday, Villa's lack of depth was embarrassingly exposed by an equally depleted Chelsea side, but the return today of the two Gareths - Southgate and Barry - Lee Hendrie, Paul Merson and Stan Collymore should provide a more accurate gauge of their ability.

John Gregory insisted yesterday there is no bad blood between the sides following an ill-tempered finale to Wednesday night's game in which Dennis Wise was ordered off for a two-footed tackle on Darren Byfield. "Generally we get on very well with the Chelsea people and nothing has changed so far as we are concerned," the Villa manager said.

One man Gregory is hoping to add to his squad, or at least be given permission to talk to, is Dublin who has the dubious distinction of being sent to Coventry by Coventry, as Gordon Strachan's men attempt to recover from the midweek disaster against Luton and prepare for the visit of the champions.

Arsene Wenger fielded a complete second string which was still good enough for Arsenal to overcome Derby County in the Worthington Cup, while Manchester United adopted the same policy and struggled to beat Bury. Both will be back to near-full strength today, United for the tricky trip to Goodison Park to meet an Everton side who may be yet to score at home this season but are now unbeaten in 10 matches.

Liverpool also face a difficult away day at Filbert Street, where there are no signs of Leicester City's confidence being undermined by Martin O'Neill's dilly-dallying. Muzzy Izzet is in outstanding form in the centre of Leicester's midfield and Liverpool's odd couple, Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier, must once again perm two strikers from Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen and Karlheinz Riedle, each of whom has been rested in Liverpool's last three matches.

David O'Leary, who benefited from O'Neill's decision to stay at Leicester, travels to Pride Park with Leeds United for his first Premiership game as a fully paid-up manager. There he will encounter the longest-serving manager of all, Jim Smith, whose Derby side have lost their way for the time being with just one point from their last four games.

Julian Dicks, a remarkably accomplished golfer, looks like spending more time on the fairways than on the pitch this season after being told by West Ham's manager Harry Redknapp that he is no longer an automatic choice, following last weekend's 4-2 defeat at Charlton. By all accounts the 30- year-old defender, who only returned this season after 18 months out with a knee injury, had a shocker at left wing-back.

"There is still a place for him at West Ham, but he's not going to be a regular any more and I don't know if he is going to be happy with that situation," Redknapp said. "It's not for me to say whether he will carry on but I will help him in any way I can. He is just finding it too difficult to do the job. It means a fair bit of running and he just cannot do it any more."

Dicks himself has expressed a preference for playing as a centre-back, but that is unlikely to happen at Newcastle today.

The week's two biggest signings may come face to face at Selhurst Park where Blackburn will be parading their pounds 4.25m capture from Bolton, Nathan Blake. Wimbledon, who were close to signing the Welshman a month ago, will have their new winger, Gareth Ainsworth, at their disposal, a snip at pounds 2m from Robbie Earle's Alma Mater, Port Vale.

And in the day's basement bargain, Sheffield Wednesday are so underwhelmed by the prospect of Southampton's visit they are giving away 10,000 tickets for the game at Hillsborough. Now, Southampton may be bad, but surely...

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