English League 2

Bees held to another stalemate

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Fri, 29 Mar 2013 17:56:00

AC Milan head coach Massimiliano Allegri hopes Mario Balotelli can continue his goal streak against Chievo on Saturday.

This week saw the 22-year-old Italy international bring up his 10th goal in nine appearances for club and country since he left Manchester City, but any gentle taunts from the Maltese crowd paled in comparison to discriminatory chants directed his way in recent Serie A games.

Italy coach Cesare Prandelli praised Balotelli for keeping his cool in Malta and Allegri backed his player to ignore any more serious abuse directed his way in Verona on Saturday night.

He told acmilan.com: "Balotelli has never reacted to provocation on the pitch since he's been playing for us.

"Certain bad things that can happen during matches should be stamped out and the culture needs to change. He'll be fine tomorrow.

"He needn't focus on any of the chants coming from the stands but rather about the three points that would at least maintain the distance between us and the team behind us.

"The important thing is that he keeps on playing for the team. He can improve with us as he's playing with continuity here."

Seven of Balotelli's 10 recent goals have arrived in just six league games and recent history suggests he could well add to his tally at the Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi, with Milan having beaten the Flying Donkeys 12 times in a row since December 2005.

Back-to-back victories may have fired Chievo 10 points clear of the relegation zone with nine games remaining but head coach Eugenio Corini will not relax until the Flying Donkeys are mathematically safe.

"We have put ourselves in a good position in the league table through hard work but we cannot celebrate yet," he told La Repubblica.

"We have to stay composed through the final games of the season.

"When it comes to Milan, they are a team in amazing shape and we know that this is a big game for them so we will give our all."

The Blades never looked threatened by Rovers as they produced a classic away performance, while Barry Robson and Ryan Flynn both went close.

Jonathan Forte had the game's clearest opportunity in the 24th minute, playing a neat one-two with Dave Kitson, but stand-in skipper Owain fon Williams was equal to his effort.

The Blades took the lead minutes before the break, with Tony McMahon's ambitious free-kick taking a huge deflection off Taylor as he tried to clear and flying past fon Williams.

Both sides were cagey after the restart, with only on-loan Manchester United man Sean McGinty testing George Long for Rovers.

Flynn nearly sealed all three points for United, but his fiercely struck effort five minutes from time smashed against fon Williams' bar and away to safety.

Robson went even closer a minute later, but former Rochdale keeper fon Williams tipped his superb strike over the bar.

Caley Thistle booked their place in the top half with a 2-1 victory over Ross County and have much to play for with a European slot on offer if they maintain third place in the Scottish Premier League.

And Butcher wants to marry the players' drive with a new-found sense of freedom when they face Hibernian at Easter Road on Saturday.

The former England captain said: "There's a big danger of players switching off now knowing we have achieved that (top six) but I don't sense that with these players.

"Every week they drive themselves on and we drive them on, and they seem to pull some energy levels and some skill, guts and grit from somewhere. They have just been brilliant."

Butcher dismissed suggestions his side had hit a slump when they lost five matches out of six earlier this year, including two cup ties.

He was entirely vindicated by their subsequent unbeaten run, which stands at five games.

And any nagging doubts about their season failing to live up to its early promise have been lifted, with the chance remaining to make it even more memorable.

"I feel a lot of pressure has been taken off and the players do too," Butcher said.

"You see them enjoying things and we keep looking at the SPL table and seeing ourselves up there and it's brilliant."

"Hopefully we'll now see a lot more freedom and expression from the players and they enjoy it even more.

"We have enjoyed this season immensely to date - there have been a lot of highs and who knows where we can finish?

"If you look at my teams here at Caley Thistle in the past they have always done well in the last games. We have never let things slip.

"The promotion year we won (the last) nine, when we finished seventh we won five out of six, even last year we won games towards the end.

"I think the players are well fired-up for it."

Edgar Davids' side drew 0-0 with Cheltenham last time out and they once again failed to score in front of their home fans, a task which was not helped when substitute De Silva was sent-off with three minutes left for a high challenge on Luke Wilkinson.

In a tight first half Jake Hyde headed a Mark Byrne cross wide before Wilkinson was just as wayward with a shot in the 35th minute for the visitors.

Hyde wasted another chance as he fired over just before the break, and five minutes after the restart the Bees striker pounced on some confusion in the Daggers defence but his shot lacked any power.

Barnet had Graham Stack to thank in the 70th minute when the goalkeeper tipped Medy Elito's thunderbolt onto the bar.

But after that the game limped to a stalemate, De Silva seeing a straight red for his challenge on Wilkinson just ten minutes after coming on.

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