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Shay Given out for a month Aston Villa

Villa suffer blow as keeper Given faces spending festive period on the sidelines

Aston Villa goalkeeper Shay Given will be sidelined for a month after suffering a hamstring injury against Manchester United on Saturday.

Scans showed the 35-year-old Republic of Ireland international had suffered a small tear in his left hamstring during the 1-0 home defeat against the Red Devils.

American Brad Guzan, who replaced Given seven minutes before the break on Saturday, will continue to deputise between the posts in this weekend”s Barclays Premier League game at Bolton.

Sidelined: Shay Given will miss a month of the season through injury

Sidelined: Shay Given will miss a month of the season through injury

Villa manager Alex McLeish said: “It is disappointing to lose Shay in such circumstances but, unfortunately, these things happen in football.

“We have to meet these challenges and we will. We have total faith in Brad who, as I said after the game against Manchester United on Saturday, can be proud of the way he stepped in when Shay had to come off.

“We will need within the football club for everybody to stick together and that strength of unity will help massively.”

Graham Poll: Jay Spearing had to be sent off

Spearing was out of control! Friend had to give Liverpool midfielder his marching orders

Kevin Friend was right to dismiss Jay Spearing for his lunging challenge on Moussa Dembele despite the fact the Liverpool man played the ball before catching his opponent.

Spearing was out of control of his forward movement and the force at which he caught the Fulham forward led Friend to dismiss him for serious foul play.

Lunge: Jay Spearing fouls Fulham

Lunge: Jay Spearing fouls Fulham”s Moussa Dembele before being sent off

The primary concern for a referee is the safety of the players and if a reckless challenge endangers that safety then the player must be sent off.

Looking at the pictures it is hard to disagree that the challenge was reckless and endangered Dembele’s safety. I have long argued that playing the ball does not make a player exempt from disciplinary action; the challenge from Spearing proves that.

Lucky: Philippe Senderos (left) could have been sent off for Fulham

Lucky: Philippe Senderos (left) could have been sent off for Fulham

Liverpool can argue that Fulham should also have been reduced to 10 men as Phillipe Senderos committed two clear cautionable offences. The first was a very good decision from Friend as the Swiss defender brought Charlie Adam down right on the edge of the Fulham penalty area.

It was a close call but a correct one as was the decision to show a yellow card as it was not the denial of an obvious goalscoring opportunity.

Senderos was later seen on TV to have pulled Andy Carroll back as Liverpool broke forward; had Friend seen that he would have sent Senderos off.

But of course he doesn’t have the luxury of video replays.

Luis Suarez gives Fulham fans the finger

Suarez flips! Race-row striker loses cool over taunts by Fulham fans

Luis Suarez – who is already facing a racism charge – could find himself in more hot water with the FA after making an obscene gesture towards Fulham supporters after Liverpool”s 1-0 defeat.

The Anfield striker was given a torrid time by the home support throughout the clash at Craven Cottage as he was subjected to chants of “cheat” for what Fulham supporters perceived to be his constant diving.

And Suarez cracked after the final whistle by making an explicit hand gesture towards Cottagers fans. Wembley disciplinary chiefs will decide on Tuesday whether to investigate the incident further.

Out of order: Liverpool

Out of order: Liverpool”s Luis Suarez made a gesture to Fulham fans

Suarez has already been charged by the FA for making racist remarks towards Manchester United defender Patrice Evra during the 1-1 draw at Anfield earlier this season.

And Reds manager Kenny Dalglish admitted he could be forced to talk to Suarez about his conduct after the latest controversy to hit the Uruguay international.

“I haven”t seen the picture and I”m not taking anybody”s word for it,” said Dalglish.

“If you show me the picture and I”m convinced that what you”re saying is true, then I”ve got a decision to make.”

In response to Fulham fans branding Suarez a “cheat”, Dalglish added: “That”s scandalous. We”ll look after Luis as best we can, and I think it”s about time he got a bit of protection from some people.

Lunge: Jay Spearing fouls Fulham

Lunge: Jay Spearing fouls Fulham”s Moussa Dembele before being sent off

“His integrity is impeccable. He can look in the mirror and go to bed at night and sleep soundly.”

Liverpool”s misery was compounded by Jay Spearing”s debatable sending off – the latest incident in a controversial weekend of refereeing decisions.

The Liverpool midfielder clearly made contact with the ball in his challenge with Moussa Dembele – but was given his marching orders by Kevin Friend after catching the Fulham forward with his follow through.

And Dalglish felt his midfielder was harshly sent off: “I think, you need to ask the referee what their interpretation is What the level of acceptance is “Jay never had another thought in his mind but to win the ball, and he did win it.

Turning point: Spearing is sent off as Liverpool

Turning point: Spearing is sent off as Liverpool”s players protest

“As long as the officials are consistent, it”s not a problem. But I don”t think we were going to get anything tonight, were we

“The (offside) goal that Luis scored, Charlie [Adam] could have had a penalty. We played well enough to have won the game.”

Fulham boss Martin Jol added: “Was it a red card I think it was a bad tackle. “If you see from another angle, you saw his ankle up there and I think it was a sending off.”

Euro 2012: Polish special forces in training

Better safe than sorry! Polish special forces in spectacular show of strength ahead of Euros

Poland is investing heavily in security for next year”s European soccer championship despite downgrading the number of visitors it expects.

Commandos have been simulating a multiple hostage situation in case criminals target the world”s second largest football tournament, which is being co-hosted with Ukraine next June.

The government now expects some 800,000 football fans to visit their four host cities – Warsaw, Gdansk, Poznan and Wroclaw.

Armed and dangerous: Troopers storm a train as Poland

Armed and dangerous: Troopers storm a train as Poland”s Elite Special Forces Unit prepare for Euro 2012 with a week-long dedicated training programme

“We got above 100 million zlotys (20m) from the state budget this year that we are spending entirely on Euro 2012 security,” Polish police spokesman Mariusz Sokolowski said. “This money goes first and foremost for 600 new vans. Secondly, we are also buying helmets, epaulets, pads, shields, everything that a policeman is equipped with. Let”s just hope they won”t have to be used.”

The Polish police and special forces have also held a week-long training session to better coordinate their procedures.

Colonel Piotr Gastal, head of Poland”s top special forces unit GROM, said: “We are training for the things that our unit was set up to do, business as usual, but there are more preparations ahead of Euro 2012 as there is a need for more operators.

Hijack: The routines were to prepare against hostage situations on public transport

Hijack: The routines were to prepare against hostage situations on public transport

Hijack: The routines were to prepare against hostage situations on public transport

“The Polish police holds the main responsibility for security during Euro 2012, but in case of a multiple hostage situation our unit can enter as the police are not trained or equipped enough to handle that.”

Ready for anything: The machinery involved was formidable

Ready for anything: The machinery involved was formidable

GROM has rehearsed releasing 20 or more hostages from public transport and public buildings, such as hotels and train stations.

“We are not aware of any additional, specific risks in Poland, but the sole fact of organising such an event like the Euros may be a target and we have to be prepared for various situations,” Gastal added.

Poland scaled down the number of fans it expects to visit during Euro 2012 after last week”s finals draw meant more popular teams such as Germany and England will play in Ukraine.

“Still, I hope for some several hundred million zlotys of additional revenue from fans” spending during the games,” said Marcin Herra, head of the PL2012 company dedicated to coordinating the tournament.

Extreme lengths: Divers from the special unit also practised in the Baltic Sea

Extreme lengths: Divers from the special unit also practised in the Baltic Sea

Poland also pegged a large-scale building programme to Euro 2012 and is upgrading its antiquated road infrastructure for the tournament, largely thanks to European Union”s aid funds.

“These investments is worth above 96 billion zlotys (19.1m),” Mikolaj Piotrowski said. “This speeding up in infrastructure may add a premium of some 20 billion zlotys by 2020 to the Polish Gross Domestic Product, a premium we would not have if it wasn”t for the Euros.”

Fulham 1 Liverpool 0: Christmas comes early for Jol as Reina gifts Cottagers win

Fulham 1 Liverpool 0: Spearing has off night as midfielder walks for reckless challenge

Premier League highlights

Few grounds can be decorated for the season of goodwill quite as cosily as Craven Cottage, bedecked with fairy lights and holly and a giant Christmas tree outside the dressing rooms.

But if ever a game defied its quaint location then here it was: a thrilling and pulsating skirmish laced with bitter feeling and controversy.

Clint Dempsey scored the only goal, tucking in a rebound after Pepe Reina spilled a shot he ought to have held from Danny Murphy, five minutes from time.

Jumping for joy: Clint Dempsey celebrates after scoring Fulham

Jumping for joy: Clint Dempsey celebrates after scoring Fulham”s winner against Liverpool

MATCH FACTS

Fulham: Schwarzer, Kelly, Hangeland, Senderos, Riise, Dempsey, Murphy (Gecov 90), Etuhu, Ruiz, Dembele, Zamora (Johnson 71).

Subs Not Used: Etheridge, Kasami, Hughes, Frei, Briggs.

Booked: Dembele, Dempsey, Senderos.

Goals: Dempsey 85.

Liverpool: Reina, Johnson, Skrtel, Agger, Jose Enrique, Henderson, Spearing, Adam, Bellamy (Downing 77), Suarez, Carroll (Kuyt 77).

Subs Not Used: Doni, Maxi, Coates, Carragher, Kelly.

Sent Off: Spearing (72).

Booked: Bellamy.

Att: 25,688

Ref: Kevin Friend (Leicestershire).

Liverpool were already a man down after Kevin Friend decided Jay Spearing’s aggressive midfield challenge on Moussa Dembele was reckless enough to be worthy of a red card in the 72nd minute.

Spearing won the ball cleanly but he followed through hard into Dembele’s ankle and left the Belgian writhing on the ground.

Martin Jol thought it was a red card but Liverpool certainly did not, with seven players surrounding referee Friend to dispute the decision, which could easily lead to an FA charge for intimidation.

There was no shortage of flashpoints or talking points. Dempsey clashed angrily with Craig Bellamy in the second half, with Fulham’s match-winner fortunate to stay on the pitch after going head to head and screaming in Bellamy’s face.

It seemed an over-reaction to a clumsy challenge from the Liverpool striker, who stepped on Dempsey’s foot as he chased him from behind. Bellamy pleaded his innocence, wiping his face to suggest he might have been sprayed with spit. Both players were booked.

Philippe Senderos, too, could have been dismissed. He was booked for a cynical foul on Charlie Adam on the edge of the penalty area. It was very close. It could easily have been interpreted as a penalty. Bellamy’s free-kick took a deflection and flashed wide.

Soon after, Senderos dragged Andy Carroll down in an off-the-ball clash. It was caught on the television cameras but it escaped the officials.

Winner: Dempsey slots home after Pepe Reina spilled Danny Murphy

Winner: Dempsey slots home after Pepe Reina spilled Danny Murphy”s effort

Clint Dempsey of Fulham scores the opening goal

From start to finish there was also a running battle between the home crowd and Luis Suarez, which ended with the Uruguayan flicking a finger towards the stands as he left the pitch after the final whistle to chants of ‘Cheat, cheat, cheat’.

He had worked hard up front alongside the largely anonymous Carroll and his frustration built up and boiled over as Liverpool dominated the first half but failed to beat the excellent Mark Schwarzer.

The Aussie keeper made a string of brilliant saves from Carroll, Adam and Jose Enrique but kept his best for the closing minutes, when he tipped a long-range effort from his former Middlesbrough team-mate Stewart Downing on to the post.

Out of order: Liverpool

Out of order: Liverpool”s Luis Suarez made a gesture to Fulham fans after they had taunted the striker

Jordan Henderson also rattled the woodwork in the first half. Collecting the ball on the left, the midfielder quickened his pace and skipped between Dempsey and Murphy before curling the ball towards the far corner.

This time, Schwarzer was well beaten and relieved to see it thud into the post and bounce away to safety. Henderson was involved again, moments later, linking up well to produce another glimpse of goal for Carroll but this time Hangeland’s challenge was enough to deny the 35million England striker.

Harsh Jay Spearing was sent off for this foul on Fulham

Harsh Jay Spearing was sent off for this foul on Fulham”s Mousa Dembele

Suarez took issue with what he thought was too much physical attention from Fulham’s central defenders, Hangeland and Senderos, in the first half.

He raised the issue with referee Friend, who seemed to respond by encouraging the striker to try harder to stay on his feet but the next time Suarez went to ground, Friend blew for a free-kick. Dembele, who made the challenge, kicked the ball away in a temper.

Suarez was jeered off at half-time and tension resurfaced when he burrowed into the Fulham penalty area once again, fell under an innocuous challenge from Hangeland and grabbed the ball.

Incensed: Kenny Dalglish felt Spearing was harshly treated by Kevin Friend

Incensed: Kenny Dalglish felt Spearing was harshly treated by Kevin Friend

On the advice of his linesman, the referee gave a free-kick to Fulham.

Ultimately, Spearing’s red card changed the game, giving Fulham a little extra hope and a little extra space in midfield at a time when they were bracing themselves for a late onslaught from the visitors.

Liverpool had dominated but Jol’s team had always been dangerous on the break and their slick approach helped contribute to a wonderful spectacle.

Controversy: Spearing is given his marching orders (above) as Liverpool

Controversy: Spearing is given his marching orders (above) as Liverpool”s players protest (below)

Liverpool players surround referee Kevin Friend after he sent off Jay Spearing

The initial tackle appeared to have been made just outside the line, but contact continued well inside the area.

Friend was well positioned and refused to award a penalty with Bellamy hitting the free-kick into the wall.

Carroll, Liverpool”s 35million signing from Newcastle, saw a shot head towards the corner flag and was taunted with chants of “what a waste of money”.

Suarez had his goal disallowed and Liverpool”s frustration boiled over in the 72nd minute when Spearing was sent off for his challenge on Dembele.

Crunch: Dempsey and Craig Bellamy came together as they challenged for the ball

Crunch: Dempsey and Craig Bellamy came together as they challenged for the ball

Reina made a good save after only six minutes to thwart Dembele, then another from Dempsey, who also hit the bar with a vicious strike before he scored the winner.

The victory, Fulham’s first at home in the Premier League since they thrashed Queens Park Rangers 6-0 two months ago, relieved the pressure on Jol and eased the team a couple of places away from the relegation zone.

An ankle injury to Murphy in stoppage time, however, marred the celebrations but Fulham’s disappointment will be as nothing compared to Liverpool’s.

Poor show: Andy Carroll (centre) had an off night in front of goal as the striker

Poor show: Andy Carroll (centre) had an off night in front of goal as the striker”s struggles continued

Kenny Dalglish brought the Reds to Craven Cottage after six away wins in succession. They won twice in the neighbourhood against Chelsea and three points last night would have launched them back into the top six, primed for a festive assault on the top spots.

It did not quite go to plan. Spearing’s red card gives the manager a midfield problem after the long-term knee injury suffered by Lucas Leiva, Carroll continues to look like a very expensive misfit and Suarez could be back in bother.

Chelsea must be defensive, like Andre Villas-Boas

Like Villas-Boas, Chelsea must go on the defensive to preserve their Champions League place

However animated Andre Villas-Boas might have been when his side scored their second goal at Newcastle on Saturday, Chelsea’s manager was keeping such emotions in check on Monday night.

He was candid enough in response to certain questions. Particularly when it came to the isolation of Nicolas Anelka and Alex and whether that result at St James’ Park represented a pivotal moment in Chelsea’s season.

‘We would not be arrogant enough to think that,’ he said. ‘Our results have not been impressive and we need to start performing with more consistency before we can believe we are back on track.’

On the defensive: Andre Villas-Boas was giving little away prior to Chelsea

On the defensive: Andre Villas-Boas was giving little away prior to Chelsea”s crunch Champions League clash

But he was also more measured, defensive even; as defensive as his side need to be against Valencia this evening and defensive with regard to what started to feel like the elephant in the room at Stamford Bridge. Basically, what happens should Chelsea fail to progress beyond the first stage of the Champions League

On three occasions Villas-Boas refused to countenance such talk, insisting he had not even thought about the consequences of a result that would propel Valencia into the last 16 and leave Chelsea in UEFA’s second-tier competition for the first time since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003.

Even with home advantage, it is a precarious position Chelsea find themselves in. A win sees them through, as does a goalless draw. But any other result, from a 1-1 draw to a win for a classy Spanish side sitting third in La Liga — one who have won five of their last six league games — leaves Chelsea and their manager facing some rather more difficult questions.

Villas-Boas recognises it will not be easy, not least because the circumstances for both clubs have changed somewhat since they last met back in September.

Stretched: Chelsea have made hard work of their routine Champions League group

Stretched: Chelsea have made hard work of their routine Champions League group

‘Valencia are in a better moment now,’ he said, knowing full well that the same cannot be said of Chelsea.

He can only hope that the events of the weekend do suggest some kind of turning point. The win at Newcastle, the words of support from Didier Drogba, even the fact that the 34-year-old Portuguese has received the backing of his employers in the way he has dealt with Anelka and Alex. On Monday he might have recognised them as ‘top professionals’, but they were not involved in training during the day.

Danger man: Roberto Soldado

Danger man: Roberto Soldado

‘For players on the transfer list the reality is that, eventually, the mind-set is not the same,’ said Villas-Boas.

It sounded brutal even if it probably amounts to the right decision. As long as he has read the situation correctly and believes the dressing room will be comfortable with such treatment of friends and colleagues.

This being Chelsea, the issue of whether the manager had the support of the players was never far away. Villas-Boas insisted he did. ‘Yes,’ he said in direct response to a direct question, having already had the unequivocal support of the articulate Daniel Sturridge.

‘I am behind the manager and I believe everyone else is,’ he said. ‘He’s going to be here for the next three years.’

If Chelsea are eliminated from the competition and poor results then come against Manchester City and Tottenham it becomes a struggle to see Villas-Boas still being around much beyond the next three games.

But there is a feeling at Stamford Bridge that Tuesday night might not be that critical for the manager, and that it is only a ‘life and death’ game within the context of the competition; that only if Chelsea start to slip down the Premier League table and out of contention for next season’s Champions League would Abramovich start to get an itchy trigger finger. History suggests otherwise, but there you go.

More of the same: The wild celebrations at St James

More of the same: The wild celebrations at St James” Park would be most welcome again on Tuesday night at Stamford Bridge

Chelsea v Valencia: Match preview

Clearly, though, a good result would ease the kind of pressure Villas-Boas was obviously under until Salomon Kalou scored in the 89th minute against Newcastle and Chelsea were no longer vulnerable to the kind of late goal that has proved costly already this season.

On this point Villas-Boas was dismissive, however.

‘It’s irrelevant what the game represents to me,’ he said. ‘It represents, for this club, the continuation in this competition or not, so we approach the game with maximum care and with confidence.’

Villas-Boas said that Juan Mata had been useful in preparing for a game against his former club, even if he said it was impossible to ‘guess Valencia’s strategy’.

He spoke of the Spaniards being highly motivated and recognised the threat posed by players such as Jonas, Tino Costa, Jeremy Mathieu and Jordi Alba; not to mention the prolific Roberto Soldado. But he also said Chelsea would not be vulnerable to that classic continental counter-attacking style because of the more ambitious approach he has tried to implement.

‘We have more or less tested four different formations,’ said Villas-Boas. ‘The talent of these players and their qualities allow us to play what is best for the team in a precise moment.’

The key, though, is something Drogba touched on at the weekend when he said the players needed to get behind the manager. ‘There’s full belief in what we’re doing,’ said Villas-Boas. ‘We saw a great team spirit at Newcastle, and to score three there gives the value of this team a lot of credit.’

More credit tonight would still be most welcome. Not least for the manager.