ERIC Hall today rubbished claims that he was to blame for unsettling Blackburn Rovers skipper Tim Sherwood - to the point that the player's Ewood exit seems imminent.

Hall, a close friend of Sherwood as well as his representative, is seen by many Rovers supporters as the man behind the problems that have developed between player and club.

But he said today: "I find it very complimentary if they think that I, a little East End Jewish boy, would have that power over a grown man, especially someone like Tim Sherwood.

"He is not only a monster footballer, he's a businessman and a leader.

"I must say it's a load of rubbish but it's also a back-handed compliment."

Sherwood's future looks like being settled within the next couple of days and Tottenham are still at the front of the queue, but Aston Villa's interest, which had cooled, might well be revived following today's developments over Juninho.

Villa were confident of landing the Brazilian but it now seems he is all set to return to Teesside.

Suggestions that Leeds are in the race have been dismissed at Elland Road but there must be a possibility of other clubs moving in.

Hall still refuses to rule out Sherwood staying, even though I understand Rovers changed their stance last week when the player turned down their final new-contract offer.

They gave him permission to speak to other clubs and said there were no more Ewood talks planned.

"There should be developments in the next couple of days," added Hall.

"But you never write anything off. Where there's a will there's a way. This time last year, I was in a coma."

Meanwhile, Rovers' fears at losing Damien Duff for at least three weeks in April have been confirmed. The young winger is set to be named in a provisional 35-man Republic of Ireland squad for the World under-20 championships in Nigeria in April.

And he, along with the likes of Robbie Keane (Wolves), will be a certainty to make the final party as the Irish are intent on taking their strongest squad.

Duff, Jeff Kenna and recent signing Jason McAteer are all included in the Republic of Ireland squad to meet Paraguay in a friendly at Lansdowne Road tomorrow week.

Ewood defender David Worrell has been named in the Irish B squad to play the FAI National League in Bray next Tuesday.

A host of managers watched last night's reserve game at Ewood. They included Colin Todd (Bolton), David Moyes (Preston), Graham Barrow (Rochdale), Nigel Worthington (Blackpool), Brian Flynn (Wrexham), Ray Mathias (Wigan) and Sam Allardyce (Notts County).

Rovers had a number of what might be called fringe players on show, while Leicester included unsettled players such as ex-Ewood striker Graham Fenton.

Aston Villa defender Ugo Ehiogu will miss Saturday's game against Rovers after being injured in a clash with Alan Shearer at the weekend. Ehiogu suffered a fractured eye socket.

Tickets are now on open sale for the FA Cup fifth round tie at Newcastle on Sunday, February 14. Prices are £23 adults, £13 juniors. There are no concessions for senior citizens and tickets will not be available on the day of the game.

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.