Thursday, 24 April 2008

Brogan aims to come back better

Rotherham United midfielder Stephen Brogan believes he will return from injury a better player.

Brogan has been out since January with a broken leg but says his absence has given him a new hunger for the game.

"Playing for Rotherham was my dream as a young lad," said Brogan. "To get it taken away makes you appreciate it a bit more.

"I've got that hunger to get fit and I will be working hard to get back into the team and back to my best."

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Penney anger at fans' negativity

Darlington boss Dave Penney has hit out at the negative feeling surrounding the club following their failure to secure automatic promotion to League One.

"The area has to get real and realise that we've had a good season. It's eight years since this club last got into the play-offs," he told BBC Tees.

"I got to the play-offs as a player with Swansea and manager with Doncaster and those towns were buzzing.

"We stick together as a group and we'll try and have a great season here."

Before March the Quakers were in a prime position to gain automatic promotion but injuries to key members of their forward line saw the goals dry up and form suffered.

With nine-goal striker Pawel Abbott set to return, Penney hopes to have more firepower available for their play-off involvement.

"With Pawel he's been out for five weeks with a tight hamstring and like Richie Foran we'll ease him back in," he said.

"He trained Monday and Tuesday and he'll train the rest of the week.

"He might play an hour on Saturday but the main game for Pawel Abbott is not tomorrow, it's the first game of the play-offs."

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Wrexham boss plans squad shake-up

Wrexham boss Brian Little admits relegation from the Football League feels "horrible" but says he has to be ruthless if the club is to bounce back.

The Dragons were relegated after losing 2-0 at Hereford on Tuesday night.

"It's horrible," said Little. "Tonight is about hitting the bottom and it's now about looking at the club in the future.

"I know I can't be nice to too many people at this moment. My job is to be ruthless and sort the team out."

The relegation comes 30 years to the day after Wrexham sealed their first promotion to the second level of English football - the highest division the club has played in.

But they have been flirting with relegation all this season and even Little's arrival in November could not save them from dropping into the Blue Square Premier.

And he admits he has a tough task to bring the club back into the Football League at the first attempt.

"We've seen quite a few teams [in the Blue Square Premier] already who we know are better than us," said Little.

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"It's down to somebody to choose people who come into the club.

"That person is me and I will be judged on that and I accept that and if I don't get it right, then I accept someone else deserves the opportunity because Wrexham is too good a club not to bounce back quickly."

"I sampled this horrible feeling 20 years ago [with Darlington] and in the last few weeks I've started to be able to feel it again.

"But it's a feeling that motivated me, set me on a road to football management and winning things and I hope tonight is the starting point for the team to bounce back."



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Alexander dismisses drop worries

Keith Alexander has calmed fans' nerves by insisting Macclesfield's precarious position does not worry him.

"I am not worried - the teams below us have got to win, everybody has got to win at this stage of the season," the Macc manager told BBC Radio Manchester.

Macclesfield are four points clear of the League Two drop zone with two games left - the final one at rivals Chester.

"We've got two difficult games coming up," said Alexander. "But I knew it was going to be difficult when I came in."

The Macc boss added: "If one or two of the players have got a bit complacent because they've been doing okay, I don't know.

"But football always has a habit of kicking you in the teeth if you get complacent, so we've got to be right for the Chesterfield game and certainly Chester in two weeks' time."

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Roberts rallies relegated Wrexham

Neil Roberts says Wrexham's relegation from the Football League is painful but believes they can bounce straight back from the Blue Square Premier.

"It's hard to take... hopefully the other lads are hurting just as much as I am," said the club captain, 30.

"You never really consider this position being linked with Wrexham but it's happened now and we all need to stay strong.

"It's easier said than done, but hopefully we can bounce back stronger."

Roberts, who has hit eight league goals this season, was born in Wrexham and came through the club's youth system before making his name with Wigan.

The striker returned to his home-town club in July 2006, rejoining on a free from Doncaster, and expected to be part of a successful squad at the Racecourse Ground.

But four season's of off-field turmoil - sparked by the club going into administration in December 2004 under former owner Alex Hamilton - have undermined Wrexham's attempts on the pitch.

That culminated on Tuesday night with a 2-0 loss at Hereford, ending Wrexham's proud 87-year membership of the Football League.

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"I came back to hopefully be part of a winning side and the last two years have been tough," admitted Roberts, adding that he had faith in manager Brian Little's ability to restore their fortunes.

"The manager's got his own views on what he wants to do and hopefully he'll get the backing, I think he will be the right man for the job to turn it round."



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Fry determined to keep Posh stars

Peterborough United's director of football Barry Fry has said that only a "ridiculous" amount of money will buy any of the club's top players.

With Posh already promoted to League One, the club's management are bracing themselves for a barrage of interest in their top talent.

But Fry said: "Everybody's got a price, but our price for our players is ridiculous and no one will pay it.

"We don't want to sell, we're building a side to take us through the leagues."

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Langmead left waiting for result

Shrewsbury Town are awaiting news on the scan on Kelvin Langmead's mystery knee injury.

Langmead, who has missed the final part of the season, has been out of action for a month after the injury flared up against Notts County on 24 March.

The Shrews defender told BBC Radio Shropshire: "My concern is trying to get fit for the pre-season in case it flares up again.

"It's my body telling me I need a rest. Being injured is horrible."

Manager Paul Simpson, who has become concerned at how slowly Langmead's knee has been to clear up, has said he won't risk the player again this season.

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FA approves Cardiff for Uefa Cup

Cardiff will represent England in next season's Uefa Cup should they win the FA Cup by beating Portsmouth, the Football Association has confirmed.

The decision was taken despite FA rules stating that Welsh clubs can only qualify for Europe through their own national competitions.

The FA also decided that the Welsh national anthem would be played prior to the game at Wembley on 17 May.

Uefa had already hinted they would offer Cardiff a wild card if they won.

Uefa communications director William Gaillard said: "We entirely understood the FA's reasons for their regulations and had no problems with them.

"We just believed that if Cardiff did win the cup and were not given qualification for the Uefa Cup then for sporting reasons we would look to offer them a wild card."

It is not all good news for Cardiff.

If they lose the FA Cup final and Pompey finish fifth in the Premier League table, the Bluebirds will miss out on a place in Europe.

Instead, the FA will give the Uefa Cup berth to the sixth-placed team in the Premier League.



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Benitez reveals plans to owners

Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez has met with co-owner Tom Hicks and outlined his transfer targets, despite the club suffering from boardroom in-fighting.

Hicks is locked in dispute with co-owner George Gillett but each have been made aware of Benitez's plans.

"We have had a very positive meeting," said Benitez.

"We need to work together and he (Hicks) agreed we must talk together. If we want to go forward and sign players, we have to all work together."

Hicks has also called for the resignation of chief executive Rick Parry, who will also be involved in the plans and work towards signing the players Benitez has highlighted.

The Spaniard insisted that ownership troubles were not on the agenda with talks focusing solely on strengthening the squad.

"I have not spoken to them about the ongoing situation, only how to improve and how to progress," added Benitez.

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Liverpool have been linked with Aston Villa captain Gareth Barry, Manchester City midfielder Michael Johnson and David Bentley, of Blackburn, among others as the season reaches a climax.

"Everything is positive," said the Reds manager. "We have talked about targets to sign, that is my aim.

"I do not doubt we will achieve those targets. I have a scouting department that is working and progressing. Now I have told the owners how we need to progress.

"Rick Parry will be working too, and if everyone works hard and we work together, it will be easier.

"Clearly, I expect agreement on recruiting players for the summer. We are ready now for going forward.

"Now we have had a meeting, we are in a better position. We need to think about our games at Birmingham and Chelsea, but we must also think about improving the squad."

"George knows about what was said, everybody knows. Everyone has the same information."

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Chelsea support grieving Lampard

Chelsea have pledged their full support to Frank Lampard following the death of his mother from pneumonia.

He is now a doubt for Saturday's vital Premier League game with Manchester United and the Champions League semi-final with Liverpool next week.

Chelsea offered their condolences and said in a statement: "The club will be offering all the support it can to Frank and his family at this time."

Pat Lampard, 58, was the wife of West Ham legend Frank Sr.

Her sister is married to Portsmouth manager Harry Redknapp.

She was admitted to Whipps Cross Hospital in north-east London on 14 April.

A statement issued by Lampard's agent said: "Frank and his family would like to thank all the people that have inundated them with wishes of support.

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"Frank would also like to acknowledge and say thank you for compassion shown to him by (Chelsea) manager Avram Grant and all staff at Chelsea FC during what has been a terribly traumatic period for him and his family."

Lampard, 29, had missed the recent Premier League games against Wigan and Everton to be at her bedside.

He resumed training ahead of the Champions League semi-final first leg at Anfield and played in the 1-1 draw on Tuesday after his mother's condition appeared to improve, only for it to deteriorate again.

Chelsea's statement added: "Pat was a very familiar face to many people at Chelsea FC.

"Her unswerving support for her son's career was evident at virtually every game that Frank participated in regardless of where it was being played.

"She would always be there to watch him with Frank's dad. Pat will be deeply missed by everyone at Chelsea."

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Ferguson vows to attack Barcelona

Sir Alex Ferguson says his Manchester United side will be more aggressive in the second leg of their Champions League semi-final with Barcelona.

Cristiano Ronaldo's missed penalty was United's best chance in the first leg, which ended 0-0, but Ferguson promised a more attacking display in the return.

"Absolutely, no question about it. The game now starts at Old Trafford - it's the decider," he said.

"At home, with the atmosphere, we'll be quite different to the first game."

Barca had the majority of the possession and chances in the first leg, but Ferguson said he was happy with the way his side had come through such a tough test.

"We sealed off the areas where teams don't normally do well against Barcelona," he said.

"They had a lot of play around the box but our concentration was very good.

"On the negative side we should have done better with possession. We had opportunities to counter-attack but gave the ball away too easily.

"They didn't make a lot of chances. Going to Old Trafford at 0-0 we have a marvellous chance."

Ronaldo had a chance to get the game off to a perfect start for United when they won an early penalty after Gabriel Milito handled the ball, but he put his shot high and wide.

But the Portuguese striker appeared unflustered by his failure.

"I've scored a few penalties in that side but today I didn't score - no problem," he said.

If you get one penalty in the Nou Camp you are doing well
Sir Alex Ferguson

"Now I'm going to score in Manchester."

Ronaldo had an appeal for a second penalty turned away when he went to ground under a challenge from Rafael Marquez.

He said: "I think he touched me. But the referee didn't give a penalty. I don't know why, I don't understand."

Ferguson added: "If you get one penalty in the Nou Camp you are doing well, to ask for two I'm not surprised it wasn't given."

Barca coach Frank Rijkaard felt the penalty miss was a turning point - even though it came so early in the game.

"It was a bit of a wake-up call and after that we played well," said the Dutchman.

Rijkaard has come under increasing pressure this season as his side have fallen off the pace in La Liga and toiled in the Champions League.

But a lively performance against United was well received by the home crowd.

"In pure football terms it was not our best performance, but the team transmitted something special to the crowd and it was a great atmosphere," said Rijkaard.

"It was a very tactical game, Manchester played well on the counter-attack but we did not give them any chances and they know we are capable of scoring at Old Trafford.

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"It will not be easy, we are up against a very good team but if we concentrate and remain positive, we know we can do it.

"A goalless draw is not the best result and we have to score over there, but it is not going to be easy for them. We will have our chances."

Ferguson praised midfielder Paul Scholes's contribution on his 100th appearance in the Champions League.

"His reading of the play outside the box was terrific," said Ferguson. "His interceptions were marvellous and he never gave the ball away."



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Fiorentina wary of Ibrox surface

Fiorentina boss Cesare Prandelli says the Ibrox playing surface could play a part in their Uefa Cup semi-final first leg against Rangers.

A new pitch was installed in January due to waterlogging but the playing surface is threadbare and rutted.

"Obviously with the condition of the pitch, we need to be extra careful," said Prandelli.

"We're talking both from an injury point of view, and because it could affect how the ball bounces."

Fiorentina rejected the opportunity to train on the Ibrox pitch as is customary on the eve of a European tie.

Rangers will be without Barry Ferguson and Kevin Thomson because of suspension while Allan McGregor and Lee McCulloch are two of several players on the injury list.

Manager Walter Smith had previously said such personnel issues are unavoidable given the number of matches his team have had to play.

Prandelli agreed a busy fixture schedule was seldom problem-free, but had little sympathy for his counterpart.

"I know they have very important players missing, but we have had the same problem throughout the season and still had the character to play all the matches," he said.

One of Prandelli's charges who Rangers will have to watch closely is Adrian Mutu.

"It's very important to win, and I feel very confident we can do so," said the Romanian striker.

And his fellow forward Christian Vieri believes Mutu is a key figure in the side.

"He's going good, he's been scoring, so hopefully he can score another couple of goals against Rangers," said the former Italian international.

It's very important we win and I'm confident we can do so
Fiorentina striker
Adrian Mutu

"We're happy to be in the semi-final so we'll just see what happens, but I think we're going to play a good game."

Meanwhile captain Dario Dainelli says the electric Ibrox atmosphere will not scare his side.

The 28-year-old defender says a hostile crowd could help inspire the Italians during their first-leg encounter.

"We must pay careful attention because it will be a difficult game given the atmosphere," said Dainelli, whose side are fourth in the Serie A table.

"But the heated atmosphere does not scare me, indeed it charges me."

Dainelli, who has been capped once by the Italian national side, will be at the heart of the defence as they aim to take a clean-sheet back to Florence for the second leg on 1 May.

The former Brescia and Lecce player has helped guide the club to the threshold of a Champions League place.

"We are getting good results, thanks to the work we are doing," he added.

"From a mental point of view there is not a great deal to say on the Glasgow game - we are already very focused.

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"We must pay careful attention because it will be a difficult game given the atmosphere.

"It is worse when the whistles come from your own crowd, because they instead charge your opponents."

Fiorentina saw off Dutch side PSV Eindhoven to secure their last four berth and Everton were defeated in the previous round.

And, like Rangers, the Italian giants have faced a hectic fixture list in recent weeks.

"We have played a lot, but this is not a problem," he claimed. "The energy to play these games is always there.

"I do not think it matters that we play away first then travel home for the second leg. We always take to the pitch with the same attitude."

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Smith has faith in depleted Gers

Rangers manager Walter Smith believes his patched-up team has enough quality to overcome Fiorentina in the Uefa Cup semi-final first leg at Ibrox.

Barry Ferguson, Allan McGregor and Lee McCulloch are among the many regulars missing for the Glasgow side.

"The fewer players you have, the easier it is to select a team," said Smith.

"We have changed our formation at different times during the European run and, if we have to do so again, then we are quite capable of handling that."

Like skipper Ferguson, Kevin Thomson is suspended, while Charlie Adam, Steven Naismith, Chris Burke and DaMarcus Beasely are also on the Ibrox injury list.

"We have looked at the opposition and then we will look at our own squad and select from there," added Smith.

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"We have a requisite number available to us so we are quite confident the side we put out will acquit themselves well.

"We haven't played the same system in all the European games we've had this season, we have changed it now and again.

"For instance, the last time, when we were in Lisbon, we changed it around a little bit."

Rangers are just two games away from their first European final in 36 years and Smith wants another big push from a squad still in the hunt for a four-trophy haul.

"We were a little bit surprised to reach this stage and it has been a terrific achievement by all the players," he continued.

"We have worked extremely hard and have enjoyed a little bit of luck along the way.

"But, now that we're here, we can say for the first time that we are looking forward to two very tough games but also the possibility of getting to a European final.

"For a coach or a player, it's a big thing in their career."

Fiorentina striker Adrian Mutu
Mutu is someone you respect as having an exceptional level of ability
Walter Smith on Adrian Mutu

On their way to the last four, Fiorentina beat Everton on penalties and Smith has been in touch with Toffees manager David Moyes.

"I've spoken to David with regard to the game and he thought he was very unfortunate, especially in the second game, not to go through.

"But he also impressed upon me what a good team he thought Fiorentina were and he left me in no doubt that they are an exceptionally good team.

"Outside the Champions League games we've had, I felt Werder Bremen were an exceptionally good team and I would put Fiorentina on a par with them.

"They have shown that this season with their league campaign, where they currently look as though they could qualify for the Champions League above AC Milan, which is a terrific achievement for them."

Adrian Mutu is Fiorentina's leading scorer and has bagged six goals in the Uefa Cup.

However, Smith knows the Romanian striker is not the only danger facing his side.

"I always think it's dangerous to choose one player when you are looking at a team," he said.

"Fiorentina have a number of players who can cause problems, as we have ourselves.

"Mutu is someone you respect as having an exceptional level of ability and Fiorentina seem to be bringing out the best in him.

"But I think it would be wrong to say that he's the only threat that Fiorentina have."


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Liverpool suffer Aurelio setback

Liverpool left-back Fabio Aurelio's season appears to be over after he was ruled out for at least three weeks with a torn abductor muscle.

Aurelio was injured against Chelsea in the Champions League semi-final, first leg 1-1 draw while his replacement John Arne Riise scored a late own goal.

"It usually takes a minimum of three weeks to recover," Reds boss Rafael Benitez told the club's website.

"So, it will be very difficult for Fabio to play again this season."

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Brazilian Aurelio returned to action last September after rupturing his Achilles in April 2007.

He played his first competitive game of the season against Porto in the Champions League and has since made 28 more outings on the way to establishing himself as the Anfield side's first choice at left-back.

Benitez added: "It is very disappointing because Fabio has been doing a good job for the team."



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Riise vows to come back stronger

Liverpool's John Arne Riise says he will bounce back after his own goal gifted Chelsea a 1-1 draw in their Champions League semi-final, first leg.

Riise's injury-time error cancelled out Dirk Kuyt's opener and has given the Blues the advantage with an away goal.

But the 27-year-old told Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang: "I've learned it's the way you hit back that matters.

"Mentally, I am the best. I've got my head back in place after a heavy night. I'm going to learn from this."

Substitute Riise had come on in the 61st minute following an injury to Fabio Aurelio.

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The Norwegian re-lived what happened when he headed a Salomon Kalou cross into his own goal deep into stoppage time at Anfield.

"I decided to stoop and head the ball in the direction it came from," Riise explained.

"But it was a swerving cross, the ball was wet, and it slid right off my forehead. It was a shock to see it lying in the goal."

It looks as though he will have the chance to avenge his error in the second leg as Aurelio is out for two weeks with a abductor muscle injury.

And captain Steve Gerrard has given Riise words of encouragement ahead of the return encounter at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday.

Gerrard said: "John has been here a long time and done great things for this club and as captain I cannot point any fingers.

"But we've got to get John's head right, because he will have an important job to play next week."

Riise, who has been linked with a move to Newcastle, added he was hopeful of staying at Liverpool beyond next year when his contract expires.

"I hope and still believe in a new contract with Liverpool," he said.

"But I cannot say definitely that I have a future here when I only have one year left of my deal and haven't heard anything from the club yet."



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Vidic doubtful for Chelsea match

Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic is doubtful for the crunch Premier League title race clash with Chelsea on Saturday because of a stomach virus.

Vidic visited a hospital with the problem on Tuesday and missed the 0-0 draw with Barcelona at the Nou Camp.

"Nemanja went 24, 36 hours without eating," said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. "I don't think he'll be ready for Saturday - that's the situation.

"He had very severe stomach pains, so we sent him off to hospital."

United are three points clear of Chelsea with three games remaining, but would effectively clinch the title if they win at Stamford Bridge, given their superior goal difference.

Ferguson said Vidic had remained under observation until late in the night on Tuesday.

His situation improved on Wednesday but he was still not fit enough to play in the Champions League semi-final first leg.

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Ferguson said after the Barcelona match: "He's back at the hotel taking plenty of fluids and had some soup this afternoon.

"That's promising, so let's hope we can get him there on Saturday.

"He will be desperate to play and if we do get him there it will be a bonus to us."

In the Serbian star's absence, the manager opted for a successful pairing of Wes Brown and Rio Ferdinand in central defence.

United stayed in Barcelona on Thursday for a warm-weather training session before returning to Manchester ahead of the Chelsea match.

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Hutchings set to take Derby role

Derby are expected to appoint Chris Hutchings as assistant manager to replace Stan Ternent, who is set to become Huddersfield's manager.

BBC Radio Derby understands that Rams boss Paul Jewell wants to renew working with Hutchings, his number two at Wigan less than a year ago.

Hutchings took the helm at the Latics when Jewell resigned in May 2007, but he was sacked in November.

Derby have yet to officially confirm Hutchings as Ternent's replacement.

But chairman of football Adam Pearson told the club's official website: "We already have a new assistant lined up and ready to start work.

"I am very excited about the future of the coaching staff moving forward, as is Paul Jewell.

"The new assistant has a proven pedigree and a top-class record and is someone well known to Paul.

"I would like to thank Stan Ternent for the hard work he has put in for Derby and the support he has given Paul."

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Hutchings, 50, was also Jewell's assistant at Bradford and helped guide the club to the Premiership in 1999.

Bradford then endured a difficult season in the top flight, but avoided relegation on the final day as they beat Liverpool 1-0 at home.

Jewell then left Bradford and Hutchings stepped up to take the reins, but lasted for only 21 competitive games before being sacked in November 2000.

Hutchings was then reunited with Jewell at Wigan in 2001.

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Huddersfield to name Ternent boss

Huddersfield are set to appoint Derby County assistant boss Stan Ternent as their new manager.

The Terriers have confirmed they have approached the former Burnley and Gillingham boss about replacing Andy Ritchie, who left Town on 1 April.

Derby chairman of football Adam Pearson said: "We have given Stan permission to join Huddersfield as manager. We have not sought any compensation from them."

Ternent's replacement at Derby is thought to be Chris Hutchings.

Hutchings has been out of work since being sacked by Wigan earlier this season, and has worked with Rams boss Paul Jewell at Bradford and the Latics.

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Pearson added: "I would like to thank Stan for the hard work he has put in for Derby County and the suppprt he has given Paul.

"We already have a new assistant lined up and ready to start work on Friday.

"I am very excited about the future of the coaching staff moving forward as is Paul Jewell. The new assistant has a proven pedigree and a top class record and is someone well known to Paul."

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Wednesday, 23 April 2008

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Tuesday, 22 April 2008

SPL prepares for season extension

The Scottish Premier League has decided to extend its season by four days - until 22 May - if Rangers reach the Uefa Cup final.

It has taken the unprecedented step of publishing two sets of fixtures for the final set of games.

Rangers' title rivals, Celtic, had already warned of their opposition to any extension to the season.

But the SPL insists that there was no alternative because of the number of postponed fixtures this season.

Secretary Iain Blair said: "It is well documented that this has been an exceptionally challenging season in terms of fixturing.

"The combination of a number of diverse circumstances has produced unparalleled scheduling problems."

The outstanding fixtures cannot reasonably be played in the available time
SPL secretary Iain Blair

Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell had suggested that any extension would threaten the integrity of the competition.

And St Mirren had also stated that they had booked a team holiday and would therefore oppose any change.

But, should Rangers beat Fiorentina to reach the Uefa Cup final, St Mirren will have to host the Glasgow outfit on Tuesday 20 May.

"Our aim throughout has been to protect the integrity of the competition, balance the interests of our member clubs and have regard to player welfare and fixturing precedent," said Blair.

He described the proposal as "a modest extension to the season to enable Rangers FC to represent the SPL and all of Scottish football in the Uefa Cup final".

"It reflects the fact that the outstanding fixtures cannot reasonably be played in the available time and will involve some disruption for a number of our clubs," said Blair.

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Rangers face four games in eight days whichever fixture list becomes reality.

If Rangers make the Uefa Cup final on 14 May, the last round of fixtures for the top six clubs - which must be played at the same time on the same day - will take place on Thursday 22 May.

The Ibrox side will also travel to Motherwell on 17 May, while Gretna's hosting of Hearts will be moved forward to 8 May.

If Walter Smith's team lose to Fiorentina, who visit Ibrox for the first leg on Thursday, Rangers will travel to face St Mirren on 13 May then Motherwell two days later.

Rangers, who won the CIS Cup in March, meet Queen of the South in the Scottish Cup final on 24 May.



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Gillett invites DIC to Euro semi

Liverpool co-owner George Gillett has invited prospective new owners Dubai International Capital to the Champions League semi-final with Chelsea.

Gillett will not be at Tuesday's tie but it is believed his son Foster will host DIC representatives at Anfield.

DIC lost the race to buy the club last year but Gillett is reportedly keen to sell his stake to the group.

The move is the latest instalment in the ongoing and bitter power struggle between Gillett and co-owner Tom Hicks.

Americans Gillett and Hicks took control of Liverpool in a deal worth £218.9m in February 2007 but the relationship between the two men broke down some time ago, with the pair no longer on speaking terms.

Their falling-out has led to a war of words breaking out in the Anfield boardroom and in a television interview last week, Hicks defiantly outlined his own plans for the future of the club as well as calling for the resignation of Rick Parry, claiming that the chief executive's tenure was a "disaster".

The players are focused on football because we know it is really important now
Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez

Gillett, an ally of Parry, responded by saying he would not sell his stake to Hicks and by inviting DIC to the first leg of the European showdown with Chelsea, he has made a clear statement of intent.

DIC has been trying to buy the club for 18 months, having been beaten by Hicks and Gillett just over a year ago.

The investment group seemed to have tied up a deal at the turn of the year, only for Hicks to send a representative to Dubai for talks before pulling the plug on the possible sale.

It is believed that DIC's chief negotiator Amanda Staveley will be among Gillett's party, along with chief executive Samir Al-Ansari.

"Pre-match at least, Liverpool's two Americans are threatening to steal the show," said BBC Radio 5 Live football correspondent Jonathan Legard.

"Gillett cancelled his trip because of illness but such a public statement of intent in response to Tom Hicks' sabre rattling last week, only ups the ante in the battle for control at Anfield - especially if Hicks carries out his plans to attend.

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"Manager Rafael Benitez and his team, including the fit-again Steven Gerrard, may be aiming for progress towards the final in Moscow; Gillett looks to be forcing the pace towards a sale sooner rather than later."

For his part, Benitez has been keen to divert attention away from the row and hopes his players will not be distracted ahead of the vital semi-final with Chelsea.

"The players are focused on football because we know it is really important now," he stated. "You cannot think and talk about other things because it is better that you do not say anything."



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Judge us on silverware - Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo says the quality of the Manchester United side can only be gauged at the end of the season.

United are attempting a Premier League and Champions League double, with boss Sir Alex Ferguson claiming his squad is the best he has had at his disposal.

"I also think that this is the most talented team," said winger Ronaldo, 23, whose side face Barcelona in their Champions semi-final on Wednesday.

"But you can only confirm this at the end of the season, by what was won."

Ronaldo has been in inspirational form for United this season, scoring 38 goals during the campaign.

On the way, he has overtaken George Best's record of 32 goals in a season by a winger at the club, which was set in 1968.

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United, who are being pushed by Chelsea in the battle for England's top-flight crown, achieved the Treble in 1999 but Ronaldo has played down making any comparisons with Red Devils teams of yesteryear for the time being.

"There is a lot of talent, I think that we are going along the right path," added Ronaldo.

"Game after game we have shown that we have a fantastic team, with a lot of talent and magnificent players, but at the end of the season we will be able to provide a definite answer if this team is the best Manchester United side of all time.

"If we win the Champions League or the Premier League we will have a better idea."



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Money resigns as Walsall manager

Walsall manager Richard Money has resigned after the Saddlers were ruled out of the League One play-off running.

Money took over as manager in May 2006, following their relegation to League Two and led them to the title and promotion in his first season.

He told the club website: "I believe that this decision is in the best interests of both myself and the club.

"The timing of my departure will give the club the maximum opportunity to bring in a new manager."

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WiiSaddler

Saddlers chairman Jeff Bonser said: "He came to the club at a very difficult time. Our playing fortunes were at a low ebb.

"During these past two years, he has led the club to the League Two championship and to a position just outside the League One play-off positions, a very impressive achievement.

"We would like to place on record our appreciation for the work he has undertaken, and to wish him well for the future."

Assistant manager Jimmy Mullen takes temporary charge.



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Ref wrong to rule out Dons 'goal'

Referee Iain Brines has admitted he wrongly disallowed the goal which could have finished Celtic's title challenge.

Brines penalised Zander Diamond for handball seconds before the Aberdeen defender struck what would have been a last-minute equaliser at Celtic Park.

However, Brines has used the Scottish FA website to explain his mistake.

"Having had the opportunity to view the incident via television, I fully accept that I called this incident completely wrong," he said.

Celtic's 1-0 win moved them two points clear at the top of the table, although Rangers have played three games less.

The decision left Diamond and his colleagues enraged and the defender was critical of Brines after the game.

The referee has since told the 'whistleblower' section of the SFA's website: "From the angle I had adopted, I observed the Aberdeen player Diamond jump to meet the ball and I believed he used his hand to aid the ball's flight beyond him.

"Immediately I blew my whistle awarding a free-kick to Celtic.

"The majority of players reacted to the whistle by stopping - the exception being Diamond who placed the ball into the Celtic goal.

"Having adopted the position I did, it didn't allow me to gain the best view of what happened during the incident.

"It is clear that the goal should not have been disallowed."

In a post-match interview that may land Diamond in hot water, the Aberdeen man said: "Saying I used my hand is an absolute joke and that sums him up.

"I thought he had a poor game.

"The decision is unbelievable. If that's one of Scotland's top officials, I think we're in trouble."


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Injured John sent back to Fulham

Watford's on-loan striker Collins John will return to Fulham after he tore a thigh muscle last week.

The 22-year-old Holland cap will return to Craven Cottage after starting just three games for the Hornets.

The forward signed for Fulham from Dutch club FC Twente in 2004 but, after an impressive start, has spent most of this season at Leicester and Watford.

Fulham will make the decision on whether Liberia-born John needs an operation on his thigh.

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Santana 'to become coach of SA'

Joel Santana says he will replace Brazilian compatriot Carlos Alberto Parriera as coach of South Africa.

Santana's club, Flamengo, have also claimed the 59-year-old will take charge of the 2010 World Cup hosts.

"Joel is transferring to the South African national team after the final of the Carioca championship," said Flamengo's vice-president Kleber Leite.

Parreira, appointed in February 2007, announced his decision to resign on Monday to spend time with his ill wife.

Santana said he was unhappy to be leaving Flamengo but delighted with his new job.

"These things happen once in a lifetime," he said. "Quitting here is difficult. I'm heartbroken, but I am a professional."

He (Santana) told that me that he will earn in 30 months more than he has earned in the last 30 years
Kleber Leite

Leite added: "He (Santana) told that me that he will earn in 30 months more than he has earned in the last 30 years.

"His dream is to coach a national team at a World Cup."

Santana is recognised as a journeyman professional with a good track record in Brazil.

He has little international experience, apart from brief stints with clubs in Saudi Arabia and Japan.

Parreira, 65, had been hired to prepare South Africa for the 2010 World Cup.

He put together a young and inexperienced team, which suffered a series of poor results and was eliminated in the first round of the African Cup of Nations in Ghana earlier this year.

As a result, they slumped to 71st in the Fifa rankings, but they beat Paraguay 3-0 in a friendly last month.

Parreira, whose resignation takes effect from 2 May, will continue as technical advisor, while his two assistant coaches - Jairo Leal and Pitso Mosimane - will remain part of the set-up.

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