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More injury frustration for Jose Mourinho as Manchester United draw with Swansea


Jose Mourinho was left cursing Manchester United’s draining fixture schedule and mounting injury list after being held to a 1-1 draw by Swansea.

United took the lead through Wayne Rooney‘s penalty, controversially awarded after Marcus Rashford’s dubious tumble, but were pegged back by Gylfi Sigurdsson’s fine free-kick after twice reshuffling their defence to cover injuries to Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly.

The Red Devils’ treatment room is already oversubscribed, while Marouane Fellaini is one game through a three-game Premier League ban, leaving Mourinho unhappy with the demands on his Champions League-chasing team.

United‘s success in cup competitions this term has been a big contributing factor to their fitness problems but, not for the first time, Mourinho appeared cold in his references to England trio Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Shaw.

”I think Shaw has to be a big injury to leave the pitch after 10 minutes,” said Mourinho, who has been critical of the left-back on several occasions this season.

The Portuguese added on BT Sport: “I prefer not to speak about Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. I prefer to speak about (unused substitute) Juan Mata giving everything to be available. I am grateful for that.”

As for those who did play a full part in United latest gruelling outing, Mourinho was supportive despite losing points to the division’s third-bottom side.

“It’s very difficult, I cannot isolate the performance to the context. The context is nine matches in April, 810 mins of football, high levels of fatigue, big match after big match after big match,” he said.

“If I analyse the performance I will obviously find weaknesses, it’s not difficuly to find that but I cannot do that. The boys gave everything they can.

“It’s a consequence of our success but also of the calendar. You cannot be punished because we play the League Cup final, you play the final and then you have to play the (other) game in midweek.

“In the end it was a blessing we didn’t play the FA Cup semi-final.”

Time is short for United to pick themselves up for the next challenge, the small matter of a Europa League semi-final against Celta Vigo on Thursday, and although Jones and Smalling are not expected back, midfield reinforcements are due.

“I don’t think they (Jones and Smalling) will, that’s my personal opinion, I don’t think they will but I know that the players I choose they give everything,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter if I go with (Matteo) Darmian central defender, if I go with (Michael) Carrick or Axel (Tuanzebe), I trust the boys, the spirit is amazing, the group is phenomenal. Fellaini and (Paul) Pogba will be back for that game, so we have more options and we try with everything we have and we go again.”

On United‘s penalty, Swansea boss Paul Clement said: “Replays show the player deceived the referee – there is no other way to look at it.

“You could say he has dangled a leg to get the contact, but he is (going) down before that, before there is any kind of contact.

“Lukasz was furious. He said he had gone down to get his hands on the ball, could see he couldn’t get it so came away from it, and that he (Rashford) had gone down before the contact.”

Source: PA




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Chelsea boss Antonio Conte not taking title for granted despite Everton win


Chelsea manager Antonio Conte insists the Premier League title is far from won and that they must become champions in order for a good season to become a “fantastic one”.

The Premier League leaders were held for over an hour at Goodison Park before a brilliant strike from Pedro broke the deadlock and was followed by goals in the last 11 minutes from Gary Cahill and substitute Willian in a 3-0 victory.

It was a significant win as it ensured the initiative stayed with the Stamford Bridge side as nearest-rivals Tottenham, who began the day four points behind, kicked off later in the day.

With just four matches left Chelsea remain firmly in the driving seat, but Conte is taking nothing for granted despite his and his players’ celebrations with the travelling fans after the final whistle.

Asked how close the title now was, he said: “I don’t know. It is a great win but at this part of the season every win is a great win for us.

“For this reason we must celebrate in the right way, with my players, with the staff, with our fans.

“We have to have great enthusiasm and great patience because I think we are having a great season but to become a fantastic season we must win.

“Now it is important for us to prepare the right way the next game. If we don’t win against Middlesbrough (a week on Monday) then you lose this great win.

“It is very important after this crucial week for us because we played against Tottenham in the FA Cup and then on Tuesday against Southampton and now against Everton.

“I think we finished a crucial week very well. We all know there is this part of the season that is more important.”

Everton barely troubled their visitors once Dominic Calvert-Lewin had hit the post inside the first 70 seconds, and manager Ronald Koeman conceded Chelsea’s second-half performance, in particular, showed they would be worthy champions.

“Maybe in the last 30 minutes, yes,” he said.

“We started well and were a bit unlucky when we hit the post.

“I think we did some mistakes in our ball possession and that makes them really dangerous in the first half, but I think we did a good job until the 1-0. After that it makes it more difficult to create really open chances and if they get a little bit more space they are a team who will kill the game.

“The third goal was that high quality offensive football but maybe we didn’t deserve this defeat with three goals difference.”

Midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin missed the match with a thigh problem and is expected to be out for at least a week.

“It is not really bad. It is not the end of the season for Morgan. Maybe next week, maybe not, but it will not take more than 10 days,” said Koeman.

Source: PA




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Boro boss Steve Agnew unhappy with controversial Manchester City penalty


Middlesbrough interim boss Steve Agnew criticised the controversial penalty decision against Manchester City which left his side’s Premier League survival hopes hanging by a thread.

Boro were 1-0 up at the Riverside Stadium through Alvaro Negredo’s early strike when referee Kevin Friend pointed to the spot after Marten de Roon collided with City substitute Leroy Sane in the box. Sergio Aguero made no mistake from the spot, converting in the 69th minute.

Calum Chambers put Boro back in front only for the returning Gabriel Jesus to salvage a late point for the visitors in a 2-2 draw.

Agnew said: “I thought (Sane) went down very, very easily – and looking at the referee’s position, was he in the correct position to give it (the penalty)?

“From the video I’ve seen it looked like he didn’t have a clear view and I think when you give them, you’ve got to be 100 per cent certain.”

Agnew admitted his frustration after what was arguably his side’s best performance of the season left them six points off safety with just three games to go – with champions-elect Chelsea next up at Stamford Bridge.

“I was very disappointed that we didn’t see the game out,” Agnew added. “I thought the lads were terrific and they deserved the three points.

“I think the performance today just showed the determination and fighting spirit of the squad and the group of players I’ve been working with in the last few weeks, and that was evident against one of the top teams in the country.

“I think the message has been the same in recent weeks – it’s one of being organised and disciplined. We’ll continue to do that and I’m very, very confident we will get the results we need.”

City boss Pep Guardiola shrugged off questions about the penalty controversy and instead focused on the fitness of Aguero, who limped off in the final minute of the game with what appeared to be a groin strain.

Guardiola revealed Aguero will undergo tests on Monday to determine the nature and extent of the injury, amid fears he could miss out on part of his side’s run-in as they look to secure a top-four finish.

Guardiola said: “(On Monday) we will see but I think he has got a leg injury. But I don’t know – (on Monday) we will make the assessment.”

City next face three consecutive home games against Crystal Palace, Leicester and West Brom, and Guardiola believes the results of those games will determine his side’s European fate for next term.

Guardiola said: “Now we have three games at home and those three games will decide whether we deserve next season to be in the Champions League or not.

“Today it was in our hands to fight for the third position and we have dropped that position. Now we have got to win games and make some good results at home.”

Despite frustration at not coming away with three points, Guardiola said he was broadly satisfied with his side’s performance, after starting with both Aguero and the recalled Jesus for the first time.

Insisting his side deserved to win, Guardiola added: “We made absolutely everything, they crossed the line twice and nothing else and we created an awful lot of chances in the game.

“We have three games at home but all the games are tough. We cannot forget that when we come here they (Middlesbrough) are fighting to survive in the Premier League and when you face this kind of team it is the most difficult.”

Source: PA




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Serie A – Lazio all but end Roma’s title hopes as AC Milan draw with Crotone


Roma look to be out of title contention after a derby loss to Lazio.

Roma‘s Serie A title hopes suffered a huge blow as Lazio took the Derby della Capitale honours with an impressive 3-1 victory at the Stadio Olimpico.

Keita Balde Diao scored twice and Dusan Basta claimed his first goal in 75 Lazio appearances as the Biancocelesti claimed their first derby league victory since 2012.

Daniele De Rossi had levelled with a controversial penalty at the end of the first half, when Kevin Strootman blatantly dived while challenging Wallace, but Roma were poor throughout and their misery was completed when Antonio Rudiger was sent off for a high tackle on Filip Djordjevic.

Victory would have seen Roma cut the gap on leaders Juventus to six points after the champions were held to a 2-2 draw by Atalanta on Friday night, but Juve could now retain their title as early as next weekend if they beat city rivals Torino and Roma drop points at AC Milan.

Napoli took advantage of Roma’s derby defeat to close to within one point of second place in Serie A with victory over Inter Milan.

Jose Callejon scored the only goal at San Siro just before half-time to give Napoli a 1-0 victory and keep the pressure on at the top while damaging Inter’s hopes of European football next season.

Milan‘s Europa League hopes are under threat after they could only manage a 1-1 draw at lowly Crotone.

The visitors trailed as early as the ninth minute to Marcello Trotta’s strike but Gabriel Paletta pulled the Rossoneri level five minutes into the second half.

However, any hopes of snatching a late winner were ended with Juraj Kucka’s dismissal.

Crotone remain in the bottom three but are now just four points from safety as Empoli fell to a 3-1 home defeat to Sassuolo.

Federico Peluso fired the visitors ahead after 19 minutes but their lead lasted just five minutes before Manuel Pucciarelli levelled from the spot after Federico Ricci was adjudged to have handled the ball.

However, Alessandro Matri restored Sassuolo’s lead after 34 minutes and Alfred Duncan made sure of the points in the second half.

Palermo kept alive their slim hopes of beating the drop with a 2-0 victory over Fiorentina.

Goals from Alessandro Diamanti (32) and Haitam Aleesami (90) secured only a fourth win of the season for Palermo, who sit 10 points from safety with four games remaining.

Bologna produced the performance of the day to see off Udinese 4-0.

Mattia Destro scored twice for the home side, with his goals sandwiching a strike from Saphir Taider on the stroke of half-time. An own goal from Danilo then capped off a miserable afternoon for Udinese.

A Joao Pedro penalty after 23 minutes earned Cagliari a 1-0 win over already relegated Pescara, while Genoa slipped to a 2-1 defeat at home against Chievo.

Giovanni Simeone missed a spot kick for Genoa, but they still went ahead before the interval through Goran Pandev.

However, Chievo turned things around in the second half with goals from Samuel Bastien (60) and Valter Birsa (70), although the result was soured slightly when Fabio Depaoli was sent off in the dying stages for a second bookable offence.



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Crotone vs. AC Milan – Football Match Report – April 30, 2017


AC Milan’s Europa League hopes are under threat after they could only manage a 1-1 draw at lowly Crotone.

The visitors trailed as early as the ninth minute to Marcello Trotta’s strike but Gabriel Paletta pulled the Rossoneri level five minutes into the second half.

However, any hopes of snatching a late winner were ended with Juraj Kucka’s dismissal and they could be caught in the table by city rivals Inter, who face Napoli on Sunday evening.

Crotone remain in the bottom three but are now just four points from safety.



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Paul Clement thinks Swansea were out of luck with Old Trafford penalty


Swansea boss Paul Clement accused Manchester United‘s Marcus Rashford of having “deceived” referee Neil Swarbrick to win a penalty in the 1-1 draw between the sides at Old Trafford.

Swarbrick awarded the spot-kick, which was converted by Wayne Rooney to put United ahead, after Rashford went down in the box in first-half stoppage time as Lukasz Fabianski dived at his feet.

Replays indicated Rashford was already on his way to the ground before there was contact between him and Fabianski.

When asked about the incident after the game, Clement said: “Replays show the player deceived the referee – there is no other way to look at it.

“You could say he has dangled a leg to get the contact, but he is (going) down before that, before there is any kind of contact.”

He added: “Lukasz was furious. He said he had gone down to get his hands on the ball, could see he couldn’t get it so came away from it, and that he (Rashford) had gone down before the contact.”

Clement said Swarbrick, who delayed briefly before pointing to the spot, had told him he had been “sure what he had seen” – something the Swans boss believed was not the case.

“At the time, I looked at the reaction of my players first of all, and they were furious about it, so that puts a doubt in your mind as to whether it was the correct decision,” Clement said.

“Also, the delay between the contact and the decision being given – there was a brief pause which normally would say there is doubt.

“The referee said to me after the game he was sure what he had seen and was just confirming with the assistant. I don’t know why he even asked him, because he is almost as far away as I was.

“I don’t know (if Swarbrick guessed). I just felt there was doubt – I don’t think he was sure.

“I only know myself, and if I’m sure about something, I don’t check with my assistants. I make the decision. That is it.”

Clement feels officials should be assisted by video technology when making decisions over such incidents.

“For me, it has to be done,” said Clement, whose relegation-threatened side equalised through Gylfi Sigurdsson’s 79th-minute free-kick.

“For me it is unbelievable that in this day and age, with the technology we have available, that the only people that don’t get the help are the ones who most need it.

“We can see it, you can see it, the fans can see it, everybody can see it – apart from the officials. It has to be done. It is long overdue.”

Having claimed a deserved point, Swansea remain 18th in the Premier League table, two points adrift of 17th-placed Hull with both sides having three games left.

Clement said: “I’m very proud of my players today. We had a good result last week against Stoke (a 2-0 home win, their first victory in seven matches) and going into that we hadn’t been playing well, we weren’t picking up points.

“I think we really turned a corner last week and showed that again today.

“I think we showed a lot of different qualities – that we can come to a difficult place, actually take the ball and play well and create some good chances, and then also deal with a goal going in against us in difficult circumstances.

“We didn’t feel sorry for ourselves, we got on with the job and I think when our goal went in, the least we deserved was that.”

Source: PA




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Urban Warriors punish Dikwena to jump to 10th – ABSA Premiership 2016/17


Grant Margeman of Ajax Cape Town evades challenge from Sandile Zuke of Chippa United during the Absa Premiership 2016/17 football match between Ajax Cape Town and Chippa United at Cape Town Stadium, Cape Town on 21 December 2016 ©Chris Ricco/BackpagePix

by
Bertin Basson

Sunday Apr 30, 2017. 17:45


Ajax Cape Town moved into 10th place on the Absa Premiership log standings, following a commanding 2-0 win over Platinum Stars at Cape Town Stadium on Sunday afternoon.

The Urban Warriors were the better team throughout, as they jump to within two points of the top eight. Grant Margeman and Ndiviwe Mdabuka with the goals on the day for the hosts.

Margeman opened the scoring as early as the sixth minute, with the hard-working midfielder running onto a precise through ball by Travis Graham – steadying himself and firing through the legs of Mbongeni Mzimela. A third goal in South Africa’s top-flight for the 18-year-old.

The Cape side continued to dominate the clash, but failed to make Dikwena pay as Prince Nxumalo missed a succession of chances.

Mbongeni Mzimela the savior on two occasions for the Phokeng-based club, first to punch clear Nxumalo’s header attempt before saving with his feet in the 42nd minute – again to deny the KwaZulu-Natal born forward.

Dikwena showed more promise following the break, with Mosa Lebusa on hand to clear off-the-line four minutes into the second stanza.

Ajax Cape Town, though, still looked the better of the two sides with Nathan Paulse and Thabo Mosadi missing successive chances at the other end of the park.

The hosts, though, would finally double their advantage as Mdabuka’s deflected shot bounced into the back of the net in the 66th minute.

Platinum Stars failed to deliver any serious goal threat in the closing stages as the Cape club returned to winning ways, to ease their relegation woes.

Ajax Cape Town (1) 2 (Margeman 6′ Mdabuka 66′)

Platinum Stars (0) 0

Ajax Cape Town: Petersen; Lebusa, Coetzee, Pietersen, Isaacs – Graham, Margeman, Mdabuka (Lartey 84′) – Mayambela (Kabwe 75′), Mosadi, Nxumalo (Paulse 59′)

Platinum Stars: Mzimela; Mpeta, Mlilo, Mkhabela, Mnguni (Phiri 71′) – Mere, Mathe, Ng’ambi (Shilongo 80′) – Nale (Mabena 73′), Msomi, Botes



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Chelsea ease to victory over Everton


Chelsea’s title credentials have not really been in doubt for several months but the manner of their 3-0 win over Everton suggests they are no mood to allow nerves to get the better of them.

For more than an hour it remained goalless at Goodison Park but the air of confidence Antonio Conte’s side carry meant it never felt as though they were in danger and there was a certain inevitability about the goals from Pedro, Gary Cahill and substitute Willian in the final 25 minutes.

That was not taking anything away from their opener – an unstoppable strike from the former Barcelona forward – but it was another of those typically attritional performances in which their quality ultimately shines through.

The Premier League leaders began the day four points ahead of Tottenham, kicking off later in the north London derby at home to Arsenal, knowing any slip would give their rivals all the ammunition they needed to ramp up the pressure in the title race.

That opportunity never materialised as Chelsea became only the second team to win a league match at Goodison in the last year, with the Toffees having gone eight matches unbeaten at home since December.

Everton were missing Morgan Schneiderlin, who sustained a thigh injury in training on Friday, and with Idrissa Gana Gueye tasked with the man-marking job on his former Lille team-mate Eden Hazard it effectively left the hosts one short in midfield.

Thankfully they had energetic 18-year-old Tom Davies prepared to put in the leg work with fellow youngster Dominic Calvert-Lewin dropping back to assist on the left.

However, Calvert-Lewin could have had an even greater impact going the other way as inside 70 seconds his near-post shot beat Thibaut Courtois but rebounded off the upright and Lukaku’s shot was blocked by Cahill.

Gueye’s job for the day meant there were going to be some teething trouble in the areas he usually patrolled and that allowed Cahill to advance and fire in a shot which Maarten Stekelenburg fumbled and Ashley Williams was on hand to hack clear.

The defender’s decision to try to nick the ball of Diego Costa on halfway backfired when the striker turned to run into the space behind and then release the Gueye-free Hazard who rounded the goalkeeper but fired into the side-netting.

Hazard escaped Gueye’s attentions again when he ran from deep and advanced 40 yards down the middle of the pitch only for the attack to falter when Davies charged back to dispossess Costa, who was guilty of Chelsea’s worst miss when he volleyed over from eight yards having got the wrong side of Phil Jagielka.

The debate over Romelu Lukaku’s future continues to rumble on with the striker refusing to sign a new contract and Chelsea reportedly ready to re-sign him in the summer but if this was the close-up audition it was not convincing.

Admittedly the Belgium international did not receive the greatest of service but his first half was limited to one drill wide of the far post after holding off David Luiz and failing to get his head on Enner Valencia’s driven cross.

Despite not creating many clear-cut chances there was a sense of foreboding about a Chelsea goal in the second half and after Jagielka almost gifted them one with a blind backpass which Stekelenburg only just managed to clear before being clattered by Costa, who was booked, it duly arrived with just over an hour gone.

Pedro collected the ball on the edge of the area, shifted it onto his left foot and fired a shot just under the crossbar – a goal worthy of winning any game.

Cahill made sure 12 minutes from time when he bundled home after Stekelenburg saved Hazard’s low free-kick and substitute Willian added the third late on.

Source: PA




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Jesus rises to the occasion and earns Manchester City a point at Middlesbrough


Gabriel Jesus marked his return to Manchester City‘s starting line-up by grabbing a dramatic late equaliser for his side in a 2-2 draw against relegation-haunted Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium.

Jesus headed home a Sergio Aguero cross in the 84th minute after Calum Chambers appeared to have secured three priceless points for the hosts in their unlikely battle to beat the drop.

Steve Agnew’s men led through a first-half strike from former City striker Alvaro Negredo before the visitors drew level in controversial fashion when Aguero netted from the spot.

Boro players reacted with fury when Leroy Sane went down under the challenge of Marten de Roon – but reacted brilliantly to grab back the lead just seven minutes later.

But in a thrilling finale Jesus, back after 10 weeks out with a foot injury, strengthened his side’s top-four prospects and left Boro six points off safety with just three games to go.

Boro had almost behind in the first 30 seconds, Aguero wriggling into the left side of the box and flashing a shot across the face of goal.

Aleksandar Kolarov drove a long-range effort high and wide with three minutes on the clock, and five minutes later Fernandinho’s lofted pass fed Aguero who scooped his shot inches over the bar.

But Boro survived the early storm and began to flourish, their confidence visibly returning after ending their long winless streak in midweek which boosted their still-unlikely survival mission.

Ben Gibson flicked on a Fabio cross in the 12th minute to Negredo, who blazed his shot across the face of goal from a tight angle.

De Roon shot wide from long range then the same player just missed the target after latching onto the end of a deep Downing free-kick.

Jesus, who had cut a relatively anonymous figure in the first half hour, came close with his first chance of note when he flicked wide from Nicolas Otamendi’s right-wing cross.

And Boro grabbed the lead their initiative deserved in the 37th minute when de Roon sent Downing scampering clear down the left flank and when his cross was laid back from George Friend inside the box, Negredo sent a curling left-foot finish past Willy Caballero.

After just four minutes of the second half, during which Caballero plucked the ball off the head of the dangerous de Roon, Guardiola had seen enough and threw on both Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling to bolster his side’s attacking threat.

Inevitably City began to pile on the pressure, Kevin De Bruyne stinging Brad Guzan’s hands with a long-range effort before the Boro keeper had to be alert on 65 minutes to tip over a clever lofted effort by Jesus Navas.

Tempers frayed two minutes later when Sane fell under a challenge by de Roon in the box and after referee Kevin Friend pointed to the spot the Boro players reacted with fury, with Fabio booked for protesting and Sane having to be pulled away from a confrontation.

Aguero dispatched the spot-kick but just three minutes later there was more drama at the other end when Boro substitute Adama Traore burst clear but fell under the challenge of Otamendi on the edge of the box.

Downing’s free-kick was spilled by Otamendi and after a mighty goalmouth scramble, Negredo managed to squeeze the ball across the face of goal at the second attempt where Chambers poked home.

But the drama was not over as Jesus rose unchallenged in the Boro box to head home an Aguero cross and grab the equaliser with four minutes to go.

Source: PA




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Late goal from Lakay rescues draw for Celtic – ABSA Premiership 2016/17


Lyle Lakay of Bloemfontein Celtic FC. during the Absa Premiership match between Bloemfontein Celtic FC and University of Pretoria FC. at Kaizer Sebothelo Stadium on 5 April 2015.
©Gerhard Steenkamp/BackpagePix

by
Brian Lee

Sunday Apr 30, 2017. 17:18


An 80th minute goal from Lyle Lakay rescued a point for Bloemfontein Celtic as they played to a 1-1 draw against Baroka FC in an Absa Premiership match at the Peter Mokaba stadium on Sunday afternoon.

While the point does not help their situation too much in terms of their relegation concerns it does see Celtic move up to 12th place on the table with 25 points from 25 matches. Still, they are only two points away from the relegation zone.

Baroka, on the other hand, are in the thick of the relegation scrap with the draw leaving them placed second from bottom on the Absa Premiership log with 23 points from 26 matches, only a point above bottom placed Highlands Park.

The opening stages of the match belonged to Baroka as they opened the scoring in the eight minute when Mzwanele Mahashe powerfully headed home a Punch Masenamela cross, 1-0.

The side from Bloemfontein came close to finding the equaliser on the half hour mark, but Ayanda Dlamini’s long range effort sailed over the target.

In the 40th minute Baroka nearly scored their second when Jose Garcia unleashed a fine strike from the edge of the box, but he was denied by Celtic goalkeeper Patrick Tignyemb.

Celtic entered the half time break trailing by a goal.

The second half started very slowly with both sides struggling to creat goal scoring chances due to some poor passing in the final third.

Baroka had the perfect chance to wrap-up the game in the 70th minute when substitute Victor Letsoalo broke through on goal, but he was denied in a one-on-one with Tignyemb.

Ten minutes later Celtic managed to level matters when a great strike from Lyle Lakay hit the back of the net, 1-1.

Celtic pushed players in forward in search of the winner late on, but could not break down the Baroka defence as the two teams settled for a share of the spoils.

Baroka FC (1) 1 (Mahashe 8’)
Bloemfontein Celtic (0) 1 (Lakay 80’)

Baroka FC: Masuluke, Mahashe, Kgoetyane, Shaku, Madubanya (Chauke 75’), Garcia (Zikalala 64’), Munetsi, Masenamela, Ogle (Letsoalo 58’), Kunene, Matlakala.

Celtic: Tignyemb, Nyatama, Lakay, Maruping (Phalane 78’), Ndengane, Dube, Rikhotso, Mahlasela, Hotto, Dlamini (Mvula 63’), Zuma (Shikweni 58’).



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Sky Bet Play-Offs: League One participants confirmed


After a thrilling final day in the division, Scunthorpe United, Fleetwood Town, Bradford City, and Millwall sealed their place in the Play-Offs.

Scunthorpe United will travel to Millwall for their first leg on Thursday 4th May, and that’s the same night that Fleetwood Town will visit Bradford City. Both of those matches will kick-off at 7.45pm.

The reverse second legs will then be held on Sunday 7th May – Scunthorpe hosting Millwall and Fleetwood entertaining Bradford – kicking off at 6.30pm.

The overall winners of those two-legged ties will go head-to-head in the Sky Bet League One Play-Off Final at Wembley Stadium on Saturday 20th May, in a 3pm kick-off.

All Sky Bet Play-Offs matches will be available to watch live on Sky Sports.



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Everton 0-3 Chelsea: Match Report




Chelsea ease to victory over Everton

Chelsea’s title credentials have not really been in doubt for several months but the manner of their 3-0 win over Everton suggests they are no mood to allow nerves to get the better of them.

For more than an hour it remained goalless at Goodison Park but the air of confidence Antonio Conte’s side carry meant it never felt as though they were in danger and there was a certain inevitability about the goals from Pedro, Gary Cahill and substitute Willian in the final 25 minutes.

That was not taking anything away from their opener – an unstoppable strike from the former Barcelona forward – but it was another of those typically attritional performances in which their quality ultimately shines through.

The Premier League leaders began the day four points ahead of Tottenham, kicking off later in the north London derby at home to Arsenal, knowing any slip would give their rivals all the ammunition they needed to ramp up the pressure in the title race.

That opportunity never materialised as Chelsea became only the second team to win a league match at Goodison in the last year, with the Toffees having gone eight matches unbeaten at home since December.

Everton were missing Morgan Schneiderlin, who sustained a thigh injury in training on Friday, and with Idrissa Gana Gueye tasked with the man-marking job on his former Lille team-mate Eden Hazard it effectively left the hosts one short in midfield.

Thankfully they had energetic 18-year-old Tom Davies prepared to put in the leg work with fellow youngster Dominic Calvert-Lewin dropping back to assist on the left.

However, Calvert-Lewin could have had an even greater impact going the other way as inside 70 seconds his near-post shot beat Thibaut Courtois but rebounded off the upright and Lukaku’s shot was blocked by Cahill.

Gueye’s job for the day meant there were going to be some teething trouble in the areas he usually patrolled and that allowed Cahill to advance and fire in a shot which Maarten Stekelenburg fumbled and Ashley Williams was on hand to hack clear.

The defender’s decision to try to nick the ball of Diego Costa on halfway backfired when the striker turned to run into the space behind and then release the Gueye-free Hazard who rounded the goalkeeper but fired into the side-netting.

Hazard escaped Gueye’s attentions again when he ran from deep and advanced 40 yards down the middle of the pitch only for the attack to falter when Davies charged back to dispossess Costa, who was guilty of Chelsea’s worst miss when he volleyed over from eight yards having got the wrong side of Phil Jagielka.

The debate over Romelu Lukaku’s future continues to rumble on with the striker refusing to sign a new contract and Chelsea reportedly ready to re-sign him in the summer but if this was the close-up audition it was not convincing.

Admittedly the Belgium international did not receive the greatest of service but his first half was limited to one drill wide of the far post after holding off David Luiz and failing to get his head on Enner Valencia’s driven cross.

Despite not creating many clear-cut chances there was a sense of foreboding about a Chelsea goal in the second half and after Jagielka almost gifted them one with a blind backpass which Stekelenburg only just managed to clear before being clattered by Costa, who was booked, it duly arrived with just over an hour gone.

Pedro collected the ball on the edge of the area, shifted it onto his left foot and fired a shot just under the crossbar – a goal worthy of winning any game.

Cahill made sure 12 minutes from time when he bundled home after Stekelenburg saved Hazard’s low free-kick and substitute Willian added the third late on.

Source: PA




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Wits, Sundowns set for crunch title battle – ABSA Premiership 2016/17


Yannick Zakri of Mamelodi Sundowns challenged by Granwald Scott of Bidvest Wits during the Absa Premiership 2016/17 match between Mamelodi Sundowns and Bidvest Wits at Loftus Stadium, Pretoria South Africa on 25 February 2017 ©Muzi Ntombela/BackpagePix

by
Graeme Jackson

Sunday Apr 30, 2017. 16:17


Absa Premiership title hopefuls Bidvest Wits and Mamelodi Sundowns will meet for a crunch match at Bidvest Stadium on 1 May 2017, kick-off at 17h00.

Wits returned to winning form in the league when they defeated Highlands Park 2-0 away on April 28.

The Johannesburg side has claimed 25 points from 11 home matches this season.

The Clever Boys are placed third on the Absa Premiership log with 48 points from 24 matches.

Sundowns claimed a fifth successive league win when they defeated Golden Arrows 2-0 away on April 28.

The Tshwane side has claimed 23 points from 12 away matches this season.

The Brazilians are placed first on the Absa Premiership log with 50 points from 24 matches.

In head-to-head stats, Sundowns and Wits have met in 62 league matches since 1985.

The Brazilians have claimed 34 wins compared to 16 for the Clever Boys, while 12 matches have been drawn.

Wits have won 12 of their 31 home league matches against Sundowns, suffering 15 defeats in the process.

When the teams met earlier this season, the Brazilians claimed a 2-0 home win in Tshwane.

The teams have played to just one goalless draw (in the first half of the 2014/15 season) in their last 22 league meetings.

Wits’ line-up from their 2-0 win over Highlands: Bidvest Wits: Josephs, Khumalo, Rodgers, Ngele (Klate 67’), Pule (Keene 73’), Hlanti, Mkhwanazi, Myeni (Ntshangase 79’), Scott, Motshwari, Frosler.

Sundowns’ line-up from their 2-0 win over Arrows: Onyango, Langerman, Morena (Hachi 76′), Nascimento, Madisha, T. Zwane (Ngcongca 61′), Mohomi, Billiat, Mashaba (Modise 47′), Kekana, Tau.



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We need a bit a luck, says West Brom boss Tony Pulis


West Brom manager Tony Pulis has bemoaned his side’s lack of luck after losing 1-0 to Leicester at the Hawthorns.

Jamie Vardy’s first-half goal was enough to secure three points for the reigning Premier League champions on Saturday.

It is the first time in West Brom’s history they have failed to score in five consecutive matches.

“It’s yet another game where the players have walked off the pitch certainly not having deserved to lose,” Pulis told the club’s official website.

“I cannot fault them other than that little bit of clinical finishing that we can’t deliver at the moment.

“But we also need a bit of luck. That was epitomised probably by Craig Dawson’s header which was on its way but struck Chris Brunt on the back. Their keeper would have had no chance saving that but those are the kind of breaks we’re getting at the moment.

“There’s no lack of effort, no-one’s taking it easy, we’ve got four games left and we’re still determined to hit that 50-point mark – we’ve not given up on anything yet.”

West Brom remain in eighth place, six points off the half century of points Pulis is aiming for.

Vardy’s 17th goal of the season puts Leicester on the 40 point mark – in 11th place – but not mathematically safe from relegation although it will take a remarkable set of results for Craig Shakespeare’s team to get dragged back into trouble.

Leicester defender Christian Fuchs told the Foxes’ official website that it needed a team effort to overcome a tough test in the West Midlands.

He said: “It’s always hard to come here. When you’re playing against West Bromwich Albion, it’s always a hard fight. They’re always physical and strong. It was maybe scrappy at times but it’s three points and a great win for us.

“It feels good as we also scored. It always helps when we go up 1-0. It was a great goal from (Vardy) and we head home with three points. Obviously, for us as defenders, it is very important to keep clean sheets. When we’re able to do that, it gives us a great chance.”

Source: PA




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Swansea claim vital point in survival race as they draw at Manchester United


Gylfi Sigurdsson’s brilliant free-kick put a dent in Manchester United’s Champions League hopes as yet another Old Trafford draw gave relegation-threatened Swansea reason to believe in Premier League survival.

England striker Marcus Rashford’s contentiously-won penalty just before half-time, converted by Wayne Rooney, had given United control of the match but Sigurdsson bent the ball home the 79th minute, seconds after Ander Herrera abandoned the post to join the wall.

It was a deflating way for United to set a new record unbeaten streak – 25 matches dating back to October 23 – and a more important statistic is the 14 league games they have drawn this season, 10 in front of their own fans.

And if that was not enough there was further bad news for United‘s overworked medical staff, with Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly picking up injuries to join a cluttered treatment room.

Mourinho, already missing a host of first-teamers, made four changes from Thursday’s derby draw against Manchester City, with Rooney, Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young and Shaw recalled.

Shaw’s third Premier League start of the year lasted just eight minutes, though, as he hobbled from the pitch in genuine discomfort.

For most of the half, United adopted the care-worn look of a squad stretched thin by congestion and circumstance.

There were uncharacteristic giveaways from Michael Carrick, miscued passes from Rooney and even a scream of frustration from the mild-mannered Rashford when an expected ball from Herrera was not forthcoming.

Anthony Martial was key to the two clear chances they did manage, floating the ball brilliantly over the top for Lingard, only for the England winger to fluff his connection after springing the offside trap.

The Frenchman went himself on the half-hour, cutting past two men from the left and unleashing a low drive which Lukasz Fabianski almost spilled at Lingard’s feet.

For their part, Swansea were bright and up for the contest.

Fernando Llorente, collecting a smart pass from Tom Carroll, had David De Gea flapping when he turned Bailly at the back post and let fly. Andre Ayew and Sigurdsson both drew further saves from the Spaniard but United took the lead when Rashford made his controversial intervention.

Having sprinted clear he converged with Fabianski, though the teenager was well on his way to the ground when Fabianski touched him. Rooney, for 252nd time, did the rest for United.

He should have had a second early in the second half, but hit Martial’s back rather than the target from 10 yards.

Bailly pulled up around the hour mark, leading to a second reshuffle of the red defence and giving Swansea renewed hope.

Rooney’s foul on Martin Olsson gave them the opening they needed and Sigurdsson lined up from 20 yards. His strike was clean and curled perfectly inside the post but would have hit Herrera square in the chest had he not sprinted away from his station moments earlier.

Either side might have won it in an ill-tempered finale, Lingard heading straight at Fabianski at the far post and Llorente failing to meet a glorious cross in added time.

Source: PA




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Edin Dzeko awful as Roma lose derby to Lazio to jeopardise UCL hopes


Roma had a day to forget, losing to bitter rivals Lazio on Sunday.

Roma’s chances of qualifying directly for the Champions League took a massive blow after a third straight Rome derby defeat — a 3-1 loss to Lazio on Sunday that was topped and tailed by Keita Balde’s neat double.

Lazio coach Simone Inzaghi once again got the better of Luciano Spalletti, with the Biancoceleste riding their luck during an early flurry that saw an atrocious Edin Dzeko and the lively Mohamed Salah missing good opportunities.

Roma had two thirds of possession but only got on the scoresheet thanks to an awful (or good, depending on your perspective) dive from Kevin Strootman, who conned a penalty out referee Daniele Orsato that gave Roma an undeserved leveller just seconds from half-time.

Had Dzeko not shot high and straight at Thomas Strakosha again when gifted a golden chance to put his side in the lead by Salah after the break, Lazio would have been forced to leave a few gaps in their defensive wall, but that opportunity went begging and once Dusan Basta’s shot flicked off Federico Fazio and past Wojciech Szczesny a few minutes later, it never looked like Roma would peg Lazio back again.

AC Milan and Juventus await, while Napoli lick their lips in the wings.

Positives

It takes a special kind of talent to fool three match officials with a blatant dive, but Strootman did it. That that unsporting gesture was about the only positive thing to happen for both Strootman and Roma says everything about what kind of display this was.

Negatives

Dzeko looked as though he was still carrying on his row with Spalletti from last week at Pescara. He snatched at his first chance after doing well to cut on to his right, sending it straight at Strakosha when only six yards out, but he may as well not have been there for the rest of the match, bar missing an even better chance only two minutes after the break.

The Bosnian’s display was easily the worst of a flat team effort — Strootman and Radja Nainggolan were dominated by Lazio captain Lucas Biglia — and the continuation of the latter’s big game hoodoo does not bode well for Roma’s next two huge fixtures.

Manager rating out of 10

3 — Inzaghi seems to have Spalletti’s number. Lazio continually funnelled Roma’s wide men into a packed midfield and defence, giving them very little room to manoeuvre, and nothing Spalletti seemed to do could bypass his opponent’s incredibly well organised rearguard.

Even more worrying was the lack of aggression on display.

“We need to shut up and take the criticism,” Spalletti said afterwards.

He was right about that, at least.

Player ratings (1-10; 10 = best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Wojciech Szczesny, 5 — Got down slowly for Keita’s opener but could do nothing about Basta’s deflected winner.

DF Antonio Rudiger, 5 — Struggled to make an impact at right-back, and while he was much better once moved central, he capped a miserable day with a silly red card for a stupid foul on Filip Djordjevic.

DF Kostas Manolas, 5 — Seems to be ending the season how he started it. Asleep.

DF Federico Fazio, 5 — Was led a merry dance by Keita for Lazio’s opener, and his bad day was made worse by deflecting Basta’s shot past Szczesny.

DF Emerson Palmieri, 6 — Along with Fazio, he was schooled by Keita for the first of his two goals, but recovered better than the Argentine.

MF Kevin Strootman, 4 — His only contribution to the game was to win a penalty. Otherwise given a football lesson by Biglia.

MF Daniele De Rossi, 6 — His ice cool penalty was the only highlight of an otherwise miserable Roma display. Spent much of the day irritated at the lack of movement up top.

MF Mohamed Salah, 6 — Alongside De Rossi, Roma’s only bright spark. Unlucky not to score early on and set up Dzeko for an absolute sitter that his strike partner duly fluffed.

MF Radja Nainggolan, 5 — No drive, no cutting edge. Caged by Lazio’s packed midfield and unable to pick the lock.

MF Stephan El Shaarawy, 5 — Kept cutting inside from the left on to his right, where Bastos & Co. gobbled him up.

FW Edin Dzeko, 3 — Started each half by missing a sitter and generally moped around the place for the rest of the match. Embarrassing.

Substitutes:

MF Bruno Peres, 4 — Brought on to offer some cut and thrust on the right but failed to provide anything. Was typically relaxed about defending too.

MF Diego Perotti, 5 — Everything he tried, failed. His dribbles went nowhere and his final ball was even less accurate.

MF Francesco Totti, N/R — Given 20 minutes to make an impact, the legendary No.10 barely had a kick.

Terry is based in Rome and is ESPN FC’s AS Roma blogger. Twitter: @T_Daley



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AS Roma vs. Lazio – Football Match Report – April 30, 2017



Roma’s Serie A title hopes suffered a huge blow as Lazio took the Derby della Capitale honours with an impressive 3-1 victory at the Stadio Olimpico.

Keita Balde Diao scored twice and Dusan Basta claimed his first goal in 75 Lazio appearances as the Biancocelesti claimed their first derby league victory since 2012.

Daniele De Rossi had levelled with a controversial penalty at the end of the first half, but Roma were poor throughout and their misery was completed when Antonio Rudiger was sent off for a high tackle on Filip Djordjevic.

Roma kicked off knowing they could cut the gap on league leaders Juventus to six points after the champions were held to a 2-2 draw by Atalanta on Friday night.

But champions Juve could now retain their title as early as next weekend if they beat city rivals Torino and Roma drop points at Milan.

Roma dominated possession in the early exchanges and fashioned chances for Edin Dzeko and Mohamed Salah.

But Thomas Strakosha pushed both efforts aside and Lazio’s first forays forward brought instant reward.

Lucas Biglia dragged his shot wide but Lazio were ahead within 60 seconds as Keita raced on to Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s pass to open the scoring after 12 minutes.

Keita pulled away from Federico Fazio and drilled a left-footed shot through the legs of Emerson and past the unsighted Wojciech Szczesny.

Lazio might have had a penalty when Jordan Lukaku fell under Fazio’s clumsy challenge and it was the visitors who were controlling proceedings.

Marco Parolo twice tested Szczesny from 20 yards with Keita’s pace causing real problems for the Roma defence.

But the Giallorossi levelled in the most controversial circumstances in the closing stages of the first half.

There was clearly no contact between Wallace and Kevin Strootman, but the Dutchman’s blatant dive fooled referee Orsato Daniele into awarding a penalty which De Rossi converted for his first Serie A goal of the season.

There was briefly extra belief in Giallorossi ranks and Salah’s mazy run set up Dzeko for an opportunity which Strakosha kept out with a wonderful reaction save.

But Lazio were back in front after 50 minutes when Senad Lulic’s cross caused panic in the Roma defence and Basta’s deflected shot off the unfortunate Fazio just beat the despairing dive of Szczesny.

Lazio’s lead could have been extended when Keita was clattered by Fazio just inside the penalty area but this time Orsata was not interested in pointing to the spot and waved play on.

Felipe Anderson twice forced Szczesny into saving with his feet as Lazio still created the better chances, but the issue was put beyond doubt five minutes from time.

Senad Lulic broke free in another rapid counter-attack and Keita had all the time in the world to roll home his 13th goal of the season.

Roma were reduced to 10 men in the final seconds when Rudiger caught Lazio substitute Djordjevic high on the shin and saw a straight red card.



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Man Utd 1-1 Swansea: Match Report




Swansea claim vital point in survival race as they draw at Manchester United

Gylfi Sigurdsson’s brilliant free-kick put a dent in Manchester United’s Champions League hopes as yet another Old Trafford draw gave relegation-threatened Swansea reason to believe in Premier League survival.

England striker Marcus Rashford’s contentiously-won penalty just before half-time, converted by Wayne Rooney, had given United control of the match but Sigurdsson bent the ball home the 79th minute, seconds after Ander Herrera abandoned the post to join the wall.

It was a deflating way for United to set a new record unbeaten streak – 25 matches dating back to October 23 – and a more important statistic is the 14 league games they have drawn this season, 10 in front of their own fans.

And if that was not enough there was further bad news for United’s overworked medical staff, with Luke Shaw and Eric Bailly picking up injuries to join a cluttered treatment room.

Mourinho, already missing a host of first-teamers, made four changes from Thursday’s derby draw against Manchester City, with Rooney, Jesse Lingard, Ashley Young and Shaw recalled.

Shaw’s third Premier League start of the year lasted just eight minutes, though, as he hobbled from the pitch in genuine discomfort.

For most of the half, United adopted the care-worn look of a squad stretched thin by congestion and circumstance.

There were uncharacteristic giveaways from Michael Carrick, miscued passes from Rooney and even a scream of frustration from the mild-mannered Rashford when an expected ball from Herrera was not forthcoming.

Anthony Martial was key to the two clear chances they did manage, floating the ball brilliantly over the top for Lingard, only for the England winger to fluff his connection after springing the offside trap.

The Frenchman went himself on the half-hour, cutting past two men from the left and unleashing a low drive which Lukasz Fabianski almost spilled at Lingard’s feet.

For their part, Swansea were bright and up for the contest.

Fernando Llorente, collecting a smart pass from Tom Carroll, had David De Gea flapping when he turned Bailly at the back post and let fly. Andre Ayew and Sigurdsson both drew further saves from the Spaniard but United took the lead when Rashford made his controversial intervention.

Having sprinted clear he converged with Fabianski, though the teenager was well on his way to the ground when Fabianski touched him. Rooney, for 252nd time, did the rest for United.

He should have had a second early in the second half, but hit Martial’s back rather than the target from 10 yards.

Bailly pulled up around the hour mark, leading to a second reshuffle of the red defence and giving Swansea renewed hope.

Rooney’s foul on Martin Olsson gave them the opening they needed and Sigurdsson lined up from 20 yards. His strike was clean and curled perfectly inside the post but would have hit Herrera square in the chest had he not sprinted away from his station moments earlier.

Either side might have won it in an ill-tempered finale, Lingard heading straight at Fabianski at the far post and Llorente failing to meet a glorious cross in added time.

Source: PA




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Deportivo La Coruna miss chance to secure La Liga safety


Pepe Mel’s Deportivo La Coruna were held by already-relegated Osasuna.

Deportivo La Coruna failed to make certain of their La Liga status after being held to a 2-2 draw at relegated Osasuna.

A victory at El Sadar would have guaranteed safety, but a late own goal from Juanfran gave the home side a point and left Deportivo eight points clear of 18th-placed Sporting Gijon, who have three games remaining.

Osasuna took the lead after just four minutes when the visitors failed to clear a corner and Jhon Mondragon smashed a half-volley into the net, but Deportivo equalised on 18 minutes when Guilherme dos Santos was left unmarked to score with a diving header at the back post.

Dos Santos scored his second of the game from close range midway through the second half, only for Juanfran — who hit the bar in the first half — to put through his own net 12 minutes from time.



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Walter Mazzarri concentrating on Watford form


Walter Mazzarri will not worry about what victory for his Watford side at Vicarage Road on Monday night might do to Liverpool‘s top-four ambitions as the Premier League season comes to a head.

The Hornets host Liverpool in the relative safety of mid-table, already having reached the 40-point barrier which has traditionally proved enough to stay clear of trouble.

Mazzarri, though, has no intentions of letting any of his players take their eye off the ball over the run-in.

With fixtures still to come against Everton and Manchester City, Watford could well have a big say in the race for European qualification.

However, the Italian coach is not concerning himself with anything other than producing the required response to last weekend’s disappointing 2-0 defeat at relegation-battlers Hull.

“I am not looking at other people’s problems with the table. I am only interested in my team,” Mazzarri said.

“I want them to fight for every ball and to concentrate lots.”

The Watford boss added: “I want my players go on the pitch thinking they are in the Champions League final and then we will see afterwards how we have done.”

It has been something of an inconsistent campaign from the Hornets, who have endured plenty of injury problems yet managed to stay clear of being embroiled in the survival battle.

A run of three wins in the past five matches has all but staved off any relegation fears.

Watford were thrashed 6-1 by Liverpool at Anfield earlier in the season, when the Reds were looking set for a sustained title challenge which has gradually faded.

Goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes warned the Hornets could be stung again if they do not go into Monday night’s match with the right mindset.

“If we don’t approach the game well, we could have another heavy defeat. But we are able to do great things as well,” Gomes said, quoted by the Hertfordshire Mercury.

“We are able to compete, we have shown that so many times this season.

“We have reached 40 points, not just getting points against teams that are below us, w e got some from the teams that are above us, which is important.”

Gomes added: “We have to react every time things go wrong, w e did that a few times this season and we have to do it again on Monday.”

Source: PA




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Big career beckons for Harry Maguire, says Hull boss Marco Silva


Hull boss Marco Silva has tipped Harry Maguire as a future great after the defender’s virtuoso showing in Saturday’s goalless draw at Southampton.

Maguire’s three crucial interventions ensured Hull tiptoed out of St Mary’s with a point that could prove priceless to their Premier League survival fight.

Eldin Jakupovic’s added-time penalty save sealed Hull’s first point on the road since February, in the process condemning Sunderland to relegation.

But Maguire’s indomitable showing snuffed out Saints time and again, to leave Silva expecting a career to remember from the 24-year-old who is already coveted by a host of Premier League rivals.

“That performance is no surprise to me, because he’s played like that and been improving for a while now,” said Silva of Maguire.

“He’s a very good player, he works hard and is understanding better what I want for the team and he’s understanding better our organisation as well.

“He has very good skills and it’s clear to me he will have a big career in the future.

“But it was not only Harry, both our centre backs have a very good relationship with the ball. I want those players to start off our play and build us up from the back.”

Sunderland had to better Hull’s result on Saturday to stave off relegation, but had their demotion confirmed via their 1-0 home loss to Bournemouth.

Hull will now host David Moyes’ Black Cats on Saturday with another gilt-edged chance to boost their chances of survival.

Silva has dragged Hull to 21 points in his 15 league matches at the helm since his January arrival, and now he has challenged his players to seize the momentum gained by sealing just their sixth point of the season on the road.

“We have to make sure we use this to boost our confidence,” said Silva.

“It’s clear we need to improve our away form, but often we have played well without the final result. It’s not a win but it’s an important point for us.”

Claude Puel criticised his lacklustre Saints for failing to generate any tempo in their approach play, before refusing to offer any assurances about striker Shane Long’s future at St Mary’s.

Italian hitman Manolo Gabbiadini’s January arrival has bumped Long down the Saints pecking order, and Puel insists any discussions on players’ situations must wait until the end of the season.

“We will see to all this at the end of the season,” said Puel.

“Of course all the players want to play, but it’s important to have players with different profiles.

“Shane’s quickness can give us different solutions.

“But it’s not the moment to speak (to him) about this.

“All the players are focused on the last few games of the season.

“We were too slow and there was no intensity. It was up to us to find other solutions, but we were too slow in our play to make the difference. That’s all our responsibility.”

Source: PA




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Juventus’s Dybala on Monaco, masks and Ronaldinho – UEFA Champions League – News


On semi-final opponents Monaco …

We know that both legs are going to be very tough. Monaco are top of their league and are doing very well. They’re a tough team – they’re strong and they have some really fine players, but so do we, so it’s sure to be a great spectacle. We’ve seen that they attack in numbers and score a lot of goals, but that means there will also be some space for us.

On his playing style …

I try to be a quick-witted player and think about what I’m going to do in advance, because you don’t get much time on the ball. Nowadays football is very fast-paced, and you’ve got to be switched on at all times. I try to analyse games, look at how opposition teams and players operate, and make the most of my abilities, especially my left foot, which is probably my biggest asset. I just look to do my best to help my team-mates.

On the ‘Dybala Mask’ celebration …


Dybala prefers his mask below the nose©Getty Images

At the start of this year, I decided that I wanted a new celebration to go with the new year and I started thinking about ideas. One day, the ‘Dybala Mask’ came to me, which has a significant meaning behind it, and it’s brought me a bit of luck because things have been going really well for me ever since I did that celebration for the first time. It’s better below the nose. I prefer it that way, but everyone is free to do it their own way.

On Ronaldinho …

The one player’s shirt that I would still love to have is Ronaldinho’s. One day Gennaro Gattuso promised me that he was going to call him to ask him for a shirt for me, because he’d played with him, but it didn’t happen. Ronaldinho was one of my favourite players when I was growing up and the image he conveyed to me was that you’ve got to have fun and play with a smile on your face. European coaches and players sometimes don’t look at football the way we South Americans do. We enjoy the game, laugh a lot, dance and so on. I always seek to have fun and enjoy what I do out on the pitch. That’s just my mindset.

On the prospect of winning the UEFA Champions League …

Watch Dybala's star turn against Barcelona


Watch Dybala’s star turn against Barcelona

This could be our year – we’re doing very well in all the competitions we’re involved in. It won’t be easy because there are another three teams who, like us, want to win it, but we’re going to give our all. Winning the competition would be an objective fulfilled, because it’s one of my ambitions, as it is for my team-mates.

It would be a thoroughly deserved reward for many of the boys who have been here for a long time and done so much over the years, from Gianluigi Buffon to Claudio Marchisio, Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini. They haven’t been able to lift the trophy yet and I think they really deserve to.



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Snap shot: The first time Ajax and Lyon met – UEFA Europa League – News



Zlatan Ibrahimović has never won the UEFA Champions League but life in the competition could not have got off to a better start back in 2002 when he scored twice in Ajax’s 2-1 victory over Lyon. Ajax and Lyon meet again this week, with Manchester United their potential final opponents in Stockholm, though a serious knee injury means Ibrahimović will play no part.

1 Zlatan Ibrahimović
A striker with the skill and technique to back up supreme confidence and a penchant for talking about himself in the third person. Ibrahimović is widely regarded as Sweden’s greatest player (he has been named player of the year 11 times!), and he’s won titles wherever he has been since leaving home-town club Malmö for Ajax in 2001. The only thing that has eluded the 35-year-old is a major UEFA club trophy, though with current employers Manchester United in the other UEFA Europa League semi-final, the wait may soon be over.

2 Cristian Chivu
The ‘Maldini of the Carpathians’ joined Ajax as an 18-year-old in 1999, departing four years later for €18m, then a club-record sale. He lifted the double in Amsterdam in 2001/02, was voted 2002 Dutch player of the year and received the captaincy aged 21. He was subsequently a Serie A runner-up three times in four seasons with Roma, then landed the Scudetto in each of his first three camapigns at Inter, recovering from a fractured skull to help his side win the 2009/10 UEFA Champions League under José Mourinho. Chivu retired in 2014 and remains in Milan, working as a UEFA technical observer and running academies in his native Romania.

3 Maxwell
The most decorated current player in the world, Maxwell has collected 36 trophies to date. Ajax was the Brazilian left-back’s first European port of call aged 19, winning the Dutch double in his first term and adding another title in 2003/04 along with being named Dutch player of the year. In 2006 he signed for Inter (linking with up Chivu), winning the Scudetto in each of his three campaigns in Italy, and the trophies have kept coming after switches to Barcelona in 2009 and, since 2012, Paris. He is closing in on a fifth successive Ligue 1 winners’ medal.

Other snap shots



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Jack Butland impresses with Gareth Southgate watching on


Jack Butland knew England boss Gareth Southgate would be watching him at Stoke and was delighted he could state his case for an international return with a clean sheet.

The 24-year-old goalkeeper made three key saves in the 0-0 draw with West Ham in just his second appearance since coming back from a 13-month injury lay-off.

Butland had been out of action having fractured his ankle when playing for the Three Lions in March 2016, with two proposed returns scuppered by further setbacks, and his inclusion in Stoke’s team was the reason for Southgate’s presence at the bet365 Stadium.

Southgate had swerved the Manchester derby on Thursday in favour of a rugby league contest, but Butland was aware he would be assessing him two days later with an eye on the June games with Scotland and France.

“I was aware that he was going to be there, I got the head’s up earlier on in the week,” Butland told BBC Sport.

“I’m really happy personally to come away with a clean sheet and I’m feeling even better, feeling comfortable. It was nice he was there to be able to see that.

” It was a good test. I’m really pleased with how I played.”

Butland spent just one game on the bench before Mark Hughes recalled him at Swansea last weekend in favour of Lee Grant, who has been one of the Potters’ best players since being drafted into the team in September.

Butland has sympathy for his fellow stopper even if he is pleased that his long-awaited return has arrived prior to the season’s conclusion.

“Just knowing that I’ve managed to get through some games before the end of the season, and there’s no question marks going into pre-season, it just puts everyone in a better position,” he added of his situation.

“It doesn’t take anything away from how well Lee’s done because everyone’s only got good things to say about how he’s done.”

The draw with the Hammers moved Stoke on to the 40-point mark, although they were unable to move into their desired target of the Premier League’s top half and the prospect of finishing lower than ninth, the spot they achieved in Mark Hughes’ previous three campaigns, has caused some discontent among supporters.

“The frustration’s probably warranted, we know we can do better than we have and I think the fans know that,” Butland admitted.

“It has been a tough couple of months, not quite reaching the heights that we know we can. It’s still in our own hands. It (finishing in the top half) has always been a target for us and we’re still going to try and aim for that.”

West Ham’s target remains avoiding relegation and though this was another point towards that objective, they could still be caught were those beneath the 15th-placed Hammers to end of the season in style.

Manager Slaven Bilic therefore knows the magnitude of Friday’s derby clash with Tottenham when they could significantly dent, or even end, their London rivals’ title quest too.

“We have tough games,” Bilic said.

“It is good to have two home games but also we know we are playing Tottenham and Liverpool at home and then we have Burnley the last game of the season.

“The next game is massive on Friday night. For them and us, it can’t be any bigger. Make no mistake, we will approach it in a positive manner.”

Source: PA




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Mikel to miss Nigeria’s AFCO clash against Bafana – 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers


by
Phumzile Ngcatshe

Sunday Apr 30, 2017. 13:00


Nigerian midfielder John Obi Mikel’s agent has confirmed that the Super Eagles captain will not be fit for Nigeria’s AFCON 2019 Qualifiers against South Africa on the 10 June in Uyo.

The player’s agent, John Ola Shittu has told Nigerian media that the former Chelsea star could not be available for for the crucial qualifier.

MANCHESTER UNITED IS SERGE AURIER’S PREFERRED DESTINATION

Shittu told Owngoalnigeria.com in a telephone chat that his client won’t make the tie against Bafana Bafana.

”It’s true, he will most likely not be fit for the game against South Africa. He told me after I called him to confirm, if it’s true that he has suffered a setback in his quest to be fit,” he told Owngoalnigeria.com.

”He is in London as we speak, and seeing doctors who are familiar with his health case. The initial news is not pleasant. These things happen, so we have to take it the way it is.”

The absence of the Tianjin Teda midfielder will no doubt worry coach Gernot Rohr, who has options in the middle regards the experience of the captain as invaluable.



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Ashley Barnes delighted with Burnley’s win at Crystal Palace


Ashley Barnes hailed a “massive step” for Burnley after they picked up a crucial win at Crystal Palace.

An eighth-minute Barnes strike, and a late second from sub Andre Gray, secured a 2-0 victory for the Clarets and lifted them to the brink of securing survival.

It was Burnley’s first away win of the season, and a first ever Premier League success in London after 13 defeats and two draws.

“You could see from the boys’ reaction it was massive win, on the road as well,” striker Barnes told the club website.

“We hadn’t picked up a win and to do it now, and the manner in which we did it, is credit to all the lads.

“It was a great performance from all the boys and they all deserve a pat on the back.

“We knew it was a massive, must-win game really. We know how tight it is at the bottom and that got us away a little bit. It felt like a massive step, but we can’t stop here.

“We know our business is not done yet. There are still games remaining. We need to see how high we can possibly go and finish off to the end of the season.

“It’s another three points and we know we needed it. We go in to every game thinking we can get three but that was special.

“It’s special to get that first away win for the fans. They travel everywhere throughout the country and haven’t seen a win.

“We have only picked up a few draws, so this one meant a lot for the fans and to us as a group of players.”

Palace’s recent revival should see them safe as well, although with a trip to Manchester City next up they could still be in the relegation equation with a couple of games to go.

“Mathematically 38 points is not enough, but recently it has been and we just have to hope that I’m right,” said manager Sam Allardyce.

Manchester City is going to be difficult because of our injury list, but we’ll have time to recover and the players will try to defend as well as we have been, and see if we can frustrate them.

“We can’t afford to make the same sort of mistakes that we made against Burnley, so we’ll give it our best shot.”

Source: PA




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Inter Milan mentality criticised but Stefano Pioli issues are simpler


Inter Milan have dropped to seventh in Serie A following just two wins in eight.

Inter are coming off a nightmare run of games ahead of Sunday’s clash with Napoli, failing to win in over a month and somehow allowing half-time leads of 2-0 and 2-1 to turn into a 2-2 draw against AC Milan and a 5-4 defeat to Fiorentina.

In the endless post-mortems which followed the collapse in Florence, Inter were accused of lacking grit and a united mentality, but the squad is full of grinders. Gary Medel isn’t called The Pitbull for nothing, Danilo D’Ambrosio delivered an impassioned speech earlier in the season when things were going wrong, and even substitute Eder is a presence in the changing room.

Geoffrey Kondogbia endured a difficult first season to emerge this year, while both Antonio Candreva and Ivan Perisic run up and down the pitch for 90 minutes. If there’s anything wrong with the Nerazzurri, it is that they have too many “team guys” who just aren’t very talented.

What hurt against Fiorentina is that Inter used Medel in the backline — he doesn’t know the role — with D’Ambrosio and Yuto Nagatomo, who have never learned it. Maybe sporting director Piero Ausilio shouldn’t have given new deals to two of these players?

Inter coach Stefano Pioli was wrong to park the bus against both Milan and Fiorentina but as he seeks to return his side to the type of form that saw them record nine straight wins in all competitions between December and January, there is a slither of hope in Napoli’s wretched record at the San Siro.

For all the beautiful football they’ve played over the years, Napoli generally aren’t the kind of opponent that causes trouble at Inter.  Even accounting for the years they spent outside of Serie A, the Partenopei have only won there twice in 23 years, and just once since returning to the top tier under Edy Reja in 2007.

Far from perfect planners, at least the Partenopei don’t fire coaches at the drop of a hat, and wait to develop their players. Centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly is now a prized asset after a difficult first season. Inter, for their part, expect quick fixes all the time. It really shouldn’t be a surprise that the team can’t quite hack it. Psychology could well play a major role, sure, but it is the result of work, preparation and consistency. It’s not the underlying issue, it’s a symptom.

Matias Vecino of Fiorentina celebrates after scoring a goal in his team's win against Inter Milan.
Inter lost 5-4 to Fiorentina last time out.

Maybe giving Jeison Murillo consistent playing time would work eventually. Unlike Koulibaly, the Colombian began his time at Inter well last season before dropping off. The same goes for Roberto Gagliardini and Kondogbia, who need to become more rounded. Candreva needs to improve, while the aforementioned defensive blunderers need to be corrected.

A good idea would be to avoid keeping the team so stretched, as well as trying to deny Jorginho and Marek Hamsik — two very talented players known to struggle in big games — of space.

Reminding Gagliardini to track his man (something he has forgotten to do in the last fortnight) will help immeasurably, as will using Joao Mario again, the Portuguese international chipping in with gusto since replacing Ever Banega.

There is some hope of a result on Sunday. After all, Napoli need the win more, finding themselves four points short of a Roma team that has a derby to play. The pressure could tell, if Inter are good enough. The trouble is, they’ve proven not to be too many times this season.

Edoardo Dalmonte covers Inter Milan for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @EdoDalmonte.



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Jurgen Klopp not scared about potential Premier League slide


Jurgen Klopp is not concerned his Liverpool side could drop out of the Premier League’s top four this weekend.

With fourth-placed Manchester City, only a point behind, and United, two adrift, both playing on Sunday the Reds could arrive at Watford on Monday night in fifth place.

United have the toughest run-in in the race for Champions League football as they have still to play Arsenal and Tottenham, which offers Liverpool some cause for optimism, and Klopp is confident his players can get the job done.

“It is all about us. We cannot have 100 per cent influence on it but always in football it makes sense to focus on your own games and at the end you have to see what it was for,” said the German.

“We have to do our job another four times and we will see.

“It is not frustrating. I cannot change the results we had. not the good ones or the bad ones.

“If we win then we can be in third position again, probably. That is all we think about.”

When Liverpool hammered Watford 6-1 at Anfield back in November the win took them top of the Premier League.

Since then injuries have scuppered their title bid, but with a top-four place still to play for the Reds boss said the stakes were still high.

“Is there more pressure? No,” he said. “It’s the pressure you create by your performances and if we would have now 50-something points we would fight for nothing.

“Will there come pressure? Yeah, of course, on Monday before the game, nobody will feel like it is a friendly game, it’s a very important game.

“We need to be ready for this but we were often enough ready for this so nobody should be in doubt that we will fight there.

“In this moment, everything for us is possible, and that’s what we should try to show.

“I think when we met here months ago, when we were first or second in the table, I said the only thing we can do is to be in the battle for the interesting positions at the end of the season.

“The end of the season is now, of course, it is the last month of the season and we are in the battle. So what else do we want?

“Yes, it would be nice if we had 10 points more and fight with Chelsea for the title, but that’s not for us obviously in this moment.

“So we have to fight for what we can fight for and that’s a Champions League place. That’s really, really interesting, to be honest.”

Liverpool are set to be boosted by the return of midfielder Adam Lallana, who has been out since sustaining a groin injury playing for England on March 26.

Striker Daniel Sturridge is back in training after missing last weekend’s home defeat to Crystal Palace with a sore hip.

Source: PA




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Rafa Benitez: We haven’t decided on Christian Atsu yet – 2019 Africa Cup of Nations Qualifiers


by
Graeme Jackson

Sunday Apr 30, 2017. 12:00


The future of Ghanaian winger Christian Atsu at Newcastle United has yet to be decided, according to manager Rafael Benitez.

The Black Stars attacker is on loan at Newcastle from parent club Chelsea and has played a strong role in helping the Magpies earn promotion back to the Premier League.

He scored a superb goal and was named man of thew match as United defeated Cardiff City 2-0 on Friday night in the Championship.

The 25-year-old has spent the last four seasons on loan at different clubs and is keen on having a more permanent stay.

However, Benitez revealed that the club is yet to make a decision in this regards and insists that one strong performance or fine goal won’t convince them to sign him permanently.

“The future of a player doesn’t change with one action or goal,” said Benitez after the match in Cardiff.

“We know that he’s a good player. We have to decide. I’m really pleased with him. We have to see where we are in terms of the squad and all these things.”



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