Leeds to offer Hart short-term contract

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Leeds United want to talk to Paul Hart about becoming their new manager - and hope to have a meeting with him in the next 24 hours.

The Elland Road club yesterday confirmed that Peter Reid's tenure had ended after just 20 games in charge and appointed Eddie Gray manager on a caretaker basis, assisted by Kevin Blackwell, the chief coach.

Leeds have lost their last four Premiership matches, the latest being Saturday's 6-1 drubbing at Portsmouth and a club statement announcing Reid's departure read: "The recent run of results has clearly been unacceptable. The board therefore concluded that it has a duty to act now.

"Notwithstanding financial constraints, Leeds United are determined to return to their place as one of the top clubs in England and are looking to appoint a new manager who will reflect this determination."

Hart, now the manager of Nottingham Forest, was a highly successful youth team coach at Leeds, but the job offer could be even less attractive than Leeds' Premiership position and financial problems suggest.

The club, now bottom of the Premiership, are in such a panic that Hart will be asked to take the job on a short-term contract until the end of the season. Leeds, who are around £80m in debt, are so concerned about the threat of relegation to the First Division that it is unlikely any applicant will be offered a longer-term option.

Hart is expected to accept the challenge on that basis because he cannot see Forest advancing much further after the sale of some leading players. Although Hart is the front-runner, Southampton's Gordon Strachan, Leicester City's Micky Adams, Sheffield United's Neil Warnock, and the former Leeds manager George Graham could also be in the frame.

The Leeds chief executive, Trevor Birch, met Reid yesterday to tell him of the board's decision to terminate his contract. Bizarrely, the "secret" meeting was held in front of bemused rugby league players and media.

The 47-year-old Reid, who became the 19th managerial dismissal this season, was summoned to meet Birch at a hotel in Worsley, just a few miles from his Lancashire home. The venue was chosen because it was miles away from the waiting press pack at Elland Road and the club's Thorpe Arch training ground. However, it is also the headquarters for the Great Britain rugby league team, who were holding a press conference there before this weekend's second Test with Australia.

Leeds' most recent accounts, published last month, showed that the club has already agreed compensation pay-offs totalling £5.7m with former members of staff, including the managers David O'Leary and Terry Venables, and Peter Ridsdale, the former chief executive. Ridsdale received £383,000 in severance pay and Stephen Harrison, the former finance director £224,000. Reid is understood to have walked away with £600,000, which the club will pay in instalments.

Reid took over from Terry Venables in March with orders to keep Leeds in the top flight. He was given the manager's job on a full-time basis in May after escaping relegation on the final day of the campaign, but in the summer had to be content with bringing in seven players on loan deals. Jody Morris was the only permanent arrival from Chelsea. In July, Reid was forced to sell Harry Kewell to Liverpool for £5m in order to service the club's debts.

His most recent problem, in addition to poor results, has been a falling-out with the club's Australian striker Mark Viduka, a relationship that the new manager - Leeds' fourth in 18 months - will have to repair.

The chairman of the Leeds Independent Fans' Association, Simon Jose, said "I don't know whether any decision this club takes any more is the right one. The whole thing is a mess.

"I suppose I feel a bit sorry for Reid, but I don't think there was a lot of choice. The players are not motivated and the tactics are wrong."