Scottish Premier League

Warren relishing Caley future

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Sun, 03 Mar 2013 13:47:00

Jan Vertonghen believes Tottenham are on the verge of achieving something special this season as they close in on a top-four spot in the Premier League.

Vertonghen has compared to what is happening at White Hart Lane to the Belgium national side, who are looking to qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 2002, as both look to overcome major mental hurdles.

The 25-year-old, who joined from Ajax last summer, is positive that Spurs boss Andre Villas-Boas now has a side with the qualities to compete against the likes of north London neighbours Arsenal.

He told the Observer: "I have the same feeling at Tottenham that I do with Belgium, that we are in a strong team and we're getting stronger, that we're on the verge of something.

"A few results have helped us. We won at Manchester United and, with Belgium, we beat Holland at home.

"Everybody can feel that Spurs are getting stronger, not only inside the club but also at other clubs. Even in the Belgium team, we get the respect. Teams are not happy when they have to face us.

"We look at ourselves but then we see the opponent is under pressure, in trouble, and you want to take advantage of that. I hope we can put them under a lot of pressure in the game.

"Because we are not the team who finished first or second for the last 10 years, we are not under the pressure Arsenal are, but we put ourselves under pressure because we deserve to be up there and have the qualities to play in the Champions League."

The Toffees' hopes of claiming a place in the Champions League took a knock in February but they still have an outside chance of reaching fourth spot in the Premier League.

Even if they do not make it into the elite competition, they should be strong contenders to bring continental football back to Goodison Park via the Europa League, through league position or the FA Cup.

Everton, sixth, boosted their league prospects with a 3-1 win over struggling Reading on Saturday and are now looking forward to a cup quarter-final against Wigan next weekend.

Pienaar, who scored a stunning second goal as the Royals were overcome at Goodison, said: "Sometimes you have to go through the back door, so there is a little less pressure on us now.

"We will see how the other teams do and hopefully we can sneak in.

"I think it is fairly good to play in European competitions. After the Premier League there are only two bigger cups - the Europa League and the Champions League.

"All the players want to play in it and it is important for the club to get European football.

"We will just see. The cup is the shortest route to European football.

"Next week we are also at Goodison so hopefully this can be the place that gives us the passport to European football."

Everton have not played in Europe since the 2009-10 season and Pienaar knows the fans would also enjoy the experience, even if the travelling might not particularly appeal to him.

He said: "I think it is important for the supporters as well - they enjoy going away. I'd rather stay at home with the family!"

Everton are amid a run of five consecutive home games, the third of which will be Wigan's visit.

Victory over the Latics would secure a return to Wembley, where Everton were beaten by neighbours Liverpool in last season's FA Cup semi-finals, but Pienaar is not thinking that far ahead yet.

The 30-year-old said: "We don't have to talk about it now. The most important thing is Wigan and it is not going to be an easy hurdle to go past.

"That is important and at the final whistle maybe we can talk about it."

Everton will at least go into the game in positive mood after the disappointment of last week's late capitulation at Norwich.

Pienaar said: "It does give us a lot of confidence but the FA Cup is going to be a totally different game.

"We all know it is not the same as the league. We are playing against good opposition, so it is going to be hard. With the 12th man behind us hopefully we can go all the way."

Everton were deserved victors over the Royals although the game was evenly contested until the influential Marouane Fellaini headed them ahead after 43 minutes.

Pienaar doubled the advantage with a long-range strike just before the hour and Kevin Mirallas made victory certain with a neat finish.

Reading, who hit the woodwork early on through Adam Le Fondre, battled on and Hal Robson-Kanu grabbed a consolation.

The only downside for Everton was the loss of England defender Phil Jagielka with a badly gashed ankle, which later required surgery, after a clumsy tackle from Le Fondre in the opening minutes.

Defeat left Reading in the bottom three although results elsewhere did not significantly worsen their position.

They now face relegation rivals Aston Villa in a critical game at the Madejski Stadium next week before tough away trips to Manchester United and Arsenal.

Manager Brian McDermott remains positive and sees last season's late charge to promotion as a good omen.

McDermott said: "I just hope our fans can stick with us because we might do it, you just never know.

"Last season we were written off pretty early. We've been written off before and we'll probably be written off again.

"We need a real vibrant atmosphere next week and we need to make sure we give the fans something early in the game, and they can really get behind the team.

"I thought we played some good football on the front foot at Everton, which is never easy.

"We are going to need our fans next week and we are hopeful we will get a good following and everyone sticks by us."

Mancini has regularly cited the failure of his forwards to match the standards of last season as one of the reasons for the champions' faltering title defence.

City have found the net 50 times in their 27 league games to date, 19 behind their tally at the same stage last season and 18 less than United this term, although they have played a game more.

It is an issue City are expected to address in the summer but Mancini does not necessarily need an abundance of goals to get back into the title race.

The Italian said: "I hope that we can win the next 11 games 1-0 if it is possible because 1-0 is enough if you don't concede a goal.

"But it is impossible that you don't concede a goal every game.

"It is clear, if we are missing 15 or 16 goals now from last year, it is too much because 10 goals are probably six or seven points.

"This is the difference."

One of City's strikers, Carlos Tevez, has also set his sights on victory in every game to apply maximum pressure to United.

Tevez has scored 11 times this season including a superb long-strike to settle a tight contest with Chelsea last weekend.

The former United forward told the club's website: "I think that what we have left is 11 cup finals.

"There is not long between now and the rest of the season and we must win - we have to win.

"We're still in the race, we know we can still catch United.

"If we can get three points from every match and hope that United slip up here and there, we can maybe start to put some pressure on them.

"We would be fooling ourselves if we thought it was going to be easy.

"It will be very tough, but by picking up the points we will be fighting, believe me we will be fighting and while it is still mathematically possible, we will be going for it."

City's 2-0 win over Chelsea eased fears they might be dragged back into a battle for second place and restored confidence after a damaging loss at Southampton last month.

But Tevez also sees the Monday night trip to Villa Park to face another relegation-threatened side as fraught with danger and is anxious to ensure intensity does not slip.

He said: "It is very important that we stay strong - both mentally and physically - going into each of the remaining games.

"I think this is going to be a tough game.

"We know that Villa are battling against relegation and it's at their ground, so I think it's going to be treated like a final for them too, so that should make for a very entertaining match."

City will need a number of favours from elsewhere to pull off what would be an even more unlikely title triumph than last year's remarkable effort.

There has been little sign of it with United unbeaten in the league since November but Mancini has not forgotten where they slipped up last time.

He said: "It is difficult because last year nobody thought they could lose against Wigan or these games.

"When there are seven, eight, nine games to the end, it will be difficult because teams play for (to avoid) relegation, for the Europa League or the Champions League."

City are unlikely to be without captain Vincent Kompany as he continues to recover from calf problems but midfielder Gareth Barry is fit to face his former club after an ankle injury.

Boyce and McArthur had to be separated by captain Gary Caldwell during the 4-0 home defeat by Liverpool but, far from punishing the pair for their lack of discipline, Martinez welcomed it.

"If I'm honest I was glad to see that because the position we are in we need passion," said the Spaniard, whose side will drop back into the bottom three if Aston Villa manage a point at home to Manchester City on Monday night.

"We cannot have players who accept defeat and go through the motions," he added.

"It was a moment of frustration between the players who had the feeling we had thrown away the opportunity to win three points and the reaction from James and Emmerson is something I want to see in the dressing room.

"I think they were demanding a little more from each other and then it became a little argument.

"If everyone could have that passion in the dressing room we would have been a lot more competitive than we were in the first 20 minutes.

"At half-time there was a lot of respect between the two players, who analysed their frustration and used it in a good manner to perform better in the second half.

"I'd rather see that passion on the pitch than players accept defeat and not get hurt when their performance is not what is should be."

The Wigan players' contretemps came midway through the first half, by which time they were already 2-0 down after a second-minute header from Stewart Downing and a smart finish by Luis Suarez.

Liverpool's Uruguay striker went on to claim his hat-trick with a deflected free-kick and a breakaway run early in the second half to become the Premier League's leading scorer with 21.

Wigan have 10 matches left to save their season once again and could probably do without the distraction of a FA Cup quarter-final against Everton next weekend.

Martinez is confident, however, they will bounce back from their poor showing at the DW Stadium, where they have won just twice all season.

"The biggest strength we have as a team is we can go anywhere in the league and are capable of getting points," added the Latics boss.

"But it is clear we need to learn lessons quickly. We can't defend in the manner we did in the first 20 minutes - we need to improve.

"It doesn't matter who you are playing against, if you are that soft it makes it very difficult to win games.

"You can't perform badly and expect to win games and as a team I thought we had too many bad performances defensively.

"Our defensive performance in the first 20 minutes made the game impossible.

"But we are not lower than any other day. You have to congratulate Liverpool and you have to move on.

"We have many things to look forward to, the first being Everton in the FA Cup, and everyone is fighting for places in the team."

The former Newport County captain, who had been an ever present in the side this season before missing out in the midweek 0-0 draw with Dundee United though suspension, made a welcome return to Caley Thistle's defence on Saturday.

The 28-year-old gave Terry Butcher's side a boost ahead of the fourth derby of the season by signing a new two-year deal.

Warren said: "I'm delighted to have signed a new contract. It was good to get it done and dusted before the game.

"When I was younger it is what I dreamed of (playing at a higher level), it's taken me a long time to get here.

"It's great playing here in the SPL and being in with a chance of getting a European place."

Warren admitted the game itself was a bit of a 'slog' but felt a draw was a fair result.

Chances were few and far between with the both sides cancelling each other out on a tricky surface.

Warren said: "The pitch wasn't ideal for playing good football on but the teams went toe to toe and at the end of the day a draw was probably a fair result.

"We've proved over the last couple of games to be more resolute at the back and although we haven't scored in either of them you sometimes have to consolidate to keep a clean sheet.

"It's all changed since the start of the season. We didn't perform well and were scrapping for our lives. But look at the way we are now.

"We've got good forward pace, good character and a good blend of grafters in our side, that makes for a good all round unit."

Inverness had gone on a run of four league games without a win earlier this year but bounced back with victory over Hearts and goal-less draws against Dundee United and Ross County.

Warren added: "Even when we weren't winning we were playing well. We've played well in nearly every game. Sometimes you don't get the results you deserve.

"We've just got to take each game as it comes, keep focused and pick up as many games as we can to have a chance of getting a European place."

Ross are fourth and Inverness stand fifth in the Scottish Premier League, both well placed to be in the top six when the division splits in two.

When asked if he had his sights on a European place, County manager Derek Adams said: "No, we'll try to think of the top six now because we've put ourselves in that position and then take it from there.

"We've got four games to the split. We have Celtic, Inverness, Hearts and Kilmarnock to play - four tough games. We'll do well to finish in the top six but we'll give it a go."

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