Football: Villa make approach for pounds 5m Ferguson

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Everton's unpredictable striker, Duncan Ferguson, is a surprise pounds 5m target for Aston Villa. The Villa manager, Brian Little, and his assistant, Allan Evans, watched the Scot in action at the weekend and have made an approach to Everton. Ferguson has had a mixed season at Goodison Park, scoring spectacular goals but turning in some disappointing displays, too.

His manager, Joe Royle, could be persuaded to sell, especially at a profit, but the only problem is the timing of the deal with Everton still under the threat of relegation. Royle's transfer targets are Manchester United's Andy Cole and Liverpool's Stan Collymore.

The Football Association will replace the referee Mike Reed for next week's Premiership match between Chelsea and Leicester - if asked to do so by the police.

Reed caused anger among Leicester supporters when he awarded a disputed late penalty to Chelsea in last week's FA Cup fifth-round tie between the clubs and his car was attacked on the way home to Birmingham.

Police are concerned about possible repercussions and the safety of Reed in the return League game, although they have no power to order a change of match official. The FA says it has had no formal request either. Part of the area normally allocated for away fans at Stamford Bridge is in the vicinity of the players' tunnel and Reed's safety could be put in jeopardy. Leicester have raised no objection to Reed being in charge.

Steve Double, a spokesman for the FA, said: "If the police asked us to change the match official it would be likely that we would heed their request."

West Ham's 18-year-old central defender, Rio Ferdinand, has signed a five-year contract with the club that ties him to Upton Park until June 2002. Ferdinand is a cousin of the Newcastle and England striker Les Ferdinand.

The Derby County manager, Jim Smith, is trying to sign two Costa Rican internationals. Smith played the midfielder Mauricio Solis and the striker Paulo Wanchope in a reserve game yesterday and is keen to sign the pair. Both Solis and Wanchope have enough caps to obtain work permits.

Middlesbrough are open to offers for the former Manchester United goalkeeper Gary Walsh. The 29-year-old is no longer first-choice keeper following the pounds 1.25m signing of Mark Schwarzer from Bradford.