MARTIN O'NEILL argued that Leicester City's refusal to let him discuss the vacancy at Leeds United deprived him of his chance to win the championship. By coincidence, his first match since deciding to stay gives him the opportunity to undermine the identical ambition of another graduate of the Wycombe Wanderers school of management, John Gregory.
Aston Villa's ascent to the Premiership summit since Gregory arrived from Adams Park in February has surely been beyond the wildest dreams of the chairman, Doug Ellis. Tuesday's Uefa Cup win in Spain was their 19th in Gregory's 25 games, with only three defeats.
But encouragingly for the posse attempting to erode Villa's four- point advantage, Leicester have an outstanding record in the clubs' Premiership meetings. In six matches, which have tended to have a bitter edge because of what the East Midlanders' perceived as the poaching of Brian Little, Villa have not managed a single victory. Gregory, who was on the coaching staff at Filbert Street himself under Little, will warn his players against the O'Neill factor. For even if the Leicester manager looked less than elated by the conclusion of his part in the Leeds saga, the players and supporters clearly regarded it as a massive psychological boost. The contest promises to be close. Despite their position, Villa have under-achieved in terms of goalscoring while Leicester's matches tend to be drawn or settled by the odd goal. Stan Collymore, commended for his work-rate after the games at West Ham and Celta Vigo, urgently needs to score, having failed to do so in the League since Gregory's first match. Collymore's tussle with another shaven giant, Matt Elliott, and the duel between Gareth Southgate's calm authority and the muscular power of Emile Heskey may go some way towards determining the outcome. Heskey and Tony Cottee should be warned that no Englishman has scored against Villa since Bolton's Bob Taylor in April. Stranger still, all four goals against Villa this season have been by Scandinavians: Mikkel Beck, Trond Soltvedt and two Stromsgodset players. If all else fails, O'Neill might be advised to throw on Sweden's Pontus Kaamark. Villa's closest pursuers, Manchester United, are also in the area, facing a Derby side who were themselves second before losing three in a row to what their manager, Jim Smith, described as "amateur goals". …