League Two Preview: Newport, Mansfield return to Football League

Newport County begin life back in the Football League by welcoming Accrington Stanley to Rodney Parade.

After going out of business in 1989, the reformed club have slowly worked their way back up the English league system, and Justin Edinburgh’s side secured promotion with a victory over Wrexham in the Conference play-off final last term.

Accrington flirted with relegation for much of the previous season, and although they finished 18th, they were only three points clear of the bottom two. Manager James Beattie will be hoping to guide his side to victory in his debut game in the dugout.

Conference champions Mansfield Town travel to Scunthorpe United for their opening clash of the season. The pair were two divisions apart last year, but a torrid season for Alan Knill’s side saw them relegated on the final day of the season, despite wins in their final two matches.

Defeated play-off finalists Northampton Town will be aiming to put defeat to Bradford City behind them and build another good season under Aidy Boothroyd.

They travel to Bootham Crescent to face York City, a side they were unable to beat last season.

Cheltenham and Burton, both play-off semi-finalists, meet in their opening fixture at Whaddon Road.

Burton manager Gary Rowett has strengthened his squad with eight new players, including Rory Delap, but has seen star men Calvin Zola and Jacques Maghoma leave for Aberdeen and Sheffield Wednesday respectively.

Relegated Portsmouth find themselves in the bottom tier for the first time since 1980 and will hope to put back-to-back relegations, and years of financial peril, behind them.

Fans group Pompey Supporters’ Trust bought a controlling stake in the club in April and have put faith in former striker Guy Whittingham to help them back up the football ladder.

There have been 11 players arrive at Fratton Park ahead of the new season and they open with a home match against Oxford United.

Hartlepool United travel to Rochdale in the 137th encounter between the two clubs – the most played Football League fixture between current members.

There have been 10 new signings at Spotland as manager Keith Hill looks to plot the club’s way back to League One after relegation back to the fourth tier of English football in 2012.

Elsewhere on the opening day, Bury will entertain Chesterfield, Wycombe Wanderers face Morecambe at Adams Park and there is a south-west derby between Exeter City and Bristol Rovers.

Plymouth Argyle travel to Southend United, Graham Alexander’s Fleetwood host Dagenham & Redbridge and Torquay United face AFC Wimbledon at Plainmoor.

Wed 31 July, 2013
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Moyes readying record third bid for Fabregas

David Moyes is preparing to smash Manchester United’s transfer record with a third bid for Cesc Fabregas, the Express understands.

The Premier League champions’ previous two bids for the 26 year old, though to be around the £25m and £30m mark were dismissed out of hand by the Catalan club.

However, the United manageriIs determined to land the former Arsenal captain and, according to the Manchester Evening News, will break the club’s transfer record that currently stands at £30.8m, which they paid to Tottenham Hotspur for Bulgarian forward Dimitar Berbatov in 2008.

Fabregas has returned to training with the La Liga champions, but is said to be considering his options, while new Barcelona boss Gerardo Martino has insisted that the club would reject any improved bid from United should it materialise.

The Spain international has scored twenty goals in sixty league appearances since returning to the Nou Camp two years ago.

Wed 31 July, 2013
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No offers for Papadopoulos, says Heldt

Schalke general manager Horst Heldt has denied that defender Kyriakos Papadopoulos is set to join Liverpool.

There had been speculation that the Greece international had reached an agreement to end his three-year spell with Schalke and move to the Premier League club.

However, Heldt insisted that no offer has been made for the 21-year-old – who is recovering from a knee injury that has kept him out of action since November – and stated that the centre-back is in the Bundesliga side’s plans for next season.

“There is nothing to these rumours,” Heldt told Reviersport.

“There is no offer for Papadopoulos. Not from Liverpool or from any other club.

“On the contrary, we are pleased that ‘Papa’ is making progress with his knee injury and he will hopefully be with us again soon. We’re planning for him.”

Still, Heldt did admit that Schalke may be persuaded to part company with the former Olympiacos man should the right offer come along.

“If we receive an offer for him, we will come together and talk about that as we do with every player for us,” he added.

Wed 31 July, 2013
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Caulker completes Cardiff switch

Cardiff City have confirmed the signing of defender Steven Caulker from Tottenham for a club-record fee.

The 21-year-old moves to the Cardiff City Stadium on a four-year deal, having completed his medical on Wednesday.

Caulker made 28 appearances under Andre Villas-Boas last season after spending time on loan at Yeovil, Bristol City and Swansea City in previous campaigns.

“First and foremost I want to say how happy I am to have signed with Cardiff City Football Club. I’m delighted to be here and excited for this fresh challenge,” the England international told Cardiff’s official website.

“I spoke to the gaffer (Malky Mackay) yesterday, liked what he had to say and am excited about the plans he has for the football club.

“You get the sense of excitement from everybody at the club in the build-up to the season’s kick-off at West Ham and I’m really looking forward to being part of it.

“I thank Tottenham for everything they’ve done for me, having been there since I was a kid. But I’m here to back myself up now and show what I can do. This is a fresh start, a new chapter and I’m here to kick on.”

Caulker will join his new team-mates for training on Thursday and could feature in the club’s friendly with Chievo on Saturday.

Cardiff had previously broken their club record for a player this close-season with the transfer of Andreas Cornelius from FC Copenhagen.

Wed 31 July, 2013
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DFB-Pokal Preview: Bayern start defence in Rehden

Bayern Munich will start their campaign to retain their DFB-Pokal crown against minnows Schwarz-Weiss Rehden on Monday.

Bayern wrapped up an historic treble with a 3-2 victory over Stuttgart in last season’s final.

Jupp Heynckes was in charge for that success, however former Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola has since taken the reins, and he will be looking for his side to produce a professional performance against the fourth tier side.

Stuttgart begin their campaign against Dynamo Berlin on Sunday, while Juergen Klopp’s Borussia Dortmund will be hoping to avoid a shock against Wilhelmshaven on Saturday.

Goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller and midfielders Sven Bender, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Henrikh Mkhitaryan are all expected to miss out, but Klopp’s side will still be expected to come through with little difficulty.

Schalke, who have won the competition on five occasions, face fifth-tier club Nottingen and will undoubtedly be aiming to improve on their run to the third round last season.

Three-time winners Hamburg fell in the first round against Karlsruher last term, and manager Thorsten Fink is keen to avoid the same fate this time around Schott Jena on Sunday.

“Obviously as a Bundesliga side we are the clear pre-match favourites. Still, the same rule applies every year: You must not underestimate any opponent in the DFB-Pokal,” he told the club’s official website.

“My team look solid and focused, so that won’t happen to us. The lads should be totally looking forward to Sunday after the long break and go out there and enjoy it.

“The necessary aggression will automatically come. That way we will live up to our billing as pre-match favourites and progress to round two.”

Wed 31 July, 2013
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Toivonen coy on Norwich move

PSV Eindhoven striker Ola Toivonen is in no rush to complete his proposed move to Norwich City.

The 27-year-old looks set to leave the Philips Stadion, with technical director Marcel Brands having stated in June that a fee had been agreed between the clubs.

However, the Sweden international is keeping his options open and will not hurry into any decision on his next destination.

“I did not say definitively it (Norwich) was no longer an option,” he told VI.

“I want to take my time, I do not hurry.”

While Toivonen does not look likely to figure in PSV manager Phillip Cocu’s first-team plans, the Dutchman said an agreement will be reached if he does not secure a move away.

“If, at the end of the transfer window, Toivonen is still here, we will get back around the table,” Cocu stated.

“(But) the market is still open for a month. We will wait and see what happens.”

Toivonen was an unused substitute in PSV’s 2-0 UEFA Champions League third qualifying round first-leg win over Zulte Waregem on Tuesday.

Wed 31 July, 2013
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El Jaish confirm Benitez cause of death

El Jaish have confirmed that the cause of Ecuador international Christian Benitez’s death was a cardiac arrest.

Benitez died suddenly on Monday at the age of just 27, having been rushed to hospital complaining of severe stomach pains 24 hours after making his debut for the Qatari club following a big-money move from Mexico.

And, following the release of the results of the player’s post-mortem, El Jaish have now explained how he came to pass away.

“El Jaish football club has received the medical reports which belong to Christian Benitez, who passed away on Monday morning in Al Ahly hospital in the Qatari capital Doha,” a statement read.

“The official medical reports, accredited by the Qatari state, state that the player’s sudden death was due to a cardiac arrest.

“El Jaish FC will transfer the body of the player from Doha to Ecuador immediately after completing all the legal procedures followed in the state.”

The Qatar Stars League outfit also explained that they will pay for Benitez’s body to be flown to his native Ecuador, and have offered their help to the deceased striker’s family.

“Also, the club board has announced that they will sponsor the process of transferring the body by using a private jet from Doha to the place where he will be buried,” the statement added.

“The player’s family and his wife who are in Doha will now fly to Ecuador to attend the funeral, and the club has promised that the player’s transferring ceremony will be held in the best possible way.

“The Ecuadorian star died suddenly on Monday morning, his death led to an extreme sadness inside the club , especially since he only joined a few days ago.

“Also, the club administration has confirmed it will support the player’s family and his wife.”

Wed 31 July, 2013
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Scottish Premiership Preview: Celtic, Hearts start with road trips

Scottish Premiership champions Celtic begin their title defence at Ross County on Saturday, while cash-strapped Hearts play St. Johnstone.

Celtic have won the Scottish top-flight title for the last two seasons, claiming the trophy in a canter last season with the absence of city rivals Rangers.

Rangers – who will play in Scottish League One this season after financial difficulties saw them relaunched in the fourth tier last year – are again absent, leaving Neil Lennon’s side red-hot favourites to make it three titles in a row.

Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper have both departed Glasgow though, joining Premier League clubs Southampton and Norwich City respectively.

Celtic will rely on Anthony Stokes and Georgios Samaras for more goals this season as a result.

Their fixture against Ross County will not be easy, with Celtic beating them just once in four meetings last term.

Of the clashes, two were draws while Derek Adams’ side won one, at their Victoria Park home.

Hearts, who start the season with a 15-point deduction after entering administration, are likely to face a struggle to remain in the top flight.

They begin with a tricky away trip to St. Johnstone, who finished fourth last season, on Sunday.

A good result will be vital for Hearts as they prepare for the first Edinburgh derby of the season against Hibernian on August 11.

Also on Sunday, Motherwell, who finished second last season, are on the road to Hibernian.

English striker Michael Higdon topped the league scoring charts for Motherwell last term, scoring 22 goals, but he has gone to the Eredivisie to play for NAC Breda.

Hibernian also had a prolific striker leave, with Leigh Griffiths – who netted 20 times in the league – returning to English club Wolves at the end of his loan deal.

Partick Thistle will play their first top-flight match in nine years when they host Dundee United in the season opener on Friday.

Other matches on the first weekend will see Aberdeen welcome the visit of Kilmarnock, while St. Mirren – who finished second-from-bottom last term – visit Inverness Caledonian Thistle, with both fixtures to be played on Saturday.

Wed 31 July, 2013
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League One Preview: Sheffield United host Notts County, Wolves travel to Preston

Sheffield United will kick off the new League One season against Notts County at Bramall Lane on Friday.

United will begin their third consecutive campaign in the third tier of English football under the tutelage of David Weir, and they will be seeking a strong start against a side managed by their former defender, Keith Curle.

New boss Weir is keen to get his campaign under way in the right manner, but has warned fans against the dangers of expecting too much from his side.

He told the club’s official website: “There is an expectation that we should win every game at h
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ome, beginning with Notts County on Friday, and that is my aim, but we have to realistic and respectful to the opposition.

“Supporters will have a perception about what we are doing or what we should be doing, but it is down to me and the coaching staff to make the players comfortable.

“Some like the demands and the pressure of the crowd; others aren’t as at ease, but the supporters have a big role to play and I don’t say that in a flippant manner.”

Brentford endured an agonising end to the previous campaign as a last-minute Doncaster goal – which came after they had missed a penalty moments before – denied them second place in the league before they went on to lose the play-off final to Yeovil Town.

A positive start on Saturday is therefore imperative for the Londoners when they face League One newbies Port Vale, who were promoted last term after spending five seasons in League Two, away from home.

Brentford boss Uwe Rosler will be without first-choice keeper Simon Moore though, after the 23-year-old signed a four-year deal with Premier League outfit Cardiff City on Monday.

League Cup finalists Bradford City made up for their Wembley humiliation at the hands of Swansea by sealing League Two play-off success in May and will begin life in League One against Bristol City, who dropped down from the Championship.

Gillingham and Rotherham also went up alongside Phil Parkinson’s side and will take on Colchester United and Crewe Alexandra respectively.

Peterborough United and Wolverhampton Wanderers will be hoping to atone for last season’s disappointment of relegation. Darren Ferguson’s men will get under way at home to Swindon, while Kenny Jackett will start his Wolves tenure away to Preston North End.

Elsewhere, Walsall host Tranmere Rovers, Stevenage entertain Oldham and financially-stricken Coventry City travel to Crawley Town.

Last season’s seventh-placed side in League One, Leyton Orient, travel to Carlisle, while Milton Keynes Dons, who came just a place below in the standings, are away to Shrewsbury Town.

Wed 31 July, 2013
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Whittingham prepared for new test

Peter Whittingham is ready to take on the challenge of the Premier League with Cardiff City.

The 28-year-old midfielder was an integral part of Malky Mackay’s Championship-winning side last season, making 40 appearances and scoring eight goals.

He has played in the top flight before with Aston Villa, and anticipates a steep learning curve for the Welsh club as they get used to the step-up in quality.

“It’ll be a different test for us,” he told the club’s official website. “It’s going to be a case of working on when to press, when to close down and when to drop off.

“It’ll be a tough test, but we’re going out to pick up a win at West Ham on opening day.”

Cardiff fell to their first defeat of pre-season against Brentford on Tuesday, losing 3-2 to the League One side at Griffin Park despite leading 2-0 after 14 minutes.

However, Whittingham insisted the side are fully concentrated on their trip to Upton Park on August 17.

“I thought in the first half we played some really good football, dominated possession and looked a really good team,” he said. “In the second-half we were far too sloppy and gave silly goals away.

“We had a hard pre-season but it’s all about games now. We’ve got a lot of games coming up and it’s about getting things right.

“It’s going to take a little bit of time I suppose because we’ve not played that many games yet, but we’ll be ready for the start of the season.”

Wed 31 July, 2013
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