Aston Villa lead Everton in race to sign Beattie

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The Independent Football

Aston Villa have emerged as the favourites to sign James Beattie after Newcastle United distanced themselves from the Southampton striker.

Although St James' Park is believed to be Beattie's preferred destination, the Newcastle manager, Graeme Souness, yesterday dismissed suggestions he was seen as Alan Shearer's long-term replacement. This leaves the field clear for means a straight fight between Aston Villa and Everton for the services of the 26-year-old.

The Aston Villa manager, David O'Leary, is entitled to consider himself in pole position. He was very close to landing Beattie in the August transfer window and would have done so had the deal given Southampton enough time to find a replacement. Villa have offered some £750,000 more than the £6m bid put forward by Everton - a figure that the board at Goodison Park is reluctant to exceed.

Although the Everton manager, David Moyes, has a January transfer budget of at least £10m, he would prefer not to spend the bulk of it on a single player. There has also been concern expressed lest Beattie's sometimes volatile temperament upset the balance of a squad which has taken a club tipped for relegation to a Champions' League spot. Newcastle had expressed an interest in signing Beattie in the summer, although their then manager, Sir Bobby Robson, found himself overruled by his chairman, Freddy Shepherd, who believed that Patrick Kluivert represented better value as he would not require a transfer fee.

If the Southampton chairman, Rupert Lowe, strikes a deal with Villa, it will not be without its ironies, since Lowe demanded a Premier League inquiry into O'Leary's conduct following allegations that he "tapped" Beattie during the summer. These objections are likely to be quietly forgotten, if the price is right.

However, with Redknapp wanting to use the fee for "two defenders, a couple of midfielders and perhaps a forward" it is vital for Southampton to open negotiations as quickly as possible. O'Leary, who presented the board at Villa Park with Beattie's name and three other transfer targets, expects talks before the official opening of the transfer window on Saturday. The one certain winner in the negotiations are Blackburn, who will receive 20 per cent of any fee because of a sell-on clause in the striker's contract.

* Leeds have turned down an offer from an unnamed Premiership club for their highly-rated goalkeeper Scott Carson. The 19-year-old, who had been linked with a move to Liverpool, impressed when he deputised for Paul Robinson last season, but Neil Sullivan has been first choice this season.