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Mail claims first for O'Neill as Villa saga dominates the front page

The Birmingham Mail is claiming to have brought the news of Martin O’Neill’s appointment as Aston Villa manager to readers first, as part of a series of exclusives from its sports reporter Bill Howell.

Over the past few weeks the comings and goings at the club have dominated the front page of the Trinity Mirror paper.

The Mail has been at the forefront of the latest crisis at Aston Villa involving the sacking of manager David O’Leary, the potential sale of the club by chairman Doug Ellis and the signing of O’Neill, with the nationals left following in the slipstream.

Editor Steve Dyson said: “Throughout the three-week saga there has been a new twist in the tale at every 7.15am conference.

“You sometimes hesitate before putting sports stories on to page one, but Howell’s insights have been so good we’ve had no choice!

“Howell has even had chairman Ellis phoning up to try to find out how he has been so well informed.”

Steve added: “There has been huge interest in O’Leary’s demise and the future ownership/management of the club.

“It’s been fascinating watching Howell not only documenting the story on a day-to-day basis but setting the agenda, too – so much so that local TV news and Sky Sports have been interviewing him.”

Sports reporter Bill revealed last Tuesday that O’Neill was to be announced as the new Villa manager, and on Friday the Mail’s back page told how the deal was due to be rubber-stamped that day.

This was followed up on Saturday with the reaction of “ecstatic” fans.

He had also previously told how US billionaire Randy Lerner wanted to buy Villa and how he had secretly met with chairman Doug Ellis.

Steve said: “O’Leary tried to ban Howell towards last season on the grounds that he was a West Bromwich Albion fan.

“It’s not the first time a local soccer boss has tried to ban one of the Mail’s reporters, but it only makes our staff more determined than ever to be first to the punch.

“You have to give your reporters the opportunity to know their subject inside out and to trust their instincts on the big stories.”

Do you have a story about the regional press? Ring 0116 227 3122/3121, or e-mail pastill@nep.co.uk