FA Cup


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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Arsenal 2 Hull City 0: Holders win in FA Cup final re-run

Per Mertesacker and Alexis Sanchez were on target as holders Arsenal claimed a 2-0 FA Cup third-round win over Hull City.

Steve Bruce’s team had surged into a 2-0 lead when the teams met at Wembley in last season’s final before the north London club secured a 3-2 extra-time triumph to lift the famous trophy.

But Hull were unable to worry Arsenal in the same manner during the opening stages this time, and the hosts were good value for Mertesacker’s headed opener.

Alexis, Nacho Monreal and the returning Theo Walcott all went close to doubling the lead before the early inventiveness faded from Arsenal’s play.

Arsene Wenger’s men still largely retained control of the contest and Alexis sealed a deserved return to winning ways eight minutes from time, following their Premier League reverse at Southampton on New Year’s Day.

Walcott returned to the Arsenal starting line-up for the first time since he tore knee ligaments in last year’s third-round win over Tottenham, and the England man was joined by Alexis and Joel Campbell in a pacy forward line.

Hull manager Bruce made wholesale changes, with Curtis Davies the only player retained from the 2-0 Premier League win over Everton.

Veteran Hull goalkeeper Steve Harper saved smartly from Campbell after the Costa Rica international exchanged passes with Alexis in the fourth minute.

Walcott and Alexis then combined for the latter to lob a shot onto the roof of the net – Hull defender Harry Maguire blocking an initial effort.

Tom Ince cut in from the right to thump a low shot past the near post for Hull, but his team were behind in the 20th minute, Mertesacker towering to head home an Alexis corner.

Arsenal immediately looked to press home their advantage, with Paul McShane brilliantly clearing off the line after Alexis had rounded Harper, and the goalkeeper diverted Monreal’s near-post header from the resulting corner onto his near post.

Harper thwarted Walcott in the 27th minute on the end of a superb chipped pass from Santi Cazorla but Arsenal failed to retain their earlier fluency.

Campbell jinked his way past Davies and tried to guide the ball into the bottom corner four minutes into the second half, but Harper was able to hold a tame strike.

The forward came up short once more in the 61st minute, pulling a left-footed shot wide when confronted by a sprawling McShane.

Maguire then produced a magnificent last-ditch challenge to deny Alexis, before Walcott became the latest Arsenal attacker to spurn an opening, stabbing the ball wastefully wide having been played through by Cazorla.

Harper scrambled out to save from Alexis in the 74th minute, the former Barcelona forward losing his footing at the crucial moment, before substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain failed to convert Alexis’ drilled cross.

The Chile star got the goal his efforts deserved with time running out, collecting Cazorla’s pass and swivelling on the edge of the box to curl a low strike past Harper.

The result retains Arsenal’s hopes of becoming the first team since Chelsea in 2010 to retain the FA Cup.

Sun 4 January, 2015
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Mane to miss Africa Cup of Nations

Senegal attacker Sadio Mane will miss the Africa Cup of Nations after being ruled out with a calf problem for up to six weeks.

Southampton manager Ronald Koeman confirmed the injury following his side’s 1-1 draw with Ipswich Town in the FA Cup third round on Sunday.

Mane missed the game having limped out of the 2-0 victory over Arsenal in the Premier League on New Year’s Day and Koeman revealed he will not be available for the continental showpiece, which begins on January 17 in Equatorial Guinea.

“Sadio has a calf muscle injury,” he told the club’s official website. “He will be out for four-six weeks and he don’t (sic) play the Africa Cup.

“Maybe the [Senegal] Federation will call him to come and see the player, but he will not play and will be out for at least four weeks.”

Mane has shone for Southampton this season since his move from Red Bull Salzburg, scoring four goals in 14 Premier League matches.

His absence was felt as Southampton struggled to convert their chances against Ipswich, with the Championship side holding on for a replay.

Southampton were behind after 19 minutes at St Mary’s as Darren Ambrose gave the visitors the lead.

Morgan Schneiderlin levelled things up before half-time but Koeman was left frustrated.

“I am disappointed about the final result,” he said. “It means a replay and already we play a lot, it wasn’t what I wanted today.

“We didn’t start the game well, we didn’t have enough concentration, and they were totally focussed so the difference was not so big, and it’s always difficult to change that.

“I am happy about how we played the second half, we had total control and a lot of ball possession.

“Maybe we didn’t have the quality to break it open and create possibilities, but that is part of football.”

Sun 4 January, 2015
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Chelsea 3 Watford 0: Mourinho´s men ease into fourth round

Chelsea overcame a stubborn first-half performance from Watford to eventually ease to a 3-0 victory in the FA Cup third round on Sunday.

The Premier League leaders had been frustrated by their Championship opponents during a goalless first half at Stamford Bridge, provoking manager Jose Mourinho into action at the interval.

Mourinho sent on Willian and top scorer Diego Costa at the start of the second half in place of Oscar and Andre Schurrle, and the two had the desired impact as both were involved in breaking the deadlock just before the hour mark.

Costa cut in from the left and passed to Loic Remy, who in turn found Willian and the Brazilian curled a sublime shot into the net from just outside the area.

With the breakthrough made, Chelsea struck a quickfire double blow in the final 20 minutes to put the result beyond doubt.

Remy volleyed in a second after Costa’s shot had been blocked, and Kurt Zouma headed home a pinpoint cross from Cesar Azpilicueta.

It was a welcome victory for Chelsea, who had been stunned 5-3 by London rivals Tottenham in the league on New Year’s Day, while Watford – managed by former Chelsea man Slavisa Jokanovic – will now focus their attentions on their promotion challenge.

Following a busy festive period of four league matches in 11 days, Mourinho made eight changes with only Gary Cahill, Azpilicueta and Oscar keeping their place from the defeat to Spurs.

Watford, meanwhile, showed three alterations from their 4-2 win at Cardiff City with leading scorer Troy Deeney among those to return.

Cahill diverted Schurrle’s free-kick over the crossbar in the seventh minute, while the visitors’ first sight of goal came when Daniel Tozser fired straight at Petr Cech from distance shortly afterwards.

The Chelsea goalkeeper was similarly comfortable in holding Deeney’s drive in the 27th minute, and Cech’s opposite number Jonathan Bond was tested for the first time when he had to react smartly to keep out Didier Drogba’s header from Remy’s delivery.

Cahill went close for a second time when he headed Filipe Luis’ corner narrowly wide just before half-time.

At the other end, Fernando Forestieri saw a shot deflected over and Odion Ighalo fired wide of the target in stoppage time.

Watford made a bright start to the second half and went close to opening the scoring in the 55th minute when Deeney’s low cross took a deflection off Filipe Luis and was diverted behind by the sharp reflexes of Cech.

Chelsea responded as Bond kept out Drogba with his legs and soon afterwards the home side were ahead.

Costa and Remy combined to set up Willian, who got the ball out of his feet before curling a fine finish into the top-right corner from 20 yards.

Remy then took advantage of a deflated Watford by thumping a 70th-minute volley high into the net, before Zouma rounded off the scoring with a powerful header two minutes later.

Watford had conceded 13 goals without reply on their previous three visits to Stamford Bridge, and in the end this meeting proved a similarly one-sided affair as Mourinho’s side cruised into the fourth round.

Sun 4 January, 2015
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Yeovil Town 0 Manchester United 2: Returning duo step up for visitors

Ander Herrera’s stunning goal and one from Angel Di Maria helped spare Manchester United’s blushes as they eventually beat Yeovil Town 2-0.

Close-season signing Herrera started for the first time since early December following injury, and he rocketed home a volley to break the deadlock in the FA Cup third-round clash at Huish Park after United had laboured through the first period.

With League One’s bottom side Yeovil still battling hard, £59million man Di Maria was then introduced from the bench in an effort to make the game safe, and he weighed in with a trademark chipped finish in injury time to book United’s place in round four.

Visiting boss Louis van Gaal entered the game with memories of an embarrassing 4-0 League Cup defeat to MK Dons in August still fresh in the mind.

He made his intentions clear by selecting a strong XI featuring the likes of Wayne Rooney, Herrera, Radamel Falcao and David de Gea but that star-studded XI had minimal impact on an opening half in which United struggled to forge clear-cut openings.

Rooney went closest to scoring during a cagey start, curling a shot narrowly over the crossbar after the ball broke to him 20 yards from goal.

Yeovil, however, looked the more dangerous side as they caused United early problems.

The game was brought to a halt for a lengthy spell in the 20th minute following a clash of heads between Paddy McNair and Kieffer Moore, although both players were able to continue.

United had another chance soon afterwards when Herrera played a ball into James Wilson, only for the striker to hit his shot straight at goalkeeper Jed Steer.

That was one of the few promising first-half moments as slack passing undermined United’s efforts.

Van Gaal’s obvious displeasure was best summed up by his decision to make two half-time changes, introducing Juan Mata and Jonny Evans as he switched to a 4-4-2 diamond.

That brought an initial improvement as some crisp passing led to Wilson nodding just over from Tyler Blackett’s cross.

But United should have been behind in the 55th minute when Moore hit a shot straight at De Gea from six yards after Evans had inadvertently flicked a cross into his path.

Yeovil were rueing that miss when Herrera broke the deadlock in spectacular fashion after 64 minutes.

Darren Fletcher’s attempted pass deflected 25 yards from goal and, having turned 180 degrees, the Spaniard unleashed a spectacular first-time volley that left Steer with no chance.

Yeovil came back into the game impressively after Rooney had curled a free-kick over, with Di Maria – also returning from injury off the bench – required to head Joe Edwards’ goal-bound header off the line.

But, after Rooney had uncharacteristically fluffed his lines from 12 yards, the Argentine winger’s most telling contribution came at the other end as he raced clear on the end of Rooney’s throughball and superbly chipped Steer to finish the job.

Sun 4 January, 2015
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Manchester City 2 Sheffield Wednesday 1: Milner´s double rescues City

James Milner’s injury-time winner broke Sheffield Wednesday hearts and earned Manchester City a 2-1 FA Cup victory on Sunday.

A famous upset appeared on the cards when Atdhe Nuhiu’s 15th-minute opener put Wednesday ahead in the third-round tie at the Etihad Stadium.

However, the Championship side’s brave resistance was ended when birthday boy Milner finished a well-worked move in the 66th minute.

And the England international completed the turnaround for the Premier League champions in the closing stages when he turned in David Silva’s low cross from close range.

The result was just reward for City’s relentless second-half pressure, but cruel on a Wednesday side who battled valiantly and will consider themselves unfortunate to have missed out on a replay.

But visiting head coach Stuart Gray – whose side sit 10th in the Championship – can take heart from an improved showing from their last visit to the Etihad, which resulted in a 7-0 drubbing.

City dictated the tempo in the early stages and Jesus Navas fired an early warning shot with a half-volley that sailed over the crossbar.

However, it was Wednesday who took a surprise early lead.

Kieran Lee sent Stevie May free down the right flank and the Scotland international squared to strike partner Nuhiu, who confidently slotted home a first-time shot from the edge of the penalty area.

City pressed in search of an equaliser, but they were regularly denied by a stubborn Wednesday defence.

The hosts went close to a leveller in the 26th minute when Frank Lampard – who scored twice in the League Cup victory over Wednesday – placed a shot narrowly wide of the left-hand post from 20 yards with Chris Kirkland rooted to the spot.

Wednesday appeared content to protect their lead and utilise the counter-attack and May curled a rare shot wide from distance.

City ended the half with a tentative penalty claim when Milner was nudged to ground by Liam Palmer, but referee Michael Oliver was uninterested.

The home side initially continued to struggled after the break, although they did start to threaten with a flurry of dangerous balls into the area that failed to yield a positive outcome.

Manuel Pellegrini was forced to chance his arm on the hour with the introduction of Samir Nasri and David Silva from the bench.

And the changes proved pivotal as City restored parity midway through the second half.

Nasri played the ball into Silva, who in turn flicked an exquisite pass into the path of Milner on the left of the area and his drilled shot went through the legs of Kirkland.

Buoyed by the leveller and with Wednesday dropping deeper, City pressed in search of a winner with Yaya Toure shooting straight at Kirkland and a last-ditch tackle from Tom Lees denying Milner a second.

Wednesday were having to withstand increasing pressure and Kirkland produced a superb one-handed save to deny Silva in the 90th minute.

However, it would not prove enough as soon after Silva once more provided an assist with a cross from the right that Milner poked home, with Wednesday’s appeals for offside falling on deaf ears.

Sun 4 January, 2015
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Stoke City 3 Wrexham 1: Conference side come close to upset

Substitute Stephen Ireland grabbed two late goals as Stoke City avoided FA Cup third-round humiliation with a 3-1 win over Wrexham.

Conference side Wrexham rose to the challenge of taking on a team 96 places above them and looked to be heading for victory when they opened the scoring in the 73rd minute on Sunday.

Mark Carrington’s header had the 4,382 visiting fans that made the journey from north Wales to Staffordshire dreaming of a shock triumph.

However, Premier League Stoke – FA Cup finalists in 2011 – eventually found their stride and secured progression to round four with a trio of late goals.

Marko Arnautovic equalised in the 80th minute, the Austrian’s close-range effort allowed to stand despite a suggestion of offside.

Ireland then broke Wrexham hearts two minutes from time with a second Stoke goal, before ensuring a flattering scoreline for the hosts with another strike in injury time.

Stoke unsurprisingly dictated possession against a side four tiers below them in the English football pyramid, yet chances were few and far between in the opening stages.

Robert Huth forced Wrexham goalkeeper Jon Flatt to tip wide with a header from a corner in the 11th minute, but Stoke generally laboured in their efforts to break down the visiting defence.

However, the hosts were almost gifted the lead in the 24th minute due to a miscommunication between Flatt and Blaine Hudson.

Centre-back Hudson headed towards his own goal as Flatt decided to charge from his line, with Wrexham just managing to scramble clear to prevent an embarrassing opener.

Flatt continued to look shaky and was again fortunate not to concede in the 44th minute, the Wolves loanee grateful to see the ball roll wide of the post after kicking fresh air when attempting to clear a backpass from one of his defenders.

Wrexham could be pleased with their first-half display, but they were even more impressive after the break and went close to scoring in the 60th minute.

Striker Wes York crashed a fantastic 25-yard effort against the woodwork just moments after midfielder Johnny Hunt had seen an appeal for a penalty waved away by referee Simon Hooper.

Those near-misses appeared to spark Stoke – who threw on former Wrexham man Jon Walters – into life, Ryan Shawcross heading narrowly wide of the far post from a corner.

Flatt then atoned for his earlier struggles by brilliantly tipping a header from Peter Crouch – another replacement – over the bar.

Hughes’ men appeared to be gaining a measure of control, yet Wrexham were finally rewarded for their magnificent display when Carrington struck.

The midfielder met Connor Jennings’ right-wing cross with a superb header into the bottom-left corner, sending the travelling masses into raptures.

Yet the lead lasted all of seven minutes, Arnautovic restoring parity on the rebound after Crouch – who looked to be offside from Ireland’s cross-cum-shot – had been denied by Flatt.

Ireland then completed the turnaround as his half-volley from the edge of the area sneaked under the outstretched hand of Flatt.

And the midfielder added gloss to the scoreline in the fourth minute of injury time, when Wrexham’s keeper was unable to keep out a shot across the face of goal.

Sun 4 January, 2015
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Southampton 1 Ipswich Town 1: Schneiderlin earns hosts a replay

​Southampton will face an FA Cup third-round replay after being held to a 1-1 draw by Ipswich Town at St Mary’s on Sunday.

Darren Ambrose fired the Championship side ahead after 19 minutes but they were unable to hold onto the lead.

Morgan Schneiderlin levelled things for the hosts with an opportunistic finish three minutes after the half hour.

The Premier League side dominated the final hour of play but were unable to find a way through a resolute Ipswich defence, with goalkeeper Dean Gerken making a string of impressive saves.

Graziano Pelle and Shane Long were both guilty of wasting chances in the Town penalty area, while Mick McCarthy’s team soaked up waves of pressure.

They were able to hang on, meaning the sides will meet again at Portman Road to contest a place in the fourth-round.

With Ronald Koeman keen to progress in the competition, Long and Schneiderlin were the only two Southampton players to come in after their Premier League victory over Arsenal on New Year’s Day.

But it was the visitors – who made six changes – that started brightest, creating the opening chance after 14 minutes as Stephen Hunt combined well with David McGoldrick, only for Fraser Forster to pull-off a good save.

Ipswich continued to threaten and they got their reward in the 19th minute as Ambrose placed a looping header out of Forster’s reach – the midfielder converting former Southampton academy player Tyrone Mings’ left-wing cross.

The goal appeared to wake Southampton up and within the space of 60 seconds midway through the half Pelle and Steven Davis went close, the latter denied by Gerken’s legs.

Ipswich’s goalkeeper was proving a tough man to beat as he denied James Ward-Prowse but there was nothing he could do after 33 minutes as Schneiderlin capped his 250th Southampton appearance with the equalising goal.

A mix-up between Gerkan and Christophe Berra allowed the midfielder to nip in between them and flick the ball into the net from 10 yards.

Southampton finished the half in the ascendancy and they continued to control proceedings in the early exchanges after the break, but Pelle and Long both wasted good chances. 

Gerkan was back to his old tricks after an hour as another Southampton move saw Davis find Pelle, but the Italian’s effort was well stopped.

Koeman’s decision to introduce Lloyd Isgrove gave the hosts an injection of pace, but it was Long who thought he had won the game after 72 minutes, only for his effort to be ruled out by Martin Atkinson.

Long had a late chance to be the Southampton hero but the Irishman’s control let him down and Ipswich clung on for a replay.

Sun 4 January, 2015
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Aston Villa 1 Blackpool 0: Benteke drags top-flight side through

Christian Benteke scored a 90th-minute winner to earn goal-shy Aston Villa a 1-0 victory over Blackpool in the FA Cup third round on Sunday.

Villa have managed just 11 goals in 20 Premier League matches this season, scoring only one in their last five, and looked set for a replay at Bloomfield Road after struggling to break down one of the most porous defences in the Championship.

However, Benteke rifled home from the edge of the penalty area late on to give the home side an unconvincing win at Villa Park.

The hosts failed to get a single shot on target in the first half, as Blackpool looked more than capable of causing an upset.

Paul Lambert’s side upped their game after the interval, though, and Benteke’s winner ended the hopes of the Championship’s basement club.

Villa midfielder Ashley Westwood made a welcome return from a knee injury for the hosts, having spent a month on the sidelines, while Blackpool made three changes from their 1-1 league draw with Rotherham United last weekend.

The hosts made the early running, but Jack Grealish failed to find a Villa shirt after capping a slick passing move with a dangerous cross into the area, before Jores Okore fired over from a corner.

Alan Hutton saw his protestations ignored when he was brought down by Charles Dunne on the edge of the Blackpool penalty area, and the full-back saw yellow when he hit Dunne with a return challenge soon after.

Blackpool finally started to threaten the Villa goal shortly before the half-hour mark, and Spanish midfielder Andrea Orlandi drilled wide from a well-worked corner routine.

The former Swansea City man again caused problems for the home defence moments later – goalkeeper Shay Given getting down well to keep out his deflected strike.

Villa had two chances to break the deadlock before the end of the half, but Hutton’s effort deflected harmlessly into the arms of Joe Lewis, before Benteke hit the side-netting from a tight angle.

Former Villa man Nathan Delfouneso placed the ball wide from a promising position 10 minutes into the second half, only to see the linesman had already raised his flag for offside.

It took Villa until the 58th minute to get a shot on target – Benteke having a soft header saved by Lewis before Carlos Sanchez also tested the goalkeeper.

Lewis had to be alert again moments later when he pushed a Benteke half-volley onto his left-hand post, with Villa beginning to dominate proceedings.

However, with home fans chanting ‘We only want one goal’, Benteke duly obliged, thrashing the ball in after cutting in from the left, somewhat banishing memories of last season’s third-round embarrassment at the hands of Sheffield United in the same round.

Sun 4 January, 2015
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Redknapp blames fixture pile-up

Harry Redknapp cited the hectic festive period as the main reason for QPR’s humiliating FA Cup exit at the hands of Sheffield United.

Nigel Clough’s League One outfit, who reached the semi-finals of last season’s competition and have also made the last four of this year’s League Cup, brushed aside their hosts 3-0 at Loftus Road on Sunday.

While admitting that his side didn’t deserve anything from the clash, Redknapp claimed that QPR’s congested schedule was to blame for their lethargic showing.

“They were sharper than us all over the pitch and they were brighter and better than us,” he said.

“They looked like a team that had a rest for 10 days and we looked like a team that had played four games in 10 days and the last goal and the second goal were really disappointing ones to concede and summed us up.

“We were sluggish, and they thoroughly deserved their win but I had to play four or five of them who have been playing recently but they had to play because there was nobody else.”

United were able to withstand early pressure before taking the lead through top-scorer Marc McNulty in the 36th minute.

Impressive winger Jamal Campbell-Ryce then doubled their advantage four minutes after the restart, before sealing the victory in the last minute of stoppage time.

QPR therefore suffered a first home defeat in seven games and Redknapp, who won the FA Cup with Portsmouth in 2008, said: “We’ve been excellent at home up until today. I was very disappointed but what can you do.

“We’ve been good at home so I’m not worried. We’ve got Manchester United here next, and Burnley away next weekend which is massive for us.

“When you’re playing every few days it makes it harder, but you have to deal with that, so you bring other lads in and you hope they do the job.

“We only started to play when [Eduardo] Vargas and [Mauricio] Isla came on in the second half – we played some football and looked brighter but I couldn’t take any positives from today.”

Sun 4 January, 2015
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Poyet unimpressed by Sunderland´s wastefulness

Gus Poyet urged Sunderland to be more clinical after wasting several chances in Sunday’s 1-0 FA Cup third-round win over Leeds United.

The Premier League side ultimately saw off the Championship strugglers thanks to Patrick van Aanholt’s first-half strike and, although Leeds were a threat after the interval, Sunderland should have found the net on multiple occasions.

Santiago Vergini and Steven Fletcher both went close before the break, while Ricky Alvarez struck the crossbar in the 13th minute.

And Poyet, whose side also spurned opportunities in the second half, was disappointed at failing to make the final scoreline more comfortable.

“We needed to kill the game after being the better team in the first half and creating so many chances,” the head coach told Sunderland’s official website.

“It wasn’t necessarily down to Leeds’ goalkeeper that we didn’t score, but perhaps our finishing. We needed to be more clinical.

“I think we allowed Leeds to get back into the game. We could have had it finished before half-time, but they came back out for the second half and threw everything at us.

“However, it was a cup game and we needed to get through and win and we did that – we’re in the draw for the next round.”

One thing Poyet was delighted about, though, was the return of scorer Van Aanholt, who was playing his first game since picking up a shoulder injury at the start of November.

“It was a big decision to include Patrick,” the Uruguayan added. “It was tough, especially with our full-back situation.

“With all due respect to Leeds, we told Patrick to treat the game as a friendly and for him to ease his way back into it, as you do when you’re returning from an injury to make sure that you’re okay.

“It was good for him and for us it was perfect, he played a full 90 minutes and scored a goal and got through it all without any problems.

“We know what qualities he brings to the side and we’ve not seen him score before – he’s even scored before Santi [Vergini], which is surprising when you look at some of the chances he’s had in the last year.”

Sun 4 January, 2015
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Arsenal 4/11 to see past Hull City in this afternoon’s FA Cup third round clash

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Competition: FA Cup
Market: Arsenal to win against Hull City
Odds: 4/11 @ Bet 365

Arsenal host Hull City – the side they beat in last summer’s FA Cup final – tomorrow in the FA Cup third round. The Londoners have been somewhat struggling in the Premier League of late, and in fact drew 2-2 at home to Hull City in their early season meeting.

Arsene Wenger’s side are looking to enjoy a deep run in the cup again, due to their title aspirations all but over midway through the campaign. They face a Hull City side underperforming in the league, but the Tigers are enjoying a mini resurgence.

Steve Bruce’s side have a tough run of games to come, so it’s unlikely they will be at full strength for their Arsenal clash. The FA Cup always presents sides with the opportunity to allow rare starts to their youngsters, and Hull certainly have more important matters in the league to worry about.

They won’t want to risk the fitness of their key players in an FA Cup game that sees them as considerable underdogs, and Bet 365 are backing Arsenal with odds of 4/11 to take advantage of City this afternoon.

Bet: Arsenal to see past Hull City in tomorrow’s FA Cup third round clash @ 4/11 with Bet 365 >>

Sun 4 January, 2015
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Chelsea 2/11 to see past Watford in the FA Cup third round

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Competition: FA Cup
Market: Chelsea to win against Watford
Odds: 2/11 @ Bet 365

Chelsea have seen their bright start to the season take a hit of late, with the Blues having lost two league games since the last month. Jose Mourinho’s side were harbouring aspirations of competing on all four fronts this campaign, but they may have more realistic expectations after a humbling last few weeks.

The Premier League title remains the top competition for Mourinho, but Chelsea do have a fantastic record in the FA Cup in the modern day, winning the domestic cup four times in the previous eight years. The Blues boss doesn’t like to crash out of cup competitions without a fight eight, and he can afford to name a second-string side capable of beating Watford.

Currently 5th in the Championship, Watford should provide some threat to Chelsea this afternoon. The Hornets have enjoying victories in four of their last five league games, winning three away outings on the bounce. They travel to Stamford Bridge hoping to make it a fourth, but only home defeats don’t come by too often under Mourinho.

Bet: Chelsea to see past Watford in the FA Cup third round @ 2/11 with Bet 365 >>

Sun 4 January, 2015
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AFC Wimbledon-Liverpool clash will be special, says Scales

Former defender John Scales believes the FA Cup third-round clash between AFC Wimbledon and Liverpool will be a “very special” occasion.

Wimbledon pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the tournament’s history when they beat Liverpool 1-0 to lift the trophy in 1988.

The club subsequently fell into decline before a controversial relocation to Milton Keynes in 2003, with a rebrand to MK Dons following in 2004.

Fans opposed to the relocation formed their own club – AFC Wimbledon – in 2002, and have seen the new side force its way into the Football League during just 12 years in existence.

And Scales, who came off the bench for Wimbledon in the 1988 final before going on to join Liverpool six years later, believes Monday’s clash at Kingsmeadow will stir fond memories for fans of AFC Wimbledon and its predecessor.

“It’s a great moment for AFC Wimbledon,” he told Perform. “It’s obviously such an iconic game in everyone’s memory from ’88.

“The whole rebirth and formation through the fans of the new Wimbledon club and the journey they’ve been on for the last 10 years or so – to have this moment is very special for them.

“I know a lot of people there and I’ve got a great affinity with them because there are so many familiar faces who are still a part of the club.

“The whole story is a fantastic one.”

Despite the gulf that currently exists between clubs in the English football pyramid, Scales – currently an ambassador for the Football Foundation, which has helped transform grassroots facilities in the sport since 2000 – believes it would be foolish to write off AFC Wimbledon.

“You’d expect Liverpool to go down and win, of course you would, but I know more than anybody what shocks and upsets you can get in the FA Cup,” he added.

“Liverpool will be anxious about approaching that tie. Obviously playing at Kingsmeadow, the pressure is on Liverpool because it’s a no-win situation.

“Conversely, it’s a no-lose situation for AFC.

“When you add in all the dynamics of the classic FA Cup tie, it’s got the ingredients of a great, great game.

“The fans are going to absolutely relish this match and it will bring back so many great memories of ’88.

“It will be the culmination of this incredible journey that they’ve been on and the steps they took on Wimbledon Common so long ago when they formed the new club.

“I can’t wait to be down there to take in that atmosphere within the whole context of revisiting ’88, which I haven’t done that much over the past 25 years or so.”

Scales was also part of the Liverpool side that lost 1-0 to Manchester United in the 1996 FA Cup final.

Fri 2 January, 2015
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Wilshere dedicates FA Cup win to fans

Jack Wilshere dedicated Arsenal’s FA Cup victory to the club’s fans during Sunday’s open-top bus parade through the streets of Islington.

Aaron Ramsey scored an extra-time winner at Wembley on Saturday to defeat Hull City 3-2, having gone two down inside eight minutes, and seal Arsenal’s first trophy in nine years.

And Wilshere feels it was just reward for the supporters who have stuck by the team through their infamous barren run.

“It’s hard to put into words (what this victory means to me),” he told Sky Sports News. “It’s been nine years now – we’ve waited a long time for this.

“We’ve worked hard and the manager has worked hard but most of all this is for the fans who fill the stadium every week. This one is for them.

“It was a bad start (in the final). We’ve done that a few times this season and been punished but we knew if we got a goal before half-time we could go on and win it.

“We’re a fit team and we’ve got quality as well. That’s a good mixture and we showed that.

“We had a hard run (in the competition) as well so you can’t say that we didn’t deserve it. We showed the character that we’ve shown all season in the final and fair play to the boys.

“Now that we have got the first hurdle out of the way hopefully it will give us a boost for the seasons to come.

“We’ve shown character for the last couple of years but (Saturday) was a testament to the players.

“We overcame a big hurdle and we’re very proud of that. We’re very proud of how far we came in the competition and we did it for all these people.”

Sun 18 May, 2014
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FA Cup: Arsenal 3 Hull City 2 (aet)

Arsenal’s nine-year wait for silverware is over after Aaron Ramsey scored an extra-time winner to beat Hull City 3-2 in the FA Cup final.

Arsene Wenger’s men came into Saturday’s clash as heavy favourites to end their infamous barren run, but found themselves two goals down inside the opening eight minutes.

James Chester diverted the ball beyond goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski from a Tom Huddlestone strike to send fans in the Hull end of the ground into raptures four minutes in.

The outlook began to look even bleaker for Arsenal when Curtis Davies powered home from a tight angle.

A sensational Santi Cazorla free-kick 10 minutes later gave the 10-time winners hope, before Laurent Koscielny’s 71st-minute leveller forced the game into extra time.

Arsenal’s comeback was completed in the 19th minute of extra time when Ramsey – the man whose absence through injury so hurt his side’s Premier League hopes – prodded home with a first-time strike from a sublime Olivier Giroud back-heel.

Fabianski kept his regular cup berth between the posts, despite doubts over his future with the Emirates Stadium club, while Chester recovered from a hamstring injury in time to step into a new-look Hull back line.

Chester’s inclusion proved to be an inspired decision from manager Steve Bruce as the defender stunned Arsenal fans into silence by breaking the deadlock in the fourth minute.

A low 20-yard strike by Huddlestone fizzed towards Chester’s feet, and his touch in the centre of the penalty area was enough to send the ball beyond an outstretched Fabianski, finding its way in off the left-hand upright.

In the absence of cup-tied forward pairing Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic, it was Hull’s defenders running riot in the opening stages.

Fabianski leapt to his left to keep out an Alex Bruce header, before fellow centre-back Davies rifled home from a tight angle, though question marks were raised over the positioning of the free-kick that led to the goal.

Another Alex Bruce header from a corner threatened to make it a defensive hat-trick for the underdogs, but Kieran Gibbs came to Arsenal’s rescue on the goalline.

There was no let-up in the action, and Arsenal were right back in the tie in the 18th minute.

Cazorla curled a 25-yard free-kick into the top right-hand corner of the net – Hull keeper Allan McGregor wrong-footed by the Spaniard’s stunning strike.

There was a nervous edge to the match after the break, and Giroud felt he should have been awarded a penalty in the 58th minute after having his shoulder held by Huddlestone.

Further penalty shouts followed as Jake Livermore appeared to handle from a Yaya Sanogo header and Cazorla was felled by Davies, but referee Lee Probert was unmoved by the appeals.

After looking the more likely to find the net in the second period, Arsenal finally pulled level, Koscielny turning the ball in from close range in the aftermath of a contentious corner.

An unmarked Gibbs should have sealed the trophy for Arsenal in the 79th minute, but the full-back blazed over from close range when it appeared easier to score, and McGregor got down well to deny Giroud from 18 yards three minutes later.

Substitute Sanogo sent a strike whistling wide of the left-hand post before the end of 90 minutes, and Giroud rattled the crossbar in the opening stages of the additional period.

The match looked to be heading for penalties as the tempo of the game dropped, but Ramsey popped up to end nine years of hurt for Arsenal and Wenger, though Fabianski’s late charge off the line had many a heart in mouth as Sone Aluko’s effort drifted agonisingly across the face of goal.

Sat 17 May, 2014
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Lukas Podolski 13/8 to score against Hull in FA Cup final

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Competition: FA Cup
Market: Podolski to score against Hull
Odds: 13/8 @ Bet 365

Arsenal forward Lukas Podolski is hoping to get on the score sheet in today’s FA Cup final against Hull City. The German international, 28, has enjoyed an upturn in form at the tail-end of season, scoring 12 goals in 28 games in all competitions for the Gunners.

He’s scored three in the FA Cup, and would love to net again against Hull City this afternoon to help his side to their first FA Cup in nine years.

As a result, Bet 365 are backing Podolski to get on the score sheet anytime in the final today. He’s bagged four goals in his previous five in the league, and would love to cap a decent campaign off in style this afternoon.

Arsenal are the big favourites to win this afternoon, and they haven’t lost a game in any competition that Lukas Podolski has scored in, so the German forward is a good omen for the club this season.

Bet: Arsenal’s Lukas Podolski to score anytime against Hull City in this afternoon’s FA Cup final @ 13/8 with Bet 365 >>

Sat 17 May, 2014
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Prediction: Arsenal vs Hull City

Arsenal take to Wembley hoping to end the nine-year wait for a major trophy with Hull City the final obstacle on their road to the FA Cup title. The Tigers are clearly the underdogs here, but given that Steve Bruce’s side have nothing to lose, they can be trusted to make life difficult for their more illustrious opponents.

What started as a very promising season threatened to turn into an utter disappointment for Arsenal as the Gunners were on the verge of losing the FA Cup semi-final against Wigan Athletic, while the top 4 finish in the Premier League appeared to be slipping out of their reach. Nevertheless, the Gunners showed a great deal of character to come from behind against the Latics and win the tie against penalties, before enjoying five straight victories in the Premiership to secure Champions League qualification and finish mere seven points behind champions Manchester City. This is enough to suggest Arsenal are not that far away from mounting a serious title challenge and everybody at the club is aware that the FA Cup trophy could provide just the boost they need to turn things around. The Gunners go into the clash at Wembley in very good form and with most key men available, with Jack Wilshere returning into action against Norwich. Thomas Vermaelen and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain face fitness tests though, but they are unlikely to start such an important match. Mathieu Flamini should be recalled, while it remains to be seen if Lukasz Fabianski will continue his FA Cup campaign.

Hull City have enjoyed a dream season this term, avoiding the Premier League relegation tussle altogether while qualifying for the FA Cup final. Seasoned manager Steve Bruce hit the nail on the head with his summer signings, as the likes of Charlie Davies, Tom Huddlestone, Maynor Figueroa and Jake Livermore all developed into important players, while January additions Nikica Jelavic and Shane Long seriously improved team’s attacking record. The Tigers managed to pick up just enough points to ensure the poor finish of the season do not see them drop into the danger zone, with the team ending the season four points above the bottom three despite picking up just one point from last five league fixtures. There are no doubts Steve Bruce and his men were constantly thinking about the FA Cup final clash against Arsenal during these past few weeks, and the time has come for them to try and spring a major surprise and lift the coveted title. Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic are both cup-tied, and while Sone Aluko, Robbie Brady, James Chester and Paul McShane are back in contention, none of them is expected to start at Wembley.

Conclusion

Hull City have often proved to be tough nut to crack this season, but with Shane Long and Nikica Jelavic missing, they will struggle to match in-form Arsenal. The Gunners will be almost at full strength and their superior experience in these kinds of matches could prove to be the difference between the two sides.

Verdict: Home win Arsenal (1)

Best Odds: 1/2

Bookmaker: bet365

Fri 16 May, 2014
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Cup success can strengthen Arsenal, claims Flamini

Arsenal’s Mathieu Flamini believes that victory in the FA Cup final could foster a winning mentality within the club once again.

Arsene Wenger’s men take on Hull City at Wembley on Saturday as they go in search of a first piece of silverware since 2005.

Having seen their Premier League title challenge fade away and their UEFA Champions League hopes extinguished by Bayern Munich, the Frenchman hopes that a win this weekend will signify a change in approach.

Flamini was part of the last Arsenal squad to win a trophy – the FA Cup in 2005 – and, in his second stint with the club, wants to help build a new mentality at the Emirates Stadium.

“Winning titles and trophies is important – for the future, it will build a mentality,” he said.

“It is important to get into your head that you need to meet the objectives you set at the start of a season.

“When Arsenal had their (previous) success, they had a winning mentality. Once you win one, it is in your head. It becomes part of you. You start with one and then your objectives become higher and higher.

“Arsenal have always had quality but now we have a team of competitors, who want to win and hate losing. We have a team with more personality and that is important.”

Fri 16 May, 2014
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Bruce to play it safe against Arsenal

Hull City manager Steve Bruce will not take any risks with his team selection for the FA Cup final against Arsenal on Saturday.

Bruce has question marks over the fitness of a host of players ahead of the game at Wembley on Saturday, including strikers Robbie Brady and Sone Aluko, as well as defensive pair James Chester and Paul McShane.

Despite being handed a boost by Brady’s return to training and seeing everyone come through their final Premier League clash with Everton unscathed, Bruce will not leave anything to chance.

He feels his Hull side, who have won just two of their last nine games in all competitions, must be at full throttle if they are to cause an upset against Arsenal.

“I will not risk anyone, I can’t. We’ve got to be right across the side,” he told The Hull Daily Mail.

“The players I select to start have to be 100 per cent. I can’t have anyone undercooked with everything that’s at stake.

“It’s the FA Cup final against Arsenal, we can’t risk players who aren’t quite right.

“It looks like it will be a hot day on a big Wembley pitch so you’ll soon get found out if you’re not 100 per cent.”

Hull were beaten twice by Arsenal in the league this season, shipping five goals in the process, with Arsene Wenger’s men going in search of their first piece of silverware since 2005.

In what will be Hull’s first FA Cup final appearance, Bruce believes his charges must look to frustrate Arsenal, in the early stages of the game at least.

“We have to come up with a game plan to stay with them to start with,” he added.

“We’ve got to make it difficult for them. There’s no disputing the fact they’ve got better players than us. They’re the mighty Arsenal.

“So we’ve got to come up with something which can unhinge them, and the longer we stay in it the better.

“If the scores are level with an hour played then the game is in the balance. We have to make sure we’re still in with a shout of winning the game.”

Fri 16 May, 2014
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FA Cup Preview: Arsenal v Hull City

Arsenal have the opportunity to end nine years of hurt when they face Hull City in Saturday’s FA Cup final at Wembley.

Arsene Wenger will need no reminding that his side have not lifted any silverware since winning the competition in 2005, having come in for severe criticism at times during the club’s barren spell.

Messrs Pires, Vieira and Bergkamp were among the Arsenal side that triumphed over Manchester United on penalties in Cardiff, but the onus now falls on the likes of Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud to take a first step on the path to emulating those club legends.

Victory on Saturday would make it five FA Cup titles for Wenger, and see Arsenal equal United’s record for most Cup wins with 11, but the Frenchman stopped short of labelling this weekend’s clash a must-win encounter.

“No matter what the result will be, this club – and this is always most important – can deal with the consequences of any game,” he said.

“What is important is that we come out of the game and have the feeling that we gave absolutely our best, our total energy to play at our best and then you always accept the consequences.

“No matter how much we talk about it, you can win and lose but you want to come out of the game feeling you have done the maximum to win and that is what we want to achieve.”

Wenger’s opposite number Steve Bruce comes with his own FA Cup pedigree, having won the trophy three times as a player with United, but is yet to climb Wembley’s famous steps as a manager.

This will be Hull’s first appearance in the FA Cup final, and Bruce admits it has been difficult to retain a sense of normality in the build-up.

“We’ve tried to keep it normal, but you can tell it’s not normal,” said Bruce. “You can tell from watching the players train that it’s not a normal week.

“For the first time in three or four weeks, there is a real spring in the step of the players. You can detect that and it will build as the week goes on, and so it should.

“When you’re growing up and playing for your junior team, your district team, whoever – you want to do one thing and that is play in an FA Cup final.”

There is no doubting Arsenal have had the tougher road to the Wembley showpiece – the Emirates Stadium outfit have seen off Tottenham, Liverpool, Everton and defending champions Wigan Athletic on their way to this weekend’s showdown, while Hull’s only top-flight opponents were Sunderland in the quarter-finals.

But Arsenal have a cup upset in their locker – losing 2-1 to the eventually relegated Birmingham City in the 2011 League Cup final.

That said, Hull will be without attacking duo Shane Long and Nikica Jalavic, who are cup tied after their respective January moves to the KC Stadium, while a number of key players, including Allan McGregor, Paul McShane and Sone Aluko, have recovered just in time to be involved.

Defender James Chester (hamstring) is Bruce’s only major injury doubt.

Meanwhile, Thomas Vermaelen (knee) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin) face a race against time to be fit for Arsenal.

Thu 15 May, 2014
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