Noble House Leisure and Pubmaster are believed to have got through to the next round of bidding for Scottish & Newcastle's 720 managed pubs.

Analysts believe they could emerge as frontrunners.

The two have submitted indicative bids of £300m to £400m.

Pubmaster is already pitted against Noble House Leisure in the battle for Wolverhampton & Dudley Breweries. It is also bidding for Avebury Tavern's 732-strong estate and is involved in a bid with Candover for Whitbread's 3,000 pubs.