Merrington `shocked' by Southampton dismissal

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Southampton have dismissed their manager, Dave Merrington, less than a month after his side had successfully avoided relegation from the Premiership. Nine victories in 38 league games proved not enough for the 51-year-old former probation officer, despite a run to the FA Cup quarter-finals.

"To say it's a great shock is a massive understatement," Merrtington said. "I'm leaving with deep regret and sadness, and the matter is now in the hands of my solicitor. It's not much of a reward for the efforts of last season. But there is a difficult legal position and I have no other comment than that."

Alan Ball's walk-out to join Manchester City led to Merrington's promotion to the top job after 11 years as youth team coach. He failed to improve the Saints' form and they only made sure of staying up with a goalless home draw with Wimbledon on the final day.

In the Cup quarter-finals, the Saints lost 2-0 to Manchester United at Old Trafford after Neil Shipperley had had a controversial goal disallowed. They gained revenge during the run-in, beating the Double winners 3-1 at The Dell.

The strikers Jean Pierre Papin and Dean Saunders could be on their way to Birmingham City in an audacious pounds 2.5m double signing by their new manager, Trevor Francis.

Francis has had talks with Papin, the 32-year-old former French international, who would cost pounds 1m from Bayern Munich, and has agreed a club record pounds 1.5m fee with Galatasaray for Saunders. However, the former Liverpool and Aston Villa forward would prefer Premiership football and may join Nottingham Forest. The problem for Forest is that they have to sell Jason Lee and Andrea Silenzi to finance the deal.

Since Francis' arrival at the First Division club in May, he has signed Barry Horne from Everton for pounds 250,000 and Steve Bruce on a free from Manchester United.

Martin George, the Leicester City chairman, has beenforced to step down in favour of a consortium which has pledged pounds 7m for players and pounds 5m for ground improvement.

George handed over the reins of the new Premiership club after five years in charge following a boardroom split, saying it would be "churlish" not to let go.