Football: Townsend joins Middlesbrough

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Andy Townsend has joined Middlesbrough in a pounds 500,000 transfer from Aston Villa. The 34-year-old Republic of Ireland international has signed a two-year contract. Townsend, who is available for today's game at Tranmere, trained with his new team-mates yesterday.

"Andy is an experienced international footballer with exceptional qualities," Middlesbrough's manager, Bryan Robson, said. "We are very fortunate to have acquired someone of Andy's talent and status. Signing him shows our ambition and ability to attract top players."

Townsend, who has 70 caps, was a regular for Aston Villa last season, joins another surprising Boro capture, Paul Merson, who left Arsenal to go north during the summer.

"I might be 34 but this is a great new challenge for me," Townsend said. "The North-east is an exciting place to be playing football just now."

The final place in the Football Task Force's working group is to be filled by Robbie Earle, the Wimbledon midfielder. The group is taking evidence, analysing it and forming preliminary conclusions which will be presented to the full Task Force for subsequent submission to the Minister for Sport.

"I am delighted Robbie is in our line-up," the Task Force's head, David Mellor, said. "He is a fine footballer and a very fluent thinker. Working on the Task Force will broaden his horizons and he will certainly broaden ours."

Mark Robins, Leicester City's 27-year-old striker, had dropped down to the First Division, joining Reading on a month's loan. He cost Leicester pounds 1m when he joined them from Norwich in January 1995.

Brighton's chairman-elect, Dick Knight, said yesterday that he plans to continue the search for a new home for the Third Division club after the Football League rejected plans to switch their groundshare from Gillingham to Millwall.

Portsmouth yesterday won the first leg of their High Court attempt to solve their goalkeeping problems. Mr Justice Ognall granted them leave to bring judicial review proceedings concerning the Department of Employment's decision to deny Australian keeper Zeljko Kalac a work permit.