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Heineken Cup: Harlequins 12 Munster 18: Quins European hopes ended by Irish

Harlequins 12 Munster 18: Resurgent O'Connell jumps back into the Lions queue

PUBLISHED:

15:17 GMT, 7 April 2013

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UPDATED:

21:09 GMT, 7 April 2013

It may have been basic, but Munster strangled the English champions and were led by Paul O’Connell, who jumped and tackled his way back into Lions contention.

The 2009 Lions captain led a second-half charge which left Chris Robshaw and his Premiership men looking stunned in front of a full house of 15,000.

Munster’s pack won the crucial collisions — paving the way for another rejuvenated Irish master, Ronan O’Gara, to kick six penalties — four in the space of 14 minutes after the interval.

Resurgent: Paul O'Connell (centre) produced a dominant performance that must have put him back in Lions contention

Resurgent: Paul O'Connell (centre) produced a dominant performance that must have put him back in Lions contention

Quins’ previous Heineken Cup quarter-final four years ago, ended in the ‘Bloodgate’ scandal and a 6-5 win for Leinster.

The ramifications will not be as seismic this time, but Quins’ season is now in danger of collapse after three successive Premiership defeats.

They had turned around 9-6 ahead to harbour hopes of reaching a first semi-final at the fourth attempt, but that belief was shattered by Munster’s start to the second half.

O’Gara, shaking off the dis-appointment of being dropped by Ireland during the Six Nations, calmly kicked four penalties to follow his two shots before the interval.

Thin red line: The Munster No 8 steals the ball from Quins No 8 Nick Easter at the lineout

Thin red line: The Munster No 8 steals the ball from Quins No 8 Nick Easter at the lineout

O’Connell led the pack to give watching Lions coach Warren Gatland a firm reminder of his class and strength. On this showing O’Connell, who missed Ireland’s Six Nations campaign due to a back complaint, is a candidate to lead the Lions again following his impressive stint on the 2009 tour to South Africa.

For the moment, the 33-year-old refuses to discuss the prospect. ‘I’ve got a little bit to go in terms of match fitness but this was another injury-free day and I’m delighted to be back,’ he said.
Munster coach Rob Penney believes O’Connell will be ‘humming’ by the time of the Lions’ crucial games in Australia.

Quins director of rugby Conor O’Shea was also full of praise for O’Connell and a Munster pack in which back-rowers Tommy O’Donnell and Peter O’Mahony were outstanding.

Thank Evans: Quins' New Zealand fly-half Nick Evans secures another three points during the home side's rampant start

Thank Evans: Quins' New Zealand fly-half Nick Evans secures another three points during the home side's rampant start

O’Shea said: ‘Paul was absolutely magnificent. They rallied around him and followed him.’

O’Shea now has the task of re-energising his own team. ‘We didn’t play the way we can play because we weren’t allowed,’ was his blunt assessment.

‘Munster bossed the start of the second half and from then on it was a very big mountain to climb.
‘Our job is to qualify for the Premiership play-offs. We will be written off, no doubt, but we will just have to learn.’

Such thoughts seemed unlikely when Quins took charge at the opening scrums.

Pull the other one: Nick Easter drags back Paul O'Connell by his shirt before bringing him down

Pull the other one: Nick Easter drags back Paul O'Connell by his shirt before bringing himdown

The pressure brought a 6-0 lead through two penalties from Nick Evans and it was Munster who looked likely to crack.

But there were no clear try-scoring chances and the match became increasingly nervy as O’Connell and his gang started to win the crucial decisions from French referee Jerome Garces.

A third penalty from Evans helped Quins limp to a 9-6 lead at half-time and Munster turned to play into a stiff wind.

That handicap looked to make them more focused and a brilliant period of pressure rugby was rewarded by O’Gara’s nerveless kicking. He took Munster to a lead of 18-9 after 56 minutes.

Red riding hood: Munster's famous support were out in force at the Stoop

Red riding hood: Munster's famous support were out in force at the Stoop

A fourth penalty from Evans raised Quins’ hopes in the 65th, only for Munster to produce some clinical ‘keep-ball’ rugby and close out the match — much to the delight of their big following.

O’Connell claimed his team had not talked about such tactics, although his smile said something else. ‘The maul worked well and our kicking game was outstanding — you can’t win these tight games without that,’ he said in praise of O’Gara.

O’Shea refused to blame referee Garces for Quins’ demise. ‘Sometimes you have to say that the better team won,’ he conceded.
Smash and grab: England and Quins Mike Brown is wrestled to the ground by Munster's James Coughlan

Smash and grab: England and Quins Mike Brown is wrestled to the ground by Munster's James Coughlan

Sorry, sir: Quins captain Chris Robshaw is lectured by French referee Jerome Garces

Sorry, sir: Quins captain Chris Robshaw is lectured by French referee Jerome Garces

Mark Selby and Shaun Murphy level UK Championship final

Selby fights back to level UK Championship final against Murphy in York

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UPDATED:

18:57 GMT, 9 December 2012

Mark Selby took the final two frames of the afternoon session to draw level with Shaun Murphy in a williamhill.com UK Championship final that looked set to run close and late this evening.

The pair were tied at 4-4, with a possible 11 frames to come in an evening session due to begin shortly after 8pm.

It was no surprise the final was proving keenly fought, with both men having relied on battling tendencies to last the distance at York's Barbican Centre.

Showdown: Mark Selby (left) and Shaun Murphy ahead of the final

Showdown: Mark Selby (left) and Shaun Murphy ahead of the final

Selby came from 4-0 behind to beat Neil Robertson 6-4 in the quarter-finals, while Murphy produced the tournament's most remarkable fightback to stun Ali Carter in their semi-final, recovering from 8-4 down to win 9-8.

The final was a best-of-19 tussle, with the close friends proving evenly matched on the baize.

Murphy edged ahead after a wretched attempted escape by Selby from a safety presented an early chance to put points on the board.

Murphy then led 49-0 in the second, but he was unfortunate to pot the cue ball as well as a long red and Selby fired in a frame-clinching 54 break, which he followed with a 66 to take the next.

Fine breaks of 83 and 98 either side of the mid-session interval allowed Murphy to move 3-2 in front, and it was 4-2 after the Sale-based 30-year-old edged a scrappy sixth frame that lasted 52 minutes.

All square: Selby fought back to level the afternoon session

All square: Selby fought back to level the afternoon session

Selby trimmed Murphy's lead with a 70 break, and by taking the last of the session he ensured there would be nothing between the players when play resumed later.

There was plenty riding on the match, with Murphy seeking his first ranking title for over 18 months and Selby bidding to win his maiden UK Championship.

Selby, who will reclaim the world No 1 ranking from Judd Trump tomorrow due to his run in York, has a disappointing return of just two ranking titles in his career.

Although he has also lifted the Masters trophy twice, Selby's haul does his ability little justice, and the same could be said of Murphy's total of four ranking titles.

One of them would boost their total tonight, but the early evidence pointed only to a close finish rather than which man would come out on top.

Shaun Murphy took inspiration from late great pal Paul Hunter in thrilling York comeback

Murphy took inspiration from late great pal Hunter in thrilling York comeback

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UPDATED:

15:48 GMT, 8 December 2012

Shaun Murphy has been inspired by memories of Paul Hunter as he closes in on williamhill.com UK Championship glory.

Hunter was one of his sport's most popular figures but died of cancer in October 2006 at the age of 27.

In York over the past week Murphy has had his old friend on his mind, and he considers the Leeds man to have been the perfect model of a player who knew how to stay cool in the heat of battle.

Most famously, Hunter employed a 'Plan B' during the interval in his first Masters final, as he returned re-energised from spending the break with his girlfriend and future wife Lindsey in their hotel bedroom. Hunter beat Fergal O'Brien 10-9 from 6-2 behind.

Comeback win: Shaun Murphy (left) saw off Ali Carter to reach the UK Championship final

Comeback win: Shaun Murphy (left) saw off Ali Carter to reach the UK Championship final

Murphy's mental strength has shone through at the Barbican Centre where he has won final-frame deciders against Luca Brecel and Ali Carter to clinch a place in the title match. He insisted last night that there had been no 'Plan B' in operation during the Carter match.

The 30-year-old will tomorrow have a shot at the 125,000 top prize and his second UK title, four years after the first.

And when Murphy has had to fight to stay composed, three-time Masters champion Hunter's attitude has come to mind.

'I'm very strong technically and my shot selection has been good over the years, but what I've been able to do recently is hold myself together,' Murphy said.

'And I remember the great Paul Hunter, that was his best strength. Under pressure he was able to chill out and you'd never know with Paul whether he'd won or lost. I've tried to take that on board and use it to the same effect.

'I see the funny side of things rather than banging my cue on the table and in the last few frames against Ali I didn't feel any pressure at all.'

Inspiration: The late Paul Hunter had an astonishing temperament

Inspiration: The late Paul Hunter had an astonishing temperament

From 8-4 behind against Carter, Murphy won five frames in a row to prevail 9-8, and after making a recent bad habit of losing in ranking event semi-finals he is thrilled to be challenging again for one of the most prized trophies in snooker.

He said: 'I think what's happened this week is that all the little pieces of the experience that I've gathered over the last few years have all come together.

'Win, lose or draw on Sunday I've had a really great week. I've gone back to my attacking play, my long potting has been good and I've had a bit of nous here and there which I never used to have.

'I've played quite clever snooker at times. But the biggest thing for me is that I've been able to keep my composure.

'Never at any time has my head gone down. I've not been stomping around and I've not been sulking. I've just got on with it.

'I'm going into the final having already won this tournament, so I feel I probably won't be under much pressure. I've got a free crack at it.'

There was disappointment for Murphy at the beginning of the year when he was beaten in the Masters final by Neil Robertson, and that is a title he has yet to claim.

He will have another chance next month at Alexandra Palace, but for now Murphy's focus is on lifting the UK trophy.

'It'd be nice to have one of the big three,' said the player who is based in Sale, Greater Manchester.

'I had a great chance in January to win the Masters and complete my set of 'BBC' majors, that didn't happen but to have another good run at this tournament and another crack at the trophy is very, very exciting.'

Shaun Murphy beats Ali Carter to reach UK Championship final

Murphy in remarkable fightback to get Carter and book place in final

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UPDATED:

23:04 GMT, 7 December 2012

Shaun Murphy staged one of snooker's great fightbacks on Friday night to leave Ali Carter stunned and book a place in Sunday's final of the williamhill.com UK Championship.

It looked to be Carter's match when he led 8-4 in the best-of-17 contest, but Murphy played like a player transformed after the mid-session interval, with breaks of 76, 49, 105 and 78 forcing a decider.

Murphy had said after Thursday's victory over 17-year-old Luca Brecel that a dressing-room rocket from his manager Brandon Parker had saved him from defeat, and whatever was said on Friday evening behind closed doors clearly also did the trick.

Slow start: Murphy found himself 8-4 down

Slow start: Murphy found himself 8-4 down

Murphy held his nerve in a tense final frame as breaks of 39 and 29 carried him through to a clash with Mark Selby or Mark Davis, a 9-8 winner.

Carter, who broke down in tears afterwards as he spoke about his continuing battle with Crohn's disease, said: 'Shaun's played unbelievably from 8-4 behind. I was in complete control. All credit to Shaun, I can't be too hard on myself.'

Speaking about his painful condition, Carter said: 'If I could pay to get rid of it, I would.'

Carter had been ahead in the decider, reaching 32 before missing a red with the rest. He dropped his head to the baize, knowing the error had presented Murphy with the chance to take frame and match.

Murphy reached 39 but left himself a difficult black. It was stick or twist time and the 30-year-old opted to stick, playing safe, armed with a seven-point lead.

It proved a judicious choice, for when another half-chance came along Murphy rifled in a tough red, especially tough given the circumstances, to the right-centre pocket. That gave him the platform on which to build the match-clinching break.

Get Carter: Murphy reeled in the Essex potter

Get Carter: Murphy reeled in the Essex potter

Murphy said: 'I don't feel that Ali lost it – I feel that I won it and I'm really proud.

'I was four down with five to play. It's pretty straightforward and you know where you stand with that.

'For the semis of the UK Championships, when I was all but dead and buried, that's got to be my best five-frame spell ever.

'I can't believe that I won the match. I felt he was going to paste me 9-4. I'm blown away.'

Murphy will be bidding for his second UK Championship title, having pipped Marco Fu to the trophy in 2008.

It will be the first all-English final in the UK Championship since Jimmy White beat John Parrott at Preston in 1992.

Carter has reaped the benefits of a diet low in gluten and wheat since admitting after a second-round exit to Mark Allen in York last December that he was considering retirement.

Final date: Murphy booked his place in Sunday's showdown

Final date: Murphy booked his place in Sunday's showdown

After almost a decade of battling Crohn's disease, an inflammatory bowel condition, Carter has struck on a diet that allows him to stay focused enough to remain a snooker force.

But the problem can only be managed rather than cured, and there are days when Carter suffers particularly badly.

On the table he looked untroubled for much of Friday's match, with afternoon breaks of 77 and 101 seeing him seize a 5-3 lead.

When Carter won three of the evening session's opening four frames, he was one away from the final and a 1/40 shot to win the match.

It looked hopeless for Murphy, but his belief never wavered.

The Manchester-based potter knew he could have played better early on, adding: 'I left it until the death until I started playing.'

England 15 South Africa 16: Penalty call haunts Red Rose again as fortuitous try seals Springbok win

England 15 South Africa 16: Penalty call haunts Red Rose again as freak try seals Springbok win

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UPDATED:

17:03 GMT, 24 November 2012

England's autumn is beginning to look as bleak as the Twickenham weather after Willem Alberts' fortunate try earned South Africa victory.

Stuart Lancaster's men now head into next weekend's appointment with world champions New Zealand on the back of narrow defeats at home to Australia and the Springboks.

England competed every step of the way with South Africa, matching the Springboks for intensity and desire and they battled back from 16-6 down with real heart.

Crucial score: Willem Alberts goes over the line for the only try of the game despite the attentions of Joe Launchbury

Crucial score: Willem Alberts goes over the line for the only try of the game despite the attentions of Joe Launchbury

They were the better team,
particularly in the second half when Owen Farrell came on, but their
undoing was a slice of bad luck just after the interval.

When Ben Youngs' hacked clearance
rebounded off JP Pietersen, the ball fell to Alberts who scored rugby's
equivalent of an open goal.

Farrell added three penalties to the
two struck by Toby Flood as England battled all the way to the death.
Lancaster will be encouraged by those qualities.

Family affair: Tom Youngs (left) attempts to intervene as Eben Etzebeth grapples with brother Ben

Family affair: Tom Youngs (left) attempts to intervene as Eben Etzebeth grapples with brother Ben

But assistant coach Graham Rowntree
himself said he was sick of talking about lessons learned and England,
despite Alberts' fortunate try, could have won the game.

Flood missed two first-half penalties
and again the spotlight will fall on a decision made by captain Chris
Robshaw when England were awarded a kickable penalty with just over a
minute remaining.

Last week, England were criticised
for not taking their points. Today, Robshaw changed his mind having
initially told Farrell to kick for touch.

Hands up: Chris Robshaw is closed down by Adriaan Strauss (left) and Francois Louw

Hands up: Chris Robshaw is closed down by Adriaan Strauss (left) and Francois Louw

Farrell slotted the penalty, but
England could not gather the restart and South Africa held on to extend
their unbeaten run in this fixture to 11 matches, dating back to 2006.

England had drawn heart from their 14-14 draw with South Africa in the third Test of the summer tour. Those lessons Rowntree referred to included the need to match the Springbok physicality.

Joe Launchbury was given his first international start while Alex Corbisiero, Tom Wood and Ben Morgan were brought back to bring some steel into the England pack. They all delivered.

Running free: Alex Goode breaks away from the clutches of Jannie du Plessis

Running free: Alex Goode breaks away from the clutches of Jannie du Plessis

Youngs justified Lancaster's decision
to promote him into the starting side with a clever display at
scrum-half, as did Mike Brown on the wing.

England reprised their tour tactic of
using two full-backs and the grim, wet conditions meant this was always
going to be an arm-wrestle in the rain at Twickenham.

England had to display their intent
from the outset and did, with Geoff Parling blocking Ruan Pienaar's box
kick and Robshaw pounced on Patrick Lambie to win the penalty.

Breaking away: Manu Tuilagi skips past Jean de Villiers

Breaking away: Manu Tuilagi skips past Jean de Villiers

Flood missed his shot at goal but England kept the pressure on as Brown claimed a confident high ball and escaped two defenders.

Parling and Morgan both piled forward
as England drove within five metres of the Springbok line. Chris Ashton
was wrapped up but England won a second penalty shot at goal for offside
and this time Flood made no mistake with the boot.

England defended resolutely when Flood
lost the ball as he tried to run from deep but Eben Etzebeth stole a
lineout and the Springboks earned a penalty which Lambie converted.

Clearing his lines: Ben Youngs gets a kick away despite the attentions of Duane Vermeulen

Clearing his lines: Ben Youngs gets a kick away despite the attentions of Duane Vermeulen

Flood returned from a brief spell in
the blood-bin to exchange penalties with Lambie but then missed a second
penalty shot at goal, earned by a strong England scrum.

Morgan crashed holes in the Springbok
defensive line but England could not capitalise and Lambie edged the
Springboks ahead for the first time in the match.

England came searing out of a scrappy
passage of play, dominated by the boot and some poor kick-chasing, with a
clean break from Alex Goode onto a clever ball from Ben Youngs.

Locked up: Joe Launchbury is tackled by Gurthro Steenkamp and Duane Vermeulen

Locked up: Joe Launchbury is tackled by Gurthro Steenkamp and Duane Vermeulen

But Flood's kick in behind skipped
dead in goal before Manu Tuilagi could get to it and England then wasted
a five-on-three overlap.

Just after the restart, South Africa extended their 9-6 half-time lead in a bizarre circumstances.
When Juande Kruger lost control as he
drove for the line, Ben Youngs tried to hack the ball clear but it
crashed into JP Pietersen.

The ball rebounded towards Morgan, who
could not gather it on his own line and Springboks flanker Alberts
pounced to score a try that was converted by Lambie.

Lancaster reacted to England falling 10 points down by sending on Farrell for Flood and they raised the intensity.

Off-balance: Toby Flood (front) and Ben Morgan get to grips with JP Pietersen

Off-balance: Toby Flood (front) and Ben Morgan get to grips with JP Pietersen

JP Pietersen could not take an
excellent box-kick from Ben Youngs and Morgan spread the play wide for
Tuilagi, who crashed through the South African defence.

A mistake from Farrell put England on
the back foot but they came storming out of defence with an interception
from Tuilagi inside his own 22.

Tuilagi powered downfield and then fed
Ashton but a poor pass to Brown, who should have come closer, checked
England's momentum and a promising move ended when Launchbury knocked
on.

Mixed fortunes: England were inconsistent in the line-out

Mixed fortunes: England were inconsistent in the line-out

England kept piling on the pressure,
helped by some poor South African kicking. Mako Vunipola crashed into
the Springbok 22 and England won another penalty when Francois Louw came
in off his feet.

Farrell converted it and then booted
England back into South African territory but again the Twickenham crowd
were left frustrated as Ashton knocked the ball forward.

England came again and, with a minute
remaining, earned the kickable penalty which Robshaw, eventually,
instructed Farrell to kick for goal.

Mark Hughes rues wasteful Queens Park Rangers

Hughes frustrated by wasteful QPR after another defeat leaves sorry Rs rock bottom

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UPDATED:

19:46 GMT, 10 November 2012

QPR boss Mark Hughes was left rueing his side's profligacy after seeing their wait for a Barclays Premier League win this season extended to 11 games with this afternoon's 1-0 defeat at Stoke.

The Rs have sunk back to the bottom of the table following a contest in which they were the better side for long periods, only to be undone by Charlie Adam's 52nd-minute strike.

Adel Taarabt wastefully chipped over for the visitors when presented with a good chance just before the interval and was unable to convert further opportunities after Adam's goal, while Potters goalkeeper Asmir Begovic did well to keep out an Esteban Granero effort.

Rueful: Mark Hughes was frustrated that his side were unable to put in one of their many chances

Rueful: Mark Hughes was frustrated that his side were unable to put in one of their many chances

Hughes was in many ways satisfied with his team's display but was frustrated at their failure to make it count.

'We've had this conversation too many times after games unfortunately,' Hughes said.

'We played well as the away side – I thought it was a decent away performance.

'We restricted Stoke to very few chances. In general play I thought we were the dominant team in terms of how we wanted to get the ball down and play.

'But the key at the moment is that we have to take chances when they present themselves.

'We created good opportunities, but unfortunately didn't take them.'

Hughes was keen to defend Taarabt, rating the midfielder's overall performance as 'really effective'.

But the manager admitted a lack of a clinical touch had cost QPR, as well as hesitant defending for Adam's goal, with the ball being allowed to bounce through to the Scot when Jon Walters nodded a free-kick his way in the box.

'In fairness to Adel, I played him through the middle and I thought he was really effective,' Hughes said.

'He understood what was required, got in between the lines and was causing Stoke a real problem, certainly in the first half.

'If we had got a goal, I think it would have capped an excellent first-half performance for us, but it wasn't to be and you know that at those points in games, if you don't take your chances then there is always the danger you will concede at the other end.

Swing and a miss: Adel Taarabt chipped over the bar

Swing and a miss: Adel Taarabt chipped over the bar

Harsh lesson: Charlie Adam stroked home a loose ball in the 52nd minute

Harsh lesson: Charlie Adam stroked home a loose ball in the 52nd minute

'Stoke will always put the ball into the box and you have to deal with things dropping around you.

'Unfortunately we made a mistake, one of the few we made today at the back – I thought defensively we were very good today, better than we have been in recent weeks.

'At the moment, every mistake we make is getting punished.'

Although he has been publicly backed in recent weeks by QPR owner Tony Fernandes – who prior to kick-off had written 'Keep the faith. Panic is not what the doc ordered' on his Twitter account – the pressure is increasing on Hughes.

Asked if he had spoken after the game to Fernandes, Hughes said: 'I have not spoken to Tony – I spoke to him before.'

Stoke boss Tony Pulis expressed some measure of sympathy for his fellow Welshman Hughes, although he emphasised the importance of grinding out results.

'We have played games this year that we should never have lost,' said Pulis, whose team registered what was only their second win of the campaign and are up to 12th.

'He (Hughes) will be disappointed, with the chances they have created today, that they haven't scored some goals.

'But you need to eke out results.'

Wasteful: QPR dominated the game for long periods

Wasteful: QPR dominated the game for long periods

Wasteful: QPR dominated the game for long periods but could not eke out a result in the end

Mikel Arteta disappointed as Arsenal draw in Schalke

Mixed emotions for Arteta as Arsenal throw away Champions League lead in Schalke

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UPDATED:

22:22 GMT, 6 November 2012

Mikel Arteta had mixed feelings after Arsenal's Champions League draw away to Schalke.

Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud gave the Gunners a 2-0 lead in the Group B clash in the Veltins Arena but Klaas Jan Huntelaar pulled a goal back before the interval and Jefferson Farfan's second-half goal earned the German side a point.

Arteta told Sky Sports 2: 'Considering we were 2-0 up, it can't be good for us. We had the last chance too with Theo.

Blow: Arsenal let a two-goal lead slip against Schalke in their Champions League clash

Blow: Arsenal let a two-goal lead slip against Schalke in their Champions League clash

Net gains: Vermaelen gets the final touch on Schalke's equaliser after 67 minutes

Net gains: Vermaelen gets the final touch on Schalke's equaliser after 67 minutes

'We were unlucky to concede just before half-time. It was a completely different game, but that happened. 'But this is not an easy place to come. We'll take the point.'

Walcott echoed those sentiments and said: 'It was a good point in the end. It would have been a fantastic victory, they dominated the second half but we defended quite strongly.

On target: Walcott, a surprise starter in Germany, opened the scoring

On target: Walcott, a surprise starter in Germany, opened the scoring

'We'll try to win our last couple of games and as long as we do that, we'll get into the next round.'

On his late opportunity to snatch all three points, the England forward said: 'I did all I could – the ball got stuck to my feet, I just couldn't get it out.'

Manager Arsene Wenger was pleased with his side's improvement compared to their limp defeat against Manchester United on Saturday.

Fair: Wenger was satisfied with Arsenal's response in Schalke after losing against Manchester United

Fair: Wenger was satisfied with Arsenal's response in Schalke after losing against Manchester United

He told Sky Sports 2: 'With all the stick we got after Saturday's game, it was important to show a good response and I think we did that.

'It was a difficult game – a good one as well, both teams played very well.

'It was unfortunate that we conceded that goal before half-time, and in the last minute we had the chance for 3-2, but overall I think a draw was fair.

'At 2-0 you have not won the game in the Champions League. German teams have physical quality and technical quality and they never give up, so I never felt the game was over.'

Brendan Rodgers disappointed with Joe Cole comeback

Rodgers disappointed with Cole's performance in midfielder's Anfield comeback

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UPDATED:

08:25 GMT, 1 November 2012

Yet another comeback from Joe Cole ended in disappointment and the Liverpool midfielder left Anfield after a 3-1 Capital One Cup exit to Swansea with manager Brendan Rodgers less than impressed.

The former England international, who turns 31 next week, made his first start since the Europa League qualifier against Gomel on August 2 but lasted just 45 minutes.

He was withdrawn at half-time for captain Steven Gerrard with Rodgers admitting former Swans star Joe Allen was the only midfielder to perform well in the opening 45 minutes.

Off the pace: Cole (right) made his Liverpool comeback on Wednesday night

Off the pace: Cole (right) made his Liverpool comeback on Wednesday night

Chico Flores and Nathan Dyer put the visitors 2-0 up and, although another interval substitute Luis Suarez quickly reduced the deficit, Jonathan de Guzman added a third in added time.

'The club have invested an astronomical amount of money on a talented player and Joe had the opportunity,' said Rodgers.

'He has been back fit a couple of weeks and his opportunities have been limited but you have to see.

'I thought it was difficult for him, it was too slow and it wasn't what I would expect from a team I tried to set up to be dynamic.'

Cole, signed on a free transfer from Chelsea by Roy Hodgson on wages of 100,000 a week, spent last season on loan at Lille.

He returned to Anfield this summer determined to make an impression on a manager he knew from their time together at Stamford Bridge but he is just not fitting in and further first-team chances appear slim.

Disappointed: Cole was hauled off by Rodgers at half-time

Disappointed: Cole was hauled off by Rodgers at half-time

Rodgers was unhappy with his side's first-half performance in particular and was gracious to admit his former club deserved their victory.

'I thought the best team won. We were too slow, there was no tempo in the first half,' admitted the Northern Irishman, who left south Wales to take over from Kenny Dalglish at Anfield in June.

'It is disappointing. You can only hurt (from the result) if you are the better team and I thought they were the better team.

'I am disappointed to be out of the competition but I don't think we can have any complaints.'

Swansea boss Michael Laudrup, having succeeded Rodgers, hailed the club's achievement of reaching the quarter-finals of the competition for the first time.

Marching on: Swansea progressed to the quarter-finals

Marching on: Swansea progressed to the quarter-finals

'I think we deserved the win and it is not very often you can say that as a manager playing at Anfield against Liverpool,' said the former Denmark international, whose side now have a home tie against npower Championship side Middlesbrough.

'To win at Anfield is great so maybe it is (the best performance of his short reign).

'For 80 minutes we played a really good game with some fantastic counter-attacks and it was nice to watch.

'It is the first time the club has gone so far in the competition and to be in the last eight is great.

'It is a great achievement for the squad and the fans and now we can enjoy it but not for too long because we have another big game at Chelsea.'

Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes injury doubts for England

Triple injury concern for England coach Lancaster as Hartley, Lawes and Youngs are crocked

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UPDATED:

20:08 GMT, 27 October 2012

Three potential players in England’s starting XV against Fiji on Saturday week will report to the England camp in Burton on Sunday with injuries that could rule them out of at least the first of four autumn internationals.

Both Dylan Hartley and Courtney Lawes left the field yesterday during Northampton’s home defeat to Saracens with knee injuries, while scrum-half Ben Youngs withdrew before the start of Leicester’s game at Gloucester with a ‘tight hamstring’.

Crocked: Lawes receives treatment to his knee on Saturday

Crocked: Lawes receives treatment to his knee on Saturday

The first-choice hooker by some distance, Hartley will be a major concern for England head coach Stuart Lancaster.

The Saints captain failed to return
to the field after the interval, but at least lasted longer than Lawes,
who had been earmarked to start alongside Geoff Parling in the second
row. The injury-jinxed lock forward damaged his left knee after four
minutes.

Northampton rugby director Jim Mallinder did not reveal the full extent of the injuries suffered by hooker Hartley and lock Lawes.

'They've done something, but we will know a lot more later,' Mallinder said.

'I think Lawes and Hartley are the sort of characters that if they had just got a knock and they will be running around on Monday, they wouldn't have come off.

'Courtney tried to carry on, but he was unable to do so. You want them on the field and getting through games. It was disappointing they had to go off.'

Doubt: Dylan Hartley (centre) could miss England's clash against Fiji

Doubt: Dylan Hartley (centre) could miss England's clash against Fiji

Lawes missed much of last season because of an injury to his right knee, but his 27th-minute departure today was due to an issue with his left one.

Hartley took a blow just before half-time and he did not emerge for the second period, although Mallinder could not say which knee the England captaincy candidate had injured.

Mallinder added: 'Courtney and Dylan join up with England tomorrow and we will have to wait for a decision whether they are rested or not for Leicester next Saturday.

'Stuart will look to retain his starting 23 (for Fiji) and I guess the others will be returned to their clubs.

'It doesn't help when you have two key England lads and (full-back) Stephen Myler going off with injuries, but I thought in the first half we played pretty well into a big gale. We played some good rugby.'

Precaution: Youngs did not start at Kingsholm

Precaution: Youngs did not start at Kingsholm

Lancaster will have been relieved to see his England contingent emerge unscathed from a ferocious contest at Kingsholm that Gloucester won 27-21.

And Tigers rugby director Richard Cockerill dismissed any fears that Youngs would not quickly regain full fitness.

'Ben was probably about 10 per cent off playing today,' Cockerill said.

'He has got a slightly tight hamstring from last weekend. We could have played him and knackered him for England, so we looked after him.

'Ben is fine. If we were playing in a couple of days' time, he would probably be fit.'

Liverpool"s Stewart Downing hopes Brendan Rodgers has selection headache

Downing eyes derby outing after giving Rodgers selection headache with Euro winner

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Netbuster: Stewart Downing settled a nervy Europa League tie in Liverpool's favour

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It was just the fourth goal of what has been a generally frustrating period for the 28-year-old England international following his move from Aston Villa in 2011, which has only grown more so since Rodgers succeeded Kenny Dalglish as Reds boss over the summer.

This season Downing has made only one Premier League start and the last time he played at all in the top flight was mid-September, but he is optimistic he may have put himself in contention to feature at Goodison Park with his efforts in the Anzhi win, which saw Liverpool move into top spot in Group A.

'It was satisfying to get the goal but the win was the most important thing,' said Downing, quoted in the Liverpool Echo.

'The only way you can prove yourself to the manager is out on the field. All I can do is score goals and try to play well.

'I want to be playing in the Premier League and I'd love to play in the derby. Hopefully I've given the manager food for thought.

'We've got a big squad and the lads have done well recently so I'm not sure if the manager will change things. But I'm ready and waiting for a chance and when it comes I have to make sure I take it.'

Pick me: Downing hopes Brendan Rodgers now turns to him more often

Pick me: Downing hopes Brendan Rodgers now turns to him more often

Downing took up the left-back position after Glen Johnson was substituted at the interval for Raheem Sterling.

'I enjoyed it at left-back – I've played there before,' added Downing. 'Glen was struggling a bit at half-time and the manager didn't want to risk him. I went there no problem and that's where I got the goal from.

'I don't think I've scored many better than that. That was a good one and I was very happy with it.'

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