English League 2

Barker focused on play-offs

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Mon, 08 Apr 2013 18:36:00

Substitute Sergio Aguero broke Manchester United hearts all over again as Manchester City won 2-1 at Old Trafford.

The Argentine, whose goal won City the title in May, came off the bench to score the winner after a Vincent Kompany own goal had cancelled out James Milner's strike in an eventful second half.

The result closes the gap between the two sides to 12 points with seven games to play and, while it is unlikely to prevent the Red Devils regaining the Premier League crown, the game was still played out in an intense atmosphere.

The first half, although surprisingly open, was more notable for a series of robust challenges rather than goalmouth incidents as Wayne Rooney and Kompany were both booked for poor fouls.

Rafael did clip the crossbar after latching onto a Robin van Persie flick-on just before the interval but clear opportunities were few and far between despite the end-to-end nature of the contest.

But City didn't have to wait long to find the breakthrough in the second half and it came after good work from Gareth Barry, who robbed Ryan Giggs on the left before finding Samir Nasri in the area.

Rafael did well to tackle Nasri in the box but the Frenchman was still able to tee up Milner and the midfielder struck a fierce left-footed shot that took a slight deflection past David De Gea.

As has been a feature of their season, the goal appeared to spark United to life and the home side soon found an equaliser from the unlikely source of City skipper Kompany.

Van Persie whipped in a free-kick and Phil Jones just had to nod into the empty net but he miscued the effort badly only to strike the back of the Belgium international and see the ball diverted home.

If that was supposed to prompt a United onslaught it failed to emerge with Roberto Mancini instead looking to his bench to introduce Aguero for Nasri and deliver the game's killer blow.

The diminutive striker showed remarkable balance to dance past a series of challenges and blast the ball into the roof of the net to stun the home crowd into silence.

Despite heavy United pressure in the final stages, Sir Alex Ferguson's side could not find an equaliser and for the second successive season City were able to leave Old Trafford as the victors.

Mancini felt it was a deserved victory and claimed it was important his team gave a good account of themselves.

"We are happy because we played very well," he told Sky Sports. "This is the most important thing for us. We deserved to win."

But Sir Alex Ferguson saw it differently and claimed his United side were unfortunate not to get a result.

He told Sky Sports: "We were quite dangerous a few times on the counter-attack and we maybe could have done better, but in the second half I thought we were the better team and were unlucky to lose it."

Green originally made the comments in a radio interview when defending Ally McCoist's performance as manager, and then stood by them in a Sunday newspaper interview.

That drew a reaction from McCoist while other comments in the same interview saw Green accused of using "racist and offensive language" by anti-racism campaigners.

Green did not exactly back down over the team criticism today but he appeared to recognise that his public comments might not have been helpful.

The former Sheffield United chief executive told STV: "I've said a lot of things in 12 months. There isn't one thing that stands out that I think 'well, perhaps I shouldn't have said that'.

"Perhaps I shouldn't have said this was the worst Rangers team ever. Perhaps that wasn't a good thing to say. Was it true? Was it misleading?

"It wasn't said to win fans over. It wasn't said to win anyone over. The press say Charles Green says this to keep the fans onside. I don't."

Responding to Green's remarks after his side beat Queen's Park yesterday in their first match since clinching the Irn-Bru Third Division title, McCoist said: "It's also the best Rangers team Charles has ever seen, to be honest.

"In my opinion, it's not the worst Rangers team.

"I'm not sure how many titles Charles has won in his career but I've been very fortunate to win 14 at our football club, including as assistant manager.

"That title we were all involved in just there is the hardest one.

"I know what it takes to win a title. It doesn't matter what division you are in, it takes a special group of people and talent and hard work to win titles.

"We've got a group of boys who were assembled in the space of six or seven days and have managed to win a title and they are 24 points clear.

"I would think everybody could maybe take a wee step back and offer some congratulations to those boys. I'm certainly doing that right now."

Meanwhile, Green defended his decision to sack Francisco Sandaza over comments made during a hoax telephone call that was broadcast online.

The striker revealed details of his salary and talked about a potential move during a long conversation with someone masquerading as an agent.

The striker scored two goals in 17 games for Rangers after signing a three-year contract in August.

Green said: "If Lionel Messi was a Rangers player and he was recorded saying 'I don't want to play for Rangers, get me a contract, I'll go and sign for another club, give it to me, don't go through the club,' I'd sack Lionel Messi. Anyone, it wouldn't matter.

"If anyone denigrates this club, if anyone has no respect for the badge, if anyone doesn't want to work here, then go.

"What we are going to do is make sure this club is not being reported for the wrong reasons or players stupid enough to make those comments to someone they've never met or never spoken to and make those disparaging remarks.

"It wasn't, to my mind, the issue he's told someone he was on ?4,000 a week. My salary is on the internet. It's not about telling someone 'I'm on a salary'.

"It's the comments he made that said he would happily leave this club, he didn't want to be here and he came for the money. We want people here who want to play because it's Rangers."

The Spaniard has found himself under fire from sections of the Chelsea faithful since his appointment in November due to his prior association with Liverpool.

However, the 52-year-old says he has also received backing from many supporters which will not have been noticed.

He told Spanish newspaper Marca: "I have to say the fans are very good to me in the street.

"Many Blues fans stop me and tell me to keep on working and not to listen to the critics.

"I have a lot more day-to-day support than is shown."

Benitez added of the criticism he has received: "It's not so much. I don't give it any importance. We know there are four or five banners and they repeat them a lot.

"As well as that, this particular group, from the first moment and only because of my past at Liverpool, are against me. They don't criticise my work or the team's play, and I can't change that."

Benitez also defended the work he has done at Stamford Bridge.

Yesterday's win over Sunderland saw them move back above Tottenham into third place in the league, while they are through to the last four of the FA Cup and in the quarter-finals of the Europa League.

Asked to analyse his time in charge, Benitez said: "Maybe it's difficult to understand from outside, but I think we are doing a great job.

"People only look at results, and you need to analyse when and how we got there, and look at the overcrowded fixture list.

"With three games a week it's impossible to have the physical, technical and tactical training that you want," added Benitez, whose side will play 70 competitive games this season if Chelsea reach the finals of the two knockout tournaments next month.

"We are in the semi-finals of the FA Cup, in the quarter-finals of the Europa League and we are third in the Premier League. I think we are fulfilling our objectives."

Benitez was also keen to point out this Chelsea squad is a work in progress with lots of new faces this season.

He said: "People still think that this is the Chelsea of (Didier) Drogba, (Michael) Essien or (Frank) Lampard at its finest. Now it's a side in transition, with (Eden) Hazard, (Juan) Mata, Oscar, (Marko) Marin and (Victor) Moses. They are young players who have to adapt.

"We are moving away from a more physical side to a team which is more technical, which is what we have now.

"Therefore, if you make a professional analysis, you see that we're doing a good job. If you only look at results, there will be people who expect more, and others who don't."

Benitez is expected to leave Chelsea this summer and has been touted as a possible replacement for Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid if the Portuguese calls time on his stint at the Bernabeu.

Madrid-born Benitez said of that speculation: "It's clear that I know a lot about the club, as I was there from the age of 13 as a player and then a coach.

"It's nice to be linked in one way or other, but it doesn't make me lose my focus on the present, which is Chelsea."

On where he might be coaching next season, he added: "My idea is to coach a competitive team and, why not in England? We need to wait and see."

Peter Murphy notched a stoppage-time equaliser to peg back fellow strugglers York to a 1-1 draw on Saturday, just as James Beattie and Lee Molyneux did in the 3-3 draw with Burton and 1-0 win over Wycombe respectively over the Easter period.

"It's a great time to score," Richardson said. "It just shows the belief in the lads and what they do.

"We're not in August where we can afford to down tools and feel sorry for ourselves, whether it's in the first minute or the 90th minute we must go right to the end.

"Goal difference and everything else comes into the frame at this time of the season.

"It can affect everything you do. The lads are pulling together and having a really good fight and trying to get over that line as quickly as we can."

Assistant manager Neil Baker planted the seeds for the play, where Byron Moore's low delivery was dummied by defender Harry Davis for skipper Luke Murphy to stoke into the top corner from 18 yards, having watched the Shrimpers concede form a corner in the space on the edge of their area against Fleetwood over Easter.

After discussing the tactic with boss Steve Davis, practice runs of the set-piece did not run smoothly.

"We did it on Saturday afternoon, we both chip in and Steve will say, 'Have you got any ideas'," Baker explained. "I watched them play and Fleetwood scored from a little one to the near post.

"We saw that they were short on the edge of the box and we wanted to exploit that, which we did.

"He (Murphy) probably didn't get it on target in practice or hit a defender. He certainly didn't put it where it went. I think Harry tripped over it."

And Murphy confirmed that the old adage of mistakes in the dress rehearsal being no bad thing proved to be correct.

"We were doing a few in training on Saturday and thought, 'The first one, we'll try it - if it's not on, it's not on'.

"They did leave a massive gap, we tried it and luckily for me it came off.

"It didn't come off yesterday (Saturday) so we'll just forget about that one and concentrate on today! He (Harry Davis) did trip over the ball, twice, so I think they were going to knock it on the head."

The striker, 30, has scored 17 goals this season in 38 appearances, but was left out of the Millers' damaging 2-1 defeat at Morecambe on Saturday, much to the anger of some fans.

Evans put that omission down to poor form and has refused to say whether he will be picked for Tuesday's must-win clash with Exeter.

But he insisted: "Nards is very much part of our plans. He was poor at home to AFC Wimbledon, he was poor at Cheltenham and he was poor at Gillingham and we have people desperate to play. That's why I left him out.

"Players have highs and lows. He has had highs. It's not a purposeful plan to leave any individual out.

"Daniel Nardiello knows I pick a team to win a game. He'll find out whether he is playing at 6.15pm on Tuesday."

Rose was due to stay at the Evo-Stik Division One South side until the end of the season, but with the Millers battling a lengthy injury list, boss Steve Evans has brought him back to the New York Stadium.

The utility player is set to be in the squad to face Exeter on Tuesday, with Evans facing up to being without up to six first-team players.

The profit announced by the club on Tuesday is almost ?10million more than for the same period in 2011.

The Swans returned a profit of ?14.6million for their first season in the Premier League.

The profit before tax of ?20.4million was made up of a ?5.6million profit from operations, while a further ?14.8million came from player sales, including those of Joe Allen to Liverpool and Scott Sinclair to Manchester City.

Turnover, with the exclusion of player sales, has also risen to ?28.5million, a growth of 11.5 per cent from the ?25.5million for the previous six months.

Finance Director Don Keefe said: "The funds generated by the profit are invaluable bearing in mind the extent of finance needed, not only to maintain Premier League status, but for the expansion of capacity in the Liberty Stadium and the development of appropriate training facilities of a standard befitting a Premier League club."

A budget of ?5.5million - most of which has been spent - was allocated for the development of a new training ground in Landore, which is now operational, while work is under way on another training facility being built in conjunction with Swansea University in Fairwood.

Plans for the initial phase of expanding the club's Liberty Stadium home have been submitted to the local planning authority.

The striker joined from Charlton on a month-long deal at the start of March and, with that agreement having expired at the weekend, U's boss Joe Dunne has moved to secure his services for the remaining four matches of the campaign.

Smith has made three starts and a further three substitute appearances since arriving at the Weston Homes Community Stadium, scoring in a 2-2 draw at Coventry and in the 2-1 victory at Bury.

Pools lived to fight another day at the weekend when halting an eight-game winless run against relegation-haunted Bury.

Monkhouse, 32, hit a double in Saturday's 2-0 win to bring to an end Pools' barren run of 12 hours and 42 minutes without a goal, and although the side are still five points adrift of safety, the player has not given up hope.

"There's three games left. We'll give it our best and if it's good enough then great," said Monkhouse after Saturday's first win in nine matches.

"If not, and we have left it too late, then we only have ourselves to blame, really.

"Most people outside the club have had us down for a long time now, but with three games left we still have a chance.

"Winning this keeps the hope alive, so you never know.

"We could have gone down on Saturday and the lads were aware of that, but we're still in there fighting."

The winger's winning goal in the Devon derby against Exeter was the youngster's sixth since arriving at Home Park in February, accounting for nearly 50 per cent of the total goals the club have scored since he joined.

And Reid, who scored his first goal at Home Park in the 2-0 win over promotion chasers Cheltenham at the weekend, says the sky is the limit for the Crystal Palace loanee, 20, who will hope to break into the Eagles squad next season once Wilfried Zaha heads to Old Trafford.

"Jason can go on to do whatever he wants," Reid said.

"He has to learn a lot as all young players do but at the moment he has got an incredible talent and if he can harness and nurture that I think he has a big future in the game.

"His career can reach any heights he wants it to, really."

The Shrimpers were second best to Crewe and fell behind to Luke Murphy's impressive effort as early as the sixth minute before Max Clayton added a second shortly after half-time, with the League One side going on to run out 2-0 winners.

Southend have won just two of their nine league fixtures since reaching their first-ever Wembley cup final back in February, and they must now turn that stuttering form around if they are to close the six-point gap to the top seven, starting with Wednesday's game in hand at Rochdale.

Speaking after Sunday's defeat, defender Barker said: "You've got a lot of disappointed people (in the dressing room). It's a big, big build-up. We've been through six rounds, I think, to get here so it is a big, big build-up and to lose at Wembley is obviously going to be a very disappointing thing.

"We've got a game again in three days. We're going to be all in again on Monday morning for a warm-down and training.

"We've got to keep on in the league. I think we've got to win five out of five and that's our major point now."

Barker added: "The aim at the start of the season was to get promoted, it's as simple as that.

"But we've obviously fallen off over the last month or so. We need to win five out of five and results to go for us. But we'll give it our all from Monday morning onwards.

"We know we've got to win every game to get into the play-offs and hopefully we can do it."

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