Premier League

Martinez wants more clean sheets

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Sun, 24 Feb 2013 14:09:00

Stand-in skipper Joe Ledley scored twice as Celtic cruised to a 5-0 win over SPL bottom club Dundee at Celtic Park.

Ledley scored once in each half, while James Forrest and Dylan McGeouch were also on target and Gary Hooper netted for the first time in six matches as the hosts extended their lead at the top of the table to 21 points.

The Dark Blues thought they had taken the lead after just five minutes when Gary Harkins' free-kick crept in at the near past but an alert linesman spotted that John Baird had strayed offside.

Neil Lennon's side soon reasserted their control and were ahead through Ledley, who captained the team in the absence of the injured Scott Brown.

Dundee keeper Rab Douglas could only palm an Emilio Izaguirre cross into the path of Ledley and he slotted home from eight yards (13).

Gary Irvine then pulled off a crucial block to deny Forrest's goalbound effort before Hooper came to the fore.

First he fired over following some neat link-up play with strike partner Anthony Stokes before Douglas palmed away a stinging effort, with a subsequent low angled drive fizzing just past the upright.

The visitors briefly rallied, with Fraser Forster doing well to tip a deflected Harkins shot over the bar.

The same player was then denied soon afterwards, his header bouncing up off the turf before hitting the crossbar.

That was as good as it got for the Taysiders though as they were reduced to 10-men early in the second half and conceded from the penalty spot.

Matt Lockwood, only on the pitch for three minutes after coming on as a half-time substitute, was dismissed on 48 for bringing down Hooper right in front of goal and Forrest send Douglas the wrong way with his spot-kick.

Stokes then scuffed an inviting shot past the post but Dylan McGeouch killed the game off with a header into the top corner after the impressive Stokes had clipped the ball into the box (57).

Ledley notched up his second goal of the contest when he curled left-footed into the top of the net after Stokes had laid the ball off to him, with Dundee struggling to cope (73).

Celtic continued to press and Hooper ended his mini goal drought in emphatic fashion seven minutes from time, controlling Ledley's ball into the box before volleying home.

Boyd, who scored 164 goals across spells with Killie and Rangers between 2001 and 2010, re-signed before Saturday's 1-1 draw with Aberdeen at Rugby Park in the SPL.

"It was great to get him in and it's great to have that type of person back in the squad," said Shiels. "He will be back in with us on Monday and we will work from there. It's self-explanatory what he will bring to us - he is the top scorer of all time in the SPL (era).

"There's a hunger there and I can see that, I think he's an excellent professional who has served the game well and we are excited about that."

Kilmarnock were fortunate to claim a share of the spoils against the Dons. Rory Fallon's brilliant volley gave Aberdeen the lead they deserved before Paul Heffernan got Kilmarnock back on terms five minutes before half-time.

Aberdeen passed up a number of good chances to grab a vital second goal and were denied a penalty with 15 minutes remaining when Kilmarnock goalkeeper Cammy Bell appeared to foul Niall McGinn in the penalty area.

Shiels would not be drawn on the controversial decision, saying: "I'm trying very hard to discipline myself not to speak about referees.

"I'm not allowed to speak about referees and I'm not allowed to speak about other teams because they'll fall out with me."

Aberdeen striker McGinn was baffled after receiving a yellow card for diving in the incident.

"In my own eyes and in the eyes of a few of the Kilmarnock players too it was a stonewall penalty - I think the referee was the only person inside the ground that didn't think it was a penalty," said McGinn.

"I was chasing the goalkeeper down and he took a bad touch, I thought I was going to raid him then he brought me down.

"You just have to get on with things, being a professional footballer you just have to get on with things."

The Dons now face a crucial encounter against Ross County on Tuesday evening and the Northern Ireland international believes they can take confidence from their display at Rugby Park.

"We played well against Kilmarnock and we have to take that into our game against Ross County," he said.

"Hopefully on Tuesday we can take our chances."

The County forward played a big part in his side's 3-0 victory over Motherwell at Global Energy Stadium on Saturday, with Ivan Sproule, Richard Brittain and Iain Vigurs scoring as the Dingwall cruised to their sixth win in their last eight fixtures.

Morrow said: "We've had six wins and two draws in the last eight games, nearly a third of the season unbeaten so we're doing okay.

"We'll keep trying to put the points on the board and see where it takes us.

"We've got good players here and everybody is pulling in the right direction. We work hard for each other, we're very united in the changing room.

"We're just going about our business quietly. We've no aspirations, this is the first season the club has been in the SPL, so we're doing well."

Looking ahead to Tuesday night's match against Aberdeen at Pittodrie, he added: "Aberdeen is a big side, they are probably the third biggest side in Scotland after the Old Firm.

"We'll just try and do our best and see where it takes us."

Morrow was particularly please with his own form as the side's lone marksman.

He said: "I played well but it's a bit of a thankless task up there on your own.

"That's six or seven games up there on my own. I'm the only player on the pitch that is playing against two players.

"You want to be in two places at once at times. You want to be the one holding the ball up and also the one getting on the end of the pass.

"You can't do it, you can't be in two places at once. But as long as the team is winning and putting the points on the board I'm happy.

"We've found ourselves in a great place with the run we're on. The target at the start of the year was survival.

"We're happy ticking along and see where it takes us. If it's top six, then brilliant."

Motherwell captain Keith Lasley admitted his side were well below par.

He said: "It wasn't great but credit to Ross County. The conditions were difficult but both teams have to play on that and Ross County played a lot better than we did.

"But the pitch is not the reason we lost the game, we just never got going. Ross County started on the front foot and we didn't.

"We just didn't put anything together. We never passed the ball well and we never got in behind them. It just wasn't acceptable."

Lasley is looking for a reaction before the match against league leaders Celtic at Fir Park on Wednesday.

He said: "It will be a difficult game, we'll have to see if we can get a reaction. But there is no reason why we can't go and win that game.

"That's what we have to focus on now. But we're going to have to be a lot better than we were yesterday if we are going to get a result."

The Highlanders missed out on a cup final date with St Mirren when they lost on penalties to John McGlynn's side at Easter Road last month.

But some form of vengeance was gained with their 3-2 win over the Edinburgh outfit at Tynecastle yesterday. It was only Caley Thistle's second win in eight games but was sufficient to move them back up to second place in the SPL.

Now Wales international Tudur Jones believes only securing a runners-up slot to leaders Celtic will soothe the pain of missing out on their cup final chance.

Tudur Jones said: "It was obviously disappointing to be that close to a semi-final. So to play Hearts so soon after, yes, it does play a little part in your thinking.

Asked if closing out second would make up for losing that game, he said: "I think it would. The league table is established over a long period of time and finishing second would be huge.

"The achievement for this football club would be massive but we are a long way off that at the minute. The first target must be to finish in the top six. If we can achieve that then we can hopefully kick on again."

Gary Warren's headed double and another close-range header from SPL top scorer Billy McKay provided the points for Inverness after Jason Holt and Andy Webster had twice pegged the visitors back.

For 20-year-old Holt, it was a bittersweet moment as his stunning strike ended up counting for nothing. With Hearts now employing a firm policy of promoting young players, however, he admits it will be up to him to deal with the disappointment of defeat.

He said: "It is good to get a goal but the main thing was the result but we didn't manage to get that today, which is really disappointing.

"It's a tough time for the young lads like me to try and develop but it is going to make us better players in time to come. We are quite a young side but we need to learn from these situations.

"Sometimes it can be hard as we don't have many experienced players in the team to turn to but we do have Andy Webster and Darren Barr, who are always helping us through the games.

"But it's part and parcel of the game that you need to pick yourselves up and do your own job."

The 28-year-old Sierra Leone international came off the bench for the final half-hour at Carrow Road on Saturday, and helped secure what could prove a vital Premier League victory with a powerful header to cancel out Leon Osman's first-half opener. Captain Grant Holt then netted a dramatic winner in stoppage-time.

Kamara - who left his homeland aged 14 before eventually migrating to the United States from Gambia and going on to play football at college - had an unsuccessful trial at Stoke in December. While Hughton was not able to watch the pacy, 6ft 2ins forward personally, the Norwich manager saw enough to convince him to give Kamara his opportunity in the English top flight.

"The ideal scenario means you have been able to go and see the player, but I was not able to see him play live, although our chief scout had," said Hughton, who could yet make a permanent move for Kamara at the end of the season.

"I have only seen him on DVD, but you have to trust judgements of your scouts and the people who are giving you references."

Hughton had initially opted for Luciano Becchio, signed from Leeds last month, alongside Holt, but after watching the Argentinian labour for long spells, he called on Kamara to liven up the attack.

Norwich - without a league win since December 19 and having scored just once in the last six outings - were at least more creative yesterday, with Robert Snodgrass' early angled shot deflected over.

However, it was Everton who slowly took hold of the match.

Nikica Jelavic forced a good save from Norwich goalkeeper Mark Bunn before Osman headed in a fine cross from left-back Leighton Baines on 39 minutes.

The visitors, though, paid the price for not making the most of their possession in the second half, when they failed to net another goal which would have killed off the contest.

Everton sat deeper and were eventually broken down on 84 minutes when Kamara crashed in a header from a corner.

Hughton's men, though, refused to settle for what would have been a hard-earned point as Russell Martin's deep ball into the Everton box was nodded down at the far post by Sebastien Bassong and Holt arrived on queue to slam past Tim Howard, souring the American's 300th appearance for the Toffees.

"When you are 1-0 down against a top team, you would settle for 1-1, but the difference in this division between one point and three points is massive," said Hughton, whose side now hold an eight-point cushion on the survival battle ahead of next weekend's trip to leaders Manchester United.

"It will give the players confidence, they are the ones who have driven to the end to get the win."

The Latics have established their reputation under Martinez for a fluid passing game, however the Spaniard believes the lack of a harder edge has proved costly this season.

Wigan have kept just four league clean sheets so far this term - remarkably all of them have come away from home - with the latest a 3-0 win at Reading yesterday that pulled them out of the bottom three.

Reading had taken 10 points from the past 15 on offer but failed to get a shot on target as Arouna Kone's double added to a rare Maynor Figueroa strike banked the points.

While delighted to grab a first league win of 2013, Martinez was keener still to stress the importance of his side's defensive display as they look to beat the drop yet again.

"I would say defensively it was as good as it gets," he said. "Defensively you know you are going to play against a Reading side that are strong, especially in the dead-ball situations. We dealt with that really well.

"We have to keep improving but to keep a clean sheet away from home, especially at the Madejski Stadium, is pleasing.

"Since they've changed tactically they have become a very difficult side to restrict.

"So that clean sheet pleases me as much as any defensive display this season.

"We have to make sure we replicate this level until the end of the season."

Martinez brought Paul Scharner back to the club last month and, while that raised some eyebrows, the veteran proved how vital his know-how in a relegation fight could be yesterday.

Most notably the versatile Austrian, who lined-up at centre-back alongside Gary Caldwell, denied Pavel Pogrebnyak with a perfectly-timed diving challenge before Wigan had scored.

"That concentration and responsibility in the box was very pleasing," Martinez said.

"Our attacking composure and quality was again good. We have been showing that this season. But we never had that clinical way of defending and keeping a clean sheet."

Victory was Wigan's second on the bounce after they booked their place in the FA Cup quarter-finals with a 4-1 win at Huddersfield last weekend.

Those victories have come after the club went to Tenerife for some warm-weather training that Martinez believes could be a turning point.

"After the warm-weather training I think we have re-focused," he said.

"The first game back was against Huddersfield in the FA Cup. You have seen a large amount of players representing the club in both games.

"You can see our competitive edge, a focus and a real responsibility in the performance.

"It is a matter of keeping a winning feeling and keeping those standards.

"This was the last game in February and for us to be involved in two competitions is a good position to be in.

"We have to concentrate on winning our trophy in the league which is staying in this division, and every game is vital."

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