Big Sam praise for Red Devils

Falkirk’s chairman is afraid the Scottish Premier League’s ‘no’

vote on reform means Scottish football will never get the change it


Opposition from St Mirren and Ross County at Monday’s Hampden

Park meeting left the SPL without the 11-1 majority required to

pass proposals including a merger with the Scottish Football League

and a new 12-12-18 league structure.

The result means SFL clubs, including First Division Falkirk,

will not even get to vote on the plans.

Chairman Martin Ritchie said: “I am now concerned that there

will never be a proposal that can gain approval of 11 SPL clubs and

23 SFL clubs.

“It looks like a stalemate where the game will stagnate in its

current form until someone breaks the deadlock.

“Perhaps it is already time for the Scottish Football

Association, as the governing body for football in Scotland, to

step in and take control.”

An official club statement read: “The board at Falkirk FC is

very disappointed at the outcome of the SPL meeting on Monday.

“We had hoped that the package of proposals would have started a

process of change in Scottish football.

“The First Division clubs now need to take stock of the

situation and wait to see what emerges from the SPL and the SFL

over the next few days.”

SK Brann starlet Finne is regarded as one of the best young

prospects to emerge from Scandinavia in recent years.

The 18-year-old burst onto the scene last season with Brann,

scoring four goals in nine appearances for the Norwegian side.

Finne is also a regular in the Norway youth sides and is tipped

for a call-up to the senior squad in the near future.

The exciting forward’s performances have not gone unnoticed,

with clubs across Europe keeping tabs on his progress.

All the Premier League’s top guns, including Manchester United,

Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea and Arsenal are all thought to

have watched Finne in action over the last year.

Clubs from Germany, Italy and France are also thought to be

keeping a watching brief on Finne as Brann face a fight to keep

hold of their prize asset.

Finne’s current contract expires in December, but Brann are

bracing themselves for bids for the player this summer when his

suitors would only have to pay a minimal compensation fee for his


City are all but out of contention to win the Barclays Premier

League but have a firm grip on second place and could be tempted to

ease up before facing Wigan at Wembley next month.

But aside from the fact the runners-up spot is not guaranteed,

City feel they have standards to maintain and having finally hit

top form, they do not want to let up.

City are back in Premier League action three days after their

energy-sapping cup semi-final win over Chelsea as they host

relegation-threatened Wigan in a final dress rehearsal at the

Etihad Stadium on Wednesday.

Platt said: “Rather than dramatising the situation, it is about

finishing the season as strongly as we can do.

“You would probably put money on us finishing second now and

hopefully we will win the FA Cup.

“But we still have to play a good team and anything can happen

in the final.

“We have our own expectations and our own expectations are very


City went into their semi-final on the back of an impressive and

psychologically important derby win over Premier League leaders

Manchester United at Old Trafford. Prior to that they demolished

Newcastle 4-0.

There is a feeling that since conceding defeat to United in the

title race – they currently trail by 15 points – they have started

playing without pressure.

But Platt said: “I don’t think it is a case of that, the

pressure is still on to win football games.”

City were certainly at their best for the first hour of their

semi-final win, dominating in all departments to claim a 2-0


Chelsea responded and forced Roberto Mancini’s men to defend

resolutely in the closing third but City came through 2-1.

Platt said: “It is a big result.

“You set off every season playing for the trophies you are

involved in. You want to win them all.

“There is nothing like an FA Cup final in England. It stands the

test of time despite all the euphoria around the Champions League

and Premier League, which are the big prizes, let’s not be silly

about it.

“The FA Cup final has got its own status in this country. We

would like to be in it.”

Mancini continued with his cup policy of playing back-up

goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon in place of Joe Hart in the


The Romanian had not conceded a goal in any of the previous

rounds but his selection ahead of England first choice Hart was

still a minor surprise.

However, after Pantilimon justified his place in the second

half, it may not raise eyebrows if the 26-year-old plays again in

the final.

Platt said: “Your goalkeeper that backs up the number one has a

thankless task. He is always away in the hotels, he sits on the

bench – when does he ever get on? When does he ever get a game?

“It is important he plays big games so that he is ready for


“That is what Robbie has done over the years. He has allocated

domestic cup competitions to that goalkeeper.

“I think it would have been unfair to Costel to change the


“If he keeps his place the final will be a different game, a

different choice, but I don’t think he has done anything wrong to

warrant not playing in that final.”

City are unlikely to risk playmaker David Silva against Wigan as

he continues his recovery from a hamstring injury. Micah Richards,

Maicon and Jack Rodwell are all back in contention after lengthy

lay-offs as Mancini considers changes.

Sergio Aguero has been at the centre of controversy since the

semi-final following a two-footed challenge on David Luiz in the

closing stages, but he will not face retrospective action.

With referee Chris Foy having awarded a free-kick, the Football

Association feels there is no scope to review the matter.

Platt said: “It is a situation that has gone. I am not surprised

he has got off. They are the rules, the officials saw it.”

Platt is not expecting to get many cup final clues from Wigan

this week.

He said: “Each team has four or five games before then.

“It is not a case of because we are playing them tomorrow we

will know how to play them in the cup final. I don’t think it has

any correlation whatsoever.”

The Spaniard has discovered a successful formula in the last

month and ever since their FA Cup quarter-final victory at Everton

he has kept faith in the same players.

In the last five matches he has made just one change – replacing

goalkeeper Joel Robles for previous first-choice Ali Al Habsi for

last weekend’s Wembley win over Milwall.

He has been rewarded with four wins – two in the cup – and a

draw, which has crucially contributed seven points to their

relegation battle.

And while it has meant the likes of club captain Gary Caldwell

and Al Habsi have been sidelined, Martinez insists the players

understand it is for the greater good.

“Competition for places has stepped up a percentage, the level

of training has increased and we have been unbeaten in the league

since then,” said the Spaniard.

“Players are desperate to help the team. There are no individual

cases, from now until the end of the season it is about what we can

do as a football club.

“There is a bigger role than playing or not playing. Everyone is

aware the achievement as a team is more important than


“We have players who are fully aware of what they need to bring

to the team and everyone is expecting to be used from now until the

end of the season.

“If you have a player who is happy not to play he needs to move

on, he’s in the wrong business.

“Every player should be desperate to play and be disappointed

for one second but after that there is a real sense of the group

and what the team needs.

“People are very committed, they are desperate to help the team,

but when they are on or off the pitch they know how to behave


“I think that is what we have showed in the last few weeks – a

big club mentality in terms of facing every single game and

forgetting about the individuals.”

The Latics boss admits he may have to freshen up his side after

the physically and emotionally-draining experience of a Wembley

semi-final as they head to Manchester City on Wednesday.

City have been a bogey side in recent seasons, with Wigan

failing to score and losing their last six meetings.

Martinez admits picking an unchanged side has made things more

difficult for him in terms of deciding how fit his players are and

who needs a rest.

“I think it is more difficult because you need to make sure

those players are fresh enough to keep playing and I think it is

important to make sure we don’t overload certain players,” he said

of his selection dilemma.

“What is important as well is to give a sense of continuity but

I know we could make three changes and that wouldn’t affect our

performance and that is a very important feeling to have as a


“When you can make changes from one game to another and not have

a problem from a tactical point of view shows the work which has

been put in over the last 10 months or so.”

However, Martinez is confident, as he has been since the

progressed from the quarter-final, that another Wembley appearance

next month will not be a distraction for his players.

“For us being involved in two competitions at this time of the

season is exactly what we needed as a football club if we want to

step up to the next level,” he added.

“I think we showed a really natural way of switching on to the


“We have such an important game (against City) I don’t think you

are allowed to celebrate too much.

“Once we have the FA Cup final in front of us then we will be

able to get into the cup mode again.

“It becomes a really exciting target to have at the end of the

season but it was exactly the same position after the


“The only way to be part of it is how you are going to perform

and contribute in between.”

The Red Devils could stretch their lead at the top of the table

to 18 points with victory at Upton Park on Wednesday, which would

leave them within touching distance of the title once again.

Allardyce believes the way Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have gone

about wrestling back superiority from rivals Manchester City,

spearheaded by the goals of ?24million striker Robin van Persie,

has been awe inspiring.

“I think you have to say the (United) team is as good as it has

ever been because nobody normally wins the title so easily and by

so big a margin, or has this much of a margin at this stage of the

season,” said Allardyce.

“It is pretty scary what total they might actually finish


“Manchester United have been outstanding and it is been about

how their squad rotation has been Sir Alex’s masterpiece as usual,

about playing the right team at the right time.

“I suppose you could say that because they got knocked out of

the Champions League a little sooner than usual and because they

got knocked out of the FA Cup and Capital One Cup, it has given

them the strength and energy to be what they are in the Barclays

Premier League this year.

“They have not had the normal focus on three or four

competitions almost to the end, the focus has come on the Premier

League and they have just breezed it.

“They have just gone ‘bang’ and everyone else can’t get near


Despite the difference in class between the two sides, West Ham

have pushed United in all of their meetings this season – coming

within moments of knocking the Red Devils out of the FA Cup third

round at home in January before Van Persie dispatched a brilliant

equaliser deep into stoppage time.

“We will need to be on our best form, as always, if we are to

get anything,” said Allardyce, who has defensive problems tomorrow

with injury to James Tomkins.

“We have run them close three times this season, so we can give

as good a performance as we gave in the last three (games).”

While West Ham may well not get anything out of Wednesday’s

match, with 38 points they should just about avoid being dragged

into the scrap for survival over their final half-dozen games.

However, Allardyce said: “With all the bottom sides seeming to

be picking up more points now than they have done for the rest of

the season, I would say we are still another couple of points off

being absolutely safe.”

The Irons, though, also remain within striking distance of the

top half, which would represent a remarkable achievement from

Allardyce’s squad on a first season back in the top flight.

“We have got four home games and two away, so we have an

opportunity (to get into the top 10), but I think we are going to

have to win three and draw two out of the last six,” he said.

“Manchester City away and Everton away are tough, tough games as

well as Manchester United at home.

“In fact they will all be tough, even Wigan who are now in a

position, because of being in the FA Cup final, that they have

games to catch up and points to gain on others.

“That puts the pressure on them, so they will all be really

tough matches but hopefully we can win a couple and see where we