Press Association Any hope of Roberto Mancini’s side retaining the Barclays Premier League title appeared to go up in smoke on Saturday after they suffered an embarrassing 3-1 defeat at Southampton. City goalkeeper Joe Hart said in the build-up that anything but victory at St Mary’s was likely to hand Manchester United the title. “Some days, nothing works the way it should,” Argentina international Aguero said via his Twitter account, @aguerosergiokun. “This was one of those days. There’s no excuse – we need to work hard to forge ahead. It all looks a bit grim right now, but I won’t believe giving up is an option.” They were sentiments echoed by captain Kompany, who was forced to watch the defeat on the south coast from the stands due to injury. “Our fans sang and stood behind us all game yesterday, despite losing,” he said on Twitter. “Just reminds me that there will always be a lot to play for. #MCFC !!” Sergio Aguero admits things look a “bit grim” for Manchester City right now, although captain Vincent Kompany believes there is still a lot to play for.
Sir Alex Ferguson believes Liverpool were wise not to try to head off a lengthy ban for Luis Suarez by imposing one of their own – having vowed Manchester United would never do it again either. Ferguson understood why Liverpool are aggrieved at the punishment handed down to Suarez for biting Branislav Ivanovic. However, the United boss does not think the penalty even comes close to the harsh manner in which Eric Cantona was treated by the Football Association following his kung-fu kick on Matthew Simmons at Crystal Palace. United, following guidance from the FA, suspended Cantona for the remainder of the season – a period of four months – believing that would be the end of the matter. Instead, the FA launched its own action, and increased Cantona’s ban to eight months. “I bet they are glad they didn’t (suspend Suarez themselves). It didn’t work for us,” Ferguson said. “David Davies promised us if we did it there would be no more action taken. Think about that. A nine-month ban. It is quite incredible. I still can’t get my head round it.” Sunderland manager Paolo Di Canio revealed his astonishment at the biting incident. Di Canio, of course, served an 11-game suspension back in 1998 after pushing referee Paul Alcock to the ground during his playing days at Sheffield Wednesday. The Italian, who admitted he could better understand France international Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt on Italy defender Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final, spoke of his surprise at the Uruguay forward’s actions. “He didn’t beat me – I was 11 [games suspended]. That’s a joke, obviously,” Di Canio said. “My gesture was a very bad, stupid gesture, but not a violent gesture because it was a push like a kid when you are young. But anyway, it was bad. It wasn’t really a fair play gesture – it was very bad. But this one is difficult to judge for one reason: because it is unusual to see in a normal situation. “I can understand Zidane. I don’t excuse him, but if someone is swearing in your face, talking about your mama, your wife, you can lose your temper. In this situation, I don’t know what has happened, but it is clear from the pictures that there was normal pressure from Ivanovic and see you the player pull one arm and try to bite. “It’s something that looks strange. It can’t kill him, but it’s something not really good to watch.” Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini had some sympathy for Suarez, though, and felt the punishment did not fit the crime. He said: “Sometimes (the FA) takes a strange decision. If you want my opinion, this is strange. Ten games I think is too much. I don’t know if this is worse than other tackles or situations. I think that five, six games was enough.” Press Association
Chris Hughton cut a delighted figure after Norwich confirmed their Barclays Premier League status with an emphatic 4-0 defeat of woeful West Brom at Carrow Road. Robert Snodgrass gave the Canaries a half-time lead, a Ben Foster howler gifted Grant Holt a second, the third was an own goal from former Ipswich defender Gareth McAuley and Jonny Howson scored a spectacular late fourth. “I thought we were excellent from the first minute right through to the 93rd minute,” said Hughton, following a third win in 20 games. Press Association “Incredibly relieved. We’ve embarked on a tough season, we’ve had some good periods in that season. We’ve found it difficult since Christmas to get the right formulas to win us football matches. On a day that it really counted, it was arguably our best performance of the season.” Hughton had a fitful night’s sleep ahead of the match and hopes for another on Sunday night in celebration of survival, which was his remit on his appointment last June. “It means absolutely everything,” said the former Newcastle and Birmingham boss. “I’m not the most outwardly emotional person, but I’m chewing up inside. It’s certainly my most satisfying (achievement), because of the pressure of the day. For this club, for this moment and the pressure on this game, this would probably be my proudest moment.” Hughton was able to savour the final 28 minutes after Foster’s decisive error. The England goalkeeper met Wes Hoolahan’s prod forward with a mis-kick which allowed Holt to walk the ball in. “Once the second one went in, we started to believe that it could be our day,” said Hughton, who felt his side were due some luck. West Brom boss Steve Clarke was unable to explain his side’s failings. He said: “It’s a blow to us because that’s not a normal performance for West Bromwich Albion. It was Norwich’s day, not ours.”
“Coming off the back of a great year last year, and I guess expecting myself to emulate that or even try and do better, it hasn’t really happened so far,” the Northern Irishman admitted. “I feel like it’s close. “I’ve been seeing a lot of positive signs in my game the last few weeks. You always want to go out and play well and contend and win tournaments and I haven’t done enough of that this year.” Asked what he would do to relax off the course this week, McIlroy added: “I was half thinking of going to the steps in the city, the Rocky Steps wherever they are and going to run up those.” McIlroy might best be served conserving his energy however, with the torrential rain which fell on Merion’s East Course on Friday and Monday perhaps boosting his chances of victory but making for a long and tiring week. “There might be a few similarities to the way Congressional played to the way this week’s going to play,” he added. “It was soft then and it’s obviously going to be soft again this week. “It’s great to have my name on that trophy and obviously I would like to get it on that trophy a few more times as well. The US Open’s always a very special tournament, a tournament that all the guys look forward to. “They call it the toughest test in golf and it’s a pity that it has rained so much the last few days and might not play as tough as it usually does, but it’s still going to be a good test out there and you’re still going to have to play some good golf. It’s probably going to play into my hands a bit more.” Rory McIlroy is considering a visit to the ‘Rocky steps’ in Philadelphia as he looks to prove he is fighting fit at this week’s US Open at Merion. Press Association McIlroy has failed to punch his weight so far this season, losing his status as world number one to Tiger Woods, walking off the course during the defence of his Honda Classic title and looking a shadow of the player who won five times last season to take the money list titles on both sides of the Atlantic. However, the 24-year-old insists he is close to rediscovering that sort of form ahead of an event he won by eight shots with a record 16 under par total at Congressional two years ago.
Former Liverpool chief executive Rick Parry has no doubt the Reds are still feeling the effects of the period when they were overseen by George Gillett and Tom Hicks, who he says “we all wish passionately had not owned the club”. Press Association Regarding the Hicks and Gillett era, Parry, who was Reds chief executive at the time of their takeover and departed the post in 2009, told BBC Radio Merseyside: “That period of destabilisation is when we fell out of the Champions League. “Once you’re in there, you’re achieving those regular revenue streams. It’s a mountain to climb when it falls away.” During the reign of Gillett and Hicks – whose relationship was described by the former in 2008 as having been “unworkable for some time” – the debt against Liverpool’s holding company, stemming from a Royal Bank of Scotland loan the pair had used to help them purchase the club, continued to grow. “The debt was never on the club because previous chairman David Moores and I blocked that,” Parry said. “It was in the holding company, but clearly they needed to get money from the club to pay the interest so that was going to be a burden. “Our clear understanding was that it was short-term debt while they reorganised their own finances. “It was in the offer document that there would be no debt on the club, or the club would not have to bear the costs, and certainly that changed.” He added: “That (2008-09) is maybe the best ever chance we’ve had to win the Premier League and that was a time where we should have been kicking on. “With a few more adjustments to the squad, who knows what might have happened in the next year or two. “You’d do a million things differently with hindsight, but that’s not an option. We all wish passionately that they hadn’t owned the club.” American businessmen Gillett and Hicks took over at Anfield in early 2007 and their tenure lasted until late 2010, when their compatriot John W Henry assumed control. The 2009-10 season was the last time Liverpool appeared in the Champions League and they have failed to finish higher than sixth in the Barclays Premier League since coming second in 2008-09.
The Germany playmaker’s £43million move on transfer deadline day was met with disbelief from several former team-mates at the Bernabeu, with Ozil suggesting he felt no longer central to the plans of Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti following the world-record signing of Gareth Bale from Tottenham. However, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has subsequently claimed Ozil in fact asked to leave the Spanish club because “he couldn’t handle the pressure at Madrid”. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger maintains club-record signing Mesut Ozil has shown no signs of wanting to leave Real Madrid for an easier life at the Emirates Stadium. Wenger, though, insists Ozil – who made an impressive contribution in both his Arsenal appearances so far and is set to play at his new home for the first time against Stoke on Sunday – is the complete professional. “No, I have not seen that at all,” said Wenger when asked if Ozil looked like a player seeking the easy life away from Madrid. “He is 24, he has over 50 caps for Germany and when you play for Germany, you are under a lot of pressure. He won the championship with Real Madrid, and that is a club where there is a lot of pressure, but I could not detect that. “Ozil has integrated well, and been well accepted. “I think he is not at the top physically yet, overall we are very pleased to have him with us, but he will demand a bit of time to adjust to the vigorous body challenges he will face here in the Premier league. “Once he has done that, he will be even stronger.” A player who has certainly come on leaps and bounds in the first few games of the new campaign is Aaron Ramsey. The Wales midfielder, 22, scored his sixth Arsenal goal in the 2-1 Champions League win in Marseille on Wednesday night, as he continues to go from strength to strength – and showing no ill effects from a potentially career-ending double-leg break suffered in a tackle from Stoke defender Ryan Shawcross at the Britannia Stadium in February 2010. Press Association Wenger was never in doubt Ramsey, signed for £5million from home-town club Cardiff in the summer of 2008, would emerge into a great talent. “There is a basic rule in our game – when you have a big injury before the age of 20, you come back and redevelop completely normally, once the psychological damage is out of your head, so I was not too much worried, but you never know how big, how deep the impact is psychologically,” the Arsenal boss said. “It took him a long time to get completely over that, especially in the duels, in the fights. He had a little resistance to go into the fights for a long time. Now he is over it and also scores goals now, he has improved tremendously on that front. “He has a great engine, great spirit and has an obsession – he wants always to be better. That is of course very good ingredients. “Ramsey had a difficult period in mid-season where people became a little bit impatient with him. He lost confidence and sometimes you give the players a little rest, they can rebuild their confidence, they can think about their game and they came come back stronger. That’s what happened to him.” Wenger added: “I believe that every test that you pass, you come back mentally stronger. It is a good test as well because in our career you go through periods where people like you a bit less or hate you a bit more and if you can deal with that, it makes you stronger.” Arsenal could have Mikel Arteta in the squad for the first time this season as he steps up his recovery from a thigh problem. Wenger said: “When every body is back, there is competition for places, especially in midfield.”
Martin Jol will use the lure of playing in next summer’s World Cup to motivate his players over the coming months. “That is a big inspiration and I always try to use it,” Jol explained. “But I try not to overuse it, because it could be a big problem if everyone wants to go to the World Cup you know. “For example Brede (Hangeland) has got no problem with Norway, Philippe Senderos wants to have his games, he wants to play and if they don’t play they’ve got a problem, because all these national teams and their coaches they want their players to play. “For example with (Holland coach) Louis van Gaal, if you don’t play he won’t select you, so of course I use it as a motivation.” He added: “I’ve got Alex Kacaniklic, he’s in the Sweden team and did well, Kasami has made his debut now, so of course they want to go to Brazil. “But first they have to perform and do well.” Jol admitted though that performing in the Premier League brings pressure in any event. “Pressure is always there because you have need pressure to compete and perform and on the other hand in the Premier League there will always be pressure to win games,” he said. Ruiz helped book Costa Rica’s World Cup spot with a skilful left-footed strike across his body in the opening half of their 2-1 win over Mexico during the week, and Jol clearly hopes the 28-year-old will put in a similar performance against Crystal Palace on Monday. But for now he is just happy the midfielder has returned injury-free along with his other foreign players. “The only obstacle can be our fitness or people like Bryan who was on international duty. That is my only worry, how will they come back. Our medical staff do a great job however and everyone’s fit. So as long as everyone’s fit there’s no problem, but to win games,” he said. Bryan Ruiz (Costa Rica), Ashkan Dejagah (Iran), Maarten Stekelenburg (Holland), Derek Boateng (Ghana), Philippe Senderos (Switzerland) and Pajtim Kasami (Switzerland) are among the Fulham players who could feature in the tournament in Brazil next year. Costa Rica captain Ruiz is clearly likely to start for his country but others will need to impress at Craven Cottage over the coming months to boost their credentials for World Cup selection. Press Association
Press Association Palace also pushed Manchester City all the way on Saturday and were unfortunate to lose 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium. Although Pulis is attaching no extra importance to the clash with fellow strugglers Norwich, he still feels his side will be the outsiders in most of their remaining fixtures. “They are all worth three points,” he said when asked if the Norwich game carried more significance in their fight against relegation. “The Man City game has gone now so the next big game is Norwich. Every game is a cup final for us in the Premier League. We played well at Chelsea and didn’t get anything, we played really well at Man City and picked no points up. “All that we did is brilliant for confidence and everything else and gives the players a lift to go out and compete with top-class players. “The bottom line is when it comes to Wednesday we are playing another team who have more experience than us in the Premier League and have had more years to bed down. We will be the underdogs again, we are the underdogs most weeks and we just have to accept that.” Following narrow defeats at Chelsea and Man City in recent weeks, a game against the Canaries will be seen by many Palace fans as a fixture where points are more attainable. But Pulis is wary of that fact and is still expecting a tough test against Chris Hughton’s side. “That (expectation) is something you have to deal with,” he said. “The players have to deal with that, there is no hiding the fact that we are playing at home and we need to win home games. We are hoping that we get some points. “Norwich are one of the teams in the bottom half of the table who will be looking to get points as quickly as they can, much like us. “I have a lot of respect for Chris and it is a smashing football club. I haven’t seen them that much but I will watch a few games now until we play them on Wednesday.” Pulis took over a Palace team who had just seven points from their opening 12 league games and lost at Norwich in his first game in charge. Since then, the Welshman has secured enough points to take the Eagles out of the bottom three on goal difference and Pulis admits he has been impressed with how the squad have adapted to his methods. “The players’ attitude to what we are trying to do as a group has been wonderful,” he added. “If you look at the running stats for the wide players it is getting to a point where it should be, and I ask the full-backs to get up and support. “The team move up and down the pitch collectively and to do that you need people who are prepared to work and, with the position we are in, everyone has to work and they have bought into it and I think they are enjoying it.” Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis believes his side will be underdogs when they host Norwich on New Year’s Day – but insists that feeling is nothing new for the Eagles. A win for Palace would see them move above Norwich, who currently sit 14th in the Barclays Premier League, as Pulis continues to pull the team away from the relegation zone. The former Stoke boss has overseen two wins out of three league games at Selhurst Park since replacing Ian Holloway in November.
Asked about cupping his ear after the final whistle, Allardyce said: “I did it because I was hearing booing, I couldn’t quite believe it. “I’d seen something I’ve never seen before. Nothing surprises me, I suppose. “I can’t understand it, to be honest. We’ve got a difficult situation and it must be frustration.” Hull counterpart Steve Bruce joked about the full-time reception – “Sam’s big and ugly enough to handle it” – but that could not disguise his anger at the officials’ display. The Tigers boss was furious with referee Mike Dean’s decision to send off McGregor and called for changes to be made. “If the referee had given the penalty straight away, I could understand,” the Tigers boss said. “He didn’t and we have got video evidence of that. “I asked him if he gave the penalty and he said he did, but it must have been two or three minutes before he made the decision. “So, if he has given the penalty, we obviously had someone on the line to clear the ball, so we must have some in line with him, so it’s not really denying a goalscoring opportunity. “And is it not sufficient to use common sense and, if he thinks it’s a penalty, which he didn’t at the time, keep 11 men on the pitch? I am convinced if we had 11 men we would take something from this game. “With 10 men, for me, we were still the better team. With 11 that would obviously have been easier. “McGregor obviously got injured and I honestly think that has made the decision for the referee, the fact he is in a bad way. “But he has missed a blatant handball so it is a calamity of errors and what makes it worse is if he’s not sure about the decision, then how does he send the player off? “There is no more common sense. There are people marking them in the stands, they get paid handsomely and too often we’re sitting here talking repeatedly – any manager I see – about a decision going against you. “For me, it’s too often. We’ve got to do something about it. They’ve got to improve.” As if defeat was not bad enough, Hull goalkeeper McGregor appears to have been seriously injured in that controversial incident. “McGregor is in a bad way, kidney damage,” Bruce said. “A specialist is on his way to see him, it is a contusion on his kidney. We’re hoping it’s not ruptured. He’s gone to hospital and he’ll be staying overnight.” The visitors managed to pull level early in the second half when Nikica Jelavic deflected home a Tom Huddlestone free-kick, only for a James Chester own goal to put West Ham back in front soon after. Hull continued to press but were unable to stop West Ham running out unconvincing 2-1 victors – a performance that led to boos at the final whistle and Allardyce to react by cupping his ear. “I’ve not experienced that before in the time I’ve been in the game,” he said in the post-match press conference. “Obviously, for us, today was all about coming off with three points, whether we played brilliantly, indifferently or not so good. It was about getting the three points “The lads have gone about it and, when they’ve come off the field, they’ve got the three points and that is what matters. “I have to remind everybody about the situation of playing against 10 men and the two examples of how difficult to beat 10 men. “We were brilliant playing with 10 men when we beat Cardiff 2-0 and we played here against Swansea City for 65 minutes with 10 men and they didn’t score and we won the game. “Hull City played with 10 men, kept the ball well and we beat them. That’s what you’ve got to do. The examples prove just how good we are. We beat them, that’s the most important thing.” Press Association The home fans were audibly frustrated by the Hammers’ ineffective display in east London, where the controversial sending off of Allan McGregor arguably proved the difference. The officials missed Mohamed Diame’s handball before being taken down by the Hull goalkeeper, allowing Mark Noble to send home the resulting penalty. Sam Allardyce cupped his ear in disbelief after West Ham were booed off the pitch at Upton Park, despite ending a three-match losing streak at home to Hull.
Romelu Lukaku’s agent claims to have spoken to Tottenham about his client. Chelsea striker Lukaku is currently in the middle of a second successful loan spell away from his parent club, playing a key role with Everton in their bid for Champions League football. His 13 goals for them come on the back of 17 for West Brom last season, with his form making observers question why Chelsea have not given him a first-team chance. It remains to be seen whether he will get one next season too, and agent Christophe Henrotay says he has been speaking to other clubs – of which Tottenham are one – about the 20-year-old. He told Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad: “I’m looking for a club for Romelu. And yes, I’ve talked to [Tottenham chairman] Daniel Levy once, but that doesn’t mean Romelu will definitely join Spurs. That’s not a talking point at this moment.” He added that not every club will be able to afford Lukaku should Chelsea decide to sell him. “There aren’t 20 teams that can afford to buy Romelu,” he said. “He won’t go from Everton to, let’s say, Swansea. There’s also a difference between Everton that plays against relegation and an Everton that fights for European football.” Chelsea’s decision to loan Lukaku out for a second season has become an increasingly difficult one to understand, with Blues boss Jose Mourinho constantly bemoaning his poor options up front. Press Association