Tag Archives: bookings

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England must wise up to referees – Joleon Lescott

England must wise up to referees, claims Lescott after Gerrard sees red

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UPDATED:

22:36 GMT, 12 September 2012

Joleon Lescott says England need to come to terms with different refereeing standards to avoid a repeat of the flurry of yellow and red cards handed out against Ukraine.

Defender Lescott was one of five England players booked by Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir, who also sent off skipper Steven Gerrard for two yellow cards in the World Cup qualifier at Wembley.

Four of the bookings in the 1-1 draw came for leading with the arm in aerial challenges.

Early bath: Steven Gerrard was sent off as England drew with Ukraine

Early bath: Steven Gerrard was sent off as England drew with Ukraine

Lescott said: 'Maybe the bookings give the impression England were a physical team. That was not the case.

'If you look at the challenges and the cards given, they were a bit harsh but it is different to the Premier League.

'We know being as physical is not allowed at international level so we know we need to be patient at times. They let things go in the Premier League.

'It is something players have to get used to, definitely. But most of us have played at international level before so we know what it is about.

'Did we have a bad rub of green with the referee Maybe, but like I said, we know the standard of refereeing is totally different to the Premier League.'

Flurry: Joleon Lescott was among the England players booked against Ukraine

Flurry: Joleon Lescott was among the England players booked against Ukraine

Gerrard's red card means he will miss the home clash with minnows San Marino next month.

Lescott said: 'He was gutted. He showed his determination throughout the game and got man of the match. He is a player who wears his heart on his sleeve.

'On another night, I don't think it is a red card.

'San Marino won't be the toughest game in the group but Steven is not happy to miss any game.'

Despite England's unhappiness at some of the refereeing decisions, Lescott believes the Ukraine performance served as a reminder that qualification for the 2014 finals will not be straightforward.

Tough times: Ukraine gave England a fight as they earned a point at Wembley

Tough times: Ukraine gave England a fight as they earned a point at Wembley

He said: 'Qualification is not always plain sailing. I think if you look at the game we played against them in the Euros, it was our toughest in the group.

'We knew it wasn't going to be easy, they've got good players, and are a good unit, so overall we were pleased with the performance but maybe not the result.

'We created enough chances to score more goals and if that happens, then everyone goes away happy.'

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Des Kelly: Bigots rule the football family

Bigots rule the football family

PUBLISHED:

21:25 GMT, 25 May 2012

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UPDATED:

22:55 GMT, 25 May 2012

Sepp Blatter, the president of world football's governing body FIFA, and his brother in arms, Michel Platini, the boss of Europe's UEFA, are terribly fond of telling us all that the sport is 'one great big family'.

Unfortunately, it appears to be Alf Garnett's family.

If you're black, Asian, homosexual, or happen to be of the 'wrong' religious persuasion, the football fraternities are not particularly concerned about whether you attend their reunions or not.

Beasts: Violence in Ukraine has made Oxlade-Chamberlain travel alone

Beasts: Violence in Ukraine has made Oxlade-Chamberlain travel alone

In fact, it's worse than that. Should you be anything other than white and straight, football has elected to stage their lavish shindigs in locations that pose a genuine danger to your safety.

That much was made abundantly clear when the relatives of England's black players were forced to accept the realities of Foreign and Commonwealth Office advice and scrap plans to travel to Ukraine for Euro 2012 because of the heightened risk of racial incidents.

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Des Kelly: Roy's good for more than hotel bookings
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Des Kelly: Torture by TV for the duelling duo
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Theo Walcott's father, Don, reserved flights and hotel rooms in Donetsk to watch his boy play for his country against France in 16 days, but then the family decided to cancel the trip 'because of the fear of possible racist attacks and confrontations'.

For Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's father, Mark Chamberlain, there will be few prouder moments in life than the moment his boy makes his debut in a competitive international at the European Championship finals.

However, he will watch it on television, since he is not prepared to put himself or his loved ones in jeopardy.

Chamberlain said: 'There have been reports over the last couple of weeks of racist taunts and threats so it's just prudent to keep away from it. Safety is more important than a game of football.'

That isn't what football's showpiece events are supposed to be about.

They are meant to be celebrations, not the reward for years of bigotry and abuse.

But what's next

After Euro 2012 the World Cup in Russia in 2018 is hardly going to be vastly different.

Racism is endemic there too.

Moreover, anyone who even suggests a homosexual relationship is in any way equal to a mixed-sex couple in Russia faces a fine of 10,000 as well as a beating.

Homophobia is certainly rife in Ukraine. Kiev's first gay pride parade was scrapped this week when more than 500 far-right extremist hooligans ambushed the organisers' offices.

Fear factor: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's family will not travel to the Ukraine

Fear factor: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's family will not travel to the Ukraine

The Foreign Office has already issued a travel warning saying any gay fans at Euro 2012 need to 'keep a low profile'.

It will be the same when the World Cup is held in Qatar, where homosexuality is illegal.

The true scandal here is that decent people are being put into these predicaments in the first place.

No fan or player should ever have to put up with monkey chants or abuse or violence simply because of the colour of their skin, their sexuality or their religion.

But football is asking them to this summer. And then again in summers ahead.

FIFA, that great bloated pig of commerce and greed, and its sibling UEFA, have sold their tournaments to countries that clearly do not welcome everyone with open arms – which should surely be the first criterion on any list.

Here in England, the Professional Footballers' Association wants racism to be a sackable offence, with a clause written into players' contracts. It's a noble and principled stance.

Happy family: Blatter and Platini

Happy family: Alf Garnett

Happy families: Sepp Blatter (left) and Michel Platini (top), and Alf Garnett (right)

Sadly, parts of eastern Europe are decades away from such measures.

Amid all the gloomy forecasts, Walcott's brother Ashley asked the most pertinent question: 'Why hold a competition of this magnitude in a place that cannot police itself and where foreigners of any creed cannot feel safe'

Let us not give any weight to the tosh that this is a beneficial exercise in 'educashun' for the locals, where fat white men ask minorities to put themselves at the centre of some bogus and risky social engineering project.

When in doubt, I find it prudent to opt for the obvious answer.

Why is the tournament in such a place

Because someone, somewhere is getting a great deal of money.

Eden, a tart from the start

Eden Hazard is a footballer in demand at the moment and, boy, has he really gone out of his way to put himself in the shop window.

Unfortunately, he appears to think it is one of those windows that you find in the red light district of Amsterdam (or so I'm told).

Hazard: Outrageous 'come and get me' plea

Hazard: Outrageous 'come and get me' plea

Hazard has teased and pouted his way through the most embarrassing transfer auction of recent times, smiling beguilingly through the glass at his suitors and making it abundantly clear that he is absolutely and totally committed to whoever happens to be walking past with the largest wallet.

Right now, Hazard is on the verge of accepting a huge money deal from either Chelsea, Manchester United, Manchester City or even – and don't laugh – Arsenal, depending on which paper you read.

City are said to be cooling on the transaction, allegedly because of the outrageous demands being made by agents.

While Arsenal appear to have as much of a chance of signing Hazard as Portsmouth.

But the suggestion kept his publicity machine spinning along regardless.

While there is nothing wrong with the Belgian trying to negotiate the most attractive deal for himself as he exits Lille, the manner in which he has gone about it has undeniably cheapened his appeal.

He broadcast he would reveal his chosen club last weekend, plugging this momentous declaration for all it was worth (which, according to reports, could be anything up to 32million and 200,000 a week).

But it turned out it was another tease and the protracted sale was dragged out a little longer.

No guarantee: Didier Drogba (above) was a hit, but Hazard may not be

No guarantee: Didier Drogba (above) was a hit, but Hazard may not be

Hazard said this week: 'I don't know when I'll make a decision. It will be Manchester City, Manchester United or Chelsea. The decision will depend on the amount of play I would see and the position.'

And the cash, of course.

The danger is that by the time Hazard arrives in the Premier League, everyone will already be heartily sick of him.

There's no guarantee he will be a success either.

For every Didier Drogba that translates success in the French League to these shores, there is a Marouane Chamakh.

When Hazard finally agrees to go somewhere he needn't bother posing with the scarf of his new club, as new players usually do.

He's been such a tart about it all they should just hand him a feather boa.

Word from the Ys: you're such an idiot, Barton

Earlier this year Joey Barton claimed that no journalist would ever tell his story truthfully, usually because they kept mentioning his inconvenient past and ruining his whole image makeover lark.

He complained: 'They projected someone who was not the real me: it was the “me” that the press wanted to project. So I'm doing it myself. People are now beginning to see the man I am.'

Anyone got any updates on how that's been going of late

The Y generation speaks: But will Barton ever listen

The Y generation speaks: But will Barton ever listen

Barton decided Twitter was his platform, going as far as to say it was 'the medium of Generation Y – these are my people'.

This will be the same Generation Y that sent Twitter into meltdown after a sizeable proportion discovered that 'Titanic' wasn't just a film, but a real-life marine disaster (OMG!).

So rather than go into the obvious moralising about Barton's reckless violence on the last day of the season, I thought I'd address the issue of how the player's time would be best used during his 12-game ban

And who better to ask than 'his people' Here was Twitter's response.

'National service' @ZolalOM.
'Afghanistan or Iraq' @IanHWilkinson. 'Emigrate' @biglostson. 'Backpacking around the Amazon without a map' @colinread59.
'I suppose a thousand have suggested anger management classes' @Gaz_Anthony. (Yes, they did). 'Guest presenter on Newsnight' @madagi.
'Write a thank you note to Gordon Taylor at the PFA for the 10-week salary he'll be paid for doing nothing' @sutfol99.
Crayola philosophy: Friedrich Nietzsche might have said it's time Barton learned to join the dots

Crayola philosophy: Friedrich Nietzsche might have said it's time Barton learned to join the dots

'Learn the ancient, martial art of attacking someone who's actually facing him' @simgeo35 'Google more wise quotes that can be copied and pasted to Twitter to make him seem 'actually quite intelligent' @OllieHarden. 'Is there a Nietzsche colouring book' @turbohat 'Join the Press Pass' @James_Paton. (The offer was made, yet to be accepted).
Maybe devise 140 characters of his own, instead of cutting and pasting those of others @Jugzski1963.

We'll ignore the last suggestion, bearing in mind the contents of this piece.

But there you have it: Barton's 'people' have spoken. It turns out Generation Y is quite smart.

Food for thought… from fatheads

It's pretty clear that Specsavers are not one of the Olympic sponsors.

If they were, some idiot at the top of UK Athletics might not have blurted that Jessica Ennis, the golden girl of the British Olympic squad, is 'fat'.

Heavy or heavenly: We know which applies to Jessica Ennis

Heavy or heavenly: We know which applies to Jessica Ennis

The 63 stone teenage girl who had to be winched from her South Wales home once the walls were demolished is fat. Ennis is most certainly not.

I was with Jess in Sheffield the other day and I can assure you she is the living embodiment of female health and athleticism.

But the heptathlete's coach, Toni Minichiello, revealed that a high-ranking Olympic official told him she had 'too much weight'.

Now where might that be found exactly, because I'd be happy to conduct a full inspection.

I suspect the hunt would end on her earlobes.

There isn't much else that hasn't been honed and toned to perfection.

While it would be easy to dismiss this official's remark as ridiculous nonsense, it actually betrays a serious problem in British athletics.

Athletes are far more prone to developing eating disorders than non-athletes, because of their constant search for better times and performance.

For every male affected, there are 10 females hiding a secret fight with anorexia nervosa or bulimia.

And no wonder, when the only fat in evidence at the elite level of the sport is to be found between the ears of some moron in charge.

Flagging already: The Roy Hodgson hype

Flagging already: The Roy Hodgson hype

PSST!

Roy Hodgson sends his England team out for the first time on Saturday.

Now if they win against Norway, it doesn't mean we are suddenly witnessing the new European champions-elect.

And if they lose, it's not necessarily the end of the world either.

OK You're not listening, are you

Next week, this column will be hiding in a desert somewhere to escape the England hype. Back soon.

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The Sun attack on Roy Hodgson unfair – Des Kelly

Roy's good for more than hotel bookings!

PUBLISHED:

22:56 GMT, 4 May 2012

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UPDATED:

23:05 GMT, 4 May 2012

Roy who That was the headline splattered across one back page on Friday.

At least he was called Roy, not 'Woy', this time.

The man is less than a week into his
new job and Roy Hodgson has not only been mocked for the trouble he has
pronouncing his Rs, but we are now solemnly informed by a cross section
of Her Majesty's press that the Germans are not too impressed by the
identity of England's new manager either.

From Albion to England: Roy Hodgson with his West Bromwich players at training on Friday

From Albion to England: Roy Hodgson with his West Bromwich players at
training on Friday

When asked to assess Hodgson's appointment, Germany captain Philipp Lahm looked up and said: 'I don't know him. Sorry.'

Experienced Bayern Munich coach Jupp Heynckes added: 'I don't know him that well.'

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And Bayern Munich's Bastian
Schweinsteiger politely burped: 'I can't tell you anything about what
Hodgson is like… I've heard more about Harry Redknapp.'

Forgive me, but since when were the
people of England supposed to care what the Germans think of the
country's football manager

Yet these few Teutonic shrugs of
indifference provided the shaky foundations for some spurious argument
that Hodgson would not inspire as much fear in our international
opponents as Redknapp.

What is more, the German reaction
was said to have destroyed Football Association chairman David
Bernstein's claim that England were being led by a coach of European
repute.

I wasn't aware our FA were supposed to clear the appointment of a national coach with the citizens of Munich in advance.

What next Should we send reporters out to Argentina to ask if they approve of Hodgson

Maybe the Scots should get a vote too, since they do in just every other walk of English life

As for canvassing players, imagine if
the Munich press had rolled up at Chelsea's training ground in 2006 and
asked John Terry for his reaction to the appointment of Joachim Low

How much do you think 'JT' would have been able to tell them

Would Ashley Cole have weighed in with some considered thoughts too, once he had put down his air rifle

For starters, one of the people being held up as the litmus test for Hodgson's credentials is called Schweinsteiger.

Anyone who hasn't the wit to change a name that translates as 'Pig-mounter' should be treated with the same level of derision traditionally reserved for our national coaches.

Secondly, I like Germany a lot. It is a wonderful place to visit, despite a tendency to be easily influenced by people who want to take over the world every few decades or so.

It is more affluent, cleaner, blessed with good beer, and the populace generally enjoy a standard of living superior to the UK.

Shake on it: Hodgson is congratulated by goalkeeper Ben Foster

Shake on it: Hodgson is congratulated by goalkeeper Ben Foster

The only downside is a national cuisine based on a diet of ground up pigs' parts in tubes that absolutely do not look like bowel movements, whatever anyone says, so banish that thought from your mind, please.

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Unsurprisingly, these things are called 'wurst'.

There is also another saving grace for us.

Some of Germany's footballers are obviously as thick as some of ours.

I mean, why should two experienced German internationals and a veteran coach know who Hodgson is

Aside from the fact that he has managed two European national sides – Finland and Switzerland – taking the latter to the giddy heights of No 3 in the world rankings

And why bother to remember that Hodgson led Fulham to the Europa League final a mere two seasons ago, beating the German side Hamburg and the then reigning German champions Wolfsburg along the way.

Where was this final held It was in a place called… hang on, it'll come to be me… it's on the tip of my tongue. Oh yes. Hamburg. In Germany.

So how silly it is to expect this Hodgson chap to be remembered in Germany when he has barely made any impact on their game.

Especially when Pigmounter has seen Redknapp's one Champions League campaign.

But let me tell you how much the Germans really value Hodgson. They thought he was good enough to take charge of their national team.

It happened in 1998, after Berti Vogts stepped down.

The German FA quickly approached Hodgson, as their president Egidius Braun admitted: 'We made contact with several German coaches and also Hodgson. I called him when he was on the team bus, but he said “sorry” he was under contract to Blackburn and would not break the agreement.'

The Ewood Park club rewarded this show of loyalty by sacking Hodgson a couple of months later.

Still, he sounds a decent sort, doesn't he

So, who is Roy

Many years ago, on a different paper, my sports editor decided he needed an interview with the Internazionale manager.

He looked up, spotted the only reporter not at lunch, and told me to get to Milan sharpish.

Just as I arrived at the training ground, a black Mercedes was driving through the exit.

'Are you leaving I asked. 'I was hoping to grab you for an interview.'

Ignorance is bliss: Philipp Lahm (left and Jupp Heynckes (right)

Ignorance is bliss: Philipp Lahm (left and Jupp Heynckes (right)

Ignorance is bliss: Philipp Lahm (left) and Jupp Heynckes (right) non-plussed by Hodgson's appointment

Hodgson told me he had a meeting in Geneva and, seeing the mild dread in my face, added: 'But I'll come back tomorrow and talk. What hotel are you in'

'I haven't booked one,' I said.

So Hodgson told me to go to the Hotel Principe di Savoia and sped away.

I'd never heard of the place, but when I turned up at the fivestar hotel's reception, the man behind the desk looked me up and down and said: 'We are full.'

'Oh dear,' I muttered. 'Mr Hodgson told me to come here.'

'Meester Hodgson THE Meester Hodgson Ah yes. We have a cancellation,' he cried.

Fingers were clicked. Bells rung. Bags whisked away.

And with that, I was led to a suite large enough to house an entire family. The Walton Family.

It had 'been arranged'.

Provocative: The Sun mocked England manager Hodgson

Provocative: The Sun mocked England manager Hodgson

This might seem a silly incidental, but it illustrates Hodgson is not only a decent manager but a decent man.

Yes, he knows how international football works, he has tournament experience.

Other countries – including Germany – have courted him, whether Herr Pig-mounter has heard of this or not.

If people take the mickey out of some quirk of his speech or say he 'looks like an owl', I doubt Hodgson gives a hoot, other than to wonder how daft it all is.

As for The Sun front page that caused such a fuss, people were so outraged my newsagent sold every copy and so did my nearest supermarket.

Somebody got the joke.

But Hodgson can rise above it because he excels at his job and is well aware that nothing really matters in the grand scheme of things except winning football matches.

That will earn him respect. The rest is irrelevant.

Win, draw or lose, Hodgson will remain straightforward, he will grant people the consideration and respect they deserve and he will treat them like adults.

We'll all probably feel better about ourselves if we do the same to him.

Biggest game of the season Well, just for a week

Having been at the 'Unmissable' Manchester derby on Monday, a game billed as the 'The Biggest Match In Premier League history'™, I am now looking forward to 'The Even Bigger Biggest Match In Premier League History'™ on Sunday when Newcastle United face Manchester City.

So much is resting on this game.

It will essentially define the destiny of these two clubs for years to come.

Killer blow: Now Vincent Kompany and Manchester City face another huge challenge

Killer blow: Now Vincent Kompany and Manchester City face another huge challenge

For City, this is their chance to seal their superiority over United for the first time in more than four decades; a position they may well go on to consider theirs by right.

For Newcastle, the difference between finishing third and clinching a Champions League spot outright or finishing fourth and cruelly losing out if Chelsea win the final in Munich could shape their history forever.

It is an immense contest, an emotionally and physically draining battle.

Every week seems to bring a clash more epic than the last.

And everyone will be exhausted when Euro 2012 begins because of it.

Be proud of the NHS… Muamba is

It felt almost surreal to be shaking his hand and congratulating him. I heard myself say 'well done'.

And what exactly was I congratulating this man for

Just for being alive, as it happens.

Fabrice Muamba beamed a megawatt smile, said a kind word about the doctors who cared for him, and moved on, grinning his way through the well wishers at the Footballer of the Year dinner.

His heart had stopped for 78 minutes, he underwent 15 defibrillator shocks, but he was not only looking happy but, dare I say it, even glowing with health.

People kept declaring it was a 'miracle'. But it was no such thing.

Muamba got lucky.

Glowing: Fabrice Muamba emerges from the tunnel at Bolton

Glowing: Fabrice Muamba emerges from the tunnel at Bolton

He was saved by the skills of the consultant cardiologist Dr Andrew Deaner, who happened to be at the game and ran on the pitch to help.

Admittedly, it is a contradictory fortune, like being run over by an ambulance. But he was fortunate that in his moment of absolute crisis an expert was on hand.

A cheer for the doctors.

Job seeker: Capello

Job seeker: Capello

We all noisily support our various teams this weekend. But we should all support the National Health Service with the same loud enthusiasm.

The NHS saves lives every day. It is one of the institutions that makes Britain great.

Ask Muamba.

That's rich, Capello

Fabio Capello would like it to be known he is in London and job hunting.

He'd prefer a Premier League club for a couple of years, one with a lot of money, within walking distance of his flat near Chelsea.

Hmm. I wonder what job he might have in mind

Amusingly, in the same interview he said he is worried Hodgson has such a short time to build team spirit before the European Championship Finals, presumably forgetting he walked out and left England in this mess in the first place.

Better still, he complained about his 'limited contact' with the players during his period in charge.

This from the same Capello who was known for hardly ever communicating with his squad, leaving deposed captains to find out the news via the media and collected 6m a year from the national coffers without ever bothering to learn the language properly.

For sale: Chelsea hope to buy the Battersea Power Station site

For sale: Chelsea hope to buy the Battersea Power Station site

Chelsea are planning to build a new stadium at Battersea Power Station. Yeah, and pigs might fly.

Oh, hang on. That's where it happens.

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John Terry banned for Champions League final after being sent off in Barcelona

Terry banned for Champions League final after reckless red card… with Ivanovic, Ramires and Meireles also suspended!

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UPDATED:

20:51 GMT, 24 April 2012

John Terry is one of FOUR Chelsea players banned for the Champions League final after their epic victory over Barcelona.

The Blues skipper was dismissed in the first half at the Nou Camp for an off-the-ball knee in the back of Alexis Sanchez.

That means he will miss the next three European matches – but that is only the start of the problems for Chelsea.

Ramires, Branislav Ivanovic and Raul Meireles all picked up bookings in the 2-2 draw at the Nou Camp that sealed their 3-2 aggregate triumph.

They will all be suspended alongside Terry for next month's final in Munich.

Anger: John Terry pleads his innocence after being sent off

Anger: John Terry pleads his innocence after being sent off

Terry later told Sky Sports that he should not have been sent off. When told that he appeared to knee Sanchez, Terry replied: 'I would not do that.'

Terry's exit came switfly after his centre-back partner Gary Cahill went off injured.

With David Luiz also currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, boss Roberto Di Matteo faces a number of problems when they take on the winners of Wednesday's clash between Real Madri and Bayern Munich.

Off you go: Terry reacts angrily to his marching orders

Off you go: Terry reacts angrily to his marching orders

Squaring up: Terry remonstrates with Barcelona's players after his red

Squaring up: Terry remonstrates with Barcelona's players after his red

Come on, John: Petr Cech leads his skipper away after the incident

Come on, John: Petr Cech leads his skipper away after the incident

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FA Cup joy for Sunderland would be Euro nightmare for Newcastle

FA Cup joy for Sunderland would be Euro nightmare for Newcastle

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UPDATED:

12:23 GMT, 27 March 2012

It goes without saying that Newcastle United supporters would prefer Sunderland not to progress in the FA Cup this evening.

Traditional rivalry, and Football Law, dictates that cup demises and relegation are to be wished upon your rivals at the start of every season, and of course Tyne and Wear sides are no different.

But this year, indeed tonight, there is far more at stake. Europe is on the line.

Up for the cup: Sunderland will have a trip to Wembley to look forward to if they beat Everton at the Stadium of Light

Up for the cup: Sunderland will have a trip to Wembley to look forward to if they beat Everton at the Stadium of Light

There are several permutations involving league places, cup winners and even bookings (Swansea are due to qualify via the fair play criteria) which will decide who will represent the Barclays Premier League in Europe next season.

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Top four of course go into the Champions League. Although even that gets a little extra-complicated if Chelsea win this year’s competition and finish fifth as England would still only be permitted four entrants. It means Arsenal or Spurs could finish fourth and still not qualify for UEFA’s big one.

So it would be the little brother for them, joining League Cup winners Liverpool who may be having their league difficulties – which Newcastle will hope to exacerbate on Sunday – but Kenny Dalglish’s side, who await the winner of tonight’s FA Cup quarter-final replay at the Stadium of Light, have already got their Europa League place. A place is reserved for the FA Cup winners too (or in Sunderland’s case the finalists).

And here’s where it might get very interesting…

Newcastle could go 11 points clear of Liverpool if they beat them at home this weekend. A victory over their former manager Dalglish would surely just about guarantee sixth place at least for Newcastle and their supporters who became rather familiar with European competition under their previous managers, including Dalglish.

On target: Newcastle have a European finish in their sights this season

On target: Newcastle have a European finish in their sights this season

Although the current boss Alan Pardew may have written off his team’s Champions League credentials at the weekend, they are looking a very good bet for the Europa League. Or are they Sunderland may be 10 points behind their local rivals, but they could pip them to the final place.

Now Sunderland only have the small matter of victories over the two Merseyside teams to overcome to clinch a place against Chelsea or Tottenham for the May 5 final (same date as their last triumph in 1973 coincidentally).

But if they do reach the FA Cup Final, they will return to Europe for the first time since Bobby Kerr lifted the trophy too. And that means it is Newcastle who could miss out.

As Sunderland have never managed to win against Everton with David Moyes in charge, and in fact have to go back to the Peter Reid era for their last victory over them, they are hardly guaranteed progress to the semi-finals just because they have managed to bring the tie back to Wearside.

O’Neill was being ultra-cautious when he met the media yesterday and he knows that the incentive of a Mersey derby at Wembley, with all that’s at stake, and all the history and memories that will evoke, will be a major motivational force for Moyes and his player tonight. The 6,000 travelling Blues fans will also add to a cracking atmosphere.

Future's bright: Alan Pardew has assembled an exciting team

Future's bright: Alan Pardew has assembled an exciting team

'I’m sure I don’t need to remind the supporters that Everton will be tough,' said the Sunderland boss.

'Our record isn’t great against them and we have to take that into consideration. We’ve just got to go for it and try to win the match. We might get beaten, but we’ll certainly go for it.'

Lee Cattermole is certain to return for the home side, which will be harsh on David Vaughan, Jack Colback or Craig Gardner, who one would expect to step down for the captain who is available after his four-match ban.

John O’Shea and Kieran Richardson are definitely out but Phil Bardsley and Seb Larsson come back into contention.

With more than 43,000 anticipated, and so much at stake for both clubs, it is geared up to be a fascinating contest and electrifying night. O’Neill is certainly looking forward to it.

'I think there’s something pretty special about it when you get to this stage of the competition,’ he said.

On the spot: O'Neill has had his side practising penalties in case their quarter-final replay against Everton goes the distance

On the spot: O'Neill has had his side practising penalties in case their quarter-final replay against Everton goes the distance

'You can try and say it’s just another game, but I’m not so sure it is. It’s pretty special.

'I think you can get caught up in the atmosphere, I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. We want to try and get through, the fans have been excited about it.

'If you had said to me back in December you’ll have 40 points at the end of the season I would have gladly taken it, so to have 40 points in March and to have a chance of reaching the semi-final of the FA Cup, is wonderful.'

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St Helens new stadium secures club future says chief Eamonn McManus

St Helens chief says new stadium will secure club's future

St Helens' new 30million stadium will guarantee a rosy future for the Stobart Super League club says chairman Eamonn McManus.

The 18,000-capacity Langtree Park replaces the century-old 17,500-capacity Knowsley Road, which had become a millstone around the club's neck by the time it was demolished last year to make way for housing.

McManus, a retired investment banker and lifelong Saints fan who has personally driven the move for a new ground, thinks the club is now in a position to become self-sufficient through its pristine spectator and corporate facilities.

New: Langtree Park will safeguard the future of St Helens

New: Langtree Park will safeguard the future of St Helens

'It's not just a great stadium, it's guaranteed the life for St Helens – its traditions and its values – for generations to come,' said McManus, who today conducted a guided stadium tour for the media.

'At Knowsley Road we generated nothing, there was literally nothing. The expense of running it was much greater than the revenue.

'It's been a sea change. We've already got bookings for the next six months.'

McManus used his connections in the banking industry to ensure the stadium development has not left the club in debt.

'It is 100% owned by the club, with no bank debts, which is quite an achievement,' he said.

'The stadium is high quality in every regard and quite unique in its design. It's got the feel of a substantial stadium but will also maintain an intimate but passionate rugby league atmosphere.

'I financially invested in the club 12 years ago on the back of architectural plans for a new stadium, which I thought would take two or three years to ensue.

Old: The old ground, Knowsley Road, had become a burden

Old: The old ground, Knowsley Road, had become a burden

'Now it's all done and dusted, it's something you can look back and feel genuinely proud of. I feel 10 feet tall when I come into this place.'

St Helens will have sole use of Langtree Park, which has already been named as a World Cup venue in 2013, but McManus is hoping it can be put to further use.

'If there is a better rugby league stadium, can someone please point it out to me,' he said. 'It certainly lends itself to Challenge Cup semi-finals and more.

'We'll give it a year to bed down before we look at the possibility of staging pop concerts and boxing matches.'

Saints were tenants at the Stobart Stadium, home of the Widnes Vikings, for 2011 and coach Royce Simmons is delighted to have some home comforts.

'The hairs on the back of your neck stand up when you walk around and see the pictures of the old players,” he told a news conference at the stadium.

None: Knowsley Road generated no income

None: Knowsley Road generated no income

'You know you've come to a rugby league ground. You're not sharing a ground and I think that's why it's so special.'

The club listened to the views of fans in providing standing areas for 7,000 spectators, in addition to 11,000 seats.

Langtree Park will host its first Super League match on Friday week but before then St Helens kick off the new season at London Broncos on Saturday.

Last year's Grand Final runners-up will definitely be without England centre Michael Shenton, who is still recovering from a dislocated elbow, and forward Tony Puletua and have a major doubt over full-back Paul Wellens, the new captain who is striving to overcome an Achilles injury.

'Tony and Michael won't come into contention for this week,' said Simmons.

'They're both going pretty positively and I think will be back in rounds two or three.

'We're going to monitor Wello a bit more before we make a decision but we won't take any risks. All three of them are too important to be rushed back. They will all be given the time to get 100% fit.'

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Aston Villa boss Alex McLeish gets shirty with goal celebrations

Aston Villa boss McLeish gets shirty with goal celebrations

Bare truth: Agbonlahor was booked for this celebration

Bare truth: Agbonlahor was booked for this celebration

Alex McLeish has won the right to fine players who are booked for removing their shirts during goal celebrations.

The Aston Villa manager decided to clamp down after his stars continued to ignore his warnings about unnecessary yellow cards.

It follows striker Gabby Agbonlahor missing last weekend”s defeat by Liverpool through suspension having picked up five cautions, one of which was for taking off his shirt during a goal celebration against Everton at Goodison Park.

McLeish felt he had to act and wanted backing from the players” union, the Professional Footballers” Association, that players can be fined if they are cautioned unnecessarily.

“Gabby scored a great goal at Everton and had a booking for taking his shirt off so we have to try to eradicate these silly bookings,” said McLeish. “What he did does fall into that category.

“It sounds extremely unfair to do that to a player who”s just scored, especially to the ladies in the crowd who like to see a footballer”s bare torso!

“But, as a manager, I cannot afford it. Gabby was suspended last week partly because of his actions on Merseyside.

“So I”ve spoken to the PFA about it. There”s a code of conduct that now covers it. It might not actually apply on the day but if players are suspended – or sent off – because of it then it does come under, for want of a better phrase, silly bookings.

“It is now included in our own internal disciplinary code because I need to impress on our players that it might be seen by them as harmless.

“But suspensions through unnecessary cautions have cost me and I will need all of my experienced players this season.”

McLeish is one boss in the Premier League who has always given his players time off on Christmas Day and sees no reason to stop it as Villa do not play until Boxing Day evening at Stoke.

He said: “The players will be allowed to have the day to spend with their families.

“I”ve done that at my various clubs over the years and it has worked for me. I”ve always felt the benefits of being at home outweighed those gleaned from training.

“None of the players has let me down yet. And Stoke is only an hour up the road.

“Anyway, I enjoy Christmas Day. I”ve cooked the turkey for the past 20 years. I”m getting not bad at it!”