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Aston Villa's clash with Everton at risk of postponement

Aston Villa's clash with Everton at risk of postponement
© Reuters
Villa closed their training ground last week after nine players and five staff tested positive for Covid-19.

Aston Villa are in discussions with the Premier League about the possible postponement of Sunday's Premier League match at home to Everton due to their ongoing issues with coronavirus.

The club closed their training ground last week after nine players and five staff tested positive for Covid-19, resulting in their youth team having to play the FA Cup third-round tie against Liverpool.

Villa were scheduled to play Tottenham on Wednesday but that has had to be rescheduled because the training ground has still not reopened.

With fears that situation could continue into the weekend, the PA news agency understands the club have begun talks surrounding the potential postponement of the Everton game, which has already been put back 24 hours in the hope it would allow more time to fulfil the fixture.

Having had to sit out their midweek slot this week, Villa are already two matches behind the majority of their top-flight rivals and having to fit in a third rearranged game will push the already stretched programme further.

Grimsby have been sanctioned by the EFL for several breaches of Covid-19 protocols, which included former manager Ian Holloway playing darts with members of his squad.

The League Two club were forced to request the postponement of three matches earlier this season.

EFL-appointed investigators found that had the club adhered to the protocols there would have been no requirement for all their players to self-isolate when one of them tested positive.

EFL chief executive Trevor Birch has written to clubs warning the competition would come under pressure from the Government to stop playing if they "continued to flout the rules".

Holloway's darts sessions took place without the board's knowledge, Grimsby chairman Philip Day told the BBC, while it is understood the investigation also found playing staff were involved in car-sharing.

"We're disappointed because, prior to the players returning to training, we had put in place protocols which were approved by the EFL and we gave a full morning's training to the staff and players to ensure they were fully conversant with the protocol," said Day.

"(Holloway) used the playing of darts to build up team ethos and sadly he shouldn't have done it."

Ian Holloway, pictured, used darts to build up a team ethos at Grimsby, the club's chairman told the BBC
Ian Holloway, pictured, used darts to build up a team ethos at Grimsby, the club's chairman told the BBC (Mike Egerton/PA)

Grimsby said they had been handed a £4,800 fine suspended until the end of June for the breach, while the EFL said the investigation process around other Covid-related postponements was reaching a conclusion and "proposed decisions" had been shared with the clubs involved.

Elite sport has been allowed to continue despite the country being in a new national lockdown designed to slow the rate of Covid-19 infections.

However, a number of incidents, along with an increase in positive tests among players, means the professional game is under greater scrutiny from the Government and the public.

"Throughout the pandemic, football has provided a glimmer of hope for many millions of people affected by restrictions but we all understand the scrutiny the game remains under and we will come under extreme governmental pressure if we continue to flout the rules," Birch wrote to EFL clubs on Monday.

Extract from a letter sent by EFL chief executive Trevor Birch to league clubs
Extract from a letter sent by EFL chief executive Trevor Birch to league clubs (PA)

High-profile instances of EFL clubs breaching protocols over the FA Cup third-round weekend saw QPR admit they should not have allowed former player Eberechi Eze to attend their tie against Fulham, while Crawley's celebrations following their shock win over Leeds were against social-distancing rules.

"While football is permitted to continue the actions of all participants will be clearly under the microscope, whether this be in technical areas, dugouts, or in relation to general behaviour and interaction between players on the pitch and staff off it," Birch added.

The EFL reported 11 further positive cases from last week's round of testing, taking the total number of positive tests to 123 for the week, and Brentford's Championship matches against Bristol City and Reading have been postponed due to recent positive tests.

There were 15 positive tests reported from 942 carried out by the Barclays FA Women's Super League and FA Women's Championship last week, while the FA Youth Cup has also been temporarily suspended.

Meanwhile, Premier League side Brighton's Amex Stadium is to be used as a training centre for those who have volunteered to administer coronavirus vaccine.

A range of sports venues are now involved in the nationwide vaccination rollout programme, including Lord's cricket ground and Manchester City's Etihad Campus.

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