Serie A wrap: Milan drop points, Lazio denied again

AC Milan dropped two crucial points as they were held to a 1-1 draw by Catania in Serie A on Saturday, while Lazio lost again.

A first-half Robinho strike was cancelled out by an equaliser from Nicolas Spolli as hosts Catania claimed a deserved point, denying Massimiliano Allegri’s men a seven-point advantage at the top.

Catania started brightly, and fired an early warning shot after just four minutes when Gonzalo Bergessio hit the side-netting.

Both sides created opportunities at Stadio Angelo Massimino, and it was the visitors who took a 34th-minute lead thanks to superb work from Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

A series of crisp passes led to the Sweden striker receiving the ball with his back to goal.

Showing incredible strength, he held off Nicola Legrottaglie, turned, and slipped Robinho behind the defence, with the Brazilian firing home from close range.

Catania nearly drew level moments after the restart when a loose ball in the area was attacked by Alejandro Gomez, who rattled the crossbar with a ferocious effort.

Gomez thought he had equalised barely a minute into the second half after turning in a flick by Bergessio.

The goal was ruled out for offside, but replays suggested the Argentine may have kept himself onside.

Catania would not be denied again though, and deservedly drew level just before the hour mark.

Allegri’s side failed to deal with a corner, leaving Legrottaglie to knock down the ball to Spolli, who swept home.

Robinho came within inches of putting Milan back in front on 64 minutes, but his shot was cleared off the line by Giovanni Marchese.

AC Milan were forced to settle for a point despite Ibrahimovic going close on several occasions late on, with the reigning champions going five points clear of Juventus at the top.

Meanwhile, Lazio were dealt a blow in their quest for a Champions League spot after suffering a shock 3-1 loss to Parma at Stadio Ennio Tardini.

McDonald Mariga opened the scoring with a neat finish on six minutes and Sergio Floccari added a second for the hosts with a powerful header.

Lionel Scaloni, who replaced the injured Andre Dias midway through the first half, was fortunate to pull a goal back with a deflected strike on 37 minutes.

Floccari, however, restored his team’s two-goal advantage in the 72nd minute, striking home a Sebastian Giovinco cross as third-placed Lazio slumped to their third loss in four league matches.

Sat 31 March, 2012
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Martinez sees light at end of the tunnel

Wigan boss Roberto Martinez believes the fight for Premier League survival will go down to the last game of the season.

Wigan beat Stoke 2-0 at the DW Stadium thanks to goals from Antolin Alcaraz and Victor Moses – their first home victory since August – but Martinez still believes there is a long way to go for the teams at the bottom.

The Spaniard says his side’s experience in relegation scraps could be vital in their bid to beat the drop, however.

“The other results are going to be like this until the end of the season. We’ve been in this situation before we know that the last seven or eight games of the season the bottom five are going to pick up points,” he said.

“There’s going to be many twists and turns and you can only control your own fate we need to work on our points, to have as many points as we can when May 13 arrives and whatever happens elsewhere I truly expect it.

“The big thing about this league is that everyone will be fighting till the end if you look our last two fixtures are against Blackburn and Wolves. It’s very difficult not to see that it is going to go to the last game of the season.

“You don’t want to be in the position that we’re in that’s quite clear but now we’re in this situation we need to make sure we get out in the best possible way and that’s in the manner we did in the last two weeks.”

Martinez hailed his team’s defensive performance against the Potters and feels they put in one of their best efforts of the season, which he believes was the perfect follow-up to their victory over Liverpool last week.

“I felt defensively as a team we were outstanding we kept Stoke really quiet it was probably the easiest game Ali Al-Habsi has had all season,” he said.

“That’s credit to the players. Going forward we created chances and we looked lively, sometimes we missed some really good opportunities but that never effected us to keep going forward.

“It was a very complete performance and it magnifies how important the win at Anfield was because today we could have lost. It was a historic day against Liverpool but if you don’t win at home after that the points mean nothing. I’m really pleased for the players and really proud of them.”

Stoke boss Tony Pulis praised the opposition, believing they outplayed his team all over the pitch, but insisted he tried his best to grab a result by ending the game with three strikers on the pitch.

“I’m more upset about the way we played. I thought Wigan were the better team, they played better on the day,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to be critical of the team and the players because we’ve done so well lately. We’ve had a real tough run of games but Wigan were the better team and they deserved the three points.

“Ask any manager if they could put their finger on when they know that before a game the players are not going to perform as well as what they have done. I changed it round I put three forwards on because with Ricardo (Fulller), Cameron (Jerome) and (Peter) Crouch at least there would be a goal in them.

“Even though if we’re not playing well let’s see if we can get a goal out of one of those three. But even that didn’t work today, it’s just a poor day at the office.”

Sat 31 March, 2012
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Connor riled by ´dubious´ penalty

Angry Wolves manager Terry Connor rued a ‘dubious’ penalty that changed the direction of his team’s game against Bolton Wanderers.

The home side were 1-0 up when Mark Davies fell to the ground and the referee pointed to the spot, though replays have suggested there was minimal contact, if any at all.

Martin Petrov slotted the ball home and Bolton then went on to score three goals in the space of 21 minutes to knock the stuffing out of Wolves.

“For an hour we dominated the game, got in front and then a penalty decision, which I’ve only seen once back, is a dubious decision and that has a big bearing on the game,” he said.

“I don’t think the Bolton lads appealed with any great gusto and the lads are adamant it was a penalty.

“Having come out in the second half in the same vain the penalty decision – which is dubious to say the least – has a massive effect on the game because Bolton weren’t in the game up to that point.”

Wolves had dominated proceedings in the opening hour and Connor is hoping his charges can continue to play like that in the final seven games as they fight for survival.

“It was a terrific performance from the lads in the first hour. Everyone called it a must-win game and I recognise the importance of the game but there is still seven games to go and I’m not giving up any hope until someone tells we can’t do it,” he said.

“People say what they want to say, there’s still 21 points to play for.”

Roger Johnson and Wayne Hennessey became embroiled in an on-field spat from which they both had to be restrained but Connor said the issue has been resolved.

“I don’t know the tactical point they were trying to resolve but I do know it was two players showing determination to get the right result and I spoke to them at half-time,” he said.

“They shook hands and went back out for the second half determined to play with exactly the same passion as the first half.”

Bolton boss Owen Coyle was understandably delighted that his team managed to overcome physical and emotional fatigue to win their third league game in a row, and hailed his players’ ‘true spirit’ after a tough few weeks following Fabrice Muamba’s cardiac arrest.

“These games are all six-pointers because they’re not being played in August or September they’re at the business end of the season and today was a massive three points,” Coyle said.

“For our part that’s nine points from three games and we can’t do anymore than that. We just have to continue we do our business.

“When we did pass and move the ball – which we didn’t do often enough – we made a few half chances ourselves and getting into half-time at 0-0 I was absolutely delighted.

“I felt we started the second half well as (David) Wheater headed just passed the post then (Michael) Kightly scored a great goal. It would have been easy – given the emotion toll the last few weeks have taken – for us to feel sorry for ourselves but what we did was showed our true spirit at the club.”

Sat 31 March, 2012
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Belgian First Division wrap: Gent close gap, Westerlo edge Sint-Truiden

Gent moved to within three points of Belgian First Division leaders Club Brugge on Saturday, while Sint-Truiden lost at Westerlo.

Goals from Elimane Coulibaly, Zlatan Ljubijankic and Ilombe Mboyo saw Gent to a 3-0 win at home to Standard Liege in the championship playoff group.

The win helped Gent back to within three points of Club Brugge, who recorded a 2-0 against Genk on Friday.

Sint-Truiden fell further behind in the relegation playoff after suffering a 3-2 loss to Westerlo at Het Kuipje.

Evariste Ngolok struck a brace for the victors, who played out the last half-hour of the encounter with 10 men after Ibrahima Sidibe was sent off.

Sint-Truiden midfielder Gregory Christ was red-carded in stoppage time of the clash, with his side slipping six points behind Westerlo with four matches remaining.

In the other playoff groups, which will help determine who progresses to the Europa League, Lukas van Eenoo’s brace gave Cercle Brugge a comfortable 3-0 win over Mechelen.

In the other Group A encounter, Lierse and OH Leuven played out a 1-1 draw.

Mons recorded a 2-0 win over Beerschot in Group B, while Hamdi Harbaoui struck a late equaliser in Lokeren’s 1-1 draw with Zulte Waregem.

Sat 31 March, 2012
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Di Matteo applauds Chelsea display

Roberto Di Matteo felt Chelsea were good value for their 4-2 win over Aston Villa on Saturday, despite giving up a two-goal lead.

Visitors Chelsea were in control of the English Premier League match at Villa Park, thanks to strikes from Daniel Sturridge and Branislav Ivanovic.

They found themselves back level at 2-2 following quick-fire efforts from James Collins and Eric Lichaj.

But Ivanovic struck again to restore the lead, before Fernando Torres claimed his first league goal since September to secure the points.

“Apart from the five minutes where we conceded those two goals, we controlled the game very well,” Chelsea’s interim manager Di Matteo said.

“We had some good chances as well to score maybe one or two more goals, but we know that towards the end of the game we might feel a little bit (tired from) the game from midweek,” he added, referring to Chelsea’s 1-0 Champions League quarter-final victory over Benfica on Tuesday.

“It’s happened and unfortunately we conceded those two goals but I think it was great spirit by the team to react because it could have gone the other way as well.

“We had some great chances in the first half – (Juan) Mata hit the post and some other chances.

“Villa Park has historically proven a very difficult ground for us – I think the last 12 games up here we’ve only won once – so we knew it was going to be a tough game.”

Villa manager Alex McLeish blamed his team’s set-piece defending for undoing the hard work of their fight-back.

“I don’t think we were second best,” he said.

“Chelsea had their moments and have world-class players, but we got in their faces.

“To get back to 2-2 was a brilliant effort, the desire we showed was fantastic.

“But we paid for not being able to defend at set pieces, which is frustrating.”

Sat 31 March, 2012
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Conte calls on Juve to pounce

Antonio Conte has urged his Juventus players to apply more pressure on Serie A leaders Milan by defeating Napoli on Sunday,

Second-placed Juve, undefeated from 29 matches this campaign, can reduce the gap on Milan to two points with victory at Juventus Arena

Conte says his side must remain within striking distance of Milan, who were held to a 1-1 draw away to Catania on Saturday.

“To win tomorrow will surely mean securing the second place in the league, because we will be 14 points clear of Napoli and the gap with the other teams would remain the same,” Conte said.

“Let’s not forget that to get to the Champions League from the main door without the preliminary phase would be extraordinary for us, but we also need to keep our eyes open and try to take advantage if Milan will make a false move.”

Despite their extraordinary unbeaten run in the league this term, Juve have fallen behind Milan in the title race after a spate of mid-season draws cost Conte’s men top place.

And the Italian manager believes Milan are primed to defend their league crown, noting their squad depth as a key strength during the tail end of the season.

“I always say that the season is in Milan’s hands, it’s up to them to win it or lose it,” Conte said.

“I repeat, they’re the only team in Italy with such a big squad, they are able to put on the pitch a very competitive team with great champions even with 10 or 11 players injured.

“It’s pointless to hide that, we don’t have that squad, nor do Napoli. Maybe Inter could have so many players at their disposal, but they’re out of the fight for the Scudetto.

“Udinese, Lazio and Juventus don’t have such a squad at their disposal.”

Sat 31 March, 2012
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Stramaccioni defends Inter squad

New Inter coach Andrea Stramaccioni has defended the club’s players ahead of his first game in charge of the Serie A side.

The 36-year-old Stramaccioni was brought in on Monday to replace Claudio Ranieri, who was sacked after Inter slumped to eighth in the Serie A.

Stramaccioni is Inter’s third manager this season after Gian Piero Gasperini was also sacked in September.

Inter’s veteran-filled squad have been heavily criticised this season but Stramaccioni believes his players still have the ability to succeed in Italy’s top flight.

“These guys are players who have written the history of world football, they’re great professionals and I want to stress this to you,” Stramaccioni said.

“They gave their best with Gasperini and Ranieri and they’ll give their best with Stramaccioni and with any other coach the president would have chosen instead of me.

“I only have to give my contribution, but I don’t need to pick them up.

“I repeat, we’re talking about incredible champions, their professionalism is unquestionable.”

Stramaccioni has never managed a senior team and has been promoted after leading Inter’s youth team to victory at the NextGen Series in England, where they beat Ajax Amsterdam in the final.

The former Bologna defender who had his career cut short by a serious knee injury will lead Inter for the first time against Genoa on Sunday.

“I tried to watch all the games Genoa played since they’ve changed manager,” Stramaccioni said.

“They have an expert head coach, he’s proved a strong personality and he’s stamped his identity on the team in the last few games, the games against Roma and Fiorentina in particular.

“They have an aggressive style and play at a high rhythm, they have talented players in attack and it will be a tough game tomorrow.”

Sat 31 March, 2012
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Moyes proud of tireless Everton

Everton manager David Moyes was relieved to see his mentally tired players earn a 2-0 win at home to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.

A Gareth McAuley own-goal and Victor Anichebe’s second-half strike sealed all three points for home side Everton in the English Premier League match at Goodison Park.

Moyes was not surprised to witness a somewhat laboured performance from his players, who he feels have been pushed to the limit by the demands placed on such a small squad.

“I thought there was parts of (the performance) which were very good and parts of it where it looked like there was a bit of mental tiredness and a bit of physical (tiredness), which I was really worried about today,” he said.

“We put near enough the same boys out again, made a couple of changes, and I thought in the main we did the job, albeit I saw signs of fatigue mentally more than physically really.

“We still needed the second goal and at 1-0 I was deciding ‘do I shore it up?’, because I was just thinking that maybe we didn’t have an awful lot left.

“When we got the second goal it made a big difference, it sort of put the game to bed for us.

“There were bits of play in the first half where maybe we could have gone on and scored but we weren’t making the final pass, with a bit of tiredness in the general play.

“So, a bit mixed but if you’d have (offered) me this result before the game I’d have said ‘great’, because West Brom have got one of the best records away from home in the Premier League, so I was really wary of that.”

While Everton are now up to seventh place, defeat on Merseyside leaves their visitors 14th on the table, just eight points clear of the relegation zone with seven matches left to play.

“I think we need about four more points and we’ve got seven games to get them,” West Brom manager Roy Hodgson said.

“When you lose it gives you a sinking feeling and I now have to get the players up for the next game against Blackburn.”

Sat 31 March, 2012
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Roberto Mancini disappointed after dropping points versus Sunderland at the Etihad Stadium

Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini has admitted that it will difficult for City to win the English Premier League title after dropping points at home for the first time in the league campaign against Sunderland on Saturday.

City are now two points behind bitter inner-city rivals Manchester United, albeit the Red Devils do have a game in hand.

United will travel to Ewood Park to battle Blackburn Rovers, who won the reverse fixture at Old Trafford earlier this season, on Monday night.

A win would create a five-point gap between the Manchester clubs, giving United the upper hand in the title race with just seven league games remaining.

“It’s hard [to win the title], but it depends on Monday then we have another seven games,” Mancini told reporters on Saturday.

“Like us that we did some mistake in the last game, also for United maybe can arrive at a difficult moment. Before the derby, it’s important that we recover two points.”

The Red Devils will play five league matches, including Monday’s trip to Blackburn, before they face City at the Etihad Stadium on April 30.

United’s other fixtures are against Queens Park Rangers (Old Trafford), Wigan Athletic (DW Stadium), Aston Villa (Old Trafford) and Everton (Old Trafford).

Meanwhile, City will face Arsenal (Emirates Stadium), West Bromwich Albion (Etihad Stadium), Norwich City (Carrow Road) and Wolverhampton Wanderers (Molineux Stadium).

Certainly both sides can drop points in these matches, but City surely haven’t the toughest overall fixture against Arsenal at the Emirates on April 8.

If United win at Ewood Park on Monday night, the pressure is on City to win at the Emirates Stadium next week.

Now then, if City fail to tally three points against the Gunners, United could go seven or eight points clear of their “noisy neighbors” next weekend.

In other words, City need to reverse their fortunes in a hurry if they are to keep up with mighty Manchester United in the title race.

“It is the correct result, the draw,” Mancini conceded. “I’m happy only for the last 10 minutes, for the other 80 minutes I am unhappy because we didn’t play very well.

“I don’t know why [we are playing bad]. In the first-half we are flat.

“It is normal when you arrive in the end [of the season] you should be tired sometimes, it’s possible. But why we did this in the last 10-15 minutes we should do in the last 15 minutes before.”

Can Mancini rekindle City’s early-season form in their last seven league games?

Sat 31 March, 2012
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O´Neill laments costly spot-kick

Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill rued a penalty decision that went against his side in their 3-3 Premier League draw with Manchester City.

O’Neill’s men were on course for a memorable win when they led 3-1 with 10 minutes remaining at Eastlands, but two late City goals denied them all three points.

But it was City’s opening goal, a Mario Balotelli penalty in the first half, that O’Neill felt cost his side victory, with the Northern Irishman claiming the spot kick should have never been awarded after Craig Gardner allegedly felled the Italian striker.

“I thought that genuinely that the referee was going to book their player (Balotelli) for diving, but I should have known better,” O’Neill told reporters.

“Referees have a really difficult job, but I spoke to the referee in the tunnel just at the end and he said it was a penalty.

“I don’t think it was and I think the replays will show that and really disappointing obviously, it’s a major blow to us just a couple of minutes before half-time.

“But, it shouldn’t detract from our performance. I thought we played brilliantly today and obviously disappointed to have dropped some points.”

City were far from dominant and Sunderland’s proficiency in front of goal meant they looked set to be the first team to beat Roberto Mancini’s side at home this season.

O’Neill was pleased his side managed to thwart City’s dominance in their home surrounds.

“They (City) have won 15 consecutive games here, we’re the first team to take some points off them and they’re second in the league,” O’Neill said.

“So they’re a very, very good team and they’ve got so many match winners and if you ask me now I think we got a little bit tired obviously.”

Despite the result denting City’s title hopes, Mancini remained upbeat about his side’s chances of catching leaders Manchester United, who can extend their advantage to five points with victory over Blackburn on Monday.

Mancini was optimistic when asked about Blackburn’s hopes of causing an upset at Ewood Park.

“They can do a draw on Monday, why not?” the Italian told Sky Sports.

“Are we still in the title race? I think so because eight games is enough to do two draws.

“It’s normal. Until we have a point to win this league we will try until the end. I’m sure that we will do better (against Arsenal next week) than today.”

Turning his attention to Saturday’s draw, City’s brave fightback was not enough to earn plaudits from their Mancini, who was not impressed by his side’s performance.

“It was a crazy game, a very emotional game,” Mancini said.

“We didn’t play well but we have a chance again. It was very important to play well but we didn’t. We defended very badly. We made mistakes. I’m not happy with our performance.

“It was important in the end to score two goals and take one point. We have seven games left and we want to do everything (to win the title).”

Sat 31 March, 2012
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