English League 1

Sky Blues upbeat ahead of date

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Thu, 21 Mar 2013 22:17:00

Wilfried Zaha scored his first England Under-21s goal as Stuart Pearce's side recorded an eighth successive victory against Romania on Thursday night, claiming a 3-0 success.

Playing as lone frontman, the Crystal Palace academy graduate, who is on loan at Selhurst Park after joining Manchester United in January, marked his seventh England U21s appearance with a superb first-half strike, jinking past a number of defenders before curling home.

Substitutes Jack Robinson and Nathan Delfouneso added extra gloss to what was an easy victory for England, who have now not tasted defeat since November 2011 and won eight on the trot without conceding a goal.

While the match may have ended comfortably, the start was a lot less straightforward. Henri Lansbury, making his first start for Pearce's side in more than a year, saw his night ended after just two minutes. The Nottingham Forest midfielder had burst down the right but came off worse in a challenge with goalkeeper Laurentiu Branescu, meaning Delfouneso was given an early introduction.

That bad start almost worsened soon after when Romania saw strong penalty appeals waved away after Craig Dawson and Andre Wisdom both handled in the box. It was a warning shot across the bows that England heeded as they took control of the game.

Raheem Sterling stung the palms of Branescu after fine work on the right by Zaha, before the Liverpool winger then forced the Romanian goalkeeper into action at his near post with a cross-shot. Zaha was the next to threaten the visitors' goal, only for Alexandru Cretu's head to block the striker's goalbound effort.

Romania were struggling to deal with England's attacking intent and, after Jonjo Shelvey saw 20-yard free-kick tipped behind, Sterling cut inside from the left before flashing a shot just over. The Young Lions' barrage continued as Delfouneso and Danny Rose had shots, before the opener came in the 34th minute.

Zaha collected a pass from Sterling and continued to skip past the Romanian defence, before curling a sumptuous strike into the top right-hand corner. It was no less than England deserved after an impressive first-half performance - one which the home side failed to continue into the second period.

The Young Lions were comfortable in possession but lacking a cutting edge, although Sterling came close after collecting a fine Jordan Henderson pass and cutting inside.

It was two other Liverpool players that combined to score England Under-21s' second of the night in the 61st minute. Shelvey sent a fine right-wing cross to the back post, where half-time substitute Robinson ghosted in to volley home.

A flurry of Romanian changes could not stem the tide as England came close to a third, with Zaha turning sublimely only to be denied by Branescu. Pearce made three changes for the final 16 minutes, with Tottenham's Tom Carroll coming on for his England Under-21 debut.

Marvin Sordell saw a shot deflect behind as England continued to press, before Delfouneso wrapped up a comfortable win with the hosts' third two minutes from time. He could have doubled his tally for the night in second-half stoppage time, but Branescu easily dealt with his late header.

Trapattoni has preferred Green, not universally popular among fans and pundits, to Wigan's James McCarthy for his side's vital World Cup qualifier in Sweden.

Trapattoni reasons that he wants the extra combative qualities of Green to provide balance as he encourages the likes of Seamus Coleman and Marc Wilson to attack on the flanks.

Green's presence in squads has often divided opinion with many doubting his ability to perform at international level.

But the 29-year-old has been a favourite of the Italian boss, who has compared him to Italian hardman Gennaro Gattuso in the past and has now added England World Cup winner Stiles to that list.

Trapattoni, who named his line-up at a press conference at the Friends Arena, said: "International games are a little bit different physically, in attitude, mentality, personality.

"If we are to have this balance, if Coleman goes (forward), I said we must also push the defensive line. We have to stay in this position.

"Paul Green has the attitude. There are famous names - Gattuso.

"He was the player with character and attitude. He won the league and Champions League.

"There have been players in England. Remember Nobby Stiles?

"They are players who were not full of class like (Lionel) Messi, but football is not only this.

"We have to think about the balance. I can also change after I see how the game develops. We can also change."

Trapattoni had hinted at Green's selection alongside Glenn Whelan in midfield in training sessions throughout the week but he insists 22-year-old McCarthy remains in his thoughts for the game.

He said: "McCarthy is in the squad. He plays well, but we are playing away and I have seen so many games of Sweden.

"There are players who give time to other players. James is not this typical player.

"He is young enough and maybe in one year or two years he will be better than Whelan."

Ireland go into the game a point behind second-placed Sweden in Group C.

Sweden in turn trail leaders Germany by three points but both they and Ireland have a game in hand.

Other notable decisions by Trapattoni will see Aston Villa's Ciaran Clark partner John O'Shea in central defence and Millwall goalkeeper David Forde make his first competitive start.

West Brom striker Shane Long will partner captain and record goalscorer Robbie Keane in attack following the decision to leave out Wolves' Kevin Doyle.

Hull's Robbie Brady was named on the wing but Trapattoni revealed he had a slight doubt over him in a psychological sense and challenged the 21-year-old to prove he was ready.

Trapattoni said: "There is no injury but I want to be sure.

"I spoke with him. I said, 'Are you sure, are you okay?' He said, 'Yes'.

"I wish to push him. Brady is creative. He can put the opponents in difficulty.

"He showed (this) against Poland, going inside. He is clever and I told him, 'You must repeat this game'.

"It is my provocation. He will now see in the newspaper tomorrow he is a doubt. It is only psychological."

The presence of Brady, Coleman, Wilson and Green gives the Irish side a different look but Trapattoni is keen to evolve team following last summer's Euro 2012 failure.

He said: "In the last friendly game against Poland we (showed we) are changing slowly.

"These young players give me confidence, give me trust about what they can do.

"It is important they play how I know they can. I see them not only training but with their clubs.

"We are not great individual players like Messi, or with Sweden (Zlatan) Ibrahimovic.

"But we are a good team with good balance, good attitude. We are very practical and technical.

"I am confident for this. Every day when I see the team in training I am happy for my side. We must play our game."

Ireland were thrashed 6-1 by Germany earlier in the campaign and are now, most realistically, in a battle for second place with Sweden and their opponents next Tuesday, Austria.

Trapattoni said: "The next match will obviously be very important for our qualification.

"It will be important to keep in mind there is only one point between us and Sweden in our pool.

"As always every little detail is important to achieve the result."

The match in the Swedish capital is set to be played under the retractable roof at the Friends Arena with temperatures as low as minus nine degrees forecast during the game.

Trapattoni said: It is cold but for me it would be better open.

"But there are spectators and FIFA can decide.

"We have to play 90 minutes with it closed or open."

The England skipper endured a frustrating period when he was sidelined with niggling groin problems.

But he has been a virtual ever present for Liverpool this season in addition to spearheading his country's hopes of reaching the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil.

Gerrard said: "I'm benefiting from my own training schedule, I'm playing games and feeling really good.

"Ninety per cent of the players I play with at Liverpool and England have a very similar programme to myself.

"Mine is certainly working at the moment and I'm feeling really good.

"Every player wants to play without niggles. That is how you can perform as high as you can.

"That's where I feel I am at the moment and I'm really pleased with my body.

"I had a frustrating period with my groins at one stage in which I missed a year's football - but I'm certainly making up for that now."

England are currently two points adrift of group leaders Montenegro, whom they visit on Tuesday after Friday evening's clash away to minnows San Marino.

Gerrard insists both games are of equal importance in ensuring Roy Hodgson's side secure pole position in the group.

He said: "We understand the game on Tuesday will be a lot more difficult and people are going to focus more on that game.

"But this game in San Marino is no more less important than Tuesday because at the end of the day we get the same out of it if we win, three points.

"We want to take control of the group and want to wake up on Wednesday in control of this group because we don't play another qualifier until next season.

"It is very important we take a foothold now and are in the driving seat." Gerrard is adamant England will pay the utmost respect to San Marino who were beaten 5-0 at Wembley after adopting a defence-minded approach.

He said: "We do understand who we are up against. On paper we are stronger than the opposition. But sometimes when you play these teams, they cause different problems.

"It becomes an attack versus defence game, they try and slow the game down, commit fouls, will try and slow us down because we like to play at a fast tempo.

"I'm sure their plan will stay the same for 90 minutes. It certainly did at Wembley, to try to keep the score down, and we are expecting the same again.

"We need to show the same levels of professionalism and same intensity to get that breakthrough as soon as possible.

"The longer the game goes on at nil-nil, it gets a bit edgy.

"I'm sure the pitch will have a few issues as well but, if we approach it professionally and near the level we can play, it should be enough to get the three points."

The Sky Blues and owners SISU are due in the High Court in London tomorrow morning battling against the threat of an administration order.

The application has come from Arena Coventry Limited (ACL), who manage the Ricoh Arena on behalf of joint owners the Alan Edward Higgs Charity and Coventry City Council.

A spokesman for the club tonight said the decision to place the non-operating subsidiary into administration will not impact the running of the npower League One outfit.

The statement on the club's official website read: "It is important to stress that the football club itself is not under threat.

"This is merely a property subsidiary which owns no material assets and has no employees, on or off the pitch.

"The club can confirm that all staff wages, PAYE and all other creditor commitments will continue to be met as before by Coventry City Football Club Holdings.

"Unlike other instances of clubs being taken either wholly or partially into administration, there are no HMRC or VAT implications and the football club will continue to trade as normal without interruption.

"Our main objective now is to remain competitive on the pitch and give Steven Pressley and the playing staff our full backing and commitment."

Coventry currently sit eighth in npower League One, three points off a play-off place.

Pressley is desperate to see Coventry avoid administration in the High Court tomorrow and the subsequent 10-point deduction that goes with it.

The Scot, who only made the switch from Falkirk two weeks ago, admits it would be "mission impossible" regarding City's promotion hopes were they to suffer the penalty, with the club currently in eighth place in npower League One and just three points off the play-offs.

He said: "It's a concern, there's no doubt about it. My biggest concern is for the players and supporters because it's been 39 games of hard work and following the team. It's them who suffer the most. That's my biggest concern.

"I desperately hope that we find a solution and we can continue challenging for those potential play-off places.

"We can only wait until we hear the verdict and continue to prepare for Saturday's game in the hope we can still go on and gain promotion this year.

"The players and the supporters are the ones who really suffer out of this, that's why I'm desperate for some form of solution."

Coventry travel to Fratton Park on Saturday to tackle Portsmouth, a club who have twice suffered administration in as many years of late.

Fans from City's supporters' group, the Sky Blue Trust, will meet pre-match with their counterparts from the Pompey Supporters' Trust, who aim to complete their takeover of the south coast club soon.

The Sky Blue Trust hope tomorrow's court verdict does not bring administration but are desperately hoping for an end to the matter for the sake of the midlands club.

Jan Mokrzycki, media officer for the Trust, told Press Association Sport: "We just want to see a resolution, we just don't want the matter dragging on and on. We want it to come to a head and be sorted out so we can get back to football.

"Whatever the outcome is, we want the supporters in general to be taken more seriously by whoever the owners are of the club and the one thing the Trust is pushing for is more fan involvement and more fan involvement from an ownership point of view as well."

He added: "I think it's holding the whole club back, at the moment we're very close to the play-offs yet all we can talk about is when would be the best time to take a points deduction should it come. That's not what it should be about.

"We should be getting excited not worrying about points deductions, people coming in, people going etc. With all the off-field activity it's diluting that excitement.

"Hopefully, whatever happens tomorrow it will be a new start for the club, either with Sisu or new owners. Hopefully it will draw a line under the whole sorry business and we can move on."

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