Lambert has faith in Villans
Dundee United booked their ticket for Monday’s Scottish Cup
semi-final draw with a deserved 2-1 victory over Dundee at Dens
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’
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
“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
“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
“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
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
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
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
“We had a good performance and everyone seemed to leave the
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
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
“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
“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
“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
Lambert added: “People are asking about the Reading and QPR
games and I say to them, ‘so there’s no point in playing Manchester
“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
“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’
“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
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
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.