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Brad Barritt homes in on England spot earmarked for Owen Farrell

Now Barritt homes in on England spot earmarked for Saracens team-mate Farrell

When Saracens face the Ospreys in Swansea, Owen Farrell will not be in the No 12 shirt that many expect him to wear for England. At the Aviva Premiership”s champion club, that shirt belongs to Brad Barritt.

The Anglo-South African centre has made the place his own after three seasons of incredible consistency since moving from Durban to Hertfordshire.

When Charlie Hodgson arrived from Sale in the summer, it wasn”t Barritt who shifted to accommodate him, it was Farrell.

Action man: Centre Brad Barritt

Action man: Centre Brad Barritt”s career has taken off at Saracens

While the son of club and now national coach Andy Farrell is seen as a prime contender for Six Nations selection outside Toby Flood in a new 10-12 combination, Barritt has his own designs on England”s midfield.

He has played for the Saxons, but had only one appearance for the senior side, in a defeat by New Zealand Maori last summer.

With Jonny Wilkinson out of the picture, it is possible Farrell will be seen as a deputy for Flood rather than a sidekick, so the door could open for Barritt.

As a fixture in the rejigged Saracens XV again this year, he is happy with his role and his efforts.

Young pretender: Saracens

Young pretender: Saracens” Owen Farrell

“The results speak for themselves,” he said, with the club top of their Heineken Cup pool and second in the Premiership. “I”ve been defending at 13, then shifting into 12 in attack. I see myself at my best at 12 and as someone who can be a big, ball-carrying centre and a playmaking centre.

“My defensive work is something I pride myself on and I”ve been a goal-kicker, playing at 10. I like to think that being quite versatile would help me.”

As one of a number of overseas contenders chasing England recognition, Barritt, 25, is keen to alter perceptions and said: “I”ve got all English grandparents and my mum spent a lot of time here as a kid. The family is from London and Devon. I”ve always had a strong English culture and when I was growing up I was familiar with lots of little English things like Yorkshire pudding!

“I”d like to think that after being here for three years I can be viewed as an English player with South African connections. I came here very young – 22, 23 – and I want to show I am here for the long haul. I think that”s a lot different to a guy who comes over in his late 20s or early 30s, then kicks on to play for England.”

New boy: Charlie Hodgson (centre) has stepped in as Sarries

New boy: Charlie Hodgson (centre) has stepped in as Sarries” No 10

As a child, Barritt recalls a family outing to watch England versus Wales in the Six Nations at Twickenham. His ambition now is to be involved in that fixture and his hope is that a new regime – featuring Farrell Snr – will look on him favourably.

“In terms of international rugby, it is always down to the opinion of one or two men,” he said. “You can”t get too cut up about what they perceive to be the perfect 12. With management moving on and changing, I”d like to think I can impress and get another opportunity.”

Saracens are unchanged for tonight”s trip to the Liberty Stadium, following a 31-26 win in the reverse fixture at Wembley six days ago.

The Ospreys have locks Ian Gough and Ian Evans returning in a side led by young flanker Justin Tipuric.

Martin O"Neill wants Nikica Jelavic from Rangers

O”Neill is keen on hit man Jelavic as Sunderland boss seeks fresh firepower

Martin O’Neill is weighing up a January transfer swoop for Nikica Jelavic.

The new Sunderland manager is desperate to add firepower to his shot-shy side and Sportsmail understands the Rangers striker is high on his list of targets.

With Nicklas Bendtner and Connor Wickham the only fit out-and-out strikers at the Stadium of Light, O’Neill has prioritised a new front man — and the Croatia international ticks all the boxes.

Wanted man: Nikica Jelavic has been in impressive form for Rangers

Wanted man: Nikica Jelavic has been in impressive form for Rangers

It is unlikely Rangers would let their star man go for less than 7million and O’Neill must decide if he is prepared to spend the bulk of his January kitty — around 10m — on one player.

O’Neill has a track record of plundering both halves of the Old Firm since leaving Celtic in 2005.

As Aston Villa manager, he signed Shaun Maloney and Stilian Petrov from Celtic and went to Rangers to take Carlos Cuellar a year later.

West Bromwich Albion, meanwhile, are also to the forefront of the chase for the 26-year-old, while Kenny Dalglish’s Liverpool have been linked with a move for the Ibrox icon.

In the market: Martin O

In the market: Martin O”Neill wants to sign a striker in January

One major advantage for Roy Hodgson is the West Midlands side’s willingness to let Graham Dorrans move in the opposite direction to his boyhood heroes, which would solve one problem for Ally McCoist.

While losing Jelavic would undoubtedly be a huge setback to Rangers’ hopes of retaining the SPL title, gaining an attacking midfielder would soften the blow.

For their part, West Brom are the English Premiership’s joint-lowest scorers and badly need that to change to move away from the lower reaches of the table.

Jelavic joined Rangers on a four-year deal from Rapid Vienna for 4m in 2010 and proved an instant hit, scoring 33 goals so far.

Bolton set to gazump West Brom to New York Red Bulls defender Tim Ream to replace Gary Cahill

Bolton set to gazump West Brom to Ream with New York Red Bulls” defender lined up to replace Cahill

Bolton are ready to hijack West Brom’s move for New York Red Bulls’ USA defender Tim Ream and sign him next month as a replacement for Gary Cahill.

Ream was due at the Hawthorns on loan, but is on trial at Bolton, instead. With Cahill almost certain to leave in January, Bolton are weighing up a 3million bid for the 24-year old.

A man in demand: Ream

A man in demand: Ream

Frank Lampard urges Chelsea to fight for title

Now fight for the title! Lampard urges Chelsea to pile pressure on beaten Man City

Frank Lampard has ordered his Chelsea team-mates to fight their way back into the title race.

The veteran midfielder scored the winning penalty in Monday”s 2-1 victory over Barclays Premier League leaders Manchester City.

The crucial win moved them to within seven points of City going into the hectic Christmas period.

Spot on: Frank Lampard is mobbed after his Chelsea winner

Spot on: Frank Lampard is mobbed after his Chelsea winner

And Lampard says the hard work has only just begun for a Chelsea team that have struggled to fire under new manager Andre Villas-Boas.

He said: “Credit to us because Man City are the team of the season so far and to go 1-0 down and get a result shows a lot of character.

“Sometimes you have to grind out those results. It was the first time we did that against one of the major teams.

“It”s about spirit and keeping going, we had a bit of luck because they had a fair penalty claim in the first half but we”ve had the luck go against us and we need to use it as a platform now to go on and win a good stretch of games if we want to compete right at the top.

Take that: Lampard slams home his penalty past Joe Hart

Take that: Lampard slams home his penalty past Joe Hart

“A lot is made of getting results against the big teams but we also have to win our bread and butter games, and we”ve left ourselves in a position where we have to win pretty much all of them to get ourselves back in the race and we can”t get too excited because there is still a seven-point gap.

“If you don”t win enough games and perform at the right times then people will criticise you, that”s life. Man city are obviously beatable, nobody is unbeatable, and Chelsea need to be fighting to win leagues.

“We can”t be fighting for fifth and sixth, that”s not good enough here anymore so we need to be right up there.”

Lampard again started on the bench for Chelsea but his introduction ensured the hosts ended City”s unbeaten run.

Pure delight: Lampard celebrates his decisive goal

Pure delight: Lampard celebrates his decisive goal

He said: “It”s not often you come off the bench to take a penalty in such a big moment. I”ve taken a lot against Harty in the past in training and it was pure relief to be honest.

“We had a laugh about it because it was double mind games with each other, but I just try to step up when I get the chance, even if I miss a couple, and I”m just pleased it went in.

“I want to play, simple as that and 33 or not I”m as fit as I”ve ever been. If I didn”t want to play there would be no point in turning up. I know I”ve got a lot to give and I just want to be on the pitch letting the football do the talking.”

Andre Villas-Boas locks out reserves ahead of Man City clash

Lockdown as AVB shuts out reserves and outcasts ahead of Man City showdown

Andre Villas-Boas has taken his team into lockdown ahead of the crunch Barclays Premier League clash against Manchester City.

Amid a series of leaks from inside the Chelsea camp including revelations that he asked players to acknowledge the coaches on the bench when they celebrate a goal, Villas-Boas banished the reserves from the first-team building at the club”s training ground.

Nicolas Anelka and Alex, who have had transfer requests accepted, are also exiled from the first-team block at their Surrey headquarters and must report to the adjacent building, where the academy is based.

Laying down the law: Villas-Boas is shaking things up at the training ground

Laying down the law: Villas-Boas is shaking things up at the training ground

Dermot Drummy”s reserve-team squad, made up mainly of young professionals who were recently lectured about standards and attitude by technical director Michael Emenalo, have been ousted, too.

It is the latest in a series of changes enforced by Villas- Boas as he continues to stamp his authority and personality on the club he joined from Porto last summer.

Back-to-back wins against Newcastle and Valencia have eased the pressure from the Chelsea manager but defeat against City would leave his team trailing 13 points behind the Barclays Premier League leaders.

Villas-Boas is still in attack mode after launching a verbal assault on Gary Neville and Alan Pardew last week.

Neville angered the 34-year-old Portuguese with comments about David Luiz and Villas-Boas lashed out at Pardew for blaming injuries on Mike Dean”s decision to give the defender a yellow card rather than a red for a “last man foul” at St James” Park.

The Newcastle boss hit back, last night, saying: “It would be more honourable if he accepted that Luiz should have been sent off, like the referee did.

“Sometimes when you”ve had a defeat, you have to find certain reasons why and voice those concerns. But when you have a victory, it”s nice to be a bit more respectful and honourable, saying we won the game but decisions went our way. That”s what I did at Manchester United.”

Closed shop: Chelsea reserves are not to be allowed into the club

Closed shop: Chelsea reserves are not to be allowed into the club”s Cobham base

Closed shop: Chelsea reserves are not to be allowed into the club

Everton”s Phil Neville leapt to the defence of his brother, who has been praised for his insight as a pundit for Sky Sports.

“Gary has been fantastic and he”s impressed everybody,” said Neville. “I work on Merseyside, where opinions were divided when he got the job but he has won a lot of people over by being honest.

“He says it how it is and that”s all you can ask. He has always been the type to have strong opinions and people like listening to him. I know I certainly do. The hour on a Monday night before the game is fascinating.

Crunch clash: How Chelsea and City will line up

“I don”t think he”s been outspoken. He has just given a fair account of what”s been happening. Even though he”s a die-hard Manchester United fan, I don”t think anyone can label what he”s said.”

Gary did not resist more opinion on Chelsea in his Mail on Sunday column, insisting their title hopes willl be virtually over if they lose to City.

It happens to be a view shared by Villas-Boas. “It becomes extremely difficult if we lose,” said the Chelsea boss. “Thirteen points is a big deficit to recover. Not impossible, but that”s the reality.

“Getting back to seven would be ideal for us and puts City very close but 13 is a massive gap.”

Villas-Boas, who won the Europa League last season, rejected the idea that City”s Premier League efforts would be hindered by the competition.

“If it”s Thursday-Sunday, they have enough time to recover,” he said. He also ruled out any interest in City striker Carlos Tevez. “Not on loan, not a permanent deal,” said Villas-Boas.

Martin O"Neill"s to-do list at Sunderland

Martin O”Neill”s to-do list: What the new Sunderland manager has in his in-tray

FIND A FORMULA

Get the players in a room, lock the door and ask them where it’s all gone wrong. Too many of those he has inherited have to hold their hands up and admit they have not done their bit.

The majority of the 11 new signings have settled well. It’s the ones who were already at the club who have been the biggest disappointment. Collectively it has not worked and this new-look team have not gelled.

As O’Neill will have seen with his own eyes at Molineux, it is worth finding the right formula to accommodate the brilliance of Stephane Sessegnon.
Steve Bruce’s former No 2 Eric Black was brave enough to play with two strikers in front of him.

Main man: Sunderland need to get the best out of Stephane Sessegnon

Main man: Sunderland need to get the best out of Stephane Sessegnon

But no one seems quite sure of Sunderland’s best side at the moment, so good luck getting that one right immediately, Martin.

CHANGE THE CAPTAIN

Have a look at the captain — Lee Cattermole is suspended again after picking up another booking for a nasty tackle — and former Manchester United man John O’Shea is the right, more mature player to take the armband. He must get the best out of Nicklas Bendtner, and Sessegnon, and Kieran Richardson, and Connor Wickham…

Feisty: Captain Lee Cattermole (right) often lets his temper get the better of him

Feisty: Captain Lee Cattermole (right) often lets his temper get the better of him

SIGN A STRIKER

Smooth operator that he is, O’Neill is believed to have secured 20million for transfers in his talks with Sunderland owner Ellis Short, but January is not renowned as the window of great value, or choice.

A striker is the priority but Sunderland would benefit from signing a recognised left back and a left-sided midfielder to match the brilliance of Sebastian Larsson, who has been the pick of the new signings. /12/04/article-0-0EF6868400000578-396_468x286.jpg” width=”468″ height=”286″ alt=”Gone: Sunderland have missed Darren Bent (right) since he moved to Aston Villa” class=”blkBorder” />

Gone: Sunderland have missed Darren Bent (right) since he moved to Aston Villa

The turnover of players, dating back to the return to the Premier League under Roy Keane, has been too much, and although the squad has improved significantly since Keane’s exit, results have not.

SEE THE POSITIVES

Sunderland are a goalscorer away from being a good side and Steve Bruce was sacked because of the chances they failed to take. Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan were both bought and sold on his watch and they have not been replaced.

Defensively Sunderland have looked sound this season, but they threw away another lead on Sunday and Wes Brown has made two critical errors in the last two games.

Shining light: Sebastian Larsson (right) has impressed for Sunderland

Shining light: Sebastian Larsson (right) has impressed for Sunderland

Larsson adds real quality from set-pieces and the midfield are always a hard-working bunch.

Therecent emergence of Jack Colback and Jordan Henderson shows the academyis working well under the guidance of Ged McNamee and Kevin Ball, who have survived four managers.

WIN SOME GAMES

Ellis Short made his money in money, so O’Neill is the ideal appointment to put bums back on seats, which is the owner’s little obsession. And he’s not a Geordie, so O’Neill is already at an advantage over Bruce.

The supporters are certain to give him a warm welcome at the Stadium of Light on Sunday. They have been obsessing over this appointment and his alleged links to Sunderland for years.

But, as Bruce and Mick McCarthy will tell him, only a positive turn of results — particularly on home turf — will satisfy their demands and keep them on side.