Stone may not be ready for action until October

Football
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The Independent Online
Nottingham Forest's England midfielder Steve Stone is undergoing a spell at the Football Association's rehabilitation centre at Lilleshall as he tries to recover from a persistent knee injury.

Stone has been out of action since suffering a freak injury against Leicester at the City Ground last September and a snapped patella tendon forced him to miss Forest's vain fight against relegation. He has already ruled out the possibility of a return to action in time for the 1997-98 kick- off in August but is now stepping up his rehabilitation programme.

Stone said: "I am hoping to join in with the pre-season work with the rest of the lads but you are probably realistically looking at September or October before I am available to play first-team football."

Stone's enforced absence was one reason for Forest's demise, but he is confident they have the ambition and spending power to make a strong push for an instant return to the top flight.

The Nigel Wray, Phil Soar and Irving Scholar consortium made pounds 17m available for new signings when they took charge in February and the only major outlay so far has been pounds 4.5m for the striker Pierre van Hooijdonk from Celtic. Stone added: "The club didn't spend all the money that was available before the transfer deadline in March because they didn't want to get in people who maybe they didn't want in the long run. But Pierre van Hooijdonk looked a good acquisition and we are hoping the club will bounce back as quickly as possible from the disappointment of relegation."

The Birmingham City manager, Trevor Francis, must wait until next month to see if his club-record pounds 2.5m bid for the Stoke striker, Mike Sheron, has been successful. Stoke will not do any transfer business until they have appointed a successor to Lou Macari as manager at the Victoria Ground.

Stoke's chairman, Peter Coates, said: "Mike is still a Stoke player and we have made the position quite clear. We have had offers for him, but the matter will be left until we have appointed a new manager."

The Derby County manager, Jim Smith, has received a welcome boost with two players committing themselves to new long-term deals at the club. The defender Gary Rowett, 23, has signed a new four-year deal while the 25-year-old midfielder Paul Trollope has signed a contract which will keep him with the Rams until the year 2000.

Aston Villa's record signing, Stan Collymore, will make his first appearance for the club in this country in a pre-season friendly against Wycombe Wanderers at Adams Park on 18 July. The appearance of Collymore is expected to guarantee a bumper crowd for the Second Division club as Villa fans travel down the M40 to see Brian Little's pounds 7m signing from Liverpool for the first time.

Collymore has already worn a Villa shirt when he appeared - and scored - during their end of season tour of the United States last month. Wycombe are managed by the former Villa coach, John Gregory, who saved the club from relegation last season, and Little said: "It should be a nice way for Stan to start his career in this country."

Villa have away games against Partick Thistle and Motherwell, while on 28 July they play at Kidderminster Harriers in a testimonial for the GM Vauxhall Conference club's long-serving manager, Graham Allner.

Little, meanwhile, will return from holiday in Spain at the end of the week to step up his plans to bring in further new blood - he has around pounds 15m at his disposal.

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