FA Cup


Stoke City 4/6 to see past Rochdale in Monday night’s FA Cup clash

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Competition: FA Cup
Market: Stoke to win against Rochdale
Odds: 4/6 @ Ladbrokes

Stoke City face Rochdale in the FA Cup fourth round this evening, with manager Mark Hughes desperate to avoid an upset. The past weekend saw the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham and Southampton all knocked out of the competition, which batters Stoke’s chances of making a deep run this season.

City have been in decent form ahead of their meeting against Rochdale too, losing just once in their last five Premier League games. Their League One opponents are coming off the back of consecutive league victories, so they too are in good spirits.

One Achilles heel for Dale could surprisingly be their home form, however. The playoff chasers have won just once in home soil in their last five games, so Stoke will be looking to make difficult from the start.

And as a result, Ladbrokes are giving odds of 4/6 for the Potters to win tonight against Rochdale, which would see them into the draw for the FA Cup fifth round – to be made today also.

Bet: Stoke City to see past Rochdale in Monday night’s FA Cup clash @ 4/6 with
Ladbrokes >>

Mon 26 January, 2015
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Foster: Anichebe unplayable

West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster lauded the qualities of team-mate Victor Anichebe following his weekend FA Cup heroics.

Ben Foster believes West Brom striker Victor Anichebe can be “unplayable”, as evidenced in the FA Cup victory over Birmingham City at the weekend.

Anichebe netted both West Brom goals in a 2-1 win at St Andrew’s, twice using his strength in holding off Paul Robinson to fire home.

And Foster, who was called upon in the second half after starting goalkeeper Boaz Myhill was forced off with a hand injury, believes Anichebe can act as a focal point for West Brom’s attacking play.

“He was unplayable at times on Saturday,” Foster told the club’s official website.

“If you get the ball into his feet with one defender marking him, then that is trouble.

“I don’t care who you are, you will not be able to stop him bulldozing his way through.

“Vic has shown that if you can get the ball into his feet he will turn defenders, he is fantastic at doing that.

“It is what he does regularly in training and the gaffer has noticed that, it is an incredible strength to have.

“We need to play to our strengths, it is as simple as that.”

Mon 26 January, 2015
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Gil has hit the ground running – Lambert

Carles Gil scored on his full debut in a 2-1 FA Cup win over Bournemouth, and Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert hailed his impact.

Paul Lambert singled out the performance of new signing Carles Gil after the Spaniard found the net in Aston Villa’s 2-1 FA Cup victory over Bournemouth.

Gil, making his first start since arriving from Valencia earlier this month, opened the scoring with a stunning 51st-minute strike on Sunday, before Andreas Weimann added a second 20 minutes later.

Substitute Callum Wilson netted a late consolation for the Championship leaders, but Lambert was relieved to see his side into the fifth round. 

“We needed to try to get through,” he was quoted as saying by BBC Sport. “All credit to the team. I thought we deserved the win.

“Gil is lighting the place up and it was a world-class goal. Being a foreign player you can take time to adapt or hit the ground running and he has done the latter.

“He does the same in training. In training you can’t get the ball from him as he has a low centre of gravity.

“I’m delighted to get through. It’s a big win.”

Villa had scored just one goal in their previous six matches in all competitions prior to Sunday’s win, and Lambert says he can see the light at the end of the tunnel after that slump.

“The supporters went through a hard time just like the players,” he added. “The win today will certainly help us.

“We took a lot of knocks but all credit to the lads, they never let their heads down, even in training.”

Sun 25 January, 2015
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Brighton and Hove Albion 2 Arsenal 3: Walcott and Ozil among the goals for holders

Arsenal took another step towards the successful defence of their FA Cup crown with a fourth-round win over Brighton and Hove Albion.

Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil shrugged off their respective injury frustrations to score a goal apiece in Arsenal’s 3-2 FA Cup fourth-round win over Brighton and Hove Albion.

England winger Walcott set the tone for a dominant first-half display from the holders with the opener in just the second minute, while Ozil – making his first start since October – added the second before half-time.

Having offered precious little in terms of an attacking threat prior to the break, Brighton reduced the arrears early in a much-improved second-half showing when Chris O’Grady capitalised on some poor Arsenal defending to score.

Hopes of a stirring comeback on a weekend of upsets appeared to be dashed when Tomas Rosicky volleyed in Olivier Giroud’s chipped pass from the edge of the box.

There was still time for Sam Baldock to set up a nervy finish with a measured 75th-minute finish, but Arsene Wenger’s men held firm.

Arsenal started with the confidence of a side enjoying a three-match winning run without conceding a goal, their most recent triumph having come against Premier League champions Manchester City.

Walcott and Ozil were unused substitutes in that game but came to the fore at the Amex Stadium, the former opening the scoring inside 90 seconds with his first goal in more than a year.

When the sides last met at the same stage in 2013, Walcott broke Brighton hearts with an 85th-minute winner in a game that also ended 3-2, but he was much quicker off the mark on Sunday, collecting Calum Chambers’ right-wing cross with his first touch and steering home with his second.

Brighton struggled to stem the flow of attacks and fell two behind midway through the half as Ozil turned neatly in the box and swept a precise finish beyond David Stockdale following Rosicky’s neat pass into feet.

A rare foray forward from Chris Hughton’s side saw Baldock fire high and wide from 12 yards just before the half-hour mark, but when Brighton finally did manage a shot on target it changed the complexion of the match.

It came five minutes into the second half when Rosicky’s poor clearance allowed O’Grady to seize possession in the box and he showed excellent composure to fire a low shot past the flat-footed Wojciech Szczesny.

The goal energised the home fans and suddenly Brighton seemed to harbour hopes of matching Bradford City’s stunning FA Cup turnaround against Chelsea on Saturday, with Phil Parkinson’s side having come from 2-0 down to win 4-2.

That notion was soon dispelled, though, as Rosicky scored the pick of the bunch in the 59th minute. The Czech looked one way and played a pass the other before volleying the return ball from Giroud beyond Stockdale.

Baldock’s chipped finish gave Brighton a glimmer of hope, but a record home crowd were denied the equaliser that would have forced an unlikely replay as Arsenal – who saw Alexis Sanchez clip the crossbar with a late free-kick – marched on to round five.

Sun 25 January, 2015
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Aston Villa 2 Bournemouth 1: Gil helps under-fire Lambert breathe easy

Aston Villa reached the FA Cup fifth round thanks to goals from Carles Gil and Andreas Weimann in a 2-1 home win against Bournemouth.

Carles Gil marked his first Aston Villa start with a wonderful goal in a 2-1 victory over Bournemouth in the FA Cup fourth round on Sunday.

Paul Lambert’s men have found goals hard to come by of late – scoring just once in their previous six outings in all competitions prior to the tie – but Gil’s stunning 51st-minute strike, along with an Andreas Weimann effort 20 minutes later, will give the club’s fans cause for optimism.

Championship leaders Bournemouth looked bright during the first half and went close twice through midfielder Shaun MacDonald, who saw one effort cleared off the line by Kieran Richardson.

Eunan O’Kane also looked dangerous for the visitors at Villa Park, but the home side came out for the second period with renewed energy.

After going close moments earlier, Gil – who arrived from Valencia for an undisclosed fee earlier this month – curled in a sublime left-footed strike to give Villa the lead.

Weimann found the net in the 71st minute, but substitute Callum Wilson set up a tense finish with a goal three minutes into stoppage time for Bournemouth, who have scored more goals in one match – an 8-0 win at Birmingham City in October – than Villa have managed at home all season in the Premier League (seven).

However, Villa clung on to take their place in the fifth round with their first goals since beating Blackpool 1-0 in round three.

Villa announced a new long-term deal for Fabian Delph in the build-up to kick-off, but there was no place for the England midfielder in Lambert’s matchday squad, while Bournemouth made eight changes from their last Championship outing.

It was the visitors who forced the first opening, with MacDonald sending a deflected effort over the crossbar after good work by Ryan Fraser.

Shay Given then had to get down to keep out a Harry Arter strike from the edge of the penalty area, before Weimann headed just wide at the other end.

Former Swansea City midfielder MacDonald continued to cause problems for the Villa defence and was denied by a Richardson block on the line after rounding Given in the 18th minute.

Despite making wholesale changes, Bournemouth were holding their own against top-flight opposition and O’Kane saw an effort tipped around the post by Given shortly after the half-hour mark.

Gil found the side-netting after some neat build-up play from Christian Benteke at the beginning of the second half, but the Spaniard was on target with a sensational strike soon after.

After cutting onto his left foot on the right of the penalty area, Gil sent a wonderful curling effort beyond Lee Camp and into the Bournemouth net.

Weimann appeared to have made sure of a place in the next round when he slotted home from 12 yards after a cutback from Alan Hutton, but Bournemouth refused to go down without a fight.

Substitute Simon Francis fired just wide before fellow replacement Wilson squeezed the ball past Given from close range.

Despite the late drama, Villa held on for a result that marks the first time they have won by more than one goal since a 3-1 Premier League victory against Hull City in May.

Sun 25 January, 2015
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Allardyce relieved with scrappy West Ham win

West Ham avoided an FA Cup upset with a scrappy 1-0 win at Bristol City and manager Sam Allardyce was a relieved man.

Sam Allardyce was relieved that West Ham avoided becoming the latest FA Cup casualty this weekend as they scraped past Bristol City 1-0 on Sunday.

League One high-flyers City put in a fine display at Ashton Gate and striker Matt Smith saw two headers cleared off the goalline during a dominant first-half performance from the hosts.

However, substitute Diafra Sakho’s back-post header in the 81st minute was enough for West Ham to move through to the fifth round and avoid the same fate as the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City, who fell to Bradford City and Middlesbrough respectively on Saturday.

“I knew it was going to be a tough game and it was exactly that,” Allardyce told BBC Sport.

“Bristol City showed why they are where they are in the league with their form.

“We found it difficult to get our passing routine going but when the one chance popped up it was all we needed to get a very important victory.

“Bearing in mind what has happened this weekend, it is a big result for us.”

Centre-back Winston Reid concedes that West Ham failed to meet expectations in the first half, but felt the Premier League side were rewarded for remaining patient.

“In the first half we were under pressure,” he added. “It is always difficult coming to these places. Bristol City put in a good performance but we put in a clean sheet and Diafro Sakho got the goal, so it was good.

“We wanted to come here and finish off the game and we did, even though we had to wait for that.

“The manager spoke before about the upsets yesterday, and we did not want to be one of them.”

Sun 25 January, 2015
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Fourth round FA Cup weekend produces major shocks

Bradford boss Phil Parkinson masterminded the Bantams 4-2 win over Premier League leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge

Bradford boss Phil Parkinson masterminded the Bantams 4-2 FA Cup win over Premier League leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday

The FA Cup has lost some of its glamour and romance as the cold hard cash of the Premier League and Champions League have overshadowed English football’s traditional showpiece.

The demise of the FA Cup may just have been exaggerated.

Shocks

This weekend’s FA Cup fourth round ties produced a big weekend of shocks, as the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Southampton and Tottenham all exited the competition with home defeats.

Liverpool and Manchester United could also only manage draws against lower league opposition.

Extraordinary

The most extraordinary shock came at Stamford Bridge, where Premier League leaders Chelsea were pegged-back from two goals up to lose 4-2 against League One Bradford City.

Chelsea did field a slightly weakened side, but the team looked strong enough to give most Premier League opposition a game, with the likes of Petr Cech, Gary Cahill, Oscar and Cesar Azpilicueta all starting the game.

No matter what team the Blues put out they would have been expected to beat a third tier team, but the Bantams were outstanding and deserved their win. Bradford boss Phil Parkinson deserves a lot of credit for masterminding the victory.

The former-Reading boss has helped the Bantams to cup shocks before, but as he stated this has to be the best of the best, especially after his team went two goals down.

Shocks

One of the other big cup shocks of the day was ironically inspired by a Chelsea-loanee Patrick Bamford, who helped Championship Middlesbrough pull off a 2-0 win at Premier League champions Manchester City.

The young striker scored the opening goal earlier in the second half and then set-up the second goal in injury-time for Spanish forward Kike.

City boss Manuel Pellegrini has expressed his worry about his sides form and the Championship side punished a laboured display expertly. Boro are a good side, who are sitting second in the Championship table and could be winning at the Etihad Stadium yet again next season.

Tottenham’s 2-1 defeat at the hands of Premier League strugglers Leicester was another shock result, as the bottom of the table Foxes snatched a last-gasp win at White Hart Lane. Maybe the win can inspire an upturn in fortunes in the top-flight.

Sitting third in the Premier League table Southampton would have fancied their chances at home to fellow Premier League side Crystal Palace, but the Saints suffered a 3-2 defeat at St Marys Stadium. The side from the south coast were uncharacteristically poor in defence.

To be fair to the Eagles they are in form, as boss Alan Pardew has now won all four of his games in charge at Selhurst Park and they are suddenly looking like a major threat going forward.

Draws

Manchester United produced a very poor display at League Two Cambridge on Friday night and could only come away with a goalless draw. For all the criticism they received they will get a second chance at Old Trafford to make it to the fifth round.

Liverpool endured a frustrating evening on Saturday, as Championship Bolton came to Anfield and also earned themselves a goalless draw. The replay at the Macron Stadium is unlikely to be an easy one.

They may have endured disappointing results, but both North West giants at least have a second chance to progress in the cup unlike the likes of Chelsea, City and Southampton.

Open

The exit from the FA Cup of some of the Premier League’s best teams will give other teams hope that they can win the trophy this season. Manchester United are currently favourites for the cup at odds of 11/4, while holders Arsenal are odds of 3/1 and Liverpool are odds of 9/2.

In truth this season’s FA Cup could now be anybody’s. As this weekend has proved anything can happen in the FA Cup and those remaining big guns could exit the competition in the next round, or even in Liverpool’s case their fourth round replay.

Magic

This weekend’s results proved that the magic of the FA Cup is still well and truly alive and well. Very few FA Cup weekends in living memory have produced so many shocks in recent years and it is good for the competition.

There will now be fans of underdogs all over the country dreaming that their team may get to Wembley and that is only a good thing for football in general.

Where does Bradford’s FA Cup win against Chelsea rank amongst the great cup shocks of all-time?

Sun 25 January, 2015
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Aston Villa 7/5 to win against Championship high-flyers Bournemouth

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Competition: FA Cup
Market: Aston Villa to win against Bournemouth
Odds: 7/5 @ William Hill

Aston Villa host Bournemouth in the FA Cup fourth round this afternoon, but it’s the Championship club somewhat confident of a shock result. Flying high in the second tier this season, the Cherries are top of the pack after 27 games, boasting the best away form in the division.

The Villans are in poor form ahead of their FA Cup clash, with the Midlands club winless in their last seven games. Goals have been a problem too, as Paul Lambert’s side have scored just one goal in that time too. With that in mind, Bournemouth stand a chance at getting a result at Villa Park, as the Villans have lost to lower-league opposition in recent years.

But William Hill are backing the home side with odds of 7/5 to scrape through in the 90 minutes, with their form on home soil likely to take them through. Bournemouth won’t be fazed by the occasion, however, so they will look to attack the Midlands club as much as possible.

Bet: Aston Villa to win against Championship high-flyers Bournemouth @ 7/5 with William Hill >>

Sun 25 January, 2015
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Arsenal 1/2 to win this afternoon’s FA Cup clash against Brighton

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Competition: FA Cup
Market: Arsenal to win against Brighton
Odds: 1/2 @ Ladbrokes

Arsenal are the current FA Cup holders, following last season’s triumph over Hull City in the summer, and are hoping they can see past this afternoon’s opponents Brighton to reach the fifth round. The Gunners are coming off the back of an incredible away win against Manchester City in the Premier League, and face a Brighton side struggling in the Championship.

They are expected to deliver, but will be wary of how many cup upsets have already occurred this weekend, with favourites Chelsea & Manchester City having lost to lesser opposition. Arsenal the FA Cup is regarded as Arsenal best genuine chance of trophy success this season, with the Premier League already out of their grasp, and the Gunners having been knocked out of the Capital One Cup in the third round.

Ladbrokes are giving odds of 1/2 for Arsenal to win this afternoon against the Seagulls to book their place in the fifth round of the competition, to continue their unbeaten run, and go one step closer to retaining the cup.

Bet: Arsenal to win this afternoon’s FA Cup clash against Brighton @ 1/2 with Ladbrokes >>

Sun 25 January, 2015
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Tottenham 1 Leicester City 2: Late turnaround stuns Spurs

Leicester City shocked Tottenham with a dramatic late turnaround to book their spot in the FA Cup fifth round on Saturday.

Late drama ensued at White Hart Lane as goals from Leonardo Ulloa and Jeffrey Schlupp enabled Leicester City to come from behind and beat Tottenham 2-1 in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

Andros Townsend’s first-half penalty appeared set to send Spurs through to round five on Saturday.

However, Ulloa levelled in the 83rd minute with an emphatic finish, before Schlupp’s volley squirmed under stand-in goalkeeper Michel Vorm in second-half injury time.

England international Townsend was afforded his opportunity from the spot when Liam Moore brought Roberto Soldado tumbling in the penalty area, while the visitors felt they should have had a first-half penalty of their own when Andrej Kramaric went to ground under a challenge from Vorm.

Spurs subsequently spurned chances through Erik Lamela and Paulinho, before being punished as Leicester turned things around in the closing stages.

Tottenham enjoyed the majority of possession in the early stages, but it was Leicester who engineered the first clear-cut opening.

Jeffrey Schlupp’s centre from the left picked out Kramaric – making his first start for the club – and the Croatian was denied by a superb point-blank save from Vorm.

Vorm was called into action again when the lively Schlupp burst through the Spurs defence and hit a right-footed shot from the edge of the box that forced the goalkeeper to parry over the crossbar.

Those missed opportunities proved costly for Leicester in the 19th minute when Moore was penalised for clumsily felling Soldado in the penalty area.

Townsend slotted the resulting penalty to the right of Leicester debutant Mark Schwarzer – who at the age of 42 became the club’s oldest player – and Moore’s afternoon worsened when he limped off with an ankle injury.

Tottenham turned the screw in search of a second, but there was a moment of controversy shortly before the break when Leicester were denied a penalty.

Kramaric broke free and went to ground under a challenge from Vorm, only
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to be booked for simulation by referee Robert Madley.

Tottenham threatened first after the restart as Lamela – back in the side after a calf complaint – fired just over from 20 yards in the 53rd minute.

Paulinho could also have made things more comfortable for the hosts when he shot wide after Lamela’s clever cut-back from the byline.

Lamela was proving a constant threat in the second half and the Argentine forward brought the best out of Schwarzer with a bending left-footed shot.

Spurs’ profligacy was punished in the 83rd minute when they failed to clear their lines at a corner and Ulloa controlled from Schlupp’s ball back into the area before sweeping his shot past a helpless Vorm.

There was still another twist to come, though, as Danny Simpson’s excellent cross was side-footed home by Schlupp in stoppage time – much to the delight of the travelling faithful.

Sat 24 January, 2015
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Birmingham City 1 West Brom 2: Anichebe seals derby triumph

Victor Anichebe’s double was enough to send West Brom through to the FA Cup fifth round as they overcame Birmingham City 2-1 at St Andrew’s.

Tony Pulis continued his unbeaten start to life at The Hawthorns with a hard-fought victory over local rivals Birmingham City in an attritional Midlands derby. 

Victor Anichebe’s first-half double gave the Premier League outfit a two-goal lead in what was a scrappy opening period.

The powerful forward twice linked up superbly with strike partner Saido Berahino as Birmingham’s defence was found wanting.

But Gary Rowett’s side rallied before the interval and pulled one back through Jonathan Grounds on the stroke of half-time – the first goal that West Brom have conceded under Pulis.

Birmingham went into the game on the back of a four-match unbeaten run, but they were unable to grab an equaliser in a stop-start second half as West Brom held on to secure passage through to the last 16.

Pulis made just one alteration to the West Brom side that that earned a point against Everton last time out, while Birmingham top scorer Clayton Donaldson was named on the bench alongside talented youngster Damarai Gray.

And though the hosts made a positive start to proceedings, it was the visitors who almost took the lead 10 minutes in when Berahino’s rasping drive whistled just wide of the upright.

Birmingham grew into the game as the half wore on and Andrew Shinnie was a matter of inches away from nodding them ahead, but he could not quite latch on to David Cotterill’s floated cross.

And they were made to pay in the 25th minute when Berahino threaded a perfectly weighted pass through to Anichebe, who held off Birmingham skipper Paul Robinson before slotting home at the near post with a neat first-time finish.

But Anichebe, who reached the FA Cup final with Everton back in 2009, was not finished there, and doubled his tally 10 minutes later when he received the ball on the edge of the box before again rolling Robinson and sending a scuffed finish into the bottom-right corner.

West Brom seemed to be coasting towards half-time with their two-goal advantage intact, but Pulis will be disappointed with how easily Grounds found the space to be able to side-foot home from debutant loanee Lloyd Dyer’s cross – his maiden Birmingham goal.

Both sides struggled to gain any real momentum after the restart, and it was not until the 58th minute that Birmingham managed to make any headway into the West Brom half when Dyer broke free down the left, but Boaz Myhill rushed out to intercept.

That bravery resulted in a nasty knock to the head for West Brom’s goalkeeper and the visitors took no risks, sending on Ben Foster in place of the stricken Welshman.

Pulis had further cause for concern soon after when former West Brom man Robinson clattered into Stephane Sessengon, who limped off to be replaced by Chris Baird.

Shinnie had another terrific chance fall his way in the 73rd minute as the hosts pressed hard for a leveller, but he could only direct his header over the bar after he had leapt well to meet Ground’s whipped cross.

Rowett then brought on Gray in place of Dyer, and the youngster worked a great chance almost immediately, ducking inside onto his right foot before curling a vicious strike goalwards, but Foster was equal to it and held firm.

West Brom broke forward as the game entered the final 10 minutes, and Chris Brunt almost doubled their advantage with a cute effort from a tight angle, but the ball clipped off of the outside of post.

Foster was forced into tipping over a powerful Nicola Zigic drive late-on and, though Birmingham battled furiously to create an opening during six minutes of added time, they were unable to snatch an evasive equaliser.

Sat 24 January, 2015
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Southampton 2 Crystal Palace 3: Pardew´s men reach fifth round

Crystal Palace came from behind to win for the third game in a row as they defeated Southampton 3-2 in the FA Cup fourth round.

Marouane Chamakh netted a brace as Crystal Palace twice came from a goal down to overcome Southampton 3-2 and reach the fifth round of the FA Cup.

All of the goalmouth action occurred in an incredible first half at St Mary’s Stadium on Saturday, as Chamakh struck either side of Yaya Sanogo’s first goal for Palace to ensure progress.

Graziano Pelle gave Southampton an early lead from a corner, but that advantage was short-lived as Chamakh levelled by converting a rebound.

Scott Dann’s own goal restored the home side’s lead, but once again Palace’s response was swift when Sanogo shot home to make it 2-2 after just 21 minutes.

Chamakh then found the winner shortly before half-time with a composed finish, and the visitors were able to hold on to their advantage throughout a less eventful second period.

The result means Palace have now won all four matches under the leadership of Alan Pardew, while defeat for one of his former clubs ended an eight-match unbeaten run in all competitions.

Wilfried Zaha threatened inside the opening 60 seconds as he fired narrowly over from the edge of the box, but it was Southampton who went in front after nine minutes.

Palace failed to deal with James Ward-Prowse’s corner, and Pelle was on hand to bundle home his first goal in eight games.

The visitors were level within two minutes, however, as Chamakh poked home after Fraser Forster had spilled Sanogo’s shot.

Forster kept out Sanogo soon afterwards, and Southampton were grateful for that save as they restored their advantage in the 16th minute when Ryan Bertrand’s cross was turned into his own net by Dann after a breakdown in communication with goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey.

Forster then denied Fraizer Campbell as the all-action opening continued, but three minutes later the keeper was unable to prevent Sanogo from equalising for a second time as the striker converted from Zaha’s pass.

Ward-Prowse and Steven Davis both went close from distance for the hosts either side of the half-hour mark, but it was Palace who led for the first time six minutes prior to the interval.

Joel Ward embarked on a strong run down the right and fed Chamakh, who took a touch and rounded Forster before slotting home.

In the second half, Ronald Koeman introduced Shane Long off the bench in a bid to find an equaliser, but the forward’s contribution lasted just 13 minutes as he left the field having hurt his right arm in a collision with Ward.

Southampton pressed hard in the final stages to earn themselves a replay and Hennessey produced a fine save to keep out Eljero Elia’s drive two minutes from time, which allowed Palace to hold firm and book their place in the fifth round for the first time since 2010.

Sat 24 January, 2015
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Sunderland 0 Fulham 0: Defoe fails to fire on home debut

Sunderland’s poor home form continues after being held to a 0-0 draw by Fulham in the FA Cup fourth round on Saturday.

Ten-man Sunderland’s miserable home form continued in the FA Cup as the Premier League strugglers were held to a goalless draw by Championship side Fulham on Saturday.

Gus Poyet’s men have only won twice at the Stadium of Light this season in all competitions and that run was extended as the visitors earned a fourth-round replay.

Fulham were much the better side in the first half and would have been ahead had Cauley Woodrow and Moussa Dembele taken good openings.

With home chances at a premium, Sunderland fans had failed to see anything from new signing Jermain Defoe until he was denied on three occasions by Marcus Bettinelli around the hour mark.

Jack Rodwell’s red card after 65 minutes handed Fulham the initiative, but Ross McCormack and Hugo Rodallega were unable to find a way through.

The draw means both sides will go into the hat for the fifth round on Monday, ahead of a replay at Craven Cottage.

Poyet made three changes from the side beaten at Tottenham last weekend as Vito Mannone was given a rare start in goal, with Defoe handed a home debut alongside Steven Fletcher in attack.

The visitors opted to leave midweek hat-trick hero McCormack on the bench and Fulham began to threaten after soaking up early Sunderland pressure.

Woodrow was first to test Mannone with an effort from the edge of the penalty area after 14 minutes, with Seko Fofana heavily involved in their attacking play.

The young Frenchman was at the heart of their next foray forward midway through the half as he managed to find Woodrow again, but Sunderland scrambled his effort to safety.

As the hosts continued to struggle for momentum, Dembele brought another save out of Mannone, his low shot easily held by the Italian goalkeeper.

Sunderland had failed to create any clear chances as half-time approached before Sebastian Larsson finally forced Bettinelli to make a sharp save with his legs from a low drive.

Any momentum they may have created before the break disappeared early into the second half as Fofana got back on the ball, the 19-year-old seeing a low shot deflected narrowly wide. 

Defoe’s first notable involvement came after 55 minutes as he won the ball in midfield before driving towards goal, although his effort was sliced wide and never going to threaten Bettinelli.

The former Tottenham striker thought he had opened his Sunderland account six minutes later as he connected with a half-volley from close range, only for Bettinelli to push it onto the post. 

Rodwell was then given his marching orders as he blocked Bettinelli’s attempt to set Fulham on a counterattack to earn a second yellow card, his first coming after a high tackle in the opening 45 minutes.

McCormack’s introduction gave Kit Symons’ side a new dimension going forward, but it was Rodallega who went closest to winning the match as his late header thudded against the post, leaving Sunderland grateful to earn a replay.

Sat 24 January, 2015
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Van Gaal blames everything but his team for Cambridge draw

Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal was unhappy with the pitch and referee as his side drew 0-0 at League Two Cambridge

Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal was unhappy with the pitch and referee as his side drew 0-0 at League Two Cambridge

On Friday night Premier League giants Manchester United produced a goalless draw with League Two Cambridge at the Abbey Stadium.

The lower league side deserved their draw and a replay at Old Trafford.

However, Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal was anything but dignified in his respond to the draw blaming everything from the pitch to Cambridge tea lady for the stalemate.

Against

Van Gaal insisted everything was against United telling Sky Sports: “Every aspect of the match is against us,”

“We have to come here and the pitch is not so good. That can influence you’re playing style. The opponents are giving a lot more than normally and defending is always easier than attacking. Then you see the referee, it’s always the same. Everywhere I have coached, it’s always the same with this referee.

“I know it’s very difficult to beat such an opponent in these circumstances. I know that in advance – I said it in my press conference before the Yeovil Town game. We know in advance everything is against us.”

Credit

How dare plucky little Cambridge actually put more effort in because they were up against Manchester United. Imagine that a team trying their hardest to win a football game. How dare they!

It was not like there was a massive gulf in class in players or resources of the two teams. There was just a couple hundred million differences in the value of the two teams and Cambridge played so well it did not show.

I am going to give Cambridge the credit that Mr Van Gaal was so unwilling to afford them. The League Two were outstanding from the first whistle to the last. They gave their all and will be rewarded with a replay at Old Trafford, which should give the U’s a very healthy pay day.

Blame

Former-Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson was a master at creating a ‘us against the world’ mentality at United and was not backward at coming forwards when it came to criticising referees, but I doubt even the Scottish managerial legend would have been so ungracious when drawing with a lower league team in such circumstances.

His players would certainly know who was to blame for the performance and what United’s current boss did in his post-match interviews was an attempt to divert the blame from his team’s poor performance against a team far lower than themselves in the football pyramid.

No disrespect to Cambridge, and they no doubt know this themselves they should not even been able to live with a team containing so many expensive players. However, they did and part of that was because the United players underperformed and it was not the first time.

Louis van Gaal needs to start looking at himself and his players, because the referee or the pitch did not influence his player’s poor decision making. Manchester United should be producing better performances and everybody connected with the club can see that on the pitch.

To blame referees and poor pitch for this display would be hiding the fact that quite simply United did not play well enough to win the game.

Doubts

Louis van Gaal was brought in because he was a high-profile boss with a history of winning trophies wherever he has managed.

He seems to have been given the benefit of the doubt up to now, but now people are asking questions about whether he is the right man to move United forward and not just based on a one-off cup tie against a lower league team.

The Dutchman has recently confessed that he gets ‘twitchy’ playing with a 4-4-2 formation, but his stubbornness in his style and approach could very be the problem. It seems like it’s his way or no way.

The veteran Dutchman has always been something of a feisty, rather abrupt character with an ego to match. However, people have forgiven him for that in the past as he has been successful in winning trophies.

When he is not winning games and trophies though his approach and bullishness will be questioned and doubts will linger about his ability as a boss.

Questions

The Manchester United team does seem to have made some progression this season, but much of that progression can be accredited to Van Gaal having spent heavily to strengthen his squad.

Many people have even suggested that former-boss David Moyes may have done just as good a job as Van Gaal, if given the same resources and that would be a fair question at the moment.

Van Gaal may bring success in a few years’ time, but there is still plenty of work to do for United to become the force that they once were and the Dutchman cannot blame referees and poor pitches forever if they do not.

Was Louis van Gaal right not to criticise his players after the draw at Cambridge?

Sat 24 January, 2015
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Bowyer hails ´terrific´ Blackburn

Gary Bowyer hailed Blackburn Rovers’ response after going behind in a 3-1 FA Cup triumph against Swansea City.

Blackburn Rovers manager Gary Bowyer praised his side’s “terrific” performance following a 3-1 FA Cup fourth-round victory over nine-man Swansea City.

Rudy Gestede and Craig Conway scored late on to seal the win for the Championship outfit, after Chris Taylor had cancelled out Gylfi Sigurdsson’s stunning opener.

Swansea had seen Kyle Bartley sent off after a coming together with Josh King early on, before a late challenge on Taylor during second-half stoppage time earned Sigurdsson a red card of his own.

“The lads have stuck together and I thought that really shone through today,” Bowyer told Radio Rovers. “There was the early sending off, but after that we were disappointed with the manner of their goal.

“It was a great strike, but we should have closed the ball down better.

“But our response was terrific, Taylor has done fantastically well, it was a great move and a great goal.

“We had to be patient, but fair play to the lads they learnt that today, they stuck at it and were terrific.

“Our organisation, our shape, and the way we pressed at times was great. Then we made the short corner count thanks to Rudy, and Craig’s third goal just gave us breathing space.

“We are delighted for everybody, hopefully now we can get another Premier League team in the draw and enjoy a cup run.”

Sat 24 January, 2015
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Prediction: Tottenham vs Leicester

Having edged closer to the Capital One Cup final with a narrow win over Sheffield United in the semi-final first leg, Spurs aim to continue their FA Cup run by eliminating Leicester City. After beating Newcastle United to reach the fourth round, the Foxes will be looking to claim another major scalp at White Hart Lane.

Judging by how this season started, Tottenham were not exactly expected to turn it into a success, but, midway through the campaign, they are still quite successful on all four fronts. And while the Premiership top 4 race remains the priority, Spurs are also looking to do well in other competitions entered, with big strength in depth proving a major advantage. Spurs currently sit three points behind Champions League positions in the Premier League standings, but they have reached the Capital One Cup semi-final, Europa League Last 32 stage and FA Cup fourth round. Manager Muricio Pochettino surprised everyone with an under-strength side in the first leg of the League Cup semi-final against Sheffield United, and the decision almost came back to haunt him as Spurs were somewhat fortunate to record a 1-0 win. Tottenham now turn their attention towards their FA Cup campaign, where they play host to Leicester after hammering Burnley in the previous round. Mauricio Pochettino is widely expected to make changes to the side that defeated Sheffield, with the likes of Hugo Lloris, Danny Rose and Roberto Soldado set to be recalled. Ryan Mason and Younes Kaboul should be back in contention, but Erik Lamela, Vlad Chiriches and Federico Fazio are all rated doubtful.

Leicester City played some good football in the opening exchanges, with the 5-3 triumph over Manchester United especially impressive, but the Foxes then suffered a huge dip in form. A run of 13 matches without a league win that saw them pick up mere two points in the process seriously damaged club’s survival chances, although Nigel Pearson’s side have finally returned to the right track. Premier League wins over Hull City and Aston Villa as well as the FA Cup triumph over Newcastle seriously improved the atmosphere in the squad, although the Foxes could have done without a home loss to Stoke City. Leicester did well to win the chase for Croatian starlet Andrej Kramaric, who is tipped to make an instant impact, and they are expected to make few more signings in an attempt to escape the Premiership rock bottom. Even if the survival fight obviously has the priority at the moment, the Foxes will attempt to further improve the atmosphere with a good result at White Hart Lane, although I am not convinced they can stop Spurs in their tracks. The likes of Esteban Cambiasso and Dean Hammond are back in contention, but Matty James is banned and Chris Wood faces a fitness test. Kasper Schmeichel, Zoumana Bakayogo and Matt Upson are out injured.

Conclusion

Buoyed by three successive victories in all competitions, Tottenham Hotspur go into the match high on confidence and with several important players back to the side, they should be able to show an improvement on their last performance. Meanwhile, Leicester have shown some improvement of late, but I don’t think they have what it takes to avoid a defeat at the Lane.

Verdict: Home win Tottenham (1)

Best Odds: 5/8

Bookmaker: bet365

Fri 23 January, 2015
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Manchester City 3/10 to see past Middlesbrough in this weekend’s FA Cup clash

Competition: FA Cup
Market: Man City to win against Middlesbrough
Odds: 3/10 @ Coral

Manchester City host Middlesbrough in their weekend FA Cup fourth round tie, with the Premier League title-chasers being the big favourites to go through. City haven’t been invincible on home soil this season, however, losing twice in the Premier League at the Etihad stadium, while being held to a draw against Burnley recently too, so their Championship opponents will fancy their chances.

The Sky Blues, in fact, have dropped points in three of their last four league games, so they come into their FA Cup clash off the back of poor form. Middlesbrough, on the other hand, are flying. Aitor Karanka’s men have picked up 11 points from a possible 15, conceding just one goal in the process. They have lost just one of their last six away outings too, so Manuel Pellegrini’s side could be in for a real challenge this season.

Nevertheless, Coral are backing the Premier League giants with odds of 3/10 to find a way past the strong Championship side in 90 minutes.

Bet: Manchester City to see past Middlesbrough in this weekend’s FA Cup clash @ 3/10 with Coral >>

Fri 23 January, 2015
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Birmingham City v West Brom: Pulis puts unbeaten record on the line

Tony Pulis’ unbeaten record at the West Brom helm will be put to the test in an FA Cup showdown with Birmingham City.

West Brom’s FA Cup fourth-round meeting with local rivals Birmingham City will provide another threat to Tony Pulis’ unbeaten record at the helm.

Pulis, who worked wonders to keep Crystal Palace in the Premier League last season, has made a promising start to his bid to revive West Brom’s fortunes and masterminded a 7-0 thrashing of Conference side Gateshead in the last round.

The last time West Brom made the short trip to St Andrew’s was under the guidance of Roy Hodgson in 2011, when the visitors prevailed 3-1 in a top-flight match.

That extended West Brom’s unbeaten run against their Midlands counterparts to three matches, with Birmingham having last tasted victory in 2006.

Pulis has been keen to bring in new players during the January transfer window, but has so far been frustrated in his efforts to recruit the likes of winger Callum McManaman from Wigan Athletic and Manchester United midfielder Darren Fletcher.

They have one new injury concern ahead of the game against Gary Rowett’s Championship side.

Midfielder James Morrison, who has made 21 appearances for the club so far this season, has a knock and is a doubt.

Defender Jonas Olsson is still recovering from Achilles surgery, while midfielder Youssouf Mulumbu is on African Cup of Nations duty with Democratic Republic of Congo.

Birmingham go into Saturday’s contest on a four-match unbeaten run, which features three wins, including the 3-2 victory at Blyth Spartans in round three.

Since Rowett took over as manager for the league game at Wolves on November 1, Birmingham have won eight of 13 matches.

This has seen them climb from 23rd in the table to 11th, just nine points off the play-off places.

“All I will do all the time is keep trying to win games of football and keep trying to work very hard in the week with the players and see if we can keep moving forwards in terms of developing the team, developing the philosophy, making the players better if we can, and constantly trying to improve that squad,” Rowett told Birmingham’s official website.

One player who has excelled under Rowett and has the chance to further enhance his growing reputation this weekend is winger Demarai Gray.

The 18-year-old, who has scored four goals in 22 appearances this season, was this week named the Football League’s Young Player of the Month for December.

Thu 22 January, 2015
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Larsson eyes welcome distraction

Premier League strugglers Sunderland can turn their attentions to the FA Cup and Sebastian Larsson has welcomed the distraction.

Sebastian Larsson hopes the FA Cup will provide Sunderland with a welcome distraction from their Premier League woes.

Saturday’s 2-1 reverse to Tottenham was Sunderland’s fourth defeat in five Premier League games, leaving Gus Poyet’s side just one point above the relegation zone.

Victory over Leeds United in the FA Cup third round was Sunderland’s only win since the Tyne-Wear derby triumph against Newcastle United.

That set up a home tie versus Fulham and Larsson is relishing the occasion. 

“It’s a good opportunity to get back to winning ways and bounce back from the disappointment of losing so late in the game to Spurs, and it also gives us another chance to play in our new system and get more familiar with it,” he told the club’s official website.

“Of course it is also very exciting to have a cup run as we well know, so when the Fulham game comes around we’ll be up for it as we want to progress and do as well as we can in the competition.

“At the moment it’s frustrating that we’re not getting the points on the board [in the league], but it’s also good to turn your attention to a different competition.”

Wed 21 January, 2015
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Dublin: Manchester United may be in for surprise at Cambridge

Dion Dublin believes an FA Cup upset is possible when Manchester United travel to Cambridge United.

Cambridge United legend Dion Dublin is not ruling out the possibility of a major upset when Manchester United head to the Abbey Stadium in the FA Cup.

Louis van Gaal’s side are red-hot favourites to progress to the fifth round, but former England striker Dublin – who left Cambridge to move to Old Trafford in 1992 – believes a surprise could be on the cards.

“I think Manchester United should win the tie with no problem, but if Cambridge give everything they’ve got and have 11 players playing out of their skin then there may be a surprise,” he said ahead of Friday’s match.

Dublin helped Cambridge – now in League Two – to back-to-back FA Cup quarter-finals during a prolific spell at the club in which he also scored the winning goal in the first Wembley play-off final.

His time at the Abbey provided a platform for a playing career that went on to span 20 years and included four international caps, and the 45-year-old remains grateful to the club that gave him his professional breakthrough after being released by Norwich City as a teenager.

“It was possibly the best learning curve I could have had in terms of leaning how you conduct yourself on and off the field, the amount of work that we did, the amount of miles that we ran,” he added, referring to the strict training methods of his then manager John Beck.

“It was very old school. I went from a young boy not knowing my career, to a man able to stand on his own two feet.

“Getting my nose broken at least a couple of times off the ball taught me how to look after myself, too. I arrived as one person and left as another person.”

Cambridge, who won promotion back to the Football League last season after a nine-year absence, held Manchester United to a 1-1 draw when the sides last met in a League Cup tie in October 1991.

Friday’s visitors, who overcame third-tier Yeovil Town in the last round, are seeking to end an 11-year wait to lift the FA Cup.

Wed 21 January, 2015
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Confidence returning at Everton

Everton keeper Joel Robles may have miss the decisive penalty against West Ham, but he was outstanding during normal and extra time

Everton keeper Joel Robles may have missed the decisive penalty against West Ham in the FA Cup, but he was outstanding during normal and extra time

Everton exited the FA Cup last night, losing their third round replay 9-8 on penalties against West Ham at the Boleyn Ground, after a 2-2 draw in normal and extra-time.

It was a pulsating game that could have gone either way, but in the end it was the Irons keeper Adrian who scored the winning penalty, after opposite number Joel Robles had smashed his spot-kick against the bar.

Brave

The visitors went down to ten men on 56 minutes, as winger Aiden McGeady was shown a red card for a second bookable offence.

The Republic of Ireland’s stars tackle was a silly one to pick-up his second booking of the game.

In truth Everton looked far better without the Irish winger and Roberto Martinez’s team very rarely looked like they were down to ten men. For the Merseysider’s to equalise in normal time and take the lead in extra time showed the spirit within the team.

The Everton player’s spirit and determination has been questioned this season, as the Toffees have endured a poor Premier League campaign. Some have even questioned whether Martinez has lost the dressing room.

However, the Toffees performance in the last hour of this tie showed just how good the spirit is in the Everton camp, even when they were not playing with their full complement of full players.

Keeper

These sorts of cup ties often give players who are much-maligned a chance to prove to be heroes. Everton’s Spanish keeper Joel Robles has produced some very unconvincing displays for the Toffees since his arrival in the summer of 2013.

The back-up to Tim Howard could not be faulted last night. The former-Wigan keeper missed the decisive penalty kick, but had produced a very solid display in normal and extra time and made saves that kept the Merseysider’s in the tie.

Many Evertonians had questioned whether he was good enough for the top level. His display against the Irons may just go some way to convincing Everton fans that he does have a future at the club. To be fair he had produced a far more convincing in the Toffees previous game against Manchester City, than he had in previous appearances.

Mesmerising

Everton’s Belgium winger Kevin Mirallas came on midway through the second half and made a major impact on his team. Not only did he scored the equaliser with a fantastic free-kick on 82 minutes, but also created the second goal for the Toffees in extra-time.

The former-Olympiakos star has been carrying a slight injury and that is why McGeady started the game and not Mirallas. He is one of the Toffees most creative and best players. His goal from the free-kick was the eighth of the season.

If Mirallas can stay fit and carries on producing performances like that of last night then he can be a vital player for the rest of the campaign for the Toffees.

Turnaround

Everton have seen a turnaround in their fortunes in the last few games. Confidence was low prior to Romelu Lukaku’s last-gasp equaliser in the first game of this tie. Since then the Toffees also produced a decent performance against reigning champions Manchester City at the weekend to claim a 1-1 draw.

It seems that the mood in the Everton camp is now brighter. The Everton team that appeared last night looked far more like the one which looked so confident last season. They seemed confident and determined.

Even when the Toffees went one goal down their heads did not seem to drop and they kept going and against all odds with ten men equalised. A few weeks ago heads would have dropped and the Merseysider’s would just have accepted the worst.

The confidence seems to have returned to the Toffees team and strangely despite last night’s defeat they will head into the next game in high spirits.

The visiting fans quite rightly showed the players their appreciation at the end of last night’s game and the players reciprocated by throwing their shirts into the fans. It was a moment that showed that the fans and players are together in the team’s current situation.

Win

The last three performances from the Toffees may have raised morale, but they have not produced a win. The Toffees face a vital home game with West Brom next Monday, a game that they are favourites to win at odds of 4/5 against the Baggies.

Now under Tony Pulis the Baggies will be no pushovers and could leapfrog Everton in the Premier League table with a victory. The side from the Midlands will likely be a tougher opponent under Pulis than under former-Everton coach Alan Irvine.

However, if the Toffees display anything like the spirit they showed against West Ham then they will be confident of recording their first victory in eight games in all competitions and everybody connected with the club will be breathing a huge sigh of relief.

Can last night’s performance be a turning point for Everton’s season?

Wed 14 January, 2015
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Tottenham 2/7 to reach the FA Cup fourth round at Burnley’s expense

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Competition: FA Cup
Market: Tottenham to reach the fourth round
Odds: 2/7 @ William Hill

Tottenham were held to a draw in their initial FA Cup third round clash against Burnley at Turf Moor, meaning they are now forced to play the Clarets at White Hart Lane for a place in the fourth round. After being knocked out in the third round last season, Tottenham are desperate to go far this time.

Spurs have been in good form at home too, coming off the back of a recent 5-3 win over Premier League leaders Chelsea, while having picked up 11 points from a possible 15 in front of their own fans of late.

Burnley, on the other hand, could well struggle. Sean Dyche’s men have already lost to Spurs at White Hart Lane in the Premier League this season, and their recent away form has been a real worry. Winless in their last four games on the road makes Tottenham the favourites to get the win this evening, and William Hill are backing the Londoners with odds of 2/7 to do exactly that via extra time or penalties if needs be.

Bet: Tottenham to reach the FA Cup fourth round at Burnley’s expense @ 2/7 with William Hill >>

Wed 14 January, 2015
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Southampton 4/9 to reach the FA Cup fourth round at Ipswich Town’s expense tonight

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Competition: FA Cup
Market: Southampton to reach the fourth round
Odds: 4/9 @ Coral

Southampton have a big challenge this evening, with the Saints travelling to face high-flying Championship side Ipswich Town in the FA Cup third round replay. The South Coast outfit are enjoying a great start to the Premier League season, with Ronald Koeman’s men currently in the top-four of the table, but could be in for a tricky affair with Town having earned a draw at St Mary’s last week.

Ipswich are promotion hunting this season, with Mick McCarthy’s side having lost just four games from 25 in the Championship. Their home form has been impressive too, with the Tractor Boys losing just once at Portman Road since August. Southampton struggled with home advantage against the second tier outfit, they could struggle again tonight.

But this is a Southampton side that have beaten Everton, Arsenal and Manchester United recently, so they have the quality to get a result, and Coral are giving odds of 4/9 for the Saints to deliver tonight and reach the FA Cup fourth round either in the 90 minutes, extra time or enalties.

Bet: Southampton to reach the FA Cup fourth round at Ipswich Town’s expense @ 4/9 with Coral >>

Wed 14 January, 2015
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Ipswich v Southampton: Fonte not getting carried away

​Jose Fonte has urged Southampton to forget their recent league successes ahead of Wednesday’s FA Cup third-round replay with Ipswich Town.

The south-coast club are enjoying a magnificent season under Ronald Koeman and head to Suffolk on the back of a 1-0 win at Manchester United on Sunday.

Dusan Tadic scored the only goal of the game to give Southampton a first victory at Old Trafford for 27 years and move them third in the Premier League, firmly in the hunt for UEFA Champions League qualification.

However, a strong Southampton side, including Tadic, Morgan Schneiderlin and Graziano Pelle, were held 1-1 by Mick McCarthy’s side in the tie’s initial fixture.

And captain Fonte is keen to ensure his team-mates remain focused ahead of a challenging week that sees them visit Newcastle on Saturday after the meeting with one of the Championship’s pacesetters at Portman Road.

“We won against Arsenal, drew with Chelsea and won at Manchester United,” Fonte told Southampton’s official website.

“We believe in ourselves, we know we have a great team, great staff and great manager. We just need to keep working.

“There’s a long way to go. We go game by game. We have another
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tough game on Wednesday against Ipswich and then against Newcastle. It’s a tough week.”

Ipswich dropped to third in England’s second tier following Saturday’s 1-0 loss to promotion rivals Derby County, only their fourth defeat of the league campaign.

McCarthy will be without midfield trio Cole Skuse, Teddy Bishop and Jay Tabb due to illness, and expects to name a similar starting XI to the one that performed admirably at St Mary’s Stadium.

“There’s a virus going around the place that is laying one or two of them low,” the manager said.

“I’m actually quite pleased because it knocked me low for about a week and I thought I was getting soft. 

“It’s made me realise I’m not as soft as I thought I was when younger, fitter people have been affected.

“Of course, I’m not really that happy that they are laid up because they can’t play. It’s very unlikely that they’ll be involved, but I think the other 14 are okay.

“We seem to have a load of competition for places there [in midfield] – and yet it’s there that we’ve had the majority of our problems, whether it be through injury or illness.”

Southampton also have their fair share of absentees, with defender Toby Alderweireld unlikely to feature after picking up a hamstring injury at Old Trafford, joining Sadio Mane (calf) on the sidelines.

Striker Emmanuel Mayuka is on Africa Cup of Nations duty with Zambia, and Japanese defender Maya Yoshida is at the Asian Cup with Japan.

Mon 12 January, 2015
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Martinez needs quick turnaround at Everton

Tonight's FA Cup third round tie with West Ham is a vital one for Everton boss Roberto Martinez

Tonight’s FA Cup third round tie with West Ham is a vital one for Everton boss Roberto Martinez

Everton host West Ham in the third round of the FA Cup this evening at Goodison Park.

The game could be a vital one with pressure mounting on Everton boss Roberto Martinez, after five defeats in their last six games in all competitions.

Speculation

With the Toffees struggling in the bottom half of the table, there is now speculation that there Spanish boss could actually lose his job if the Toffees suffer defeat against the high-flying Hammers.

That may seem unlikely, but Everton’s current form is that of a relegation battler, not a team challenging for the Champions League spots like last season.

Impressive

Everton impressed last season, as Martinez merged his passing, attacking football with the more pragmatic style of David Moyes previous regime. The mixture was nearly good enough to clinch a top four finish, but in the end the Toffees ran out of steam and finished fifth, although they did claim a club-record 72 points in the process.

Tactics

What was striking about Martinez last season was his willingness to adapt his tactics and even his style of play. He never moved completely away from passing football, but at times he was willing to go more direct.

This season Martinez has basically stuck with the same tactics all season and has said that he will not change his football philosophy. Here is the thing though Roberto, your team have not been playing anything like the style they did last season.

Teams have found Everton out this season, because they have not been applying the same high-tempo, pressing game that they produced last season. A concerning issue would be the fact that Martinez is too stubborn, or unable to adapt his team’s style to get back to winning ways.

Martinez’s stubbornness got Wigan, a much smaller club relegated in his final season with the Latics. They may have also won the FA Cup that season, but the Spaniard’s stubbornness saw the Latics relegated to the Championship.

Defence

Martinez inherited a very good defence from Moyes, well organised, well-drill unit that did not concede many goals. Last season the Toffees had the third best defensive record in the Premier League and still managed to play attractive football.

This season the defence has fallen apart. The Merseysider’s have the joint-second worst defensive record in the league with bottom of the table Leicester and only QPR have conceded more goals than Martinez’s team. It is an amazing turnaround for a team who looked so solid in previous years.

Critics may say that the likes of Tim Howard, Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin aging legs are the problem, but I would argue that it is Martinez’s complete lack of defensive coaching ability that is costing Everton.

Maybe the Spaniard should invest in a defensive coach, who can concentrate on fixing the glaring deficiencies in the Toffees backline. In recent years Everton have had the likes of Alan Stubbs and David Weir on their coaching staff.

Maybe Martinez needs to hire a coach in a similar vein to the clubs two former-centre-backs, because even the keystone cops would be ashamed to be associated with the current Toffees backline.

Squad

When everybody is fully-fit, Everton have the strongest squad of players that they have had for a long time. The only problem is that they have had more injuries than a blind motorbike stunt team.

The number of key players to have picked-up injuries this season is a telling factor in their terrible league campaign so far. Currently the likes of Tim Howard, James McCarthy, Steven Pienaar, Darron Gibson and Leon Osman are all sidelined.

Arguably only Howard and McCarthy would be first choice at this moment in time, but the Europa League and injuries have somehow destroyed the Everton squad.

Howard is a massive loss, as back-up Joel Robles looks like a rabbit caught in the headlights at times. The former-Wigan keeper is not even in the same league as Howard. The USA international is not perfect. However, he is pretty solid last line of defence.

McCarthy is another vital player for Everton. Along with Gareth Barry he formed a solid barrier in front of the Everton defence last season, which was hard to break down. The former-Wigan star was the legs and the energy of that duo and Barry was the brain.

Without McCarthy beside him this season Barry has looked poor and his form has dipped below last seasons.

Confidence

There seems to be a lack of confidence throughout the Everton squad. The Toffees desperately need a victory against West Ham, which they are odds of 11/10 to achieve. The fact that the Toffees are favourites for victory is probably based on home advantage.

Everton have also claimed victory over the Hammers in the last five meetings between the two teams in all competitions. Everybody connected with the club will be praying that becomes six when the final whistle is blown at Goodison Park.

Can Roberto Martinez turn Everton’s season around?

Tue 6 January, 2015
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Skrtel wants FA Cup for departing Gerrard

Martin Skrtel is determined to help Steven Gerrard lift the FA Cup in his last season as a Liverpool player.

Gerrard announced last weekend that he would depart Anfield at the end of the current campaign, and subsequently revealed the United States to be his destination.

The announcement took many in the sport by surprise, including team-mate Skrtel, who believes the 34-year-old will leave a huge void.

“I found out when I read the newspapers,” he told the Liverpool Echo. “I was shocked to be honest.

“He’s been here for such a long time and when he’s not here after this season it’s going to be different. It won’t be the same.

‘It will be difficult without him. He’s the leader on the pitch. He’s a great player and a nice guy as well.

“We will miss him both on and off the pitch. It will be really difficult to replace him.

“He has made his decision and we have to respect it. It’s up to him and his family. He knows what is best for them.

“We wish him all the best in the next stage of his career.

Gerrard scored both Liverpool goals in a 2-1 FA Cup third-round win at AFC Wimbledon on Monday.

The final of this year’s Cup takes place on Gerrard’s 35th birthday, and Skrtel hopes Liverpool can go all the way for their departing skipper.

“Stevie showed [on Monday] how important he is for us,” he added. “He showed his quality with two great goals and proved what a great player he still is.

“It would be nice if we can win the FA Cup. We want Stevie to finish this career here with another trophy.

“There is a long way to go in the competition but we will try our best.”

Tue 6 January, 2015
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Pellegrini hoping to extend Milner stay

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini is hopeful that the club can come to an agreement over a new contract for James Milner.

Milner rescued City in the third round of the FA Cup on Sunday, scoring two second-half goals – the winner coming in the first minute of injury time – as City came from behind to beat Championship side Sheffield Wednesday.

The former Leeds United, Newcastle United and Aston Villa midfielder is out of contract at the end of the season, and Pellegrini is eager to ensure that the 29-year-old remains at the Etihad Stadium.

“There is no news on the contract for the moment. But I hope we will find an arrangement,” Pellegrini said.

“I’ve said already what I think about James Milner. He’s a very useful player.

“I brought him on in our last game as a substitute and I think he made more chances than a lot of players, three or four clear chances.

“But he always plays at 100 per cent commitment and intensity for the team so I am happy with him.”

Mon 5 January, 2015
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Tottenham 3/4 to see past Premier League strugglers Burnley in tonight’s FA Cup third round clash

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Competition: FA Cup
Market: Tottenham to win against Burnley
Odds: 3/4 @ 888 Sport

Tottenham are hoping to go deep in the FA Cup this season, and will have some confidence of beating this evening. The Londoners have been in fine form, and are coming off the back of a 5-3 win against Premier League leaders Chelsea. 5th in the league table, Spurs’ away form will see Burnley fearing the worst, with Mauricio Pochettino’s men having won four of their last five league games on the road.

As for Burnley, their upturn form has hit a stumbling block, with the Clarets now winless in their last four league outings. Sean Dyche’s side lost 2-1 against Tottenham when the two sides met at White Hart Lane last month, and they aren’t likely to take this competition too seriously, with Premier League survival the ultimate objective.

888 Sport are giving odds of 3/4 for Tottenham to win against Burnley tonight as a result, with the hosts not wanting to risk injury to their key players, while Spurs have a very strong second string they could put out to get the job done.

Bet: Tottenham to see past Premier League strugglers Burnley in tonight’s FA Cup third round clash @ 3/4 with 888 Sport >>

Mon 5 January, 2015
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Liverpool 1/4 to win this evening’s FA Cup third round clash against AFC Wimbledon

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Competition: FA Cup
Market: Liverpool to win against AFC Wimbledon
Odds: 1/4 @ Ladbrokes

Liverpool are pushing for domestic cup success this season ahead of their meeting against AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup third round. Their title aspirations already all but over, while their European campaign has seen them knocked out of the Champions League in the group stages, so Brendan Rodgers is eyeing up the FA Cup and Capital One Cup as a chance to get some success back to the Merseyside.

The Reds are into the Capital One Cup semi-finals, and they want to go deep in the FA Cup this campaign, so they won’t take any chances with team selection against Wimbledon. Rodgers won’t rest too many names with his side being the travelling outfit, so Liverpool will be hoping to get the job done in 90 minutes.

Ladbrokes are giving odds of 1/4 for the Merseyside club to do exactly that tonight, given they have picked up eight points from their last four league games against Arsenal, Burnley, Swansea City and Leicester City. Two wins from their last three away games will also give the manager confidence they can deliver.

Bet: Liverpool to win this evening’s FA Cup third round clash against AFC Wimbledon @ 1/4 with Ladbrokes >>

Mon 5 January, 2015
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Mourinho apologises for referee rant

Jose Mourinho apologised to Kevin Friend after initially criticising the referee’s performance in Chelsea’s FA Cup win over Watford.

Chelsea ran out 3-0 winners against the Championship side at Stamford Bridge on Sunday, but Mourinho was originally unhappy with an incident prior to his side’s second goal.

The Portuguese felt his team should have been awarded a penalty for handball before Loic Remy found the net, and blasted official Friend in a televised post-match interview.

However, having spoken to Friend, Mourinho moved to retract his earlier comments when speaking in a media conference.

“We had a big penalty in our favour and I was speaking with the referee and I want to apologise for my earlier comments to TV because what he did was great refereeing,” said Chelsea’s manager.

“He was saw that it was a penalty, he was going to give a penalty, but he saw the ball was going to Remy and he waited a couple of seconds.

“He told me that if Remy did not control the ball or if the ball goes over the bar or the ball was lost then he would have given a penalty. So it was good refereeing.

“I was complaining but it was good refereeing by Kevin. So I apologised.”

Chelsea, who remain in contention for four trophies this season, host Newcastle United in their next Premier League game on Saturday.

Sun 4 January, 2015
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