Football: Pleat torpedoes Gray deal

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DAVID PLEAT, unhappy when Luton sold Mick Harford last August to bolster their perpetually flagging finances, yesterday vetoed the veteran striker's return to Kenilworth Road in a part-exchange that would have taken his top scorer Phil Gray to Chelsea, writes Phil Shaw.

Pleat and the club's chief executive, David Kohler, had a heated 90-minute meeting in which the Luton manager vented his anger over the deal. He is understood to have argued against trading a 24-year-old for a player of 34, albeit one he has bought twice before for Luton, and to have complained about a lack of consultation.

Luton and Chelsea had agreed a move in which Gray, a Northern Ireland international, was valued at pounds 500,000 and Harford at pounds 300,000. Tottenham, Gray's previous club, are entitled to 30 per cent of any sell-on fee in excess of pounds 275,000. This would have left Luton to bank only pounds 132,500 for a prized asset.

Pleat called off his Friday press briefing, leaving his assistant, John Moore, to comment: 'He is saying nothing today. I think he has had a bellyful of the in-fighting.'

Kohler emerged to say: 'We have reached our decision because the deal was not right for Luton Town.' In a fresh twist last night, he claimed that there had never been a deal as such, merely 'the sort of chat you every day of the week' with his opposite number at Stamford Bridge, Ken Bates.

However, the willingness of Chelsea's new manager, David Webb, to offload Harford, may now revive Aston Villa's interest. Webb rejected Ron Atkinson's offer of pounds 150,000 last week. However, sources close to Luton do not rule out Harford's returning for a third spell, possibly as player-manager.