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World Cup Montenegro v England – guide to Montenegro

Meet the men from Montenegro standing in the way of England reaching Brazil 2014

, and the man advantage allowed Montenegro a last minute equalised through Andrija Delibasic.

Brnovic wasn’t able to guide his team through the play-offs, losing 3-0 on aggregate to the Czech Republic, but they’ve been on an eight-match unbeaten run since.

Playing career: Brnovic (right) in action for Yugoslavia in a 2007 match with Switzerland in Basle

Playing career: Brnovic (right) in action for Yugoslavia in a 2007 match with Switzerland in Basle

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How it stands: The Group H table entering the game

How it stands: The Group H table entering the game

This included an impressive 1-0 win in Ukraine in the third round of qualifying that ranks among the country’s best results. They have also drawn 2-2 with Poland, stuffed San Marino 6-0 and 3-0, and triumphed 1-0 with 10 men in Moldova the other night.

A midfielder, Brnovic represented Yugoslavia 27 times during his playing career, scoring three goals. In his club career, he represented FK Partizan Belgrade, helping them to back-to-back national championships, and Espanyol in Spain for six seasons between 1994 and 2000.

Those with exceptional memories for this kind of thing may recall that Brnovic played in three matches for Yugoslavia at the 1998 World Cup in France, as they reached the last 16.

Dismissed! Brnovic's first match at the helm was the 2-2 draw with England in October 2011 that saw Wayne Rooney sent off

Dismissed! Brnovic's first match at the helm was the 2-2 draw with England in October 2011 that saw Wayne Rooney sent off

THE PLAYERS

GOALKEEPERS

Mladen Bozovic

Known as ‘Bonja’, experienced 28-year-old goalkeeper Bozovic plays for Hungarian side Videoton and has 30 caps for his county. He has been in good form of late, as Montenegro have kept four consecutive clean sheets in their World Cup qualification campaign.

Vukasin Poleksic

Poleksic would be a complete unknown but for his alleged involvement in a match-fixing scandal involving Liverpool and his club side Debrecen, of Hungary.

In June 2010, Poleksic, who was once linked with a move to Portsmouth in the Premier League, was banned from football for two years for failing to report a telephone call in which a criminal gang offered him money to fix Champions League matches against Fiorentina and Liverpool.

He continued his career at Debrecen, albeit as second choice, after his ban ended and also has 23 caps for Montenegro.

Srdan Blazic

30-year-old third choice with two caps to his name, currently playing for Nea Salamis Famagusta in Cyprus. At one point played in Belgium with Standard Liege and more recently had an ill-fated spell with Anorthosis Famagusta when his poor performance in a Europa League qualifier with Georgian team Dila Gori led to crowd disturbances.

Pleased as punch: Goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic salutes the travelling fans after his crucial saved earned a 0-0 draw at Wembley in October 2010

Pleased as punch: Goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic salutes the travelling fans after his crucial saved earned a 0-0 draw at Wembley in October 2010

DEFENDERS

Milan Jovanovic

Not to be confused with the Serbian striker of the same name who plays for Anderlecht. The Montenegrin Jovanovic, 29, is a defender who joined Red Star Belgrade last summer and has won 33 caps for his country. Prior to this, Jovanovic had played in Austria, Romania and Serbia.

Savo Pavicevic

Like Jovanovic, Pavicevic was a founding member of the Montenegro national team when they played Hungary in March 2007 (having hitherto been known as Serbia and Montenegro). Another nomad, the 32-year-old has played in Serbia, Germany, Greece, Cyprus and, of late, Israel. He was at Maccabi Tel Aviv until November last year, but is presently with cross-city rivals Hapoel.

Vladimir Bozovic

31-year-old left back who is usually on the bench, Bozovic made his 30th appearance for Montenegro in the 1-0 win over Moldova on Friday. After five years with Rapid Bucharest, he recently departed for Russian Premier League newcomers Mordovia Saransk.

Marko Basa

Among the better known Montenegro players, centre-half Basa is a regular for French side Lille and played in five of their six Champions League group matches this season. With their depleted central defence, England will have to be careful of 6’ 3” Basa’s potency from corners and free-kicks.

After an uncertain start when Basa made a habit of not showing up for international duty, he has since become a regular starter and has 23 caps.

Commanding: Centre-back Marko Basa in action for Montenegro against San Marino in an earlier World Cup qualifier

Commanding: Centre-back Marko Basa in action for Montenegro against San Marino in an earlier World Cup qualifier

Miodrag Dzudovic

Best known for being the target of Wayne Rooney’s ire on the last occasion the two sides met, centre-half Dzudovic is a likely starter having been rested in Moldova on Friday night.

The 33-year-old, who plays for Russian Premier League side Spartak Nalchik, claimed over the weekend that he didn’t provoke the England frontman into lashing out and even spoke up for him at the UEFA disciplinary hearing.

‘I did nothing to provoke him. We didn’t say a single word to each other during the match,’ he said.

‘This was his moment of weakness. He is human, it can happen to anyone.’

Stefan Savic

Manchester City fans will remember 22-year-old centre-half Savic, who had a short spell at the club during the 2011-2012 season following a 6m move from Partizan.

Although occasionally solid during his 20 appearances, mistakes meant he was never likely to replace Vincent Kompany as first choice. He conceded the penalty that allowed Liverpool to gain the first leg advantage in the League Cup semi-final and also gifted Jermain Defoe the equaliser in the league match at the Etihad.

Now at Fiorentina, Savic spoke over the weekend of the welcome England will receive in Podgorica: ‘It is always a hostile atmosphere here and we don’t fear anyone. We just need to be focused and I think the result will come.

‘We have played two games against England and got two draws – now I think maybe it is time for a win.’

English connection: Defender Stefan Savic played for Manchester City during the 2011-2012 season

English connection: Defender Stefan Savic played for Manchester City during the 2011-2012 season

Vladimir Volkov

Left-back who is a relative newcomer to the Montenegrin set-up, Volkov has played for no less than five Belgrade-based teams. Possessing dual Serbian and Montenegrin citizenship, the 26-year-old opted for the latter after Serbia ‘showed no interest’ in him. Nonetheless, he has spent most of his life playing and living in the Serbian capital Belgrade.

Blazo Igumanovic

Defender with one cap to his credit, Igumanovic plays for the Montenegrin side Rudar Pljevlja, who finished second in the national league last season.

Ivan Kecojevic

Recent graduate from the Under 21 set-up, defender Kecojevic also has one cap to his name and plays his football in Turkey for Gaziantepspor.

MIDFIELDERS

Simon Vukcevic

One of the most experienced players in the squad, Vukcevic may be remembered by English fans for his two years at Blackburn Rovers. Despite a dire and ultimately unsuccessful battle against relegation from the top flight, Vukcevic found first team opportunities limited last season following a 3m move from Sporting Lisbon.

He was given a ticket out of Ewood Park on January transfer deadline day this year and has wound up at Ukrainian side Karpaty Lviv, where he seems likely to see more games.

In and around the senior international set-up for nearly a decade, Vukcevic has 41 caps and two goals for Montenegro and five for Serbia and Montenegro before that.

Slide: Simon Vukcevic, the former Blackburn player, tries to win the ball from Ashley Cole

Slide: Simon Vukcevic, the former Blackburn player, tries to win the ball from Ashley Cole

Elsad Zverotic

Zverotic scored one of his three international goals against England in that 2-2 draw in November 2011, one of three in his five years with the national team. The 26-year-old right-sided player plays for Young Boys in Switzerland and scored a memorable late equaliser against Liverpool at Anfield in the Europa League group stage this season.

Milorad Pekovic

Veteran midfielder who has carved out a career in Germany, initially with Eintracht Trier and Mainz, and latterly with Bundesliga strugglers Greuther Furth. Has 31 caps for Montenegro.

Mitar Novakovic

Defensive midfield player who often comes on from the bench, Novakovic has played for Russian team Amkar Perm for five years and has 21 caps for his country.

Milos Krkotic

25-year-old player for Dacia Chisinau in Moldova, Krkotic was on the bench in his adopted homeland the other evening, but didn’t come on for a first cap.

Celebration: Elsad Zverotic (left), Stefan Savic (centre) and Vladimir Bozovic mark the 1-0 win over Moldova on Friday

Celebration: Elsad Zverotic (left), Stefan Savic (centre) and Vladimir Bozovic mark the 1-0 win over Moldova on Friday

STRIKERS

Mirko Vucinic

The closest Montenegro have to a household name, Juventus striker Vucinic once had his creative flair likened to Vincent Van Gogh by a Serie A coach. Brilliant and infuriating in equal measure, England will be hoping it’s the less inspired Vucinic that turns up on Tuesday night.

He’s in decent form though – a fortnight ago, he was combining with Juve midfielder Claudio Marchisio to score a lovely goal against Bologna, and on Friday he won a tricky match in Moldova when his side were down to 10 men.

Former Juventus legend Pavel Nedved sums the 29-year-old up neatly: ‘I love watching him play because he is a genius, a total genius. He can be infuriating with the way he disappears from games.

‘There are times when he is almost invisible and it drives you mad. But then he’ll do something amazing that lifts you out of your seat and you love him for it.’

Chris Smalling and Joleon Lescott, you have been warned…

Mad: Vucinic celebrates in his pants after scoring a goal for Montenegro against Switzerland

Mad: Vucinic celebrates in his pants after scoring a goal for Montenegro against Switzerland

Born in the city of Niksic, Vucinic was talent spotted and transferred to Italian side Lecce in 2000, consistently scoring 20 or more goals in a season as they swapped between Serie A and B.

He then switched to Roma in 2006, scoring 64 goals in 202 matches for the club in his five seasons there. Juventus bought him for around 12m in 2011 and Vucinic won the title in his first season.

Averaging a goal every two games for Montenegro, Vucinic has been performing his national duty in winding up Wayne Rooney during the build-up.

Good record: Vucinic has 14 goals in 30 international appearances

Good record: Vucinic has 14 goals in 30 international appearances

‘There is no doubt that Wayne Rooney is one of the best strikers in the world, but we know from the last time England played here that he can sometimes play with a hot head,’ he said.

‘Our fans will not forget the red card he received and I am sure they will let him know. It is an intimidating place to come and if England want to have any chance then Rooney will need to keep a calm head.

‘He is a good player but it has been proved over the years that you can get a reaction out of him. England would have no chance with 10 men and I’m sure their coach will be telling them that.’

Stevan Jovetic

Linked at the moment with Arsenal and Manchester City, the other half of Montenegro’s deadly attack is Fiorentina’s curly-haired Jovetic.

Jovetic, 23, is on record as saying that the Premier League is ‘the top of the football world’ and Tuesday’s match against England will be something of an audition for him.

Heaven sent: Stevan Jovetic celebrates a goal for Fiorentina against Bologna this season

Heaven sent: Stevan Jovetic celebrates a goal for Fiorentina against Bologna this season

So far, he has 12 goals for his club this season, including a brace against Inter Milan last month. He also has 10 in 21 games for Montenegro since making his debut in that inaugural match against Hungary in 2007.

Andrija Delibasic

Scorer of the last minute equaliser the last time these sides met, Delibasic plays for Rayo Vallecano in Spain, for whom he has four league goals this season. He filed his boots against San Marino earlier in the qualifying campaign, with four in two matches, but is likely to be on the bench against England.

Mental: The scenes after Montenegro scored their equaliser against England in the Euro 2012 qualifier in October 2011

Mental: The scenes after Montenegro scored their equaliser against England in the Euro 2012 qualifier in October 2011

Fatos Beqiraj

Back-up striker who plays in Croatia for Dinamo Zagreb. Last season, Beqiraj was top scorer in the Croatian top flight with 15 goals in 28 appearances, becoming the first foreigner to achieve that feat. The 24-year-old has won 18 caps and scored three times for his country.

Dejan Damjanovic

A long trip home for Damjanovic, who plays out in Korea for FC Seoul. He’s a prolific scorer in the K-League, with 94 goals in 146 appearances over the last five years. Scored the winner in the earlier World Cup qualification match against Ukraine, one of three strikes for Montenegro.

Filip Kasalica

Favoured in Moldova alongside Vucinic and Jovetic, Red Star frontman Kasalica, 24, is a fairly recent graduate from the Under 21 team and has only five caps to his credit so far. Scored his only goal to date in the 2-0 friendly win over Latvia before the start of the qualification campaign.

Chosen men: The Montenegro line-up

Chosen men: The Montenegro line-up

ENGLAND NEED TO WIN THE AERIAL DUELS

With England's first-choice central defensive partnership unavailable, Roy Hodgson will be nervous about our chances of winning the aerial battles.

Montenegro are a team packed with six foot plus players and, unsurprisingly, top the World Cup ranking for headers won.

England, by contrast, are 35th in the same ranking, having won just 46 per cent of their aerial contests.

Cautionary tale: Andrija Delibasic scored with an equaliser the last time the sides met

Cautionary tale: Andrija Delibasic scored with an equaliser the last time the sides met

Watch the skies: Aerial duel statistics from the current World Cup qualifying campaign

Watch the skies: Aerial duel statistics from the current World Cup qualifying campaign. Source: Opta

Montenegro's fearsome defenders will take some beating in the air – Marko Basa is 6' 3″, Miodrag Dzudovic is 6' 5″ and Stefan Savic is 6' 2″ – and so Wayne Rooney and Jermain Defoe need service in to feet.

If they manage to work a shooting opportunity, first choice goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic is 6' 5″.

Up front, in addition to their myriad other qualities, Vucinic (6' 1″) and Jovetic (6' 1″) will give Chris Smalling and Joleon Lescott an uncomfortable time from crosses.

Corners are a concern too, with three of Montenegro's goals in the qualifying campaign coming from them.

Set piece danger: The statistics on corner conversion from the current World Cup qualifying campaign. Source: Opta

Set piece danger: The statistics on corner conversion from the current World Cup qualifying campaign. Source: Opta

PODGORICA CITY STADIUM

Despite only being about the size of Southend United's Roots Hall ground, England will face a hostile reception at the Podgorica City Stadium.

Holding 12,000 spectators, the home of FK Buducnost Podgorica was scene of the 2-2 draw between the sides in November 2011, when home fans raised the atmosphere, Wayne Rooney was sent off and England let slip a two-goal lead.

Compact: The 12,000-capacity Podgorica Stadium which will host the match on Tuesday

Compact: The 12,000-capacity Podgorica Stadium which will host the match on Tuesday

Rustic: One of the turnstiles at the stadium, where about 1,300 England fans will be in attendance

Rustic: One of the turnstiles at the stadium, where about 1,300 England fans will be in attendance

There were chaotic scenes at the end, too, as home fans poured onto the pitch to confront the 1,100 travelling England contingent.

'At our home nobody takes points off us easily. Who knows what might happen if the weather is not good and the pitch will not be in perfect shape It could help us,' said Dejan Damjanovic.

Hostile: Home fans celebrate on the pitch and goad England supporters after the 2-2 draw in 2011

Hostile: Home fans celebrate on the pitch and goad England supporters after the 2-2 draw in 2011

PREVIOUS MEETINGS

Aside from that 2-2 draw already alluded to, the only previous meeting between England and Montenegro in their current guise was a drab 0-0 draw at Wembley earlier in the same Euro 2012 qualifying campaign.

Fabio Capello's side dominated possession in the October 2010 encounter but Wayne Rooney was subdued and was denied by goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic from snatching all three point at the end.

Montenegro's Milan Jovanovic struck the crossbar from long range with only seven minutes left.

Denied: Kevin Davies, a sub, tries to turn the ball home under pressure from Marko Basa and goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic in the 0-0 draw at Wembley in October 2010

Denied: Kevin Davies, a sub, tries to turn the ball home under pressure from Marko Basa and goalkeeper Mladen Bozovic in the 0-0 draw at Wembley in October 2010

Dejection: England trudge off after the drab goalless draw in the Euro 2012 qualifier

Dejection: England trudge off after the drab goalless draw in the Euro 2012 qualifier

The line-ups that night:

England: Hart, Glen Johnson, Ferdinand, Lescott, Ashley Cole, Adam Johnson, Gerrard, Barry, Young (Wright-Phillips 74), Rooney, Crouch (Davies 69)

Montenegro: Mladen Bozovic, Basa, Jovanovic, Djudovic, Savic, Vukcevic, Zverotic, Boskovic (Beciraj 82), Novakovic (Kascelan 62), Pekovic, Djalovic (Delibasic 77)

England played Serbia and Montenegro once, a 2-1 win in a friendly at the Walkers Stadium in Leicester in June 2003 in which Steven Gerrard and Joe Cole scored.

MONTENEGRO'S REMAINING FIXTURES

June 7 Ukraine (H) September 6 Poland (A) October 11 England (A) October 15 Moldova (H)

Neil Lennon unhappy that Rangers are to keep league titles

Lennon unhappy that Rangers are to keep league titles despite being found guilty of undisclosed payments

By
Ronnie Esplin

PUBLISHED:

15:54 GMT, 1 March 2013

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UPDATED:

19:08 GMT, 1 March 2013

Neil Lennon struggled to hide his unhappiness at the punishment imposed yesterday on oldco Rangers by an independent commission who found the Ibrox club guilty of undisclosed payments to players.

The three-man Scottish Premier League-appointed body – chaired by Lord Nimmo Smith – handed out a fine of 250,000 for not disclosing side-letter arrangements during 2000-2011.

However, the Ibrox club avoided the most severe possible sanction of losing up to five SPL titles won during the period investigated after the commission ruled Rangers 'did not gain any unfair competitive advantage'.

Unhappy: Celtic manager Neil Lennon feels Rangers haven't been punished harshly enough

Unhappy: Celtic manager Neil Lennon feels Rangers haven't been punished harshly enough

Ahead of the William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-final tie against St Mirren in Paisley tomorrow, the Celtic boss appeared angry when asked about the verdict.

'I only saw some snippets in the paper today, I believe they were found guilty of paying 47million over 11 years in non-disclosed payments.

'Am I surprised at that, no

Rare boost: Ally McCoist has had little reason to celebrate since succeeding Walter Smith as Rangers boss

Rare boost: Ally McCoist has had little reason to celebrate since succeeding Walter Smith as Rangers boss

'As regards the competitive advantage they gained or didn’t gain, a lot of other people will have a say on that, I have my own views on that but I will keep that to myself for now.

'I don’t want to take anything away from what my team and club are doing.

'The way we behave, the way we do our business has been impeccable and that’s the reason why we are in the position we are in now.'

When asked about the belief from
Ibrox that the club were vindicated by the decision, the former Hoops
skipper said: 'Maybe that’s because they got their own way.

'It
wasn’t our fight, it was the SPL, they brought up the tribunal against
Rangers, it doesn’t affect us, we have the quarter-final to prepare for
and we are playing Juventus in the last 16 of the Champions league.'

Focused: Lennon must prepare his side to travel to Juventus in the Champions League

Focused: Lennon must prepare his side to travel to Juventus in the Champions League

Celtic said in a statement they
are 'surprised' by the Scottish Premier League-appointed commission's
conclusion.

The statement continued: 'Throughout
this matter, Celtic has refrained from comment on the affairs of Rangers
FC while the various tribunals and commissions went about their work.

'We will continue to concentrate on
our own affairs, and assure our supporters that at all times we will
operate within both the rules of our governing bodies and the law of the
land.

'Our Club is in a great place at the
moment and we are enjoying a fantastic season, maintaining our position
at the top of Scottish football and enjoying huge success and profile
across European football.

'We ask our fans to unite with us
once again as we look ahead to the rest of the season, to the Scottish
Cup on Saturday, to the UEFA Champions League next week and to an
exciting future with a young squad of high quality players and a
talented manager in Neil Lennon.

'Our fans have been magnificent this
season, home and away, and as we head towards the end of the season,
now, more than ever, we need our fans to be with us and to back the team
and the club. We sincerely thank our fans for their continued support.'

Fed Cup team will fight Argentina for promotion in World Group II play-offs

Fed Cup to fight Argentina for promotion in World Group II play-offs

By
Liv Lee

PUBLISHED:

10:51 GMT, 13 February 2013

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UPDATED:

12:14 GMT, 13 February 2013

The Fed Cup team's next opponent has been announced and the British squad will take on Argentina on April 20-21.

The team reached the World Group II play-offs after beating Bosnia, Portugal, Hungary and Bulgaria in the Europe/Africa Zone Group I.

It's the second consecutive year that the team has reached this stage in the competition, having lost to Sweden in the play-offs last year. This time they are determined not to let a promotion to the second tier of the competition slip through their fingers.

The Fed Cup team celebrated on court following their win over Bulgaria

Victorious: The Fed Cup team celebrated on court after making it to the World Group II play-offs

Unfortunately for the British team they won't have the home advantage, as Argentina were drawn as the hosts.

However, they will travel there with two players who have recently been pushing for a top 40 spot, while Argentina's top player, Paula Ormaechea, is currently ranked 195th, and may not even be available for the tie after picking up an injury against Sweden.

Britain's No 1 and No 2, Heather Watson and Laura Robson, both proved their mettle in last week's group tie's, with only one loss between them.

Team captain Judy Murray seemed enthusiastic about the draw, tweeting: 'Buenos dias Buenos Aires. Vamos @HeatherWatson92 @laurarobson5 @JoKonta91 @annekeothavong @ElenaBaltacha xxxxx #GBFedCup'

Anne Keothavong also seemed happy with the draw, tweeting: 'Argentina. Away. April. Bring it on! #GBFedCup.'

Wigan hoping for repeat win over Manchester United – Roberto Martinez

'Desperate' Wigan are out to repeat historic victory over United, warns Martinez

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UPDATED:

22:30 GMT, 31 December 2012

May 13, 2012, will go down in Premier League history as the day Manchester United lost the title on goal difference with practically the last kick of the season.

Those who witnessed United's alarming collapse over those final few weeks, however, know that it began long before Sergio Aguero's unforgettable goal for Manchester City left Sir Alex Ferguson and his players bereft on the pitch at Sunderland.

April 11, to be precise. United were eight points clear with six games left and odds-on for the title when the wheels began to come off on a fateful Wednesday night at Wigan, Shaun Maloney's second-half strike condemning the champions to a shock 1-0 defeat that turned the title race.

Desperate: Wigan has warned Sir Alex Ferguson that his Wigan side are desperate for points

Desperate: Wigan has warned Sir Alex Ferguson that his Wigan side are desperate for points

United go back to the DW Stadium on Tuesday with a seven-point advantage knowing they can ill afford another slip with second-placed City once again leading the chase.

Roberto Martinez is convinced the secret behind one of the most famous results in Wigan's history was sheer desperation to win points in their own battle against relegation, which made his players focus on their own game rather than the calibre of their opponents.

Worryingly for United, the Wigan boss believes they are just as desperate this time around.

'Nobody could have expected what was going to happen in the following weeks,' said Martinez. 'But last season we had such a massive need to get points we couldn't afford to look who we were playing against. Too many times in the past we'd played Manchester United and that affected us.

'That day we learned we had to play Wigan Athletic.

Next in town: Alex Ferguson and his players will try to avenge last season's defeat at the DW

Next in town: Alex Ferguson and his players will try to avenge last season's defeat at the DW

In the spotlight: Ashley Young and Co will be expected to leave with all three points

In the spotlight: Ashley Young and Co will be expected to leave with all three points

'The desperation factor is still there. We need to understand that 18 points at this stage of this season is desperation.

'We're not happy with that points tally, it's nowhere near good enough. There is desperation going into every game left at home this season, and Manchester United is no different.'

Wigan's impressive financial figures for the year ending May 31, released on Monday, underline the gulf between the two clubs. Despite adding to the squad, their wage bill has dropped to 37.7million compared to a whopping 160m paid out at Old Trafford.

Soaring: Wigan battered Aston Villa 3-0 away from home

Soaring: Wigan battered Aston Villa 3-0 away from home

Easily done Emmerson Boyce celebrates after scoring the second at Villa Park

Easily done Emmerson Boyce celebrates after scoring the second at Villa Park

Indeed, before Maloney's stunner in April, United had never dropped so much as a single point to their opponents in 13 encounters. The aggregate score for the previous five was 21-0.

Normal service was resumed when United won 4-0 at Old Trafford in September, and Martinez has warned his players not to dwell on the events of last season.

'It would be very dangerous to think what happened that day will happen again,' he said. 'If we do that we're in for a very long game.

'We have that recent picture of what's required to beat a team like Manchester United but I don't think the result last season will change the way they approach the game.

'They're going to come here believing they're the team that's going to win the title and to get the three points. You need to overcome that feeling of superiority.'

Remember this, Fergie Shaun Maloney fired home the decisive goal last season

Remember this, Fergie Shaun Maloney fired home the decisive goal last season

Remember this, Fergie Shaun Maloney fired home the decisive goal last season

If there is any encouragement for Wigan, it is that an alarming number of the 28 Premier League goals conceded by United this season have been against teams in the bottom half of the table.

'We've conceded 28 and it's only New Year,' said Ferguson. 'I remember one season with Peter Schmeichel we conceded a lot less than that over the whole season.

'We're stretching ourselves all the time. We've been forced to up the ante all the time because we're losing goals. If we stop giving them away we've got a great chance.'

London Welsh 15 Wasps 34

London Welsh 15 Wasps 34: Super Simpson gets his side in contention for top four spot

PUBLISHED:

18:16 GMT, 29 December 2012

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UPDATED:

18:16 GMT, 29 December 2012

A brilliant try from scrum-half Joe Simpson was the highlight of London Wasps' bonus point victory as they did the Aviva Premiership double over London Welsh this season.

Simpson had an outstanding game as Wasps came from behind with tries from wing Elliot Daly, replacement prop Will Taylor and, right at the end, a fourth try for wing Tom Varndell.

Welsh fly-half Gordon Ross kicked all his side's points with five penalties, while Wasps fly-half Nicky Robinson landed three penalties, Daly booted one and replacement stand-off Stephen Jones kicked the only conversion of the match.

Crunch: Hugo Southwell of Wasps is tackled by Franck Montanella

Crunch: Hugo Southwell of Wasps is tackled by Franck Montanella

Wasps were looking for to repeat their win over the Exiles at Adams Park, Wycombe, back in October.

Welsh, meanwhile, needed to bounce back from a 13-6 loss at Worcester.

Although not in any immediate danger at the wrong end of the table after basement side Sale Sharks beat Worcester on Friday night, revenge on their near neighbours would be welcome for head coach Lyn Jones if only to steer them further away from the dogfight below them.

The first half-hour was dominated by the boot, both with positional kicks and shots at goal, as first Welsh took a six-point advantage and then saw it clawed back by their visitors.

There was not a great deal to choose between them up front but the most obvious mistake made by the field kickers, Welsh full-back Tom Arscott a particular offender – was booting the ball straight into touch and losing the territory that would have gained.

Wasps could have led handsomely at the interval had they taken the majority of their goal kicks. Daly missed a long-range effort for the visitors before an excellent scrum from the Exiles and an offside decision given their way saw Ross secure two successes.

On the move: Elliot Daly of Wasps (left) gets going as his side did the double over London Welsh

On the move: Elliot Daly of Wasps (left) gets going as his side did the double over London Welsh

But the lead did not last long as ex-Wales international Robinson levelled matters with two penalties but then sent two more penalties wide of the uprights from similar distances of 25 metres.

Ross, on the other hand, was deadly accurate at that short range. As Welsh frustrated their opponents and the front row of Franck Montanella, Neil Briggs and James Tideswell caused havoc for opponents Zak Taulafo, Rhys Thomas and Phil Swainston, Ross secured another two goals to take his side into a 12-6 interval lead.

But, even though the ball may have been greasy from the earlier rain, there was little excuse for a poor first-half with hardly any invention in attack towards either try-line.

Robinson reduced the arrears after the break to three points with his third penalty before a piece of individual magic took the match up a gear.

In what will surely be one of the contenders for try of the season, Simpson took the ball from a line-out thirty metres from the Welsh line, went through a gap at the back and embarked on a diagonal sprint across the pitch.

Rough and tumble: Ed Jackson of London Welsh is tackled by Joe Launchbury (right)

Rough and tumble: Ed Jackson of London Welsh is tackled by Joe Launchbury (right)

He looked to be going nowhere but somehow found a gap towards the line. The scrum-half ran through three tackles and got past desperate defence on the line to touch down and leave everyone in the crowd amazed.

Robinson failed with the conversion but that put Wasps two points to the good and, when Daly kicked a thumping penalty from fully 53 metres, it was the turning point of the contest.

Wasps were on top and they threatened to leave Welsh with nothing to show for their efforts when Daly sprinted down the right wing to just get in for the second try of the game .

Welsh would not lay down, and Ross' fifth penalty put them within sight of Wasps. But a final killer converted try from replacement Will Taylor saw Wasps home and dry.

Vardnell went over on 83 minutes to get the bonus point and put Wasps challenging for a top four place on Saturday night.

Kell Brook v Devon Alexander confirmed for February 23in Detroit

Brook vows to bring world title back to Britain as Alexander bout is confirmed

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UPDATED:

11:43 GMT, 18 December 2012

Kell Brook will challenge for Devon Alexander's IBF world welterweight title on February 23 in Detroit.

The Sheffield star had been pencilled in to fight the American next month in either Los Angeles or Las Vegas but an ankle injury forced the bout to be delayed.

The 26-year-old earned the right to face Alexander by stopping Hector Saldivia inside three rounds in the final eliminator in Sheffield in October.

The Special One: Kell Brook will head to Detroit in February for a crack at the IBF welterweight title

The Special One: Kell Brook will head to Detroit in February for a crack at the IBF welterweight title

Brook tweeted this morning: 'Feb 23 I'm gonna show the world just how Special I am. I'm gonna bring this world title home for Britain.'

Richard Schaefer, CEO of Alexander's promoters Golden Boy, confirmed the fight could be one of three world title bouts.

'We'll have two world title fights, and it could turn out to be three, so if we bring three world title fights, including one with hometown champion [Cornelius] 'K9' Bundrage, I think we will do darn well there,' he told ESPN.

Home advantage: Devon Alexander will be defending his crown on home soil

Home advantage: Devon Alexander will be defending his crown on home soil

'Detroit is a great fight town.

Alexander won the IBF strap with a unanimous decision over Randall Bailey just hours after Brook's decisive victory.

The 25-year-old is a two-weight world champion having previously held the IBF and WBC light-welterweight titles before losing to Timothy Bradley in January.

Blackpool 2 Blackburn 0 match report: Wes Thomas and Kirk Broadfoot put Henning Berg under more pressure

Blackpool 2 Blackburn 0: Appleton's unbeaten run goes on but it's more gloom for Berg

PUBLISHED:

17:25 GMT, 15 December 2012

|

UPDATED:

17:25 GMT, 15 December 2012

Blackpool netted a goal in each half to see off Blackburn and maintain boss Michael Appleton's unbeaten start to life at Bloomfield Road.

Rovers had more than their fair share of chances in the first half but Wes Thomas had headed Blackpool in front by the time Simon Vukcevic rattled the post for the visitors.

Henning Berg's side were unable to muster anything like a similar threat in a second half of few chances, and switched off late on to let former Rangers defender Kirk Broadfoot net a first Seasiders goal.

Advantage Blackpool: Wes Thomas hit the first at Bloomfield Road

Advantage Blackpool: Wes Thomas hit the first at Bloomfield Road

Match facts

Blackpool: Gilks, Baptiste, Broadfoot, Cathcart, Harris, Osbourne, Gomes, Martinez, Delfouneso, Thomas (Taylor-Fletcher 69), Ince (Dicko 82). Subs not used: Halstead, Eardley, Kevin Phillips, Noguera, Bruna.

Goals: Thomas 22, Broadfoot 81.

Blackburn: Kean, Henley, Dann, Givet, Martin Olsson, Vukcevic (Rochina 74), Lowe, Etuhu, King, Rhodes, Kazim-Richards. Subs not used: Robinson, Dunn, Pedersen, Grant Hanley, Ribeiro, Rosado.

Booked: King.

Att: 15,907.

Ref: Graham Scott.

The latest Championship table, fixtures and results

Appleton has now masterminded two
wins from three outings, having begun his tenure as Ian Holloway's
replacement with four consecutive draws.

The result moves Blackpool three
points and four places above Blackburn, who are floundering in 15th
place in the npower Championship having won once during Berg's nine
matches at the helm.

Bob Harris enjoyed his second start
of the season for Blackpool at left-back in place of the suspended
Steven Crainey, while Gary Taylor-Fletcher was named among the
substitutes after recovering from a hamstring injury.

Berg sprung a surprise by dropping
former England goalkeeper Paul Robinson and naming Jake Kean in his
starting XI – one of four changes to the Blackburn side thrashed 4-1 by
Cardiff eight days ago as Gael Givet, Colin Kazim-Richards and Vukcevic
earned recalls.

Blackpool were perhaps surprised by
the sight of on-loan Galatasaray forward Kazim-Richards launching a
long-throw in the second minute and Vukcevic was allowed space to fire
over.

The visitors were quickest out of the
blocks and Seasiders defender Craig Cathcart required a last-ditch
challenge to deny Jordan Rhodes from Kazim-Richards' cross, before Matt
Gilks made saves in quick succession to thwart Rhodes and Vukcevic.

Opening his account: Kirk Broadfoot (back right) nods Blackpool's second - his first for the club since joining from Rangers

Opening his account: Kirk Broadfoot (back right) nods Blackpool's second – his first for the club since joining from Rangers

It was therefore against the run of
play when Nathan Delfouneso crossed from the left for Thomas to glance
in with the assistance of a statuesque Blackburn defence in the 24th
minute.

Dickson Etuhu had a chance to bring
Blackburn level after the half hour but shot wide from Josh King's
clipped cross as Blackpool failed to fully clear a corner.

Kean was nearly caught out by a
clever Tiago Gomes free-kick from the left before Scott Dann produced a
vital block to divert an Ince effort at the end of a solo run into the
side netting.

But it was almost all-square at the break as Vukcevic rattled the post with a shot on the turn.

Kazim-Richards and Thomas both hobbled back into the action following injury scares during a scrappy start to the second half.

England Under 21 winger Ince appeared
the most likely source of extending Blackpool's lead and, after
breaking free of the Rovers defence to test Kean low to his right, he
exchanged passes with Harris for the latter to fire over in the 65th
minute.

Harris managed to extend Kean when
the Rovers keeper pushed a rasping free-kick behind, but the points were
made safe from the resulting corner.

Gomes' outswinging delivery from the right found Broadfoot to thump home unmarked with nine minutes to play.

Givet thought he had a consolation
but was flagged offside before Dann almost compounded Rovers' misery by
heading against his own post in stoppage time.

Manchester City will always be Manchester United"s little brothers – Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Solskjaer taunts City with 'little brother' jibe ahead of season's first Manchester derby

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UPDATED:

08:31 GMT, 7 December 2012

Manchester United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has ramped up the tension ahead of Sunday’s derby by belittling rivals City as United’s ‘little brother’ who will never take their place as the ‘big brother’ in the relationship.

The first Manchester showdown of the Barclays Premier League season is already being billed as a key match in the title race ahead of the busy Christmas schedule.

The pair have already established a massive advantage at the top of the table over third-placed Chelsea.

Taunt: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (left) raised tensions ahead of the derby

Taunt: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (left) raised tensions ahead of the derby

City won the title last season in virtually the last minute of the last game, in one of the most spectacular days in Premier League history.

But Solskjaer, who scored 126 goals in 366 appearances in an 11-year career at Old Trafford, believes the 19-time English champions will remain the dominant figure in the relationship.

He told the BBC’s Football Focus: ‘Manchester United have always stood up again and bounced back, it’s just in the DNA.

‘When you get disappointments you bounce back.

Bouncing back: Manchester United were beaten in midweek while City also suffered European disappointment

Bouncing back: Manchester United were beaten in midweek while City also suffered European disappointment

Down and out: Manchester City also suffered European disappointment

‘It’s always this thing about being the big brother and the little brother coming to try to overtake the big brother.

‘That always happens in families and in clubs – the young player hoping to take the old player’s position – and City are hoping to overtake United. I don’t think they’ll ever be able to.'

Solskjaer, the super sub who has become a successful manager with Norwegian champions Molde, believes United will show enough of their traditional fight to wrestle the title back off their noisy neighbours.

‘The start of this season has been good, not brilliant, but United are always improving throughout the season,’ he said.

Rivalry: Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini will face each other once more on Sunday

Rivalry: Sir Alex Ferguson and Roberto Mancini will face each other once more on Sunday

‘Man United have over the years, and through their history, won in dramatic fashion and in the club’s history you’ve had so many disappointments, like the [Munich air] disaster, and they have always stood up again and bounced back.’

Meanwhile, Ryan Giggs has admitted both Manchester clubs head into Sunday's derby showdown still struggling to recapture last season's form.

United are three points ahead of unbeaten City, who themselves are seven clear of third-placed Chelsea.

On top: Manchester City won the last derby on their way to clinching the Premier League title

On top: Manchester City won the last derby on their way to clinching the Premier League title

Manchester City's Belgian captain Vincent Kompany (C) prepares to lift the Premier league trophy

Yet the duo have come in for strong criticism, which has intensified this week following the Red Devils' woeful defending at Reading and the Blues' dismal Champions League exit on the back of the worst performance by an English team in the competition's history.

'We are both in a similar situation,' said Giggs

'We are in a good position in the league but haven't hit the form we did in parts last season.

'That can be frustrating because we want perfection.

Knockout: United's only derby victory last season came in the FA Cup

Knockout: United's only derby victory last season came in the FA Cup

'We want to be the best team and each individual wants to be the best player.

'We must be doing something right because we are in a good position and there is the belief we can score goals.

'But that doesn't mean we should neglect our defending and not try and stop the goals we are leaking because we need to stop conceding them.'

Twickenham crowd must match Welsh noise makers – Chris Foy

Crowd at HQ must roar to silence wails of the Welsh

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UPDATED:

23:22 GMT, 6 December 2012

It must be some kind of record. Almost three years before England v Wales at the next World Cup and the mutual antagonism is already evident.

When the draw was made on Monday for the
2015 tournament, Welsh Rugby Union chief executive Roger Lewis caught
the host nation on the hop by offering to stage the Pool A clash between
the old foes in Cardiff. England’s stunned response was of the ‘thanks,
but no thanks’ variety.

Let’s cut through the sabre-rattling here. The game will not take place in Cardiff. That scenario is unthinkable. It is England’s event and although much is made of the organisers being independent of the RFU, conceding home advantage to their near neighbours is a non-starter.

Turn it up: Twickenham Stadium needs to bring the noise against Wales

Turn it up: Twickenham Stadium needs to bring the noise against Wales

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The Millennium Stadium will be used as a World Cup venue on the simple basis that it suits English requirements. It satisfies the need for a geographical spread of matches. The West Country has a passion for rugby but lacks big stadiums, so taking games to Cardiff ticks a strategic box.

While there is no realistic prospect of England v Wales taking place there, Lewis will lobby strongly for the Millennium Stadium to host Wales v Australia. He will press his point on the basis that the home of Welsh rugby is ‘the best rugby stadium in the world’. He’s right. It is.

Located in the heart of Cardiff, on matchdays it is the heart of Cardiff, with a loud pulse all of its own. Twickenham is bigger, but the Millennium’s stands are steeper and closer, creating an intensity of atmosphere which is enhanced when the roof is shut.

So much is about the people. In Cardiff, there is fervent support, in London it is more passive.

Many Twickenham patrons turn up to be entertained, as if at the opera, while their Welsh counterparts embrace an interactive experience. There are contrasting demographics and they create a contrasting backdrop.

England’s players talk dutifully of wonderful support, but in truth they largely have to perform for their crowd, rather than feed off vocal backing.

Even when the hordes responded to the Haka last Saturday by singing Swing Low, there was one full-throttle rendition, then an almost apologetic second take which petered out into murmuring near-silence.

Ultimately, the England v Wales pool game at the World Cup won’t be staged at the Millennium, but perhaps the away players from the ‘host’ nation would be more inspired by the commotion if it was.

Commotion: There is normally a great atmosphere in the Millenium Stadium

Commotion: There is normally a great atmosphere in the Millenium Stadium

How are the Lions looking

Now that the dust has settled on the autumn Tests, it’s another opportune moment to predict how the Lions might line up for their first Test against Australia in June.

Based partly on form and partly on long-standing personal preference, a possible matchday 23 is listed below. One striking factor is the physical power of what would surely be the most imposing threequarter line the Lions have ever mustered, plus a bench role for that great wasted Welsh talent, James Hook.

Chris Foy’s latest Lions matchday Test squad: Halfpenny; Visser, Tuilagi, Roberts, North; Sexton, B Youngs; Healy, Hartley, Cole; Parling, Gray; Wood, Heaslip, Warburton (capt). Replacements: Best, Corbisiero, A Jones, Lawes, Robshaw, Phillips, Hook, Foden.

Wasted talent: Chris Foy would include James Hook on the bench

Wasted talent: Chris Foy would include James Hook on the bench

Captain Chris tackles his critics

Among modern sporting cliches, ‘he does his talking on the pitch’ is particularly well-worn, but it was a fitting summary of Chris Robshaw’s defiant work last weekend.

He had been lambasted for a close call at the end of England’s defeat against South Africa, but the national captain presented a stoic face and responded with stirring deeds in the epic win over New Zealand.

Once again, his leadership was confirmed by the raft of post-match data, which showed he was England’s leading carrier and second in the tackle count, with 19, missing none. What was most illuminating was that Robshaw hit 27 rucks, while blindside flanker Tom Wood led that list with 39.

This indicates that the back-row balance was right. Put these two together and they cover all bases required of a 6-7 combination, with a blurring of the demarcation lines, which works well.

This may present problems for Tom Croft when he is fit to press for a recall, as the rangy Tiger is a different beast entirely and his lesser impact at the breakdown means he may struggle to break up the Wood-Robshaw axis.

Stepping up: Chris Robshaw showed his worth against the All Blacks

Stepping up: Chris Robshaw showed his worth against the All Blacks

The Last Word

One of the most daunting challenges for World Cup organisers will be to sell out large stadiums in the north, but it appears the RFU aren’t rushing to assist. There have been suggestions that, prior to the tournament, a major Test could be relocated to a northern venue such as Old Trafford, but that concept now appears to be on ice. The reason is — shock, horror — money.

RFU chief executive Ian Ritchie said: ‘There are financial imperatives. If Xmillion doesn’t come in because we don’t play at Twickenham, how many regional development officers is that worth I don’t think we would be dashing to do it (play in the north).

Also, is a single match really going to transform things’

First of all, it is outrageously simplistic to say moving a Test up north = less revenue = reduction in grass-roots funding. The RFU spend a lot of money on a lot of things, not just development officers. Old Trafford’s capacity is only 6,000 below Twickenham’s and it has ample corporate facilities, so why not take a modest monetary ‘hit’ for the good of the game The answer is tied up in considerations such as the debenture scheme at HQ, which discourages an ‘away-day’ Test.

Ritchie cannot dismiss that concept, then argue — as he did — that taking the Saxons up north is a viable solution. Only the senior team against ‘A’-list rivals will have the desired effect.

Ryan Giggs says Liverpool are bigger rivals than Manchester City

Liverpool are our biggest rivals: United veteran Giggs stokes fire by downplaying significance of Manchester derby

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UPDATED:

15:44 GMT, 6 December 2012

Ryan Giggs has claimed that facing Liverpool is a bigger match for Manchester United and a bigger test for any United player than taking on Premier League rivals City in the Manchester derby.

United and City are limping into the first showdown of the season, which takes place on Sunday, following midweek Champions League defeats, yet their dominance of the Premier League scene is such that the pair have already established a massive advantage over third-placed Chelsea, enough for many to render this season’s title battle a two-horse race.

The pair’s scrap for honours last season was only decided in virtually the last minute of the last game, when Sergio Aguero scored the goal that sent the Blues into ecstasy, but 39-year-old Giggs, who boasts a record 35 appearances in the fixture, refuses to lift City above any of the other fierce rivalries United have had down the years.

Downplayed: Ryan Giggs claims that United's rivalry with Liverpool is greater than the one shared with neighbours Manchester City

Downplayed: Ryan Giggs claims that United's rivalry with Liverpool is greater than the one shared with neighbours Manchester City

'It doesn’t mean anything extra because it is City,’ said Giggs. ‘Liverpool has always been the biggest rival for me. It has always been the biggest test.

'There are different rivalries. Arsenal were a brilliant team and we had some ferocious battles with them. Chelsea were also a brilliant team under (Jose) Mourinho and now City are a good team as well.

'The added dynamic is that they are on our doorstep. But we still want to win the league no matter who we are competing against.'

It is well over two decades ago now that Giggs turned up for training at City’s youth set-up wearing a United kit, eventually jumping at the chance to switch to the club he supported and has now made 920 appearances after captaining the Red Devils in their 1-0 Champions League defeat to CFR Cluj last night.

Until 2008, the thought City might actually deprive him of silverware was laughable.
Sheikh Mansour’s deep pockets have changed all that though.

And whilst Giggs agrees with Sir Alex Ferguson’s assessment that Chelsea cannot be written off, after losing out on goal difference to a side they failed to collect a single point off in their two meetings last term, the Welshman is aware how significant Sunday’s game can be.

Backlash: Both City and United suffered defeats in the Champions League this week

Backlash: Both City and United suffered defeats in the Champions League this week

Backlash: Both City and United suffered defeats in the Champions League this week

'We have found over the last couple of years that the derby, with the money City have spent and the quality they have brought in, has got bigger and bigger,' said Giggs.

'The two games against them were the difference last season. Hopefully we can get the right result and that will be the difference come the end of this season.'

It promises to be a fascinating occasion, not least because of the obvious flaws in their respective make-ups.

Bigger test: Giggs claims that travelling to Anfield to face the likes of Luis Suarez (right) is a greater challenge for United players

Bigger test: Giggs claims that travelling to Anfield to face the likes of Luis Suarez (right) is a greater challenge for United players

Old and new: Ryan Giggs takes on City's Neil Pointon in 1991

Old and new: Ryan Giggs takes on City's Neil Pointon in 1991

Still going: Giggs has made his fair share of appearances against both Liverpool and City

Still going: Giggs has made his fair share of appearances against both Liverpool and City

City remain unbeaten. Yet they crashed out of Europe altogether this week after the worst Champions League performance by an English club in the competition’s history and have drawn three of their last six games in the Premier League.

United boast the league leadership, but in doing so have conceded 21 goals – more than relegation threatened Sunderland – and Sir Alex Ferguson said earlier this week if there was any repeat of the appalling defending on show at Reading last weekend ‘God knows what will happen’.

'We are both in a similar situation,' said Giggs.

'We are in a good position in the league but haven’t hit the form we did in parts last season.

'That can be frustrating because we want perfection.

What a goal: Wayne Rooney scored a magnificent bicycle kick to see off City at Old Trafford

What a goal: Wayne Rooney scored a magnificent bicycle kick to see off City at Old Trafford

Heated: The two Manchester clubs have provided some thrilling encounters in recent years

Heated: The two Manchester clubs have provided some thrilling encounters in recent years

'We want to be the best team and each individual wants to be the best player.

'We must be doing something right because we are in a good position and there is the belief we can score goals.

'But that doesn’t mean we should neglect our defending and not try and stop the goals we are leaking because we need to stop conceding them.'

It is a point Ferguson has drilled home countless times this season already.

And it is one that is steering the United boss towards a feeling Sunday’s game will be a sterile affair.

New recruit: Robin van Persie will look to mark his first Manchester derby with a goal

New recruit: Robin van Persie will look to mark his first Manchester derby with a goal

'On paper, it is a match between the two best teams in the country,' Ferguson told United Review.

'As the table tells us, there is not much between us.

'We need to come out unscathed and with so much at stake I wonder if there will be a little bit of caution from both clubs.

'Roberto Mancini and I will both have to think deeply about our selections and tactics and there may well be an element of playing safe.'