Football: Rival for Murdoch, not for Shearer

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LEADING American investment bankers Salomon Smith Barney have denied a report that they are ready to gazump BSkyB and launch a pounds 700m takeover bid for Manchester United. They were said to be having talks with United's financial advisers, HSBC Holdings, and the club would be legally bound to consider any new offer of greater value than BSkyB's pounds 623m bid.

A spokesman for the bankers said: "Salomon Smith Barney are not lodging a counter-bid for United." They are a subsidiary of Travelers Group, whose web site boasts of 115bn in assets and 10bn in equity capital. BSkyB in turn insist they are "very confident" that their offer will be successful. A spokesman said: "We have received undertakings from the directors of Manchester United who control 17 per cent of the shares to sell them to BSkyB. In addition, BSkyB bought nine per cent of the shares of United on Friday."

According to another report today Japanese electronics giant Sony have targeted Newcastle in a pounds 220m bid, saying representatives have already held preliminary talks.

Meanwhile, back on the football pitch - you remember, green sward, ball, 22 men - United beat Coventry City 2-0 at Old Trafford thanks to goals by new signing Dwight Yorke and Ronny Johnsen.

After last weekend's abject failure in Stockholm, the rough and tumble of Premiership action proved more to the liking of the England international strikers Alan Shearer and Paul Merson. Shearer scored twice for Newcastle United in their 4-0 demolition of Southampton.

Although achieved against the top flight's worst defence, reduced to 10 men when Jason Dodd was sent off, the scoreline did suggest a return to the "sexy" football promised by their new manager Ruud Gullit. "Playing against 10 men is always very difficult," Gullit said. "I played against nine in a game last year and couldn't score a goal. Our first-half performance was very, very pleasing to see. We are playing more progressive football."

Shearer got his first goal of the Premiership season when he was first to the ball after Paul Jones spilled Temur Ketsbaia's shot. "If the keeper got there the second time he might have gone into the net along with the ball," Shearer quipped. Or perhaps he wasn't joking. He declined to accept a hat-trick when the Magpies' third went in. "No it wasn't my goal. If you saw it on TV you'll know it wasn't - it was an own goal. You could tell it wasn't my goal because I didn't celebrate."

Merson opened his Aston Villa account after the acrimonious transfer from Middlesbrough when he drove in the rebound after Neil Sullivan parried a penalty against Wimbledon after the Dons had Carl Leaburn sent off. Ian Taylor made it 2-0 as Villa went top.

Reports, pages 3, 5 and 6