Aston Villa have emerged as favourites to sign Gregory Vignal on a free transfer at the end of the season.

The French left back, who has spent the season on loan with Rangers from Liverpool, is unlikely to remain in Scotland and has sparked a race for his signature from clubs in the Premiership.

Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers are also believed to be interested but, while the player has not given up hope of signing a contract with Rangers, Villa appear to be in the driving seat to take Vignal, aged 23, to Villa Park.

David O'Leary, the Villa manager, is looking to strengthen his squad in all areas. He has lamented the form of Jlloyd Samuel, the left back, and is frustrated that there is no obvious replacement.

Samuel performed superbly during the 2003-04 season and made his way into the England squad, but he has been a shadow of his former self in this campaign. This, in turn, has led to a slump in confidence.

Rangers have effectively told Vignal to look elsewhere for a contract and the player would prefer to play in the Premiership than move back to France. He has severed ties with Liverpool but would welcome the chance to revive his career with a move to Villa.

Philippe Flavier, the player's agent, has not given up hope of a contract with Rangers but all indications are that Vignal will play in the Premiership next season, possibly for Villa.

"Gregory will probably not return to France," Flavier said. "Gregory wants to stay in Scotland or England. We have heard that Newcastle and Aston Villa are interested and other clubs too, but I have not met with any English club.

"Nothing has changed [with Rangers] but everything is still open for Glasgow too. We are waiting and perhaps we will talk again. They did not say we would talk in the future but negotiations sometimes need time. "Okay, we did not find an agreement but the two parties like working together. There is no meeting planned but why not? He is absolutely happy with Glasgow and it could be a great season for them."

Vignal had previously been on loan at Rennes and Espa"ol and is particularly sought- after because he becomes a free agent in June.

He reached his peak when he was a member of the Liverpool squad that won five trophies in a six-month period in 2001 but he was never likely to become a regular member of the team.

Thomas Sorensen could be rested for Villa's match away to Newcastle United tomorrow. The Denmark international goalkeeper has made a number of high-profile errors this season - most notably against Birmingham City 12 days ago - and his place has come under threat.

If Sorensen is rested - a euphemism for dropped - it is sure to mean a place in the team for Stefan Postma, the former Holland Under-21 goalkeeper, who has only played two first- team matches this season.

Postma produced a superlative display during Villa's match at Arsenal this season, despite a 3-1 defeat. But he has become disillusioned with his lack of first-team action and has asked for a move.

Signed by Graham Taylor in the summer of 2002 for £1.5 million from De Graafschap of The Netherlands, he has been the second-choice goalkeeper to Peter Enckelman for one season and Sorensen for two.