Scottish Premier League

Pressley sees bigger picture

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Sun, 03 Mar 2013 14:22:00

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."

Lambert has taken enough encouragement from Villa's performances in recent weeks - including last weekend's 2-1 defeat at Arsenal - to believe they can at least compete against the champions.

He said: "I felt there were signs of encouragement against Arsenal but then I've felt that for a few weeks without getting the results.

"That's the frustrating thing, when you play well and don't get results especially the games at Everton, West Brom and Swansea.

"When you have a two-goal lead at Everton and West Brom and you don't see it through, or concede a late equaliser as was the case at Swansea, it's frustrating.

"If you had taken maximum points from those games, then you'd be sitting mid-table and, against Arsenal, we should have had at least a point."

Lambert added: "People are asking about the Reading and QPR games and I say to them, 'so there's no point in playing Manchester City then?'

"I don't view it that way. We may as well just give it to them if we think like that. We want to beat Manchester City.

"You are there to win, regardless of whether it is City or QPR or whoever. We have to try and win. We are a threat going forward. We are not going into it just to draw or anything like that."

Villa won 4-2 at City in the Capital One Cup and Lambert felt their opponents were flattered by the 5-0 scoreline in the league meeting after a contentious penalty award.

He said: "To go up there and beat them at any time, which we did in the Capital One Cup this season, is a hell of a result because of the players they have got.

"We also felt hard done by with the penalty they got against us in the league game when we were only losing 1-0 and in the game.

"It was never a penalty and a farce and there for everyone to see. That penalty incident at the Etihad will stick in the players' minds.

"Yes, We know how hard it is going to be. They are still a top side. They've just turned Chelsea over. They have some great players and are a top side.

"But I don't think we go into any game frightened of anyone. We have to take the challenge on."

Villa are only one goal away from reaching the 1,000 mark in the Premier League.

But Lambert said: "It will be only nice to reach that milestone if we win.

"Only if we win, does that statistic become relevant.

"There are 33 points available still and that's a hell of a lot of points to play for.

"I've said before it's going to be one hell of a ride to the end of the season, that's for sure. Never a dull moment, never is."

Villa skipper and central defender Ron Vlaar is battling to overcome the calf injury, which forced him out of the Arsenal game.

Striker Darren Bent remains doubtful with a foot injury but keeper Shay Given has recovered from a groin problem in time to be part of the squad against his former club.

The Magpies have been rejuvenated in recent weeks, winning three of their previous four league games before Saturday to ease fears the club could lose their Barclays Premier League status.

However, a 1-0 defeat at the Liberty Stadium, courtesy of a scrambled late goal from Swansea substitute Luke Moore, means they are just six points clear of the drop zone with 10 games to play.

But there were plenty of positives for Pardew to take from the performance in south Wales, with his side unfortunate not to pick up a valuable point.

After a sluggish start, Newcastle slowly took a hold on the game and had the better of the second half with Moussa Sissoko, Yoan Gouffran and Papiss Cisse all spurning good opportunities.

And Pardew has every confidence he can now look at the sides ahead of them in the table - as opposed to those below them.

When asked if he had any concerns about his side's position in the table, he said: "None at all.

"I don't worry about this team. It is strong and it is just disappointing when you don't get anything and that is what our overriding emotion will be after this game.

"But we are a strong side, you can see that. To come here and play as well as we did and boss Swansea in the second half, not many teams can do that.

"They are a good team and you don't win the League Cup and have the season they are having without being a good side.

"They have great individual players, they are a good unit and a well educated side and we did really well against them and it is galling we did not get anything."

The west Londoners out-battled Southampton on their own patch on Saturday, with Loic Remy putting them ahead after just 14 minutes.

Gaston Ramirez equalised after a mistake by goalkeeper Julio Cesar, but QPR secured just their third Premier League win of the season thanks to Bothroyd's strike.

Next up is a home clash with Sunderland and the striker, who spent the first half of the season on loan at Sheffield Wednesday, knows his side need to kick on.

"The gaffer has been great," Bothroyd said of Redknapp. "He fills the boys with confidence even when you're not playing.

"There is that buzz around the training ground and he always talks to you.

"I've come in as Bobby Zamora was injured. Obviously I've scored but it was one of those where it was all about the squad and you do as well as you can and I was delighted to get a goal.

"Every game is a cup final. We can't complain and we have to be up for every game.

"We won and we have a massive game next week. if we take our foot off the pace, then this game means nothing."

As well as an important team performance, Bothroyd was proud of his own effort.

The 30-year-old has featured just twice for the Hoops in the league this season and was glad to show Redknapp what he can offer.

"It's great to score goals and it was always about getting the win," Bothroyd said.

"The gaffer has done a lot with us this week on tactical things and we played a counter-attacking game and played well.

"We had the better chances I thought and we're happy and delighted.

"It worked well for both goals and it was a terrific team performance. Everybody worked really hard.

"The back line was really tight and obviously we took it to them and we have a smile on our face, which hasn't happened too much this year."

The victory moves QPR within four points of safety and brings Southampton back into the relegation dogfight.

QPR boss Redknapp believes Saints are safe but that means little to defender Jose Fonte, who was disappointed by the way Saturday's match panned out.

"We dominated the game," the centre-back said. "We felt we had the game under control for the full 90 minutes.

"The fact is they had two chances and scored two goals.

"There was not enough movement and not enough passes up front.

"They came, they sat back and defended well. It was up to us create chances and we didn't create enough.

"It is very disappointing but we need to move on because we have another big game we need to take points from.

"We will learn lessons from that and try to go to Norwich and get points.

"It is hard to take this but we need to move on. There is no other way to take it."

While the 2-1 loss was disappointing, Saints fans will have been relieved to see Fonte return to first-team action after a knee complaint.

"Personally, I felt good," the defender added. "The knee didn't hurt me.

"I felt strong so at least it is a positive that I didn't feel any pain in my knee."

The Bairns clinched their place in the last four with a 2-1 victory over Hamilton at New Douglas Park - achieving their second major cup semi-final in two seasons.

Following last season's 3-1 defeat to Celtic in the Scottish Communities League Cup semi-final, Falkirk saw Murray Wallace and Kallum Higginbotham depart the club and Pressley is looking to avoid a repeat of that this time round.

He explained: "I lost two players straight after last year's Hampden appearance and the one thing about this semi-final is I hope that we have breathing space so we don't have to lose players.

"It is one thing developing them but you want to be able to keep them to build a team.

"Playing at Hampden is a great chance for the players to showcase their talents on a big stage."

Pressley also praised the efforts of his side in holding on to their lead after Andy Ryan struck to reduce the deficit.

The Falkirk boss added: "I thought it was a wonderful game, great credit has to go to Hamilton because at times they put us under enormous pressure, but I thought we stood strong and we worked to a game plan.

"We tried to bring them on to us a bit more and utilise our speed on the counter-attack and I thought it worked to good effect. I thought we showed great resilience over the last 10 minutes."

Hamilton striker Ryan admitted he apologised to his team-mates after spurning a wonderful opportunity to get Accies back on terms.

Ryan somehow scooped the ball over the bar with the goal gaping just minutes after scoring to get his side back in the match.

"I completely misjudged it," said Ryan. "It was put on a plate for me and I have to score.

"I said I was sorry to the guys at full-time but they said I wasn't the only one to miss a chance.

"I don't think it will be hard to pick ourselves up from this disappointment, we have a great bunch of boys here with great character and spirit."

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