FA Cup

Wenger targeting FA Cup glory

Arsene Wenger would be happy to end Arsenal’s trophy drought by lifting the FA Cup trophy this season.

Arsenal have gone nine years without a trophy but would go close to ending that barren run with victory over defending champions Wigan in Saturday’s semi-final.

Champions League qualification has always been Wenger’s top priority ahead of the FA Cup and League Cup.

But with pressure mounting on Wenger after Arsenal slipped out of the Premier League title race, the Frenchman now appears content with winning silverware via one on England’s domestic cup competitions.

“The Champions League was vital for us until now and, for me, at the start of the season the minimum requirement,” said Wenger, who is out of contract at the end of the season.

“But don’t imagine I sacrifice every day of my life not to win a trophy. Everybody fights for that. We all play to win something. If you are in the FA Cup everyone can dream of winning it at the start of the season.

“The championship … only seven clubs can dream of winning it at the start of the season. A cup is a dream open to everybody and that is the beauty of the FA Cup.

“We are back at Wembley and it’s great. It’s an important competition. You know we will not fight for the championship any more (this season), so it’s the only competition.”

Arsenal’s last trophy came in 2005 courtesy of their triumph over rivals Manchester United in the FA Cup final.

Fri 11 April, 2014
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Elmohamady relishing FA Cup semi-final

Ahmed Elmohamady is relishing Hull City’s FA Cup semi-final appearance this weekend and insists they will be ready for Sheffield United.

Steve Bruce’s men will be the favourites for Sunday’s meeting with the League One side at Wembley, having enjoyed a fine season on their return to the top flight.

Hull currently sit 12th, nine points clear of the relegation zone, and appear all but assured of Premier League survival.

Elmohamady is glad he and his team-mates can take on United without any worries, but insists Nigel Clough’s side will not be taken lightly.

“We can look forward to the cup game and what is going to be a big game for us as players, for the fans and for everybody in Hull,” he told Hull’s official website.

“We have a week to build up to it and to focus on what will be a difficult game against Sheffield United. They are a good team.

“We’re all concentrating on that game now and trying to make everybody happy by making it to the final.

“We don’t want just one trip to Wembley this year. To go twice in a few weeks would be fantastic.”

Arsenal and Wigan Athletic meet in the first FA Cup semi-final on Saturday.

Tue 8 April, 2014
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Ajax sign Zivkovic from Groningen

Dutch Eredivisie giants AFC Ajax have completed the signing of Richairo Zivkovic from FC Groningen.

Dutch Eredivisie giants AFC Ajax have completed the signing of highly-rated teenage Richairo Zivkovic from FC Groningen for a fee believed to be in the region of €2.5 million.

Zivkovic, 17, has inked a three-year deal at the Amsterdam Arena while revealing he originally intended to stay at Groningen for the long-term.

“Initially, it was the intention to stay at Groningen for a longer period and become a regular member of the starting XI in the first team,” Zivkovic told Groningen’s official website, www.fcgroningen.nl.

“But I also have ambitions and, when this chance came, I wanted to take it. “But before I will talk about Ajax, I first want to finish the season at FC Groningen in a good way.”

The Holland youth international, who has reportedly been garnering interest from English Premier League duo Liverpool and Manchester City in recent weeks, has been likened to former Groningen Arjen Robben, who currently plies his trade in Munich.

Zivkovic’s sparkling early-season form kept Uruguayan David Texeira out of the first-team at Euroborg, paving the way for the South American to join MLS side FC Dallas in an attempt to resurrect his career.

The 17-year-old ace has scored six goals in 23 Eredivisie appearances this season.

Hoffenheim want to keep Firmino

TSG 1899 Hoffenheim manager Markus Gisdol has revealed the club will do anything they can to keep hold of No. 10 Roberto Firmino, who has recently been linked with a host of top European clubs.

Chelsea, Liverpool and Internazionale have been credited with an interest in the 22-year-old Brazilian midfielder, while many other clubs are undoubtedly keen on the youngster.

“Of course, we are well aware of all mechanisms of the football business,” Gisdol told Bild.

“But good players we have under contract and are a perfect fit to our tactics are players we basically want to keep at our club. “And Roberto has a contract at our club [beyond the end of this season].”

Although Hoffenheim want to keep Firmino, the best course of action for the club would surely be to cash in on the €15 million-rated ace, with the player’s contract set to expire at the end of next season.

Firmino has tallied 19 goals and 12 assists in 28 appearances in all competitions for Hoffenheim this term.

In other news, Internazionale Milano midfielder Esteban Cambiasso is expected to move to the MLS in the summer, according to River Plate president Rodolfo D’Onofrio.

Tue 18 March, 2014
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Bruce calls for league focus

After booking an FA Cup semi-final spot, Steve Bruce has called on his Hull City side to refocus on their Premier League form.

Bruce’s side put three goals past Sunderland at the KC Stadium on Sunday to move into the final four of the Cup for the first time since 1930.

Even though Hull sit 13th in the Premier League in their first season back in the top flight, Bruce believes there is work to do to avoid an immediate return to the Championship.

They return to league matters on Saturday with the visit of title contenders Manchester City, and Bruce has targeted at least two more wins to secure their Premier League status for next term.

“I still think we’ve got to win a couple more games,” he said.

“We’re a newly promoted club and we’ve made huge strides very quickly but there is still work to do and it carries on.

“We have to get ready to play Manchester City at home. But that’s the Premier League – we have to address that and make sure we stay here and get better and better.”

Hull have shown inconsistent form in the top flight of late – winning twice, losing twice and drawing once in their last five outings.

Mon 10 March, 2014
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Wigan 7/1 to retain their FA Cup crown

soccernews fooball-betting-tips pic

Competition: FA Cup
Market: Wigan to win the FA Cup
Odds: 7/1 @ William Hill

After a shock 2-1 FA Cup quarter-final win against Manchester City at the Etihad stadium, Wigan Athletic find themselves in the FA Cup semi-finals to be played at Wembley. With the Lactics having won the competition last season at the expense of Manchester City – of whom they beat 1-0 in the final – they now find themselves two games away from retaining the cup – with Uwe Roslers men being given odds of 7/1 from William Hill to achieve it.

They will face Arsenal in the semis, and could face either Hull City or Sheffield Wednesday should they see past the Gunners to reach the final. It will certainly give them extra incentive going into the match that they could well spring yet another surprise in the prestigious cup competition.

Chelsea are the last side to have retained the FA Cup, but it will be only the second time in over 10 years that a side has successfully defended it. Since the final has been played at the new Wembley, there have been four different winners in seven seasons.

Can Wigan mark their name in history for the most unlikely of cup defences this season?

Bet: Wigan to win the FA Cup @ 7/1 with William Hill >>

Sun 9 March, 2014
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Rosler revels in Wigan success

Uwe Rosler basked in his “greatest day” as a manager after Wigan Athletic managed another famous FA Cup win over Manchester City.

Wigan memorably overcame their illustrious opponents in the final last year as Ben Watson struck the only goal at Wembley.

And despite being without Watson, who broke his leg last month, Wigan produced a repeat effort when winning 2-1 at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

Jordi Gomez’s penalty and James Perch’s strike rendered Samir Nasri’s volley a mere consolation and booked Wigan an FA Cup semi-final clash with Arsenal at England’s national stadium.

When asked whether the win represented his greatest moment in football, Rosler – a former City striker who enjoys cult status among the fans – told BT Sport: “In management, yes probably.”

He added: “Everybody knows my ties to Manchester City but I made it clear I am very happy and excited to be the manager of Wigan. I kept my emotions in control and I was just focussing on the job at hand.”

Wigan chairman Dave Whelan paid tribute to Rosler, who has reversed Wigan’s fortunes in the Championship since replacing Owen Coyle.

“Nothing can compare with actually winning the cup but to come here and win, and go back to play Arsenal in the semi-final, is a dream,” he said.

“The last five minutes seemed like 50 minutes. It’s all down to this lad, Uwe. He has got these lads believing.”

Sun 9 March, 2014
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FA Cup: Manchester City 1 Wigan Athletic 2

Wigan Athletic again proved Manchester City’s FA Cup scourge, following last season’s final triumph with a 2-1 win at the Etihad Stadium.

In one of the biggest upsets in the recent history of the decorated competition, Ben Watson grabbed the only goal as Wigan – who would go on to suffer relegation from the Premier League – triumphed over big-spending City in May last year.

Watson was not available this time around having suffered a broken leg last month but his spirit was invoked by the Wigan players, who wore shirts bearing his picture and the slogan, ‘We can do it! For Ben’ in the warm-up and went on to spring another sensational shock.

They were given a helping hand, too, by the much-maligned Martin Demichelis, who was arguably at fault for Wigan’s two goals.

In a moment akin to when he earned a red card that set up a UEFA Champions League defeat to Barcelona a couple of weeks ago, Demichelis gifted the visitors a penalty – which Jordi Gomez dispatched – with a clumsy challenge on Marc-Antoine Fortune.

Things then went from bad to worse for the defender, whose dreadful positioning aided James Perch’s strike.

Demichelis’ blushes appeared set to be spared when Samir Nasri pulled one back with 22 minutes remaining, but Wigan held on to book a semi-final clash with Arsenal at Wembley and complete a happy return to Manchester for City legend and Wigan boss Uwe Rosler.

City manager Manuel Pellegrini, chasing a domestic treble in his first season at the helm having overseen a League Cup win at Wembley last week, rested Fernandinho, Vincent Kompany and David Silva ahead of the midweek second-leg tie with Barcelona.

Wigan duly edged the opening exchanges as City struggled to break down a team determined to sit back and counter-attack.

The visitors’ patience paid dividends in the 26th minute as Gomez sent Costel Pantilimon the wrong way after Demichelis felled Fortune, having been beaten for pace by the striker.

City’s frustration increased thereafter as patient build-up play failed to yield openings of any note.

Their annoyance grew considerably at the start of the second period when Wigan grabbed a second.

James McArthur found space on the left wing and crossed for Perch to slide home ahead of Gael Clichy at the back post.

Pellegrini turned to the bench for answers, bringing on Silva, James Milner and Edin Dzeko in a triple change.

It almost paid immediate dividends as a Dzeko header struck the inside of the post from Clichy’s cross.

City did level soon after, though, as Nasri volleyed home from the edge of the area, his effort controversially going through the legs of Joleon Lescott, who appeared to be stood in an offside position.

The sides traded golden opportunities thereafter, Micah Richards curling just wide before Fortune blazed into the stands instead of sliding in James McClean.

Wigan’s goal then came under siege, with Emerson Boyce’s last-gasp challenge denying Dzeko before Scott Carson kept out Sergio Aguero at full stretch, but Rosler’s men held on for another famous win.

Sun 9 March, 2014
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Sunderland 11/4 to beat Hull in FA Cup quarter-finals

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Competition: FA Cup
Market: Hull to beat Sunderland
Odds: 11/4 @ Bet 365

Sunderland are just 90 minutes away from another game at Wembley, this time potentially in an FA Cup semi-final. Gus Poyet’s men aren’t favourites to win, but with the Tigers without their two first-choice strikers, there’s a chance Sunderland can emerge victorious when the two sides meet tomorrow.

Bet 365 giving the visitors 11/4 odds to see past Steve Bruce’s men, and after their heartbreak against Manchester City in the Capital One Cup final, they will be desperate to get to Wembley again this season.

Their opponents have stumbled over the line in the FA Cup this season, but come into the game after two impressive wins from their last four league games, while earning a point against Tottenham at the start of February.

Sunderland have recently lost to Hull City in the league at the Stadium of Light, but their cup runs have been formidable. They beat Southampton 1-0 at home to book their place in the quarters, and will certainly fancy their chances all the more now Hull will be without Shane Long & Nikica Jelavic.

Can Gus Poyet inspire another cup run to Wembley?

Bet: Sunderland to beat Hull @ 11/4 with Bet 365 >>

Sat 8 March, 2014
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Man City’s Sergio Aguero 14/5 to score first against Wigan in the FA Cup

soccernews fooball-betting-tips pic

Competition: FA Cup
Market: Aguero to score first against Wigan
Odds: 14/5 @ 888 Sport

Manchester City striker Sergio Aguero is likely to start against Wigan for tomorrow’s FA Cup clash, and as a result is being given 14/15 odds to score first from 888 Sport. He’s been in the form of his career this season when fit, and will want to get back among the goals tomorrow in the FA Cup.

The 25-year old made his return from injury in the Capital One Cup final, but failed to score in the 3-1 cup win against Sunderland. However, after being afforded time to gain his match fitness, he’s being backed to fire Manchester City into the semi-finals.

Aguero has been enjoying inspired form this season – with 15 goals and five assists from 17 league outings. He’s scored four times in the FA Cup already this campaign. With City’s 5-0 win against Wigan in the Capital One Cup fresh in the mind, they’ll certainly be fearful of a repeat at the Etihad.

Manchester City have blown teams away in the FA Cup under manager Manuel Pellegrini – with 12 goals scored in just four games – which makes Wigan’s task of quelling the attack increasingly difficult. Will Aguero be the first to score when the two sides meet tomorrow?

Bet: Sergio Aguero to score first against Wigan @ 14/5 with 888 Sport >>

Sat 8 March, 2014
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Wenger delighted with Ozil showing

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger praised the performance of midfielder Mesut Ozil in Saturday’s 4-1 FA Cup win over Everton.

Ozil opened the scoring with a well-taken side-footed finish from inside the area before showing good awareness to lay on Arsenal’s fourth for substitute Olivier Giroud late on.

After seeing Ozil come in for criticism from various quarters in recent weeks, Wenger had reason to be pleased with the Germany international’s first goal since December.

Wenger also praised the club-record signing for his defensive play as Arsenal moved into the final four of a competition they last won in 2005.

“It was important for Ozil, as you want him to take his chance. He looked regenerated. He did the dirty work too,” Wenger explained.

“We had a quality performance from the first minute to the last. We were unlucky to be at 1-1 at half time.

“Giroud was important. He showed he can score goals when he has come off the bench.”

Arsenal now face the challenge of overhauling a 2-0 first-leg defeat to Bayern Munich in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League.

“We can be inspired by our focus on the day (against Everton), our desire, and go to Bayern with the same spirit,” added Wenger.

Sat 8 March, 2014
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Martinez questions ´soft´ Arsenal penalty

Everton manager Roberto Martinez felt the penalty that led to Arsenal’s second goal in Saturday’s FA Cup defeat was “very soft”.

With the quarter-final delicately poised at 1-1 after Romelu Lukaku cancelled out Mesut Ozil’s opener, Gareth Barry was penalised for tripping Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain inside the penalty area.

Former Everton midfielder Mikel Arteta put Arsenal back in front from the spot, then Olivier Giroud added a brace as Arsene Wenger’s men boosted their hopes of ending their nine-year trophy drought with a 4-1 victory at Emirates Stadium.

However, Martinez felt the penalty awarded by Mark Clattenburg was generous for the London club and a pivotal moment in the tie.

“I still feel the penalty is a very soft call,” he told ITV.

“It’s the key moment and I felt obviously it’s a situation where Gareth is fighting with him for the ball. There is contact but is there enough contact for a penalty?

“The second goal was going to change the game competely. That second goal was vital, we wanted to make sure we had the opportunity to score that.”

The defeat extended Everton’s winless run on the road against Arsenal to 20 matches in all competitions as Martinez’s hopes of becoming the first manager to win back-to-back FA Cups with different clubs were ended.

Sat 8 March, 2014
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Pellegrini backs Aguero and Negredo

Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini is backing Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo to resume their lethal strike partnership.

The duo forged a prolific pairing earlier in the season and have scored 49 goals between them already in the current campaign.

Argentina international Aguero, who has 26 goals this term, but has only recently returned from a hamstring injury sustained in the 5-1 thrashing of Tottenham at White Hart Lane in January.

Negredo has looked very much at home in his first season in England, scoring 23 times and proving to be a real handful.

The Spain frontman has not scored in his last six games and has not started a game alongside Aguero since a League Cup win at West Ham in January, when Negredo picked up a shoulder injury.

With both players now fit, City boss Pellegrini is backing the pair to carry on where they left off as City attempt to add more trophies to their cabinet following their League Cup triumph over Sunderland last Sunday.

He said: “In that moment (earlier in the season), it was very productive for the team – and I hope in the future it can be again.

“But in other moments when Sergio was injured, Negredo played very well at that time.

“It’s important to have important strikers. Strikers also live from the goals they score. Alvaro will return to his normal performance. He will continue scoring goals.”

City face Wigan Athletic at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup – a repeat of last year’s final, in which Wigan won 1-0.

Sat 8 March, 2014
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Borini will decide long-term future in the summer; Nasri set for Man City contract talks

Liverpool striker Fabio Borini, currently plying his trade at Sunderland, has revealed he will decide his long-term future at the end of the season.

Liverpool striker Fabio Borini, currently plying his trade at Sunderland, has revealed he will decide his long-term future at the end of the season.

The once-capped Italy international, 22, joined Liverpool from A.S. Roma for €13.3 million in the summer of 2012 but has failed to establish himself as a first-team regular.

The 22-year-old forward, who netted two goals in 20 appearances in all competitions for the Reds last term, has been an important figure under new Black Cats manager Gus Poyet.

Borini has netted six goals — against the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City, Manchester United, Newcastle United and Southampton — in 28 competitive appearances for Sunderland in 2013/14.

“That means I am made for a big team,” the former Chelsea youth product told The Mirror regarding his goal-scoring performances against top-tier opponents this term.

“We will see what will happen until the end of the season, and try to beat the big teams and the small ones, and then let’s see in the summer.

“It was a great feeling scoring in the cup final. Two or three times what I normally feel for a goal.

“A great feeling, all emotions, especially against a big team when no one expected us to be in front against Manchester City at Wembley.”

Sunderland (6-6-14) — priced at 9/5 to suffer relegation — will host Crystal Palace (8-3-16) — backed by the bookmakers at 19/10 to finish in the bottom three — in their next English Premier League fixture on Saturday, 15 March 2014.

Nasri set for Man City contract talks

Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri has confirmed he is on the verge of opening contract negotiations with the club over a new deal.

The France international, who joined City from Premier League rivals Arsenal in a deal believed to be worth £25 million in August 2011, has had a very good season for the title contenders after a less-than-stellar 2012/13 campaign.

The 26-year-old midfielder has totaled four goals and three assists in 22 league appearances for Manuel Pellegrini’s side and his recent return from injury will surely boost the club’s morale.

“Talks? I know they are planned,” Nasri told L’Equipe.

“The officials called my agent to tell him we have to talk. Then, we will see.

“The objective is to win the Champions League in a few years’ time.

“But when you are happy somewhere, I can’t see why you should have to change scene.”

City can book their place in the FA Cup semi-finals with a win against Championship side Wigan Athletic at the weekend.

FA Cup holders Wigan, who managed to upset City in the final at Wembley last season, are 20/1 to win at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.

Fri 7 March, 2014
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FA Cup Preview: Manchester City v Wigan Athletic

Manchester City must ensure lightning does not strike twice when they host Wigan Athletic in a repeat of last season’s FA Cup final.

Wigan enjoyed their finest hour last May when Ben Watson’s late header at Wembley earned the Lancashire club a stunning 1-0 victory over big-spending City to lift the famous trophy for the first time, before being brought down to earth when they were relegated from the Premier League a matter of days later.

City have already thrashed their local rivals 5-0 in the League Cup earlier this season and the two sides lock horns once again at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup this Sunday.

Manuel Pellegrini’s side added one trophy to their cabinet last weekend when they beat Sunderland 3-1 in the League Cup final and can move a step closer to winning another by making it a miserable return to the club for Wigan manager Uwe Rosler.

The German was a big fans’ favourite during his playing days at City, scoring 50 goals during a four-year spell at the club in the 1990s.

There will, however, be no room for sentiment when the former Brentford boss attempts to mastermind a stunning win for his promotion-chasing Championship side against his former club to secure another trip to Wembley.

Rosler, who was named manager of the month for February on Friday, said: “My first reaction (following the draw) was to ban all talk of that game. We started talking about this game this week. It was important to focus on the league.

“We go into the game with no pressure whatsoever. The pressure lies on City. We already achieved a wonderful cup run. Being in the sixth round of the FA Cup has only happened in the third time in the history of the football club.

“And doing that on the back of last year’s win made it even more special. We overcame big hurdles and now the hurdle is very big, but that also means there is a great challenge in front of us, for me as a manager, but also for my players to measure yourself against world-class players.”

Wigan, who have beaten top-flight sides Cardiff City and Crystal Palace en route to the last eight, have moved into the top six in the second tier on the back of a run of four consecutive victories and have also won their last four away matches in all competitions.

On-loan midfielder Nick Powell (hamstring) is not expected to feature and Wembley hero Watson will play no part as he is a long-term absentee due to a knee injury, but the midfielder was this week awarded a new one-year contract.

Scott Carson (thigh), Gary Caldwell (calf) and Shaun Maloney (hip) are also expected to remain on the sidelines.

Martyn Waghorn, Ryan Tunnicliffe and Rob Kiernan are cup-tied, but Callum McManaman (ankle) could return.

City boss Pellegrini will have one eye on Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League last-16 clash at Barcelona, when his side have the major task of trying to overturn a 2-0 deficit from the first leg.

The Chilean is expected to make changes, but he will not be able to call upon Stevan Jovetic (hamstring) and Matija Nastasic (knee).

Fri 7 March, 2014
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FA Cup Preview: Hull City v Sunderland

Sunderland endured Wembley heartbreak last weekend and Hull City boss Steve Bruce is plotting to heap more cup misery on his former club.

Gus Poyet’s side were beaten 3-1 by Manchester City in the League Cup final at the home of English football on Sunday after Fabio Borini had put them in front.

That was Sunderland’s first trip to the new national stadium and they could make a swift return by seeing off Premier League rivals Hull in the FA Cup quarter-final tie at the KC Stadium on Sunday.

Hull have already done the league double over their visitors, with Sunderland having three men sent off over the two games.

And Bruce, a three-time FA Cup winner during his playing days at Manchester United, is determined to make it a hat-trick of victories against the club that sacked him in back in 2011.

Achieving that would see Bruce guide Hull to the last four of the competition for the first time in 84 years.

He said: “We’ve got an opportunity to make it to Wembley for an FA Cup semi-final, a stage of the competition the club hasn’t been in since 1930.

“When you look at it from that perspective, of course Sunday is a big game for us. This is a big game for everybody. I’ve said it repeatedly, but a good cup run can enhance your season and we’ve got to try and get through to the semi-finals.

“When you get to the last eight of any competition, you start to smell the hotdogs (at Wembley) and there’s nothing bigger than when cup finals are at stake.

“As a manager I’ve never been past the quarter-finals of this competition, so a Wembley semi-final would be a first for me.

“As a player, I led a team out and lifted a trophy at Wembley and those are the things that stay with you forever.

“If we beat Sunderland, we’ll be going to Wembley so my players have to grasp the occasion and play well on Sunday. You need a bit of luck in the cup as well and it’s all to play for.

“We’ll be looking to produce a big performance and the crowd can play their part too in helping us get to where we want to be.”

Bruce will be without cup-tied strike duo Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic, while winger Robbie Brady will play no part after being ruled out for the rest of the season due to a groin problem.

Paul McShane (ankle) and Joe Dudgeon (knee) are also unavailable.

Poyet’s Sunderland side will have to tighten up at the back after shipping seven goals in their last two games against City and Arsenal – where they were beaten 4-1 in their last Premier League encounter.

Midfielder Liam Bridcutt is cup-tied having played in the competition for Brighton and Hove Albion, while goalkeeper Keiren Westwood (shoulder) remains sidelined.

Sunderland boast two FA Cup triumphs, the last coming in 1973, while their most recent appearance in a final came in 1992.

Fri 7 March, 2014
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Is Arsenal’s season about to collapse?

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has saw his side slip to third in the Premier League table

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger has saw his side slip to third in the Premier League table

Saturday’s games produced some key results at the top of the Premier League. Chelsea and Liverpool claimed wins, as did Everton.

One team from the top seven that did not claim victory was Arsenal, who produced a terrible performance to lose at Stoke 1-0.

Wenger out

The defeat left the Gunners trailing league leaders Chelsea by four points. Certain Arsenal fans are now calling for veteran Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger to be sacked or quit, neither is likely to happen.

These were probably the same Gunners fans that were praising Wenger a few months ago when their team were flying high in the Premier League.

I try not to get carried away by team’s good or bad performances because we all know things can change in the blink of an eye in football. A few months ago Arsenal was the team to catch at the Premier League summit and now they are playing catch-up.

I was never truly convinced by Arsenal’s title challenge this season and thought they should have strengthened their squad in January, but that does not mean I believe that Wenger should leave the Emirates though.


Arsenal fans must be one of the most frustrated groups of supporters in the top-flight. They have the stature, stadium and infrastructure to be a truly dominant force on the European stage. However, this season has a major feeling of Deja-vu about it.

For years Arsenal fans have saw their club outspent by their rivals and falling behind. It is the same old story of Arsene Wenger treating the clubs money like it is his own and not spending it when reinforcements were clearly needed.

Arsenal reportedly had money to spend in the summer, despite the £42million signing of German playmaker Mesut Ozil, yet Wenger did not spend it. Anybody with a modicum of football knowledge could see that the Gunners were crying out for a world-class striker.

A theory that I subscribe to is the theory of strengthening when you are in a strong position. January was an ideal time for Wenger to go out and bring in fresh faces. The Gunners form has dipped since Boxing Day and fresh faces would have given everybody fresh impetus, just like the effect signing Ozil had on the club.

Wenger’s only January signing was an aging Swedish defensive midfielder who arrived in north London injured. Kim Kallstrom was in his pomp five or six years ago, when he was a star player for a strong Lyon side.

His arrival in January only caused consternation amongst Arsenal fans. Gunners fans ended up with a crocked Swede, instead of a shining new striker.


All is not lost for Arsenal fans though. The Gunners face Everton in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup next weekend. The game gives the Arsenal players a chance to bounce back against an Everton side whose form has been patchy over the last month or so.

The Gunners may find themselves four points behind Chelsea in the league, but as I stated above things can change very quickly in football. The likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City could drop points in the next few games and that could open the door again for Wenger’s men.


The problem that Arsenal has is their nightmare fixture list. As a result of that Stoke defeat and the tough schedule ahead for Arsenal, the men from north London have drifted to odds of 20/1 to win the Premier League.

The Gunners face four of the top six in the Premier League in their next four top-flight matches. Wenger side visit arch-rivals Tottenham and title rivals Chelsea, before hosting another title rival Manchester City and visiting sixth-placed Everton.

After the cup game with Everton, Arsenal also face Bayern Munich in the second leg of their last 16 Champions League clash. It will be interesting to see how Wenger prioritises these fixtures. The Frenchman needs a FA Cup victory, but the Gunners are not completely out of Europe.

By the time all those games have been played it is not inconceivable that Arsenal will be out of the Premier League title race and out of both their remaining cup competitions. The Gunners have failed to impress in their previous difficult spells this season and they do not exactly head into this group of tough fixtures in high spirits.


They say that it is the hope that kills you, but for Arsenal fans there is still hope. There is still enough time for the Gunners to rescue their season, if not then I suspect the calls for Arsene Wenger to leave the club will ring even louder.

Is Arsenal’s season about to collapse?

Sun 2 March, 2014
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Lescott wants to end City career with treble

Joleon Lescott wants to end his Manchester City career with a domestic treble, starting with lifting the League Cup this weekend.

England international Lescott is resigned to the fact he will not be offered a new deal at the Etihad Stadium ahead of next season, but is keen to add to the Premier League and FA Cup winners’ medals he has already picked up following his arrival from Everton in 2009.

The 31-year-old has been on the fringes of Manuel Pellegrini’s first team this term, but has started every one of the club’s League Cup ties and is expected to face Sunderland in Sunday’s final at Wembley.

And Lescott has outlined his desire to end his City career with more silverware.

“We are going to be at Wembley for the final and it’s going to be a great occasion and I want to be a part of it,” he said.

“That was something I thought about in staying and what we could achieve.

“If I can leave having won two league titles and a domestic treble this season, that would be perfect.

“I’ve known for a while that the club were not going to renew my contract, but not one performance has been altered by what has been going on with the contract.

“I could have gone in January, but I started the campaign and felt I’ve played enough games in competitions to warrant my place in the squad and some games in the team.”

Thu 27 February, 2014
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FA Cup Preview: Hull City v Brighton and Hove Albion

Hull City will attempt to reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup without their big-money marksmen against Brighton and Hove Albion.

The burgeoning partnership between Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic was at the forefront of Hull’s 4-0 Premier League trouncing of Cardiff City on Saturday.

However, having represented their previous clubs, West Brom and Everton respectively, in the competition prior to joining Steve Bruce’s side in January, the duo are ineligible for Monday’s fifth-round replay against Brighton.

That is sure to be a blow for Bruce, who waxed lyrical about his most recent recruits after the win at the Cardiff City Stadium.

“When you are not playing very well, if you’ve got two like we have then you are a threat,” the manager said.

“The link-up play was there for all to see. The two of them have a great appetite for the game and work ethic.

“With the pace of Long and the physical presence Jelavic gives you, with a turn of pace too, they are a handful for any defence.”

But the visiting Championship side will still have their hands full at the KC Stadium, with Yannick Sagbo and Sone Aluko set to lead the line for Hull.

It was Sagbo’s last-ditch leveller that earned a 1-1 draw at the Amex Stadium to set up the replay after Leonardo Ulloa had put Brighton in front.

Should he get the nod, Sagbo is likely to be one of several changes for what will be Hull’s second game in three days – something manager Bruce has previously bemoaned.

“I find that ridiculous, I have to tell you,” he said. “Surely we could play on the same night as the Champions League, you would have thought.

“I think it is a UEFA rule, which reads nobody plays on the same night as the Champions League. We’ll have to take it as it is and deal with it as it comes.”

Brighton manager Oscar Garcia, who concurred with his opposite number’s view on the schedule, is also likely to make alterations having made seven for the initial tie.

His play-off chasing side enter the game d
esperate to get back on track following a disappointing 2-1 home loss to Wigan Athletic on Saturday.

The winners will host Bruce’s former club Sunderland, managed by ex-Brighton boss Gus Poyet.

Sat 22 February, 2014
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FA Cup: Brighton and Hove Albion 1 Hull City 1

Yannick Sagbo’s late leveller earned Hull City an FA Cup fifth-round replay with Brighton and Hove Albion after a 1-1 draw on Monday.

Sagbo made the most of a rare start in the absence of the cup-tied Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic, slotting an 85th-minute equaliser to cancel out Leonardo Ulloa’s first-half goal at the Amex Stadium.

Brighton were on track for a meeting with former manager Gus Poyet – now in charge of Sunderland – in the sixth round but paid the price for sitting back in the latter stages.

Sagbo and Curtis Davies were denied by the woodwork for Hull in the first half but Steve Bruce’s side eventually got their reward.

And they could have won it in stoppage time, only for David Meyler’s header to be cleared off the line by Adam Chicksen.

The Championship side could still get their reunion with Poyet, although they would have to win the replay at the KC Stadium.

Poyet was controversially sacked for gross misconduct by Brighton in July after the club’s failed campaign in the Championship play-offs.

Brighton controlled the early proceedings but chances at both ends were limited until Sagbo’s acrobatic volley crashed into the crossbar in the 27th minute, with goalkeeper Peter Brezovan well beaten.

The hosts took the lead three minutes later as Ulloa combined with Will Buckley, who made his first start of 2014 following a hamstring injury.

The Argentinian’s clever backheel played in Buckley, and he returned the favour with a well-weighted pass that sent Ulloa through on goal.

Tom Huddlestone raced back but Ulloa remained composed, lifting the ball over Hull goalkeeper Allan McGregor, who returned from suspension, to delight the home crowd.

Hull could have drawn level within two minutes only to see the woodwork again come to Brighton’s rescue.

This time Davies powerfully met a Huddlestone corner but saw his effort thud into the crossbar, while Sagbo’s headed follow-up was nearly diverted in by Matthew Upson, who saw his attempted clearance fall into the arms of Brezovan.

Ulloa really should have doubled Brighton’s lead on the stroke of half-time, but inexplicably nodded wide when free at the far post.

Hull were slow to get going in the second half and even the introduction of Matt Fryatt – who scored twice at Southend United in the fourth round – and George Boyd failed to rouse them.

But as the game grew older, Brighton dropped back, and Sagbo made them pay with a clinical finish.

Sone Aluko, making his first start since returning from an Achilles injury, set up the goal, with his cross from the right well controlled by Sagbo, before he slotted through the legs of Brezovan.

And Hull may feel aggrieved they did not win it, as Robert Koren and Meyler went close in stoppage time.

Mon 17 February, 2014
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Bruce dreaming of FA Cup success

Hull City manager Steve Bruce is dreaming of FA Cup success ahead of his side’s fifth-round tie with Brighton and Hove Albion.

Bruce takes Hull to the Amex Stadium on Monday with Wembley on his mind after seeing Swansea City and Wigan Athletic taste glory in the domestic cup competitions last season.

And with a home quarter-final tie against his former club Sunderland in the offing, Bruce has allowed himself to think about once again lifting the trophy he won three times as a player.

“The big games are around the corner and there’s nothing quite like an FA Cup quarter or semi-final. I think once you get to this stage of the cup it’s different,” he said.

“If we can get past Brighton then all of a sudden you’re in the quarter-finals and it starts to get tasty and exciting.

“As we saw with Swansea in the League Cup and Wigan in the FA Cup, anything is possible in these competitions.

“You win five games and you’ve won the cup. So let’s get past Brighton and have a good run.”

Hull have only reached the last eight of the FA Cup five times in their history, with their best ever campaign coming way back in 1930, when they got to the semi-finals.

Mon 17 February, 2014
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Monk: Individual errors cost Swansea

Garry Monk bemoaned his side’s individual errors as Swansea City crashed out of the FA Cup fifth round in a 3-1 defeat at Everton.

Jonathan de Guzman cancelled out Lacina Traore’s early opener, but mistakes from full-backs Neil Taylor and Jazz Richards saw Roberto Martinez’s men re-establish their lead and book their place in the quarter finals.

Taylor’s misplaced pass was seized upon by Steven Naismith for Everton’s second, before Jazz Richards felled the Scot in the penalty area, allowing Leighton Baines to find the net from the spot.

“We were well in the game,” said Monk. “We finished the first half positively after going a goal down.

“Unfortunately, we made a couple
of mistakes, which is frustrating. But they were honest mistakes, and I can accept them.

“The players are their own biggest critics, and they don’t need to be told.

“The first goal was a set-piece and we didn’t deal with the second ball. We reacted well and if you look at the first half, we had two or three really good chances. If they go in, it could be a different game.

“Neil then makes his mistake and Jazz then brings Naismith down for a penalty. But apart from them, we were well in the game.

“They weren’t cutting us open and having shot after shot. It was just individual mistakes.”

Explaining his decision to name a heavily weakened starting XI for the trip to Goodison Park, Monk added. “When you have seven games in 21 days, it’s impossible to play the same team every game.

“It’s a squad game. With Europe, you have to have that rotation. I won’t rotate for the sake of rotating.

“Until we conceded the second, you wouldn’t have believed we made eight changes.”

Swansea host Serie A outfit Napoli in the first leg of their UEFA Europa League round-of-32 tie on Thursday.

Sun 16 February, 2014
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FA Cup: Sheffield United 3 Nottingham Forest 1

Chris Porter struck two late goals as Sheffield United beat Nottingham Forest 3-1 to set up a possible all-Sheffield FA Cup quarter-final.

Porter kept his cool to convert a 90th-minute penalty and then netted again two minutes later to settle the fifth-round tie at Bramall Lane on Sunday as United came from behind to claim another FA Cup scalp.

Having already dumped out Fulham and Aston Villa, United manager Nigel Clough will savour this victory over his former club and counterpart Billy Davies, with no love lost between the duo.

Jamie Paterson had headed Forest into a 28th-minute lead, but United – the lowest-ranked team left in the competition – hit back through Conor Coady after the break following a shocking Dorus de Vries error.

A replay at the City Ground looked on the cards before Porter’s late double proved decisive and sent United through to the last eight, where the League One strugglers will play host to either Sheffield Wednesday or Charlton Athletic.

The hosts did not seem overawed by their Championship opposition and had a chance to take a 12th-minute lead when John Brayford cut in from the left, but struck straight at De Vries.

A spell of Forest pressure in the 20th minute ended with Simon Cox appearing to be felled by Harry Maguire inside the penalty area, but Forest’s surprisingly half-hearted penalty appeals were waved away.

Forest controlled possession, but United were looking dangerous on the break and Jose Baxter wasted a great chance on 25 minutes, hitting a tame shot straight at De Vries.

United were made to pay for their profligacy three minutes later when Andy Reid crossed from the left and Paterson did brilliantly to steer the ball across Mark Howard and in at the far post.

Given the two clubs’ respective league positions, United might have been expected to crumble, but the home side continued to threaten and wasted another good opportunity when Stefan Scougall’s weak shot was saved after he latched onto Baxter’s throughball.

If the United players needed any further motivation at half-time, the news from the draw of a potential quarter-final tie with Wednesday should have done the trick.

And Clough’s men did seem to return from the dressing room with renewed vigour, putting Forest on the back foot and forcing two corners in quick succession with Maguire’s attempt deflected over before Scougall’s half-volley was well-held by De Vries.

United continued to press and, with clear cut chances hard to come by, got a huge slice of luck when De Vries spilled a routine Brayford cross to present Coady with an open goal and the youngster made no mistake.

The tie looked to be heading for a replay, but Greg Halford was penalised for handball inside the area on 90 minutes to give substitute Porter the chance to win the game from the penalty spot.

The former Derby County man converted easily and, as Forest went in search of an equaliser, United hit them on the break, Porter finishing off Jamie Murphy’s right-wing cross to seal a famous victory.

Sun 16 February, 2014
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Naismith ´couldn´t remember scoring´, says Martinez

Roberto Martinez confirmed Steven Naismith suffered concussion Everton’s FA Cup win over Swansea City and could not remember scoring.

The Scot hit the second of his side’s three goals in a 3-1 victory over Martinez’s former club as Everton booked their place in the quarter-finals of the competition.

And Martinez revealed Naismith had been left somewhat confused after a nasty collision with Swansea defender Jordi Amat forced him from the field in the closing stages.

“Steven has concussion and couldn’t remember scoring,” he said, before joking: “I’ve told him he scored from 40 yards.”

The Spaniard handed a debut to Monaco loanee Lacina Traore and the Ivorian opened his Everton account in the fourth minute of the game.

“For Lacina to play 60 minutes and get a goal is fantastic news for us,” continued Martinez. “It’s a good sign for the future.

“We’re developing into a side that can get into the final third very well. It’s what you do when you’re there that will win games.

“I thought we made very good decisions in the final third today, which is pleasing. It’s an area where we need to improve.”

Jonathan de Guzman scored Swansea’s equaliser, while Leighton Baines rounded off the scoring for Everton from the penalty spot.

Sun 16 February, 2014
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Prediction: Arsenal vs Liverpool

Revenge will be the order of the day when Arsenal host Liverpool in the FA Cup fifth round, some eight days after the 5-1 hammering at Anfield. And with the Champions League clash against Bayern Munich scheduled for Wednesday, Arsene Wenger cannot afford to field his strongest line-up on Sunday afternoon, unlike his counterpart, who will have some important players back to the side.

It has just been revealed that Arsenal could have spent up to £140 million on transfers as Arsene Wenger had this money available to use on new signings, so no wonder the fans are once again blaming the Professor for the lack of transfer activity that could derail what looked like a very promising season. With Olivier Giroud struggling up front, Wenger has probably lived to regret his decision not to sign a new striker in January, especially with so many quality forwards changing clubs in the winter transfer window at bargain prices. The Gunners find themselves in a difficult position following setbacks against Liverpool and Manchester United, with the busy schedule yet to ease off. The hosts will obviously give their best to get their season back on track and get revenge on Liverpool by beating the Reds on Sunday, but they will also have one eye on Wednesday’s clash with Bayern Munich. As a result, there should be quite a few changes to the starting line-up, with Chamberlain, Podolski, Fabianski and Monreal pushing for starting places. Meanwhile, Mathieu Flamini returns from suspension, but Santi Cazorla looks set to miss out through illness.

In spite of some impressive showings in the opening exchanges, Liverpool were rarely mentioned as one of the candidates for the Premier League title, with the lack of strength in depth often cited as a potentially big problem for Brendan Rodgers. However, even with some important players on the sidelines, the Reds managed to keep the results respectable and with 12 games to go they sit mere four points behind leaders Chelsea. The 5-1 triumph over Arsenal was probably their most accomplished performance of the season, but rather than resting on their laurels Liverpool impressed to twice come from a goal behind and record a very important victory over Fulham. With no European distractions, Brendan Rodgers has a courtesy of fielding his strongest line-up for the FA Cup game against Arsenal, which should give the visitors the upper hand. Daniel Agger is expected to take his place in the heart of defence having recovered from injury, but Glen Johnson is unlikely to be risked and Jordan Henderson is doubtful with a wrist problem. Mamadou Sakho, Jose Enrique and Lucas Leiva remain on the sidelines.


Arsenal may be eager to exact vengeance on their Premier League rivals, but the Gunners are well aware they cannot afford to go all guns blazing at Liverpool since they can be deadly on the break. And with the Reds also expected to adopt a cautious approach, betting on half-time draw looks a good option here.

Verdict: Half-time Draw

Best Odds: 13/10

Bookmaker: bet365

Sun 16 February, 2014
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Mourinho rejects ´failure´ talk

Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho was keen to avoid any more talk of failure following his side’s 2-0 FA Cup fifth-round defeat at Manchester City.

Having branded Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger a “specialist in failure” after eight years without a trophy as the mind games ramped up in the Premier League title race this week, the Portuguese was given a taste of his own medicine at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday as his side were outclassed.

Mourinho’s men had completed a league double over title rivals City with a 1-0 success on the same ground 12 days earlier, but they found themselves second best on this occasion as City eased into the quarter-finals.

Goals from Stevan Jovetic and Samir Nasri, whose effort was allowed to stand despite a suspicion of offside in the build-up, ensured progress for the hosts.

And, while Mourinho conceded that Chelsea had been outplayed by a comfortable margin, he was quick to defend his team’s showing amid questions over whether this result represented a failure of his own.

“I don’t think my team failed,” Mourinho said. “City played much better than us, deserved much more than us to win. When the best team wins I think football is in peace.

“Two weeks ago the best team won, and today the best team won. That’s simple and gives more credit to my players because to win twice against City, and to win here, today (Saturday) it was proved that it is very, very difficult to do it.

“Was the referee team very poor in the second half? Yes. But even with a perfect referee team would Chelsea win the game? No.

“They were better than us, they deserved to win. The second goal is offside, but they would win 1-0 because we were never close to scoring.”

Mourinho also dismissed suggestions that Chelsea’s FA Cup exit could serve to boost their Premier League title chances, insisting that the extra games would not have an impact on City, who also play in the League Cup final against Sunderland on March 2.

“We go game by game, we are what we are, we always try to win the next game,” Mourinho added.

“I don’t think one more game or two more games in the FA Cup would change anything for us or anything for them, especially with the powerful squad they have, so I don’t think there is a problem.”

Sat 15 February, 2014
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Rosler: Travel troubles, no worries

Wigan Athletic boss Uwe Rosler was delighted after his players overcame travel trouble to reach the FA Cup quarter-finals.

Holders Wigan may be in the Championship this season, but they upset Premier League opposition for the second time in less than a month in the Cup on Saturday.

After beating Crystal Palace to reach the last 16, first-half goals from Chris McCann and Ben Watson helped Rosler’s men to a 2-1 win at Cardiff City.

Inclement weather harmed Wigan’s preparation for the game, Rosler revealed afterwards, but despite nine hours of travelling on Friday, they were fresh enough to claim a big away win.

Rosler told the club’s official website: “Our performance was fantastic, particularly after the troubles we had in getting down here for the game.

“We had to go through an unbelievable journey down after our flight was cancelled yesterday afternoon.

“We only arrived at the hotel at 10pm to 10.30pm and we had been travelling from more or less 1pm.

“The players were magnificent today despite all that we went through, and they have shown real pride in their performance.

“The quality we showed was very impressive, we didn’t get to train much between our last game and this one, but with experienced players like we have, we always know what we are capable of.”

Rosler added that goal hero Watson – who has now scored in three of his last four FA Cup appearances, including the winner against Manchester City in last year’s final – had sustained an injury, leading to his substitution just before the hour-mark.

“We’ve lost Ben for Tuesday’s game (against Barnsley in the league) after he picked up a knock,” he added.

“We were forced to make the change and up until then his performance had very pleasing with a magnificent goal to put us back ahead.”

Sat 15 February, 2014
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FA Cup: Cardiff City 1 Wigan Athletic 2

Ben Watson was once again Wigan Athletic’s FA Cup hero as the holders continued the defence of the trophy with a 2-1 win over Cardiff City.

Back in May, it was Watson’s last-gasp header that sent Wigan into dreamland as they completed a memorable victory over Manchester City at Wembley to lift their first major silverware in 81 years.

Nine months on, the same player came to his side’s rescue again to book their place in the quarter-finals of this year’s competition – his stunning strike from a 30-yard free-kick proving to be the winner.

Chris McCann had put the visitors ahead after 17 minutes with a side-footed finish from inside the box following Jordi Gomez’s delivery, before Fraizer Campbell levelled the tie 10 minutes later when he pounced on a loose ball in the Wigan box.

But five minutes before half-time, Watson proved to be the hero again as he sent a shot from a long-range free-kick into the bottom corner, giving Cardiff goalkeeper David Marshall no chance.

The one sour note for Watson came when he was replaced in the second half by Josh McEachran after suffering a suspected injury.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Cardiff side were dumped out of competition with a whimper, as they now turn their attentions to Premier League survival.

James Perch had the first shot on goal for Uwe Rosler’s visiting side when he advanced to the edge of the Cardiff box from the right wing and flashed a shot just wide of Marshall’s right-hand post.

Wilfried Zaha was involved for Cardiff after 12 minutes when he cut past Watson in midfield and dummied with two step-overs but his shot was blocked.

The cup holders went ahead after 17 minutes when McCann broke free just outside the six-yard box to get on the end of Gomez’s cross from the left-hand side, converting to give Wigan the advantage.

The lead lasted just 10 minutes though – great play from Zaha again on the right leading to a goalmouth scramble before the ball finally broke free to Campbell, who dispatched clinically into the bottom corner.

Half-an-hour into the game, Zaha burst into the Wigan box again after another set of step-overs but his attempted cross was blocked.

Cardiff continued to threaten from the right as Zaha – at the centre of everything for the hosts – picked out Campbell in the box but he was unable to double his tally.

But five minutes from half-time Watson put Wigan in front again with the decisive moment of the match.

His thumping strike into the bottom corner gave Marshall no chance as he lashed home when a 30-yard free-kick was touched to him.

Cardiff started brightly immediately after the break, when Mats Daehli cut in from the left and sent a shot just wide of Ali Al-Habsi’s post.

Wigan goalscorer Watson was replaced by McEachran, on loan from Chelsea, after 56 minutes – but his job had already been done.

Cardiff continued to push for an equaliser but Zaha and Daehli were unable to get the crucial breakthrough.

The latter flashed a shot over, via a touch from a defender, with time running out but Cardiff did not have enough to force a replay.

Sat 15 February, 2014
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Perez defends Southampton team selection

Southampton assistant manager Jesus Perez has defended their decision to field a weakened side in Saturday’s FA Cup defeat to Sunderland.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino made six changes for the last-16 clash at the Stadium of Light, with Craig Gardner’s goal five minutes after the break sending the League Cup finalists through.

Southampton goalkeeper Artur Boruc and defender Jose Fonte did not see any action, while Jay Rodriguez and Morgan Schneiderlin were only used as second-half substitutes.

The damage had been done by then, as Southampton could not find an equaliser, with Rickie Lambert guilty of shooting over from point-blank range in the latter stages.

Despite the defeat, Perez believes it was the right decision to rest players as they seek to improve on their Premier League position of eighth.

“We played the best team we decide to play,” he said in quotes reported by The Daily Echo.

“We assess our players, we know how they are, we know which problems each other got from the last game and we decide the best team to play.

“I repeat again we trust every single player we have in our squad.”

Sunderland have now sent Southampton out of both the FA Cup and the League Cup this season, with the Premier League left as Southampton’s only focus.

Perez claimed the size of their squad had impacted on their progress in the competition.

“Our squad (does) not (have) depth in this moment so we have a lot of young people from the under-21s so we are not disappointed,” he continued.

“(We are) just a little sad to be out of the FA Cup because we tried to move forward.”

Sat 15 February, 2014
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FA Cup: Sunderland 1 Southampton 0

Craig Gardner’s superb goal handed Sunderland a 1-0 FA Cup win over Southampton as Rickie Lambert wasted a glorious late chance to equalise.

Gus Poyet’s side continued their excellent form in knockout competitions as the League Cup finalists reached the last eight, but only after Lambert somehow contrived to clear the crossbar from two yards in the closing stages.

Gardner’s stunning strike five minutes after the break proved decisive, the midfielder turning away from Victor Wanyama before firing home from outside the penalty area.

Sunderland had several chances to make it more comfortable but none as good as the one presented to England man Lambert, whose miss let the hosts off the hook.

Poyet, whose men remain embroiled in relegation trouble, promised to ring the changes ahead of a busy schedule for his side and he duly obliged, making nine alterations as forward Ignacio Scocco was handed his debut.

Mauricio Pochettino has no such problems, with his charges eighth in the table, but he made six changes as both sides struggled to find their rhythm in a frenetic opening.

The visitors had the first opportunity, Adam Lallana finding Lambert with a cross before the striker nodded down for James Ward-Prowse, whose effort was well saved by Oscar Ustari.

Poyet was angered by the officials’ decision not to award a penalty when Fabio Borini went down under the challenge of defender Luke Shaw after 12 minutes.

Emanuele Giaccherini then squandered a promising opportunity when he failed to get a shot away after dribbling his way into the Southampton area.

Lambert was denied an excellent chance to put his side ahead eight minutes before the break when Santiago Vergini executed a well-timed tackle in the box.

Gardner sparked the game into life with 50 minutes gone, putting his side ahead with a long-range strike that crashed in off the underside of Kelvin Davis’ bar.

It was Gardner’s third goal of the season and the visitors struggled to mount a response, with Pochettino opting to introduce Jay Rodriguez and Morgan Schneiderlin just after the hour mark.

Connor Wickham should have made it two 17 minutes from time but he failed to connect with a pass when through on goal, while Lallana could only put Nathaniel Clyne’s cross wide from close range.

Pochettino must have realised it was not to be Southampton’s day when Lambert spooned Clyne’s low cross over the bar with the goal at his mercy as Sunderland sent the visitors crashing out of a second cup competition this season following their 2-1 League Cup win in November.

Sat 15 February, 2014
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Sheffield Wednesday FA Cup match postponed

Sheffield Wednesday’s FA Cup fifth-round tie with Charlton Athletic at Hillsborough has been postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.

An inspection of the playing surface was carried out by match referee Mark Clattenburg at 10:30hrs (local time) and he deemed it unplayable.

No new date for the all-Championship fixture has been announced.

Wednesday are aiming to reach the last eight of the competition for the first time since 1997, while fellow second-tier outfit Charlton have not made it to that stage in eight years.

The sides, who are both in the bottom half of the Championship, drew 1-1 at The Valley in December.

Sat 15 February, 2014
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