O'Neill drops Reo-Coker after training ground row

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The Independent Football

It was not, insisted Martin O'Neill, akin to WrestleMania, but his training ground dispute with Nigel Reo-Coker was serious enough for the Aston Villa manager to send his £8.5m midfielder home yesterday and drop him from today's match with Portsmouth.

"There was a confrontation between Nigel and myself," said O'Neill, adding that such rows were not uncommmon at football clubs but were usually between players, not with managers. O'Neill continued: "There were no fisticuffs. There was no wrestling to the ground as reported in one newspaper. That was a figment of the onlooker's imagination. There was a bit of a contretemps and that is unfortunate.

"There was enough for me to treat the incident seriously. Nigel will not play against Portsmouth but come Monday, we're back to normal again. I make the rules. I am the manager and custodian of the football club. Players have to get used to my rules. It's as simple as that."

Reo-Coker, 25, is thought to be unhappy at the way his career has failed to progress since moving to Villa Park two years ago. It is a long time since the former England Under-21 captain was discussed as a potential full international and Reo-Coker understandably feels O'Neill's penchant for playing him out of position at right-back is a factor.

O'Neill has rarely encountered disciplinary problems in his management career despite being prepared to sign players with questionable records in that area. One was Stan Collymore, at Leicester City, and although the striker was almost immediately involved in an infamous incident involving a fire extinguisher in La Manga, he subsequently flourished, albeit after O'Neill fined him. More recently Ashley Young was disciplined for a reckless tackle which led to a red card against Sunderland.

Generally O'Neill has been prepared to move on after disciplining players, but since few have questioned his authority as openly as Reo-Coker evidently did, only time will tell if the midfielder's future at Villa Park is doomed.

In the short term Fabian Delph is likely to replace Reo-Coker against Portsmouth. Alternatively Villa may recall John Carew to partner Gabriel Agbonlahor in attack after he made the latter's winning goal at Birmingham on Sunday. Richard Dunne, James Collins and Stephen Warnock are all in line for home debuts.

Portsmouth, bottom and pointless, remain without Steve Finnan, Hermann Hreidarsson, Papa Bouba Diop and Aruna Dindane, but hope their reshaped side will benefit from 90 minutes' familiarisation during last week's narrow defeat against Bolton.