Kolo Toure: I never lost belief

Millwall won 1-0 at Blackburn on Wednesday night to set up an FA

Cup semi-final against Wigan at Wembley next month.

Captain Danny Shittu headed home Chris Taylor’s corner in the

42nd minute of the sixth-round replay at Ewood Park, and it proved

enough to take the Lions – runners-up in 2004 – through to the last

four on the weekend of 13/14 April.

As in Sunday’s meeting at The Den at the weekend, Blackburn

sorely lacked creativity and ?11million strike force Jordan Rhodes

and Leon Best drew a blank once more, although the latter had a

second-half shot superbly cleared off the line by Shane Lowry.

Millwall now face a rematch of their 1999 Wembley defeat to

Wigan in the Football League Trophy final, while results on

Saturday could send Rovers into Sunday’s east Lancashire derby

against Burnley just three points above the relegation zone – an

unthinkable second-consecutive relegation hovering ominously into


Blackburn started brightly and, having failed to register a shot

on target at the weekend, they tested Lions goalkeeper David Forde

through Best’s speculative fourth-minute drive.

The Republic of Ireland international had a left-footed effort

deflected behind in the 15th minute and, from the resulting corner,

club stalwarts Morten Gamst Pedersen and David Dunn combined for

the latter to arch a shoot past the far post from 18 yards.

Moments later, Millwall attacked and Danny N’Guessan felt he was

impeded in the area by Rovers skipper Scott Dann when trying to

reach Andy Keogh’s cross, but referee Mark Clattenburg


In the 20th minute, Blackburn goalkeeper Jake Kean created

danger all of his own making by leaving himself stranded en route

to claiming a long Lowry free-kick that Rob Hulse glanced wide.

N’Guessan twice had shots blocked by Jason Lowe as Rovers failed

to clear a corner before Taylor’s deflected shot crashed into the

side netting.

The former Oldham midfielder delivered the next set-piece and

Shittu was allowed room to power home from close range.

In the second half, Lowry produced a telling block when Josh

King volleyed goalwards after Dann headed Pedersen’s 49th-minute

corner across goal.

Pedersen wasted a promising free-kick position as frustrations

among the home faithful audibly grew, but Best brought them to

their feet in the 63rd minute, drifting through a static Millwall

backline to see the sliding Lowry clear his from the goalmouth.

However, Rovers’ challenge faded badly. Mark Beevers blocked a

Nuno Gomes strike in the final minute before Taylor blazed

wastefully over when trying to add late gloss to the scoreline.

Arena Coventry Limited (ACL) has announced it has made an

application to the High Court in London to request that it make an

administration order against the club.

The Sky Blues’ owner, the hedge fund Sisu, is disputing the

terms of the lease but the League One club would face a 10-point

deduction by the Football League if they are placed into


ACL is the Coventry City Council and Higgs Charity-owned company

that runs the Ricoh Arena stadium and its chairman Nicholas Carter

said: “It is highly unfortunate that we have had to take this

course of legal action. Had we not taken this action, then the

alternative might have been catastrophic for CCFC.

“We are owed a considerable amount of money in rent arrears.

While it is imperative that ACL takes action to recover these

arrears and to stop the arrears growing, it is important for us to

find a solution that can provide for the survival of the Sky Blues.

Hopefully this action will ultimately put CCFC on a stable

financial footing for the future.

“Following recent statements in the media from the CCFC’s owners

threatening the Club with liquidation, we are keen to stop this

from happening. Our action prevents Sisu simply closing CCFC and

walking away from the situation.

“We are, of course, well aware that under the current Football

League regulations, CCFC will face a points deduction and we will

do everything we can to ensure that the case is heard by the High

Court before the end of the current season. While this opens up the

possibility of a 10-point deduction this season, the board believes

this is better than leaving CCFC facing a much larger deduction at

the start of next season.”

In the next few weeks, the High Court will decide whether the

club is fit to continue trading. If it decides it is not, it will

be placed into administration and an administrator appointed to

sell it.

Hurst is best known for scoring the hat-trick that secured

England their lone World Cup title at Wembley in 1966.

But almost half a century later he has committed himself to

working at grassroots level to provide a platform for the next

generation of players and coaches in this country.

England’s bid to bridge the divide on its major rivals has been

a key focus of the Football Association in recent years with the

opening of the state-of-the-art St George’s Park training base in

Burton ensuring a level footing at the elite level.

But Hurst, who has been working as McDonald’s Director of

Football in association with the FA for a decade, believes it is on

the local parks where the biggest ground can be made up.

The sum of his work was spelled out in a report launched in

front of Minister’s of Parliament at the House of Commons on

Wednesday, which revealed the grassroots game in the United Kingdom

had “undergone a major transformation” in the past decade.

Amongst the figures released it was revealed 74 per cent of

children’s and youth FA Charter Standard clubs now have least one

qualified coach while participation rates in girls’ football had

hit a high.

They are numbers to enthuse Hurst who, while admitting there is

still work to be done, believes England’s malaise on the world

stage can be drawn back to more modest levels.

“We’re not producing players and coaches,” said Hurst.

“You only have to look at the Premier League where there is a

dearth of players playing which is a problem for England. We don’t

have as many to choose from.

“We need some more. We are 10 years behind everyone else.

“We hope St George’s Park is going to develop the quality we

want. Maybe in 10 years’ time we will we be able to look back and

see that.

“But we need to be providing a stage for young players to come

into the game and then, when they are playing, enjoying and

learning from qualified coaches.

“You take the grassroots coaches away and you are going to have

nothing. It’s such an important issue.

“We are certainly behind places like Spain in terms of the

numbers of players and the development. It’s the same with


“But you can see us catching up. We are doing that.”

Hurst believes previous systems have short-circuited England’s

efforts to produce the type and number of world-class players that

he played alongside in 1966.

“We won the World Cup with four or five world-class players,

that’s how you are successful,” he said.

“I don’t think today we’ve got as many world-class players in

these key positions now.

“There has been a lot of focus on Wayne Rooney in the past and

coming through you look at Jack Wilshere who is a great


“But you worry about him with another injury. That’s why we talk

about the number of top-class players.

“We need two Jack Wilshere’s because if one gets injured we have

someone to take his place.

“A classic example is Jimmy Greaves. He was a world-class

player, he got injured and I came in and take his place.

“I did all right. Not too bad so I heard.”

When Hurst was growing up he did not play an organised match

until he was 11, instead learning the game on the streets outside

his Chelmsford home.

The 71-year-old knows those days are long gone, but believes a

move toward small-sided pitches can help modern-day children to

replicate the skills he learned on kerbsides in his formative


“Small-sided games take you back to the bones of what we did,”

he said.

“In the streets, the playground or with a tennis ball. We played

in the playground with bomb shelters for goalposts.

“The backbone of our team in ’66 – it was that way of playing,

that simple system produced world-class players.

“Kids aren’t going to play on the street now. We can get close

as we can to doing that with these small-sided games.

“And if we can provide the coaches with the intelligence and

education – to not over coach enjoy it – we can go far.

“My old coach Ron Greenwood, who knew a thing or two, at West

Ham had a saying: ‘Simplicity is genius’.

“Everything was simple. That’s the way to do it.”

The Japan international was carried off on a stretcher after

being hurt in a challenge from Kevin Mirallas in Latics’ stunning

3-0 FA Cup quarter-final win at Everton last weekend.

It is yet another setback for the 20-year-old, who has made just

seven appearances for the club since joining on loan from Arsenal

due to injuries.

Manager Roberto Martinez told the club’s website: “It was a

terrible challenge. We are waiting on the scan but we are not very

positive on it.

“We think it will need a long recovery period and maybe he will

even need surgery.

“We need to be a little bit expecting the bad news.

“He is very fortunate he has not got a broken leg because of the

nature of the challenge.

“We feel he ruptured the ligaments. We will have to wait and see

but he doesn’t seem to have an opportunity to finish the


Martinez delivered a more positive update on Callum McManaman,

who was one of the stars of Wigan’s first-half display at Goodison

Park but limped off soon after scoring the second goal.

Martinez said: “Callum McManaman is recovering well and probably

it is more a matter of a week – five days to 10 days – that he is

going to be out.

“We will see how he recovers day by day. The ankle is swollen

but it is more of a normal injury.”

Spurs have one foot in the quarter-finals of the Europa League

after Bale inspired the team to a 3-0 victory in the first leg of

their last-16 tie last week.

Despite the drubbing, Inter are expected to rest a number of

their top players for the clash at the San Siro as their priority

is to qualify for the Champions League via Serie A, where they

currently sit in joint fifth position after a disappointing loss

against Bologna at the weekend.

Although Tottenham lost ground in their own hunt for Champions

League qualification on Sunday when they lost to Liverpool,

Villas-Boas is determined to land the Europa League trophy and will

therefore resist the temptation to rest the likes of Aaron Lennon,

Mousa Dembele and Jermain Defoe.

“No chance,” the Tottenham manager said when asked if was

considering fielding a weakened team.

“There is no scoreline that could make us change six or seven

players so we will play a strong team to make sure we go through in

this competition.

“We take this game very seriously.”

One star man Villas-Boas has no other option than to do without

is Bale, who received a one-match suspension for his third caution

of the competition last week.

The Welshman announced himself on the world stage here at the

San Siro in 2010 with a superb hat-trick against Inter, and he has

since gone on to become one the most devastating forwards in

European football.

The 23-year-old has bagged 21 goals for Tottenham this season –

leading to claims that Spurs are overly-reliant on the pacy


Tottenham have dropped seven points from the eight games Bale

has not played in this season, and Villas-Boas is confident that

Spurs will be fine without their talisman on Thursday night.

“We’ve been in situation where he is not with us and we got

results,” the 35-year-old said.

“Gareth can make a difference in any game, we know. We will miss

him but we won’t want to prove anything without him because we

believe a lot in ourselves and also we believe in Gareth. It’s not

a case of proving anything. We just want to do our job to get


Making the last eight of the competition at the expense of a

club who have won three Champions Leagues and 18 Serie A titles

would reaffirm Tottenham’s position as favourites to reach the

final and lift the trophy in Amsterdam on May 15.

“We had very difficult draws for the last 32 and last 16 in Lyon

and Inter Milan. They are two teams used to playing Champions

League football and who are full of European experience,”

Villas-Boas said.

“It’s been a brilliant experience so far and it shows the route

we’ve chosen to take, by playing it seriously, has paid off in

terms of these fixtures, which has been amazing.

“Hopefully if we can manage to overcome Inter we can put

ourselves in a strong position (to win it), although we admit there

are still some very strong teams in the mix.”

Villas-Boas confirmed Aaron Lennon and Emmanuel Adebayor have

travelled to Milan after they overcame the respective hamstring and

knee injuries that ruled them out of the Liverpool game.

The Spurs boss will start Brad Friedel in goal ahead of Hugo

Lloris, and the former Blackburn stopper has warned his team-mates

they must not think they have already won the tie when the step out

on the famous turf of the Giuseppe Meazza stadium on Thursday.

“We will play it like it’s 0-0,” the 41-year-old said.

“It’s a difficult place to play so we will have to be at our

best. “You have to take the 3-0 out of your mind.”

Milan police, meanwhile, have imposed an alcohol ban in certain

areas of the city from 7pm local time until midnight on


Those areas are: around the San Siro, the Duomo (main square),

the main train station, and Linate airport.

Steaua, who are 12 points clear in the Romanian league, hold a

1-0 advantage over last season’s Champions League winners in the

last-16 tie following their victory in Bucharest last week.

Due to his prior association with Liverpool, Benitez has been

booed throughout his tenure as interim manager at Stamford Bridge

and the visitors hope to score early and use any negative

atmosphere to their advantage.

“We are well aware that the supporters, the crowd has a very big

role, a very important role, especially if we were to go ahead

early,” Steaua boss Laurentiu Reghencampf said.

“That would not create a great atmosphere for the home team. We

will try to score early and play well.”

Steaua, who beat Ajax in the previous round after overturning a

first-leg deficit, are unfazed by the challenge that awaits in west


Defender Mihai Pintilii said: “They are a very good side. They

have some great individual players and extraordinary talent in

their team.

“Tomorrow night we will be trying to annihilate them and to just

play the way we can play.”

Due to a knee injury, Steaua may have to do without Iasmin

Latovlevici, the left-back Benitez highlighted as a danger on the

eve of the first leg and who delivered the cross which led to Raul

Rusescu’s successful penalty.

Steaua will still go on the attack despite the potential absence

of one of their most impressive players.

“As always we will be trying to win the game,” Reghencampf


“Of course it will be very difficult but I have a team that

really likes to play football.

“It is a very important match for everybody. Not only myself.

It’s very important for my team and also Romanian football.”

Benitez earlier expressed confidence in Chelsea progressing and

revealed that his side had not practised penalty kicks. Steaua

have, are undeterred by tackling the Blues and are focused on


“Chelsea are the strongest team we have met so far and I’m sure

we will have some difficulties,” Reghencampf added.

“We have practised penalties. We will see tomorrow evening.

“If I’m afraid of anything or if I’m concerned about anything

then it’s my own team.

“We had a not so pleasant game in Amsterdam, where we were not

able to play the way we would like to. “Now my main concern is to

try to get my players ready to play the way we would like to.”

A repeat of the performances in the first leg will be enough for


He said: “We played very well and won the game. Tomorrow night

it’s similar.

“If they play the way they played in the first leg and we can

play the way we played in the first leg, we can of course win


Celtic have lost to Motherwell and Ross County but still lead

the way by 15 points ahead of the visit of Aberdeen on


Manager Neil Lennon questioned whether some players were

thinking more of a summer move than the task in hand when they

threw away a two-goal lead in Dingwall on Saturday.

But Forster is confident they will get back on track against the

Dons as they look to secure the title win and prepare for their

William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United on April


“We want to wrap the league up as quickly as possible so we’re

all 100 per cent focused on the job,” he told the Celtic View.

“We can’t be complacent, though. We have to go out and keep

trying – a lot hasn’t changed in the league, we still have to go

out and perform well.

“A few times we’ve had a gap at the top of the table and it

hasn’t meant we’ve dipped in form so hopefully that doesn’t start

happening now.

“We all want to win the Scottish Cup, especially after the

disappointment of losing the League Cup semi-final, so it’s vital

we get to the final this time.

“It’s important we’re fully focused because we know it will be a

tough game against Dundee United when it comes around.

“We’re going for the double so we’re still very motivated.”

The club’s former captain has enjoyed a return to prominence and

form in recent weeks with four successive starts in the

injury-enforced absence of current skipper Vincent Kompany.

Toure lost his place as a regular while he served a drugs ban at

the start of last season and at times this term has found himself

fourth choice behind Kompany, Matija Nastasic and Joleon


The 31-year old told the club’s website: “We have so many

players here and it’s difficult to play every game, but you need to

get ready and any time you have the chance to play give 100 per


“It’s very important to keep focused and to keep your

concentration high and keep working hard in training. That’s the

only thing you can do.

“It’s always difficult when you don’t play and are not in the

team, but the only thing that can keep you going is working hard

and believing in yourself – and that is what I have been


The Ivory Coast international is out of contract at the end of

the season and there has been speculation that his recent form

could earn him a one-year extension.

Yet while his future remains uncertain, Toure is just happy to

have been able to contribute again.

Toure, a ?16million signing from Arsenal in 2009, said: “I feel

very good at the moment. I’ve had the chance recently to play more

and I’m really enjoying being able to give my best for my team.

“Everyone around me and all my team- mates have helped me a lot,

and that’s very important.

“Every time I have played for City, I just give 100 per cent –

for me the main thing is just to work hard.”