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Steven Fletcher fit for Sunderland v Southampton

Sunderland hitman Fletcher shakes off ankle injury ahead of Saints relegation battle



21:00 GMT, 20 December 2012

Sunderland top scorer Steven Fletcher has handed Martin O’Neill a welcome boost and will be fit to face Southampton after a full week of training.

The Scotland international has been struggling with an ankle injury and he was forced off in last week’s defeat at Manchester United.

His return to full fitness is vital for Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill ahead of Saturday’s visit to Southampton and stand-in skipper John O’Shea has now urged his team-mates to match Fletcher’s outstanding standards this season.

Goal machine: Steven Fletcher is fit for Sunderland as they travel down south

Goal machine: Steven Fletcher is fit for Sunderland as they travel down south

Fletcher has scored seven goals since his 12million switch from Wolves, and has been one of the Wearside club’s most consistent performers along with Danny Rose and Simon Mignolet.

Republic of Ireland international O’Shea has accepted Sunderland have been a let-down this season and have been embroiled in a relegation fight before a Christmas period which includes home clashes with Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur.

He said: 'Thankfully we have got Steven Fletcher. I don’t know where we would be without his goals.

'He came here with a bit of a price-tag on his head, he settled in straight away, he’s a great lad who works hard. The manager has said he is a quiet lad who doesn’t say much but as long as he is scoring goals he can stay as quiet as he likes.

'His finishing is top drawer as he has shown with his goals. They have been really top class finishes. He has had to deal with having a big price-tag in his next few moves but that has not affected him one bit.

'Fingers crossed we keep him fit as much as we can. He has had a few little niggles but nothing major, thankfully. It’s up to the rest of the lads now.

Leader: John O'Shea will take over as captain in Lee Cattermole's absence

Leader: John O'Shea will take over as captain in Lee Cattermole's absence

'I’m sure Steven himself will want to
improve and he can do better. It’s about the whole team and squad –
especially when the manager makes or two changes, which he will during
this period.’

have won just three Premier League games in 25 under O’Neill and were
dragged into the bottom three earlier in the month.

O’Shea, who will captain the side at Southampton on Saturday in Lee Cattermole’s absence, believes a major improvement is within Sunderland’s capabilities.

He added: 'We keep talking after games about finishing well, but we have zero points from them. We can’t keep saying that and we have to make sure we do our jobs for the 90 minutes. We can’t keep doing what we doing or the end of the season will come round very quickly.

Pressure: Martin O'Neill has endured a tough season so far

Pressure: Martin O'Neill has endured a tough season so far

'The season has been stop-start. You think you are getting yourself going, then you suffer a defeat you’re not expecting and there’s a lot of room for improvement. There definitely is. We are not incapable of doing it.

'The top ten is not far away. We have seen where a team like Norwich have shot up the table with a good run and we are more than capable of that.

'You obviously hope at the start of the season you are up there competing for European positions and you are doing brilliantly but the reality is we were having a tough time last season as well.

'We are still in that tough spot at the minute. We will have to keep ourselves together to get out of it but we know we have the people and the manager to do it.'

Nick Compton in the runs as England draw in Mumbai

Compton finds form in the Nick of time as he fights for opening spot against India



23:21 GMT, 5 November 2012

Nick Compton spoke of his relief after grinding out a 'desperately needed' half-century to make a break in the race to open for England with Alastair Cook in the first Test against India.

With Joe Root — his rival for the second opening slot — falling for 24 on the final afternoon of the drawn three-day game against Mumbai A, Compton got his head down for an unbeaten 64 in 52 overs and put a nightmare start to his first senior tour behind him.

England have one more warm-up match, a four-day game against Haryana starting on Thursday, before the first Test begins in Ahmedabad on November 15.

Let me in: Nick Compton wants to be part of the England line-up for the first Test against India

Let me in: Nick Compton wants to be part of the England line-up for the first Test against India


Click here to see the full scorecard

Compton is now in pole position to pip Root to a debut cap.

'I definitely needed that,’ he said after beginning the tour with scores of nought and one. ‘It’s not been the ideal start but I just think you need to give yourself a bit of time. It is a new country, a new place to play, a new team, so perhaps I was a bit hard on myself.

'The most important thing was to spend time in the middle. I got the balance back and the feet going and I got the score I desperately needed.’

In contention: Joe Root is also an option for England

In contention: Joe Root is also an option for England

The Mumbai bowling may not have been
from the top drawer, but Compton built a reputation for remorselessness
during a first-class summer that brought him nearly 1,500 first-class
runs for Somerset and England Lions at an average of almost 100. He
looked in no mood to blow his chance after Root had padded up to a
Shardul Thakur delivery which swung in to trap him leg before.

That left 21-year-old Root with
scores of 28 and 24, plus a wicket for his occasional off-spin, but
Compton’s selection in the tour opener against India A last week
suggested he began the trip ahead — and his 162-ball stay looks set to
keep him there.

Cause for concern: Stuart Broad was unable to bowl for England on Monday

Cause for concern: Stuart Broad was unable to bowl for England on Monday

Jonathan Trott made 30 and there was
a gratifying cameo from Ian Bell, who was fortunate to be dropped first
ball at backward short leg, before England closed on 149 for two.

Vice-captain Stuart Broad took the
field in the morning after a scan confirmed he had a bruised left heel,
but he was unable to bowl and will be rested for the Haryana match.

Stuart Meaker was due to join the
tour this morning as cover for Steven Finn, who has a thigh niggle, and
could play on Thursday in a seam line-up also including Tim Bresnan and
Graham Onions.

Onions struck in his first over on Monday but it was left-arm spinners Monty Panesar and Samit Patel who
engineered a Mumbai collapse of eight for 76.

Of the home players on show, only
Cheteshwar Pujara, who made a classy 87 on Sunday, was named Monday
in a 15-man India Test squad that includes the recalled Singhs, Yuvraj
and Harbhajan. For Yuvraj, who will bat at No 6, it will be a first Test
appearance for a year, and an emotional return following a battle with

FA forced Daniel Levy to do dirty on Harry Redknapp – Des Kelly

Des Kelly: FA forced Levy to do the dirty on Harry… and Redknapp deserved better



23:41 GMT, 15 June 2012

It’s all the fault of the Football Association, muttered Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy as he jabbed a sharp pin into the voodoo doll of Sir Trevor Brooking stashed in his office drawer especially for moments like this.

If it wasn't for those pesky FA meddlers, Harry Redknapp would have led the national side out against Sweden, not Roy Hodgson, and what a different story it would be now. Not necessarily for England, but certainly for Spurs, grumbled Levy as he selected a spot high on Brooking’s forehead and inserted another needle.

The Spurs chief had his ideal scenario mapped out: Euro 2012 would rid Levy of a manager he had never truly seen eye to eye with, allow him to play the unfortunate 'victim' of the FA’s headhunting raid and still reward him with a handsome compensation cheque for ‘reluctantly’ allowing Redknapp to go.

Axed: Harry Redknapp has waved goodbye to Tottenham despite his success

Axed: Harry Redknapp has waved goodbye to Tottenham despite his success

It was a win-win scenario, which was not something Spurs were able to say very often during their end-of-season stagger to the line.

Instead, thanks to Brooking, David Bernstein and Co at FA headquarters, Levy had to fork out 3million to sack a guy he thought was leaving anyway and, in return, he has collected nothing but blame and contempt.

Famous ex-players like Gary Lineker called his decision ‘unbelievable idiocy’, pundits lined up to kick Levy from pillar to post and if Spurs finish below the fourth place that Redknapp achieved before he was removed, the new boss won’t get the blame but the chairman most certainly will.

Nobody is even mentioning how Redknapp brought in Wayne Rooney’s ‘controversial’ agent Paul Stretford to handle contract negotiations, a baffling move that was always likely to become a mess. Instead, they keep talking about how ‘’Arry got the cockerel crowing again’.

Because he did. That’s the trouble for Spurs and Levy now. And, if Redknapp was such a liability as manager, why were the club demanding around 10m in compensation from the FA to let him go

Credibility at risk: Spurs chairman Daniel Levy (right) has made a huge call

Credibility at risk: Spurs chairman Daniel Levy (right) has made a huge call

Levy has to do something to rescue his credibility here. The board must have had contingency measures in place to deal with Redknapp’s anticipated departure to England, so it would be quite ridiculous to believe the chairman doesn’t have a plan drawn up.

That is why the stories claiming that the likes of Andre Villas-Boas, Rafael Benitez, Roberto Martinez, Alan Pardew, Fabio Capello and whoever else is flavour of the month are on an extended shopping list of candidates don’t quite ring true to me.

The word was an unofficial deal for David Moyes had already been discussed some time back with Levy’s boss, Joe Lewis, the Bahamas-based British billionaire who bankrolls Spurs.

So maybe the current speculation is a smokescreen or perhaps the Moyes switch has hit a snag because of Levy’s love of installing a director of football above the manager. But I’m not buying into the idea Spurs are on some blind fishing exercise right now.

Remeber this Spurs beat Wigan 9-1 at White Hart Lane in November 2009

Remeber this Spurs beat Wigan 9-1 at White Hart Lane in November 2009

I certainly fail to see how Martinez can be Redknapp’s successor. That’s really going to win the dressing room over, isn’t it Hello gentlemen, here’s your new boss. He’s the guy who was in charge of Wigan Athletic when you beat them 9-1. I can see the sneers now.

Back in 2001, Levy’s board announced a five-year plan that involved regular European football. That sounded a pipe dream when Spurs were languishing in 14th in 2004 or finishing a mediocre 11th in 2008, but Redknapp helped turn that ambition into a reality.

And, whatever the deposed boss says, he would still be in the job had the Germans not lost that penalty shootout to Chelsea in Munich. Levy would not have had the balls to remove a boss who had delivered Champions League football for the second time in three seasons.

Redknapp deserved better in return. His only error was to believe what he read in the papers, heard on the radio and saw on TV — that he was about to be handed the most important football job in the country. It’s hard to blame him for that and it certainly doesn’t justify Spurs doing the dirty on Harry.

Time for fans to blow their own trumpet

According to a recent survey of, er… me, nobody likes the England band.
The fact that the brass ensemble had their instruments taken away before the first Euro 2012 match against France was the most welcomed silence since Sir Cliff Richard’s off-key warbling during the Jubilee concert came to a merciful end.

Now the England band are probably charming lads and they’ve certainly milked this ploy to wangle free tickets but I had the misfortune to sit in front of them and endure their deafening, phony ‘atmosphere’ throughout one England international.

The banned: England's 'musicians' with their instruments

The banned: England's 'musicians' with their instruments

Midway through their 49th rendition of
The Great Escape I was quite willing to conduct an experiment into
whether an entire trumpet could pass through a musician’s digestive
system, in reverse.

Of course, it is easy to forget why the band were wheeled out in the first place during the mid 90s.

In other news…

Manchester City are to launch a new
club aftershave. It’s made entirely from the most expensive ingredients
of rival aftershaves.

Kevin Pietersen has retired from one-day duty for England. I can’t wait to hear what country he wants to play for next.

It is somewhat ironic, as someone pointed out to me this week, to see Rangers being ruined by men called Green and Whyte.

It was a clever ploy to drown out the moronic chants of ‘No Surrender’ from England’s knuckle-dragging followers prior to Euro ’96.

But times change and, thankfully, the band’s services aren’t required any more. It’s time to let the audience sing their own songs.

It’s what the Irish do. Despite an undercurrent of racism, monkey chants and overt hooliganism in Eastern Europe, the Republic’s good-natured, happy supporters have lifted the roof of every stadium without a brass band accompaniment parping throughout the game.

The Irish team might not have been up to much, but their fans head home with honour. They proved they can blow their own trumpet.

Prepare for the m-a-week deal

Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore has been a busy man of late, securing an astonishing, new 3,018,000,000 deal for the game’s domestic television rights for the next three years.

I’ve used the figure in full, complete with all the required noughts, because it is a mind-boggling sum, the magnitude of which just isn’t captured by skipping over the seven-letter word ‘billion’. This deal is up 71 per cent on the current contract at a time of global austerity.


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To put Scudamore’s work into context, the team who finish bottom of the Premier League at the end of the 2013-14 season will now collect more than the 60million Manchester City banked for winning the title in May.

Those so-called financial fair play laws look somewhat less restrictive all of a sudden. Scudamore suggested clubs use their new money for ‘sustainability’. But he can’t tell them how to spend the cash — and they’ll do no such thing, of course.

This jackpot means one thing to you and me. We’ll be watching players earn even more extraordinary sums of money than they do right now. Ticket prices won’t come down. Despite the presence of sheiks and oligarchs and this windfall, an average seat costs 1,100 per cent more than when the League was introduced 20 years ago.

This is why: already there are agents out there tearing up their 200,000-a-week deals and scribbling 350,000 on the bottom line, with the 500,000-a-week payday just around the corner.

As things stand, 7 of every 10 the Premier League earn passes straight out of the club accounts and into the pockets of the players and their agents.

But the men who kick a ball about will argue that, if the Premier League are 71 per cent more valuable to BSkyB and the new broadcast partner, British Telecom, then the people putting on the show deserve their reward, too.

BSkyB and BT might have paid 71 per cent more, yet they will not be able to hike prices by 71 per cent. And 71 per cent more people are not going to tune in. So something’s got to give, which is going to be difficult in a game where everybody takes.

There's a trick up Danny's sleeve

Film maker Danny Boyle played a delightful con trick on the world this week when he revealed the supposed details of the Olympic Opening Ceremony.

The director sold a line that his vision of Britain for the 2012 games would consist of the traditional British countryside complete with cows, 70 sheep, cricket and simulated rain all in a tellytubby-style arena.

Columnists fell over one another in the rush to spoof this seemingly nave vision, adding travellers’ caravan sites, hunt saboteurs and traffic cones to the pastoral scene.

Model pro: How the Olympic opening ceremony will look, as designed by artistic director Danny Boyle (centre), famous for films such as Trainspotting

Model pro: How the Olympic opening ceremony will look, as designed by artistic director Danny Boyle (centre), famous for films such as Trainspotting

‘We’re bound to fail,’ said Boyle on the level of expectation that awaits. But that was why he was revealing only a part of the plan and it was possible to catch the whiff of manure on the breeze.

This is the bloke who recently directed a stage version of Frankenstein. He made his name with Shallow Grave, a film about three people who dismember their dead flatmate. He followed it up with Trainspotting, a movie about heroin addiction, while 28 Days Later imagined the horror of a post-apocalyptic London.

So he’s not about to create a Cotswolds Lite for one of the biggest global TV audiences in history. I’ll bet half the spoofs are in his Opening Ceremony script already. Anyone who actually believes Boyle intends to present a ‘green and pleasant land’ will surely find the joke is on them.

Harry Redknapp wants Roman Pavlyuchenko to stay at Tottenham

I want Pav to stay, says Redknapp after unsettled striker nets winner against Sunderland

Harry Redknapp insists he does not want Roman Pavlyuchenko to leave Tottenham in January after watching the Russian fire his team to victory over Sunderland at White Hart Lane.

Tottenham failed to test Sunderland goalkeeper Keiren Westwood in a dull first half, but they sprung to life just after the hour when substitute Pavlyuchenko latched on to Rafael van der Vaart”s reverse pass and fired home a powerful low drive.

It was an exquisite finish from the 30-year-old, but he would not have even been on the pitch had it not been for the suspected hamstring tear which caused Aaron Lennon to be brought off in the first half.

Winner: Roman Pavlyuchenko scored the only goal of the game

Winner: Roman Pavlyuchenko scored the only goal of the game

Indeed, the striker may not have been in the Spurs matchday squad had Jermain Defoe not been ruled out prior to kick-off with a hamstring problem.

Pavlyuchenko has voiced his desire to leave White Hart Lane on a number of occasions this season after the arrival of Emmanuel Adebayor and the form of Rafael van der Vaart saw him drop down the pecking order at the north London club.

Redknapp admits he may struggle to keep Pavlyuchenko happy, but insists he will try to hang on to the Russian if he can.

“He”s a fantastic player. He”s got real talent. He”s got great ability, I think. He”s got a good left foot, a good right foot and is a great finisher,” Redknapp said.

“He”s top drawer but he”s just been unlucky. He didn”t start the season great. He hasn”t really shown the form that he”s capable of so he”s slipped down the pecking order a bit.

“It”s difficult. Some people are going to be upset they”re not in the team.

Unsettled: Pavlyuchenko has expressed his desire for more regular first team football

Unsettled: Pavlyuchenko has expressed his desire for more regular first team football

“Today I lost a wide man but I thought I”d change it and if you want someone to score he”s always likely to. I want to keep all four (strikers). You need them all.”

Tottenham looked out of sorts in the opening half and rarely played the kind of football that had seen them go on an 11-match unbeaten run recently.

They missed the presence of Gareth Bale, who was absent with a foot injury, and Lennon”s withdrawal deprived the Londoners of the usual pace and penetration down the flanks.

Lennon will miss Thursday”s London derby against top-four rivals Chelsea while Bale is a doubt for the game.

“Lennon felt the hamstring tear. He”s got no chance for Thursday,” Redknapp said.

“It”ll be weeks, if it”s a tear.

Torn: Lennon injured his hamstring

Torn: Lennon injured his hamstring

“We”ll see about Bale. He”s sprained his ankle. He just did it in training.

“There”s every chance Defoe will be fit.”

Sunderland are now within one point of the relegation zone after the defeat which was harsh on the Wearsiders, who frustrated Spurs for large parts of the game.

Brad Friedel saved superbly from Sebastian Larsson and Kieran Richardson, and the former Manchester United winger was guilty of missing a gilt-edged opportunity to give the Black Cats the lead in the first half.

Sunderland manager Martin O”Neill was happy with his team”s efforts in his second game in charge.

“I didn”t think any player wearing a Sunderland shirt today downed tools,” O”Neill said.

Satisfied: Martin O

Satisfied: Martin O”Neill was pleased with the efforts of his players

“I saw an effort. It was a little bit misguided at times, but these are the things we have to rectify. Getting goals is difficult.

“I as disappointed to lose the game but I couldn”t ask for much more in terms of effort.

“There were certainly a lot of things I felt were pretty good about us and we certainly never gave up.

“We were euphoric last week having won the game (against Blackburn), but tasted defeat today against a really fine Tottenham side.”

O”Neill, whose team take on QPR on Wednesday, had to withdraw 18-year-old striker Connor Wickham at half-time through injury.

The former Leicester boss played down fears the striker, who recently recovered from a serious knee injury, is facing another spell on the sidelines, however.

“I think Connor”s going to be okay,” O”Neill said.