One of the bidders for Aston Villa abruptly pulled out late last night - after claims of a furious row with chairman Doug Ellis.
US billionaire Randy Lerner had matched a bid by life-long Villa fan Michael Neville, and fans and players alike were waiting for chairman Doug Ellis to choose his favourite.
But Lerner's apparent rejection leaves the way wide open for Neville and his back-ers, who have almost certainly lined up Martin O'Neill as the club's next manager.
The Birmingham Post's columnist Pat Murphy last night said the billionaire was "disgusted" that the Villa chairman refused to meet him one-on-one.
He said: "I understand that Mr Lerner was appalled at what he saw as a hostile attitude from Mr Ellis.
"Mr Lerner was led to believe he had a one-on-one with Mr Ellis to build on the discussions they had a fortnight ago.
"Mr Lerner was disgusted that a representative of Rothschild Bank was part of the meeting.
"I also understand that Mr Ellis's vision of his own involvement with the club did not chime with that of Mr Lerner's. I am told that Mr Lerner's assessment of Doug Ellis's future role was not as important as the chairman saw it."
Mr Neville confirmed his offer was over the £57 million asking price and it is thought that Mr Lerner's bid was about the same figure - about £64m. Both parties had been keen to avoid a bidding war but 82-year-old Ellis - who has 39 per cent of Villa shares - was always going to have the final say, along with property developer Jack Petchy, who owns about 19 per cent.
Villa's share price rocketed by ten per cent to £5.10p last night as news of a possible takeover reached the stock market.
Last night Mr Neville, aged 51, said Ellis might be appointed as a "lifetime president" under new arrangements which would propel Villa into a "top three club".
The Dorridge-based businessman said he would not be chairman, but would sit on the board alongside a supporters' representative.
"I think in order to pull this together properly we have got to bridge the gap between the club and the fans," he said.
"I would be looking to get the support of the fans by giving them PLC board representation. I want to get their views so that we can take this club forward. The fans are very important. If we do not have them there is no money to pay the players' wages and we cannot run a football club."
Mr Neville was originally part of a consortium including Irish property developers the Comer Brothers, which expressed an interest in buying Villa before Christmas.
He was keeping tight-lipped on his new business backers last night.
A statement from Villa to the Stock Exchange read: "The board of Aston Villa PLC can confirm that they have received a number of indicative offers which may or may not lead to a formal offer for the issued share capital of the Company.
"The board will be appraising these offers in due course and will update shareholders and supporters when appropriate."
Lerner held initial talks with Ellis over a fortnight ago, accompanied on his first visit to Birmingham by Keith Harris, a former Football League chairman who played a major part in Roman Abramovich's purchase of Chelsea. There was also speculation last night that a third unnamed group - led by Sven Goran Eriksson's agent Athole Still - was also making their interest known to Ellis.