Premier League

Cech quiet on anti-Rafa chants

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Sun, 03 Mar 2013 14:43:00

Dundee United booked their ticket for Monday's Scottish Cup semi-final draw with a deserved 2-1 victory over Dundee at Dens Park.

The home side, 15 points adrift at the bottom of the SPL, could not recover from the concession of two soft first-half goals, despite Jim McAlister offering a brief glimmer of hope.

United took the lead when Brian McLean (11) was given the freedom of the penalty area to glance home a header from Barry Douglas's inswinging free-kick.

Dundee levelled as John Baird helped the ball into the path of McAlister (19), who drilled a low first-time strike into the corner from 15 yards.

The equaliser heralded the best spell of the match for the Dark Blues as Baird headed over before the home striker saw his low shot saved by the feet of Radoslaw Cierzniak.

United were promptly back in front as Stuart Armstrong teed up the lively Gary Mackay-Steven (35) with a shrewd pass and the midfielder did not have to break stride before drilling in a snap-shot from 18 yards.

Michael Gardyne worked Rab Douglas at his near post while Lewis Toshney's risible free-kick from 30 yards underlined the hosts' growing frustration.

A flurry of Dundee corners yielded nought until Davide Grassi made some space eight yards out but his header was tame.

Jon Daly was inches away from poking home a third goal for United, but it was not to matter, the final stages pockmarked only by a flurry of needless yellow cards.

The Glasgow giants headed into the break at Ibrox trailing to an Andrew Stirling strike and in danger of suffering an upset as they edge closer to the Scottish Third Division title.

McCulloch felt too many players were trying to steal the headlines for themselves and the skipper let his feelings be known in the dressing room.

Rangers then hit back through a McCulloch goal and a double from Andy Little to secure the points in the second half.

The Gers captain said: "In the first half it was a team of individuals but I thought in the second half we played as a team better.

"That showed in the result and the performance. The boys were having a wee go at each other at half-time, which was needed. We knew it wasn't good enough.

"After having a chat with each other, it showed in the second half, when we came out to play some good stuff at times."

He added: "I think the most important thing is team performance. In the first half, I think there were a couple of individuals trying to make the headlines with shots from the byline and stuff like that instead of playing as a team and wanting to win as a team.

"It's not an individual game and I think that annoyed a couple of people. In the second half, we played as team."

The visit of the Shire was McCulloch's first outing since early January after being sidelined with an ankle problem.

He said: "It felt great to be back. I was a bit nervous before the game.

"I was out for about seven weeks and only had two days training so I felt a bit tired with 10 minutes to go but I really enjoyed it."

The victory followed an eventful week for Rangers, which saw them found guilty of breaching Scottish Premier League rules over non-disclosure of payments to players between 2000-2011, with the oldco fined ?250,000.

But they were celebrating after the independent commission ruled no sporting advantage was gained, meaning the Light Blues avoided the ultimate sanction of being stripped of up to five titles.

McCulloch says a win was important to cap an important few days for Rangers - but claimed taking a step closer to wrapping up the championship was the main motivating factor.

He said: "I'm sure it's been a good week for the fans and it's been a good week for the players and the staff and everybody.

"But the most important thing was keeping this title charge going and looking to win the league."

Shire boss John Coughlin had nothing but praise for his players despite the defeat.

He said: "I thought we were excellent.

"We knew there was a storm coming in the second half because the Rangers fans would not be happy being a goal down to the Shire.

"But I thought we enjoyed the game and passed it about well."

Much of the focus was on Benitez after the Spaniard had hit out at his title of 'interim manager' and criticised the fans for using their energies to insult him, rather than support the team, in mid-week.

However, on Saturday there were messages for him on banners, chants for his predecessors Roberto Di Matteo and Jose Mourinho and vitriol hurled in the Spaniard's direction.

"I'm so focused on the game that I hardly understand what the people sing or shout or what they do," Cech told Chelsea TV.

"The main point is the people were here, the stadium was full, they were behind us, they supported the team and we won the game.

"We had a good performance and everyone seemed to leave the stadium happy."

Demba Ba's 28th-minute strike was the difference, but Chelsea, and Oscar in particular, spurned a number of other chances to make the game safe before a late rally from the Baggies.

Cech made strong saves from long-range shots by Steven Reid and Peter Odemwingie, but his most instinctive block came when a corner deflected goalwards off Chelsea right-back Cesar Azpilicueta.

Cech added: "Their chances came at the end because they threw everything at us and we hadn't killed them off. This was the story of the season a little bit. We had so many chances and Ben Foster had a great game.

"They survived until the 80th minute and then they waited patiently for their chances up front, they had to.

"But overall our performance was very good. Everybody was focused, everybody was concentrated until the last whistle."

Ba scored his fourth Chelsea goal - and first against a side other than Southampton - to end a seven-match scoreless streak.

He praised David Luiz for having the skill and intelligence to head Oscar's cross back into the six-yard box, rather than go for goal himself.

Ba told Chelsea TV: "He (Luiz) put the ball exactly where he wanted to and I was there."

Luiz was playing at centre back, rather than the central midfield role in which Benitez has deployed him of late, due to the decision to rotate John Terry and Gary Cahill.

Terry continues to be used sparingly on his return from injury, while Cahill missed the midweek FA Cup win at Middlesbrough with a virus. Both were unused substitutes.

After a fraught week, Benitez was boosted by the victory.

He said on Chelsea TV: "I'm quite positive. I knew it could be more or less difficult, but the main thing is the team.

"I could see we needed the fans behind the team. That is the reason I said I will not stay beyond the end of the season."

The result would have been more comfortable had it not been for Foster, who recently declared himself available for England once more and stopped Chelsea on numerous occasions.

The watching England boss Roy Hodgson would have been impressed ahead of this month's matches with San Marino and Montenegro.

Foster was unaware former Baggies boss Hodgson and England goalkeeper coach Dave Watson, whom he worked with at Birmingham, were at Stamford Bridge.

The 29-year-old goalkeeper - who has won five caps for England, the last in November 2010 before he announced his retirement in May 2011 - said on West Brom's official website: "It was good to put on a good performance.

"I spoke to Roy last week about England and he was very happy with it. I also spoke to the goalkeeper coach Dave Watson. I'm very happy with the decision.

"The main reason I've made the decision is my body really has improved a lot over the last few years - they're the best I've had.

"The kids are getting on for four and five now and starting school so I won't see them as much. That was the main reason behind it.

"Roy also knows what I'm about. He worked with me for a year at West Brom and he knows what he's going to get from me.

"He said 'there are a lot of good goalkeepers out there so go out there and show me you can get into the team'.

"You don't expect to walk straight back into the team but I'll take every game as it comes and go out there and look to do as well as I can for West Brom."

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