Fulham deepen Sunderland gloom

Sunderland extended their unwanted winless streak to 14 matches on Sunday when they were held to a 0-0 draw at home to Fulham that did little to ease their relegation fears.

Fulham were back in action after a 3,200-mile round trip to Shakhtar Donetsk in the Europa League on Thursday, but if there was fatigue in their ranks, Steve Bruce’s side were unable to capitalise.

A poor game yielded few clear-cut chances and the result leaves Sunderland 14th in the Premier League table, three points above the relegation places.

Fulham, who will take on Italian giants Juventus in the last 16 of the Europa League after their heroics in Ukraine, move above Everton into ninth.

Sunderland showed a willingness to attack from kick-off but a couple of disappointing Kieran Richardson free-kicks were the sum total of their early efforts and the game gradually became turgid.

England hopeful Bobby Zamora headed well wide from a Simon Davies pass in Fulham’s first chance of note, while Kenwyne Jones thrashed a volley over the crossbar at the other end.

Darren Bent assumed dead-ball responsibilities for Sunderland and almost embarrassed Mark Schwarzer with a scuffed free-kick.

Fulham could have gone into the break with a 1-0 lead but, following a goalmouth scramble, Zamora failed to trouble Craig Gordon with a header.

Schwarzer was called into action after 10 minutes of the second period when Alan Hutton let fly with a left-footed shot, having cut inside from the right.

The hosts began to assert control as the game entered its final half an hour and Bent shaped a shot narrowly wide from the edge of the penalty area.

Fulham responded, with Duff dragging a shot across goal and wide, before Sunderland substitute Boudewijn Zenden came agonisingly close to putting the hosts ahead when he fired into the side netting from Jones’s flick-on.

Hutton was then inches away from connecting with Zenden’s inviting centre before the final whistle signalled an opportunity missed for Sunderland.

Sun 28 February, 2010
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Rooney fires United to League Cup win over Aston Villa

Wayne Rooney came off the bench to ensure Manchester United retained the League Cup by beating Aston Villa 2-1 on a painfully bittersweet afternoon for his team-mate Michael Owen.

With England coach Fabio Capello watching from the stands, Owen had evoked memories of his glory days with a wonderful, instinctive finish to cancel out James Milner’s early penalty for Villa.

But just as he might have been starting to entertain hopes of an international recall, a hamstring injury ended both his afternoon and any lingering hopes he may have had of making Capello’s squad for the World Cup.

Gabriel Agbonlahor had scored the winner when Villa won 1-0 at Old Trafford earlier in the season and it was immediately apparent that his pace, unleashed from the left-side of his team’s attacking trident, would again trouble a United defence missing Rio Ferdinand.

Within four minutes, Ashley Young’s first-time pass had sent him clear of Nemanja Vidic, who resorted first to shirt-pulling and then to a desperate lunge to prevent his opponent from getting a shot away.

Vidic, remarkably, escaped sanction but Milner ensured Villa took the lead by sending Thomas Kuszczak the wrong way from the resulting penalty.

With both sides displaying a refreshing commitment to attack, the tone had been set for an entertaining, open encounter and United were quickly back on level terms courtesy of a vintage piece of finishing from Owen.

The striker had already served notice that he was in the mood to catch Capello’s eye when, having robbed Carlos Cuellar, he went past James Collins only to have his progression towards goal arrested by the Villa centreback’s crude lunge.

There was however nothing anyone could do about his equaliser, which came after Berbatov dispossessed Richard Dunne 30 yards out.

The Villa defender recovered the uncharacteristic lapse with a superb tackle on the edge of the area but succeeded only in diverting the ball from Berbatov’s toes into the path of Owen, who didn’t break his stride as he steered a controlled low shot beyond Brad Friedel’s right hand.

Milner tested Kuszczak with a drive three minutes later and Agbonlahor should have, at least, found the target when the loose ball broke to him on the left of the goalmouth.

But as the opening period wore on it was United who looked the more likely to add to their score, with much of their drive coming from the energetic forward thrusts of Park Ji-Sung.

The South Korean midfielder sliced one good chance wide after being teed up by Berbatov’s back heeel and, having broken from deep inside his own half and combined deftly with Antonio Valencia, saw another effort blocked by Stiliyan Petrov before being denied by the woodwork in first-half stoppage time.

Valencia was again involved, skipping past Villa’s would-be England left-back Stephen Warnock with an ease that will have been noted by Capello before delivering a cross that was deflected to Park 12 yards out. His first-time shot struck the inside of the post and then Carlos Cuellar before finally being scrambled to safety.

By that stage Rooney had replaced the desperately unlucky Owen but it was Berbatov who continued to look the most likely to open up Villa, and another deft backheel from the Bulgarian gave Michael Carrick the chance to force Friedel into a fine save four minutes into the second period.

Villa’s best chance of the second half fell to Young, who was unmarked as Berbatov’s clearing header fell to him just inside the box but shanked his volley into the turf and wide of the target.

Three minutes later, Rooney applied the decisive blow with his 28th goal of the season, beating Friedel with a looping header from Patrice Evra’s cross after the France left-back had combined neatly with Berbatov.

Rooney beat Friedel with another header five minutes later with another header which came back off the bottom of the post. United had to survive some late scares but, ultimately, did not need the added insurance of a third goal.

Sun 28 February, 2010
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Rooney fires United to League Cup win

Manchester United beat Aston Villa 2-1 here on Sunday to win the League Cup.

Wayne Rooney’s 28th goal of the season, 16 minutes from time, sealed the win after Michael Owen had cancelled out James Milner’s fifth-minute penalty for Villa.

The win ensured United, who beat Tottenham in last year’s final, retained a major cup for the first time in the club’s history.

Sun 28 February, 2010
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Quick Report: Aston Villa 0-1 Manchester United

(GSM) – Manchester United have won the 2009-10 League Cup. Wayne Rooney scored the winning goal to beat Aston Villa 2-1 at Wembley Stadium in London.

Just five minutes had been played at the ‘Cathedral of Football’ when Nemanja Vidic fouled Gabriel Agbonlahor in the penalty area.

James Milner stepped up to take the responsibility and sent the ball past keeper Kuszczak for 1-0.

But United did not need long to equalize as Richard Dunne’s tackle on Dimitar Berbatov only had as result that the ball went straight into Michael Owen’s path, allowing the striker to beat Brad Friedel, 1-1.

The winning goal at Wembley came on 74 minutes. Antonio Valencia crossed in from the right and a subtle header from Rooney sailed over the goalkeeper’s head to give United a deserved lead.

It is United’s fourth League Cup victory after winning the trophy in 1992, 2006 and 2009.

Sun 28 February, 2010
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Depleted Inter maintain four point lead

Inter Milan survived a late scare and depleted resources to win 3-2 at Udinese and maintain their four-point lead at the top of Serie A on Sunday.

AC Milan beat Atalanta 3-1 at home thanks to a brace from Brazilian Pato to remain second but third-placed AS Roma dropped two points in a 2-2 draw at Napoli, despite having led 2-0.

Inter travelled to the north east with coach Jose Mourinho and four players suspended, forcing the Portuguese to play two midfielders in defence.

If ever Inter were going to be stopped this season, this match appeared to be their most likely banana skin.

Centre-backs Walter Samuel and Ivan Cordoba were suspended and left-back Davide Santon injured while another defender, Marco Materazzi, was only fit enough for the bench.

It meant midfielders Javier Zanetti and Thiago Motta had to play in a re-shuffled back four while the midfield had an unfamiliar look with Kenya’s McDonald Mariga making his first start for the club as Esteban Cambiasso and Muntari Sulley were both injured.

And just 72 seconds in it seemed as if Inter were going to pay for their troubles as Udinese crafted an excellent goal with Serie A top scorer Antonio Di Natale’s clever little pass putting in Simone Pepe behind the make-shift defence to shoot past goalkeeper Julio Cesar — although it was regular right-back Maicon who was at fault in failing to track Pepe’s run.

If anyone thought Inter would be rocking, they would be sadly disappointed as on six minutes the champions were level when Mario Balotelli took a pass from Maicon and hit the bouncing ball from 22 yards as he slipped only to catch it sweetly, leaving Samir Handanovic unsighted in the Udinese goal.

Inter’s second was simply stunning as Maicon fed Diego Milito wide on the right and he played it inside to Goran Pandev who flicked the ball over the defence for Maicon to continue his charge into the area and lash home a fierce volley from eight yards into the top corner, giving Handanovic no chance.

On the stroke of half-time Inter left no doubt as to their dominance as Wesley Sneijder played the ball out to Balotelli on the left and his brilliant in-swinging cross found Milito running across the defence to glance home a header from seven yards.

Udinese pulled a goal back on 52 minutes through Di Natale from the spot but although they pushed hard they couldn’t find the equaliser.

They came closest with the last kick of the game but Swiss international Gokhan Inler’s deflected effort hit Julio Cesar’s bar.

Milan had a largely comfortable afternoon thanks to Pato’s two first half strikes.

On the half hour Ronaldinho’s back heel freed captain Massimo Ambrosini down the left and he crossed for Pato whose volley bounced over goalkeeper Andrea Consigli’s mis-timed dive.

Ronaldinho turned provider again as his delectable in swinging cross found Pato on the edge of the six yard box and as the young forward took the ball around Consigli, Thomas Manfredini slid in to tackle him only to clear the ball off the Brazilian’s knee and in.

Atalanta pulled a goal back from Valdes early in the second period but then Marco Borriello clinched the victory when he followed in Ronaldinho’s saved penalty.

Roma went 2-0 up in Naples through a Julio Baptista penalty and a crisp Mirko Vucinc strike.

But their hosts hit back through a German Denis volley and then a Marek Hamsik penalty, awarded for a very dubious handball against Philippe Mexes, leaving Roma seven points behind Inter.

Sun 28 February, 2010
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Rangers defeat ten-man Celtic

Rangers’ substitute Maurice Edu struck in injury time to seal a 1-0 win over ten-man Celtic here Sunday to send the defending champions ten-points clear in the Scottish Premier League.

The American, who had a goal chopped off in the first-half, popped up to force the ball over the line with the last kick of the match.

Celtic captain Scott Brown received a straight red after clashing with Kyle Laffery in the second-half.Ranger

The win all but extinguishes Celtic’s faint hopes of catching Rangers in the race for the championship with Walter Smith’s men also having the bonus of a game in hand over their rivals.

“We struggled a bit in the first-half but I felt we played far better in the second,” the Rangers manager said.

“I didn’t think at that stage we were going to get the goal so we were delighted obviously when we did.”

Tony Mowbray thought his side had done enough for a draw.

“I think in the first-half we created the best chances. The second-half they started very strongly and it was compounded by our sending off.

“We defended resolutely and it looked like we were going to see the game out but ultimately it wasn’t to be.”

Mowbray had named an unchanged side from the one which defeated Dundee United last weekend meaning five players made their Old Firm debuts. The return of Lafferty for Rangers meant Nacho Novo dropped to the bench.

In an explosive start Celtic had a chance within 30 seconds.

Slack defending from Sasa Papac allowed Marc-Antoine Fortune to pick out Robbie Keane with a cutback but his shot from 14 yards was saved by Allan McGregor.

Rangers hit back almost immediately when Steven Davis released SPL top-scorer Kris Boyd after a surging run through the Celtic defence but Artur Boruc forced him out wide and he hit his shot into the side netting.

Referee Dougie McDonald dished out yellow cards to Madjid Bougherra and Fortune in the opening ten minutes as tempers began to flare.

Edu replaced the injured Lee McCulloch in the 26th minute and the American thought he had scored with his first touch.

The ball fell to the midfielder 20 yards out and he rifled a volley past Boruc into the bottom corner of the net but it was disallowed after Kenny Miller was adjudged to have handled the ball earlier in the move.

A minute later Miller had the chance to make amends as he used his pace to race past Thomas Rogne into the box but Boruc stood up and blocked his lofted shot. McGregor showed great reactions to save Keane’s fierce volley from the penalty spot.

Fortune wasted a golden chance to fire Celtic ahead on the stroke of half-time when he waltzed through the Rangers defence but then fired wide of the post with only the keeper to beat.

Rangers were on the front foot in the second-half and were appealing for a penalty when Edu appeared to be pushed in the box as he was about to shoot.

Boruc blocked a powerful low drive from Davis before recovering to save the Northern Irishman’s shot on the rebound.

Then Hoops captain Brown was sent off in the 65th minute.

The midfielder received a straight red after he collided with Lafferty and then wrestled with him on the ground, appearing to butt the chest of the Rangers man.

Edu came close when he side-footed Papac’s cross over the bar from eight yards out before he broke the deadlock in injury time. Bougherra fired a shot low at Boruc who then made a point blank save from Boyd’s follow-up but couldn’t stop Edu bundling the ball over the line from close range.

Sun 28 February, 2010
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Spurs back in fourth position after Everton win

Tottenham regained fourth place in the Premier League with a 2-1 victory over Everton at White Hart Lane here on Sunday.

First-half goals from in-form Roman Pavlyuchenko and Luka Modric proved enough to lift them above Manchester City.

Ayegbeni Yakubu’s second-half reply proved to be insufficient for a point, although Everton had plenty of chances to equalise.

Neither side’s preparations for the game had been ideal as Everton bowed out of the Europa League via a 3-0 loss at Sporting Lisbon on Thursday, by which time a virus had swept through Tottenham’s training ground.

Vedran Corluka and Wilson Palacios had been ill but were able to start, with Everton manager David Moyes making five changes and pairing Victor Anichebe and Yakubu in attack in the absence of Louis Saha, who had just been recalled to the France squad after a long absence.

Everton captain Phil Neville was booked in the ninth minute for a reckless tackle on Gareth Bale as Tottenham made a strong start.

That materialised into the opening goal two minutes later as Pavlyuchenko netted for the fifth time in three games.

Jermain Defoe took down a long ball from Tom Huddlestone on the right and sent in a pacy ball across the box that may well have been a shot.

If so it would have gone wide but Pavlyuchenko had anticipated perfectly to first avoid being caught offside and secondly to stick out a leg and divert the ball into the net.

Goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes almost gifted Everton an equaliser however when he dropped a corner at Yakubu’s feet and it needed a block from Tottenham captain Michael Dawson to prevent a certain goal.

Pavlyuchenko, who just a few days beforehand had accused his manager of making fun of him by not playing him very often, was adopting a shoot on sight policy and forced a parry from Tim Howard, the Everton goalkeeper, with an effort from distance.

Modric had been quiet but made his mark with the second goal in the 28th minute.

The midfielder received the ball from fellow Croat Niko Kranjcar and, having used quick footwork to get into the box, lofted the ball over Howard and into the net off the underside of the crossbar for a goal of rare quality.

Everton chances had been rare but Jack Rodwell headed a good one wide after Neville’s cross had found him at the near post.

There was another alarm at the other end seconds later however when Defoe was inches away from connecting with Bale’s ball across the six-yard box.

Leon Osman was replaced in midfield by England international Phil Jagielka at the start of the second half and Gomes was soon needed to keep out a drive from John Heitinga.

Tom Huddlestone was hurt in the act of firing wide as Tottenham replied with a slick passing move and had to be replaced by Younes Kaboul.

Everton were back in the game in the 55th minute through Yakubu after Tottenham failed to defend a corner. Pavlyuchenko and Gomes failed to deal with Rodwell’s header at the back post and Yakubu bundled home the loose ball ahead of Anichebe.

Gomes then had to parry a Rodwell drive before Landon Donovan came on for Anichebe just after the hour mark and the Brazilian was needed again to keep out Steven Pienaar’s drive as Everton pressed for an equaliser.

Donovan should have provided one but somehow found the side-netting from an unmarked position at the back post after Rodwell’s cross had flashed across the box. It was to prove a costly miss.

Sun 28 February, 2010
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Quick Report: Rangers 1-0 Celtic

(GSM) – A stoppage-time strike by American midfielder Maurice Edu lifted Rangers to a 1-0 Old Firm win over 10-man Celtic on Sunday.

It had always looked as if the Bhoys would be the most likely to score as Robbie Keane had several chances go awry, mostly due to the spectacular play of Rangers goalkeeper Allan McGregor.

Then, Celtic were dealt a blow on 66 minutes when midfielder Scott Brown earned his marching orders for a collision with Rangers’ Northern Ireland striker Kyle Lafferty.

The home side pressed on from that point forward, but it appeared Celtic’s defense would manage to hold out for a single point.

Those hopes were dashed, however, three minutes into stoppage time when Edu pounced on a rebound to convert after Kris Boyd saw his shot saved from close range.

It was a deserved goal for the USA midfielder, who had several chances throughout the game.

The win moves Rangers seven points clear in the Scottish Premier League.

Sun 28 February, 2010
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Chelsea chasing Reina

Chelsea are reportedly keen on signing Liverpool keeper Pepe Reina this summer.

The People claims the Blues rate the Spaniard highly and are waiting to make a move for the 27-year-old.

Liverpool could be forced to sell Reina, in order to balance the books, if they fail to land a Champions League spot this season.

Chelsea keeper Petr Cech has failed to impress this season and back-up Henrique Hilario has also struggled.

Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich is reportedly ready to pay up to £20million in order to land Reina this summer.

[Source: The People]

Sun 28 February, 2010
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Arsenal to sign Bordeaux striker

Arsenal are set to sign striker Marouane Chamakh from French side Bordeaux, according to the Sunday Mail.

Chamakh, who is out of contract this summer, is close to agreeing a four-year deal with the Gunners.

Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis is holding talks with the Moroccan over a move, but the club are not expected to announce the move until the end of the season.

“I’ve dreamed of the Premier League since I was a little boy. I am ready to discover the experience for myself,” Chamakh said last week.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is expected to sign at least one centre-half in the summer as well.

[Source: The Sunday Mail]

Sun 28 February, 2010
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