Fulham pile pressure on Pompey

Fulham beat Portsmouth 3-1 at Craven Cottage here Saturday as the visitors endured their eighth Premier League match without a win.

That Tony Adams’s men are not already in the bottom three is a testament to the sound start they made to the season under former manager Harry Redknapp and the poor form of the teams below them in the table.

However, too many more days like this and both Pompey’s stay in the top flight and Adams’s time at Fratton Park, which has seen him win just two Premier League games out of 15 since succeeding Redknapp in October, could be at an end.

Substitute Erik Nevland secured ninth-placed Fulham’s victory with two goals in nine minutes towards the end of the match after Andrew Johnson’s first-half opener.

David Nugent pulled one back for Portsmouth but it was all too late for the south coast club.

Once again it was poor defending which cost Pompey dear while luck deserted them at the other end with Younes Kaboul hitting the post and the visitors also having two penalty appeals rejected.

Their sixth defeat in seven games in all competitions began brightly for Pompey but they were undone in the 14th minute when United States international Clint Dempsey released Johnson, played onside by the slack Sylvain Distin, for the Cottagers’ opener.

More bad play from Distin, who failed to deal with a Simon Davies through-ball, left England goalkeeper David James having to move quickly off his line to prevent Johnson making it 2-0.

Portsmouth’s Sean Davies twice went close against his old club before Kaboul nearly brought Pompey back into the game.

But his close-range header five minutes before half-time to hit the crossbar with Australia keeper Mark Schwarzer beaten.

Pompey had two penalty appeals within minutes each of other early in the second-half. They looked to have a case when Nugent, a substitute for Kanu, appeared to be brought down in the box by John Pantsil.

The Ghana full-back then tangled with Pompey striker Peter Crouch.

Pompey’s positive play though failed to produce a goal and they were made to pay when Nevland shot low beyond James in the 71st minute.

The Norwegian then added a second before Nugent headed in Jermaine Pennant’s free-kick six minutes from time.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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Dour draw leaves Boro in trouble

Middlesbrough’s struggles continued on Saturday as Gareth Southgate’s side were held to a 0-0 draw by Blackburn.

The Teesiders are now without a win in 12 matches and this dismal display, which was greeted by jeers from the angry home fans at the Riverside Stadium, will only increase fears that relegation to the Championship is on the cards.

Only goal difference is keeping Southgate’s team ahead of bottom of the table West Brom and there were few signs of an imminent rival in this dour clash against resurgent Blackburn.

Although Rovers remain in the bottom three, Sam Allardyce has masterminded an eight-match unbeaten run that has given the Lancashire club hope of avoiding the drop.

Allardyce recalled Paraguay striker Roque Santa Cruz despite his attempts to engineer a move to Manchester City, while a host of injuries and suspensions forced Southgate to deploy centre-back Matthew Bates in midfield alongside teenager Josh Walker.

With so many changes and morale already so low it was no surprise that Blackburn were the dominant team early on.

South African forward Benni McCarthy, whose late equaliser rescued Rovers against Bolton in midweek, set his sights on goal from 25 yards but his shot couldn’t beat Brad Jones.

Rovers created a more dangerous opportunity when Morten Gamst Pedersen was presented with a free header from Santa Cruz’s cross, but the winger’s poor first touch let the ball run to safety.

Keith Andrews drew a fine stop from Jones as he lashed in a powerful shot after Emanuel Pogatetz had only half-cleared Pedersen’s long throw.

But it was Rovers who finished the half on top. Vince Grella’s volley was narrowly off-target before Jones saved Santa Cruz’s shot with his feet.

The Boro keeper made an unorthodox save with his feet after Santa Cruz let fly with a swerving 40th-minute shot with the visitors piling on the pressure.

Blackburn suffered a blow after the break when Australia midfielder Brett Emerton limped off.

Middlesbrough were rarely able to exert any consistent pressure but they did have a chance when winger Stewart Downing swung a corner to the near post, where defender Chris Riggott glanced a header just over the bar.

Stephen Warnock fired wide from 25 yards midway through the half and Tugay kept the pressure on with a fine strike that Jones pushed over.

But it was Grella who almost made the breakthrough with a 75th-minute shot which was blocked bravely by Walker.

Jones had to be at his best to turn away Dunn’s 82nd-minute effort and then deny Roberts and Dunn again. The Australian wasn’t finished there and parried another Roberts header in injury time.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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Villa endure Wigan frustration

Aston Villa were left lamenting their failure to convert a string of chances after wasting the opportunity to boost their Champions League ambitions in a goalless draw with Wigan.

England striker Gabriel Agbonlahor in particular was thwarted by some resolute Wigan defending as Martin O’Neill’s team missed out on moving up to second-place in the Premier League table at Villa Park here Saturday.

Although the result extended Villa’s unbeaten league run to 12 games, it was nevertheless a case of two points dropped for the home side after they hit the post twice and threatened throughout the second-half.

Villa named an unchanged line-up from the one that won 1-0 against Portsmouth at Fratton Park on Tuesday, although Norway striker John Carew returned to the bench after a two-month absence.

Wigan were without Egyptian forward Amr Zaki, sidelined by a thigh injury.

Having recorded their most convincing victory of the season by winning 4-0 at Wigan’s JJB Stadium home in October, Villa created enough chances to produce a similar scoreline.

In front of a crowd of 41,766, Villa were imagining a repeat when they started brightly with Wigan barely touching the ball in the opening exchanges.

As Villa poured forward Craig Gardner just failed to reach Agbonlahor’s ball across the box, former Wigan striker Emile Heskey and Curtis Davies both went close from corners.

Agbonlahor, Villa’s top scorer, forced Wigan goalkeeper Chris Kirkland to tip his header over at full stretch and the speedy striker was then penalised from the subsequent corner for a foul on Emerson Boyce as his header was scrambled off the line.

It took Wigan until just before the half hour mark to create their first opportunity, but when it came it was the move of the match and forced Villa goalkeeper Brad Friedel into a smart save.

Mario Melchiot’s ball down the right was cleverly stepped over by Paul Scharner, allowing Daniel de Ridder to fire a low shot, which was blocked by Friedel’s legs.

It another fine save from Friedel to keep the scores level when Maynor Figuera was allowed a free header from Michael Brown’s cross.

After the interval, Zat Knight thought he had scored when his header from a Gareth Barry free-kick came back off the post and was hacked away with Agbonlahor and Davies ready to pounce.

Villa came even closer midway through the second period only for Agbonlahor’s strike to be cleared onto the post by Bramble before Heskey’s follow up effort was blocked.

Carew’s introduction around the hour mark piled further pressure on the visitors.

Villa looked to have been given a helping hand from referee Rob Styles when he controversially ruled that Melchiot had passed back to his goalkeeper.

An intelligent indirect free kick from Bulgarian midfielder Stiliyan Petrov set up a shooting chance for Carew, but his strike was blocked on the line by Scharner, as was Luke Young’s follow up.

Villa continued to keep Wigan penned inside their own penalty box with a timely block on Agbonlahor from Figueroa, who had earlier survived a penalty shout for handball.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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Misfiring Gunners frustrated by West Ham

Arsenal endured yet another day to forget on home soil as they were held to a 0-0 draw by West Ham on Saturday.

Arsene Wenger paid the price for his decision to leave Robin van Persie, by far his most impressive performer in recent weeks, on the bench for over an hour against Gianfranco Zola’s resilient, if decidedly unambitious, side as they were thwarted at every turn by a well-marshalled defence.

The north Londoners did not lose ground on Aston Villa, their main rivals in the race for Champions League qualification, as Martin O’Neill’s team also dropped two home points against Wigan, but Wenger will still see this game – the first goalless league draw at the Emirates Stadium since January 2006 – as a missed opportunity.

Wenger might also have felt a poignant twinge amid his frustration. Just over a year ago, West Ham’s visit to the Emirates ended in a routine win for the home side which maintained their two-point lead over Manchester United at the top of the table.

How times have changed.

Thirteen months on, Arsenal started this game eight points adrift of United and with their place in the elite group of Champions League clubs in serious jeopardy, courtesy of Villa’s barn-storming start to the season.

Van Persie’s absence was curious given the lack of experience in Arsenal’s team and it was hardly surprising that the Gunners laboured, particularly as West Ham packed men behind the ball, challenging Arsenal to pick a way through.

It did not make for pretty viewing. Arsenal, not for the first time this season, monopolised possession but had precious little to show for it, despite the best efforts of Samir Nasri in the first half.

The French winger, all quicksilver pace and twinkling footwork, strived hard to give his side a cutting edge.

His early corner was cannoned onto the crossbar by Abou Diaby, courtesy of a deflection from Matthew Upson, while another fizzed cross in the 19th minute picked out Nicklas Bendtner, whose effort was blocked by James Collins.

Zola showed his appreciation with a burst of applause from the dug-out, but that was far from Collins’ only contribution.

The Welshman even mustered a rare effort on the Arsenal goal after he connected well with Mark Noble’s corner but his header was cleared off the line by Gael Clichy.

That, however, was a rare forward foray from the visitors. Collins’ best moments came inside his own penalty area, most notably in the 49th minute when goalkeeper Robert Green could only half-clear Bendtner’s header.

Kolo Toure hooked the loose ball back towards goal with Green stranded, but Collins was on hand to head off the line.

When the Hammers’ back-line was breached, Arsenal’s strikers failed to capitalise.

Emmanuel Adebayor, having one of his increasingly frequent off-days, wasted two gilt-edged chances, slicing wide at the near post after being picked out by Bacary Sagna and then heading straight at Green from Carlos Vela’s cross.

Van Persie was finally unleashed as Arsenal grew desperate but the Dutchman struggled to make an impression and Wenger’s misery was compounded when Diaby was stretchered off in the closing stages with a serious-looking injury.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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Boltons Davies double helps sink Spurs

Kevin Davies claimed a dramatic late winner as Bolton Wanderers edged out Tottenham Hotspur 3-2 in a memorable Premier League clash at the Reebok Stadium here Saturday.

Darren Bent scored twice in as many minutes to spark a second-half Spurs fightback.

But it wasn’t enough, as new Bolton skipper Davies rose at the near post to head home Matt Taylor’s 87th minute corner for his second goal of the match.

Gary Megson’s side were cruising thanks to Sebastien Puygrenier and Davies but for the second time in three days they surrendered a two-goal lead.

However, Tottenham, forced to play down reports that 15.7 million pounds striker Jermain Defoe had been ruled out for the rest of the season with a foot injury, were unable to hang on for a point that would have eased their relegation fears.

England international Defoe, who has scored three goals in five games since his arrival from Portsmouth this month was absent from the starting line-up, meaning a more advanced role for Luka Modric in support of Roman Pavlyuchenko.

There was a debut for Wilson Palacios following the Honduras international’s 14 million pounds move from Wigan Athletic, but Pascal Chimbonda, returning for a second spell with Spurs following his three-million-pounds arrival from Sunderland, had to settle for a cameo second-half appearance off the bench.

Davies was handed the captain’s armband in Bolton’s first game since the unexpected four million pounds sale this week of former skipper Kevin Nolan to Newcastle United.

Ricardo Gardner was recalled to the side, and there was a full debut for Mark Davies following the midfielder’s recent arrival from Wolves.

After narrowly failing to find the net with a powerful header following neat interplay with Gretar Steinsson, Mark Davies played a major part in Bolton taking a 31st-minute lead.

Following a Palacios foul on Gardner, Davies swung in an inviting free-kick from Bolton’s left, where unmarked defender Puygrenier headed home from six yards in only his second start since joining on loan from Zenit St Petersburg.

In addition to it being the 27-year-old Frenchman’s first Premier League goal, it was Bolton’s first at home in six weeks, and only their third in three months in front of their own supporters.

Without Defoe, Spurs’s early attacks were at best sporadic, and manager Harry Redknapp tried to spark his side into life with the half-time introduction of Bent and Jermaine Jenas.

David Bentley forced Juusi Jaaskelainen to beat out an angled drive after a mistake by Steinsson and the midfielder also forced the Bolton keeper to dive low to his right to keep out a long distance effort.

It looked like Gary Megson’s side had made sure of victory in the 64th minutes thanks to Kevin Davies.

Taylor’s free-kick was blocked, but when Jlloyd Samuel sent the ball back into the box, Kevin Davies reacted first to Gary Cahill’s flick and curled in past an exposed Carlo Cudiccini.

Bent though handed Spurs a 73rd minute lifeline with a close range finish from Chimbonda’s cross after good work by Palacios and Aaron Lennon in the build-up.

And just two minutes later, Bent was in the right place to mop-up from six yards as Bolton froze after Palacios had seen his shot blocked by Jaaskelainen.

It looked like earning a point until Davies intervened at the death with his eighth goal of the season to leave the London club with just one victory in their last eight Premier League games.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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Ba and Sanogo strikes put Hoffenheim back on top

Hoffenheim went back to the top of the Bundesliga on Saturday with a 2-0 win over Energie Cottbus to prove they can cope without injured striker Vedad Ibisevic as their fairytale run continues.

Having won consecutive promotions in consecutive seasons, Hoffenheim are dazzling the league on their debut season and finished 2008 top of the table.

The club from the tiny village in south-west Germany suffered a potentially fatal blow a fortnight ago when 18-goal striker Ibisevic was ruled out for the rest of the season with a knee injury.

But Senegal striker Demba Ba and forward Boubacar Sanogo, who was signed from Werder Bremen this month to replace Ibisevic, scored to seal Hoffenheim’s 2-0 win over Cottbus to open the club’s new Rhein-Neckar-Arena stadium in style.

Ibisevic is expected to be out for six months, but in his absence Hoffenheim have now won 12 of their 18 games so far and have a goal difference of 21.

With Hamburg humbling defending champions Bayern Munich on Friday night, Hoffenheim carried on after the six-week winter break where they left off and dominated strugglers Cottbus.

Coach Ralph Rangnick gave a debut to former Germany goalkeeper Timo Hildebrand who was playing his first game back in the Bundesliga after an 18-month absence since his unsuccessful move to Valencia.

Hertha Berlin took their chance to go second in the table with a 2-1 win over Eintracht Frankfurt at the Olypic Stadium in Germany’s capital with two goals from striker Marko Pantelic, while Brazilian midfielder Cicero missed a first-half penalty.

Frankfurt midfielder Benjamin Koehler scored a consolation goal on 55 minutes.

Hamburg led the Bundesliga for less than 24 hours after beating Bayern 1-0 on Friday night with a single first-half goal from striker Mladen Petric.

But Hoffenheim and Hertha’s wins put Hamburg third while Bayern drop from second to fourth.

Schalke 04’s slump continued as they were humbled 1-0 by Hanover and VfB Stuttgart brushed off the German Football Federation (DFB) announcement coach Markus Babbel will have to stand down with a 2-0 win over Borussia Moenchengladbach.

Former Germany defender Babbel took over from sacked Armin Veh last November, but without his coaching licence, the DFB insist he must stand down to get the qualification. The win left Stuttgart seventh.

Borussia Dortmund are sixth thanks to their 1-1 draw with Bayern Lerkusen, while mid-table sides Cologne and Wolfsburg shared a point each in a 1-1 draw.

On Sunday, Werder Bremen are home to Arminia Bielefeld while VfL Bochum host Karlsruhe.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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Rangers victory cuts Celtic´s lead

John Fleck’s first ever goal for Rangers and a late Kyle Lafferty strike secured a 2-0 win over Dundee United at Ibrox to cut the gap at the top of the Scottish Premier League to one point.

With Celtic not playing Inverness Caledonian Thistle until Sunday the Ibrox side took the chance to put pressure on their Old Firm rivals at the top of the league by taking all three points.

It was 17-year-old Fleck, nephew of former Rangers and Norwich player John Fleck, that won and converted a penalty with just over ten minutes remaining to light up what was otherwise a dull affair.

Substitute Lafferty then scored the easiest of chances in injury time to double the Ibrox side’s lead.

In the opening stages Rangers had United, whose midweek League Cup defeat against Celtic went to penalties, on the back foot but the Ibrox side couldn’t create any chances.

It was United who had the first opportunity to take the lead in the ninth minute when David Robertson raced into the box to stab a long throw-in from the right towards goal but Allan McGregor got down well to save it.

In the 25th minute Nacho Novo carved out Rangers first chance when he went on a rampaging run through the United defence and laid the ball off to Kris Boyd in the box but his curling effort went wide of the post.

Five minutes later Barry Ferguson connected with a Fleck free-kick from the right but his low drive was blocked by the United defence.

With 32 minutes gone Boyd chested down the ball to Fleck, whose powerful effort on the half-volley was acrobatically tipped over the bar by Lukasz Zaluska.

United had the first chance of the second-half when Warren Feeney’s cross from the right was missed by David Weir and the sliding Francisco Sandaza was inches away from connecting with it.

It took until the 65th minute for Rangers to have any sort of meaningful effort. Madjid Bougherra went on a run down the right and found Boyd with a cutback but his midair downward volley was saved by Zaluska.

A minute later Fleck tried his luck from the edge of the box but his curling effort went wide of the post. Lafferty, on for Boyd, thought he had opened the scoring in the 75th minute when he slipped Steven Davis’ chipped pass under Zaluska but it was ruled offside.

And it was Fleck, in only his third start, who gave Rangers the lead in the 77th minute. The 17-year-old went on a darting run down the left-wing before being hauled down in the box by Mihael Kovacevic.

Fleck picked himself up and calmly placed his spot-kick into the bottom left-hand corner of the net, sending Zaluska the wrong way, for his first senior goal.

Deep into injury time Zaluska rushed out of his box to tackle Ferguson and the ball broke to Lafferty who stroked the ball into an empty net.

Both teams got a point in the first ever match at the new St Mirren Park. Kilmarnock took the lead through a first-half goal from debut boy Kevin Kyle but substitute Dennis Wyness got a late equaliser for St Mirren in a 1-1 draw.

Derek Riordan and David Clarkson scored as Hibs and Motherwell drew 1-1. A Simon Mensing double earned Hamilton a 2-0 win over Hearts to end a run of 19 consecutive defeats in matches against the Edinburgh side.

A Michael Higdon goal was enough to seal a 1-0 win for Falkirk over Aberdeen.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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West Brom battle back to snatch point at Hull

West Bromwich Albion twice came from behind to salvage a 2-2 draw at Hull City in the Premier League on Saturday.

The Baggies went into the game off the back of a 5-0 thumping by league leaders Manchester United in midweek, but the point earned at the KC Stadium means they are now just a point from safety at the bottom of the table.

It was a far cry from Hull’s 3-0 victory when the sides met at The Hawthorns in October – a result which briefly took Phil Brown’s top flight newcomers joint-top of the table, before their recent alarming slide set in.

The home side took a deserved lead in first-half injury time here when French midfielder Bernard Mendy burst into the visitors’ penalty area before coolly rounding England international goalkeeper Scott Carson and tucking the ball into the empty net.

Carson was called into action twice as Hull started the second half strongly, first saving from Dean Marney and then keeping out a header by left-back Michael Dawson.

But with Hull pressing forward they were hit by a devastating counter-punch, as on-loan Arsenal striker Jay Simpson finished crisply after an enterprising run by James Morrison.

As the game opened up, Richard Garcia almost converted a cross from Mendy, before the Frenchman centred for Craig Fagan to head home with just over 20 minutes remaining.

West Brom, though, refused to lie down, and Chris Brunt equalised four minutes later from the penalty spot after Kamil Zayatte was judged to have fouled Robert Koren.

The result brought an end to Hull’s six-game losing streak but means they are still without a win since a 2-1 triumph over second-bottom Middlesbrough in December.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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Forlan mulling move from Atletico: media

Atletico Madrid’s Uruguayan international star Diego Forlan intends to leave the club in the summer, AS daily reported Saturday.

Forlan, 29 and top scorer in La Liga in 2005 while with Villarreal, is seeking a final big contract at a club which can land silverware, AS said.

Forlan, who had a brief, generally unproductive spell with Manchester United before finding his feet anew at Villarreal, joined Atletico in 2007 for 21 million euros and has a contract until 2011 with a release clause of 36 million euros.

Atletico are still in the Champions League but are only sixth in La Liga, hampering their chances of another tilt at top European competition next season.

Spanish media have also been speculating on the future of the club’s gifted Argentine striker Sergio “Kun” Aguero and Atletico’s Mexican coach Javier Aguirre ahead of Sunday’s league match against Valladolid.

Sat 31 January, 2009
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Give me a break, Strachan tells Nakamura

Celtic boss Gordon Strachan says Japanese midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura can return to his homeland at the end of the season if he wishes – in the hope a holiday in the Land of the Rising Sun could be a perk of any deal.

Nakamura, 30, is thinking of going home after four years at Parkhead to raise his children there and has also been finding round-trips for internationals a strain.

The star is now believed to be mulling a possible return to his first club Yokohama Marinos.

“Naka’s never said he’s going back,” Strachan said.

“But if he said to me, ‘I want to go home to play in Japan and show everybody what I’ve learnt playing at Celtic and overseas’, we would just have to say, ‘Thank you very much, it’s been a great experience’ – and hopefully get a holiday in Tokyo out of it.”

Sat 31 January, 2009
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