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David Beckham better than Cristiano Ronaldo – The Footballers" Football Column by Adam Eckersley

ADAM ECKERSLEY: I played with Beckham and Ronaldo – but Becks was better… and on one of the few occasions Fergie spoke to me, he warned me of dangers of gambling

PUBLISHED:

08:36 GMT, 6 February 2013

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UPDATED:

10:01 GMT, 6 February 2013

Adam Eckersley, Port Vale

Adam Eckersley played one first-team game for Manchester United, before moving to Denmark to play for Horsens and AGF Aarhus. The 27-year-old attacking full back also played for Port Vale, and had loan spells at Royal Antwerp, Brondby, and Barnsley. Here, he talks about life as a Manchester United youngster – and what it’s like being an Englishman abroad…

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BY ECK: CAREER HISTORY

2004-2008: Manchester United
2006: Royal Antwerp (loan)
2006: Brondby (loan)
2007: Barnsley (loan)
2007: Port Vale (loan)
2008: Port Vale (loan)
2008 – 2010: Horsens
2010 – AGF Aarhus

Man Utd 4-1 Barnet
League Cup third round, Oct 2005
Scorers: MU – Miller, Richardson, Rossi, Ebanks-Blake. Barnet – Sinclair

TEAM: Tim
Howard; Phil Bardsley, Gerard Pique, Wes Brown, Adam Eckersley; Lee
Martin (Darron Gibson), Ritchie Jones, Liam Miller, Kieran Richardson;
Giuseppe Rossi, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake.

My Manchester United debut (at home to Barnet in the League Cup in 2005) was one of the best nights of my life. I was so nervous though.

We met at the hotel about 1pm, I couldn’t sleep, so I spoke to some first-teamers for advice.

I said to Wes Brown, who was playing that night but had made his debut seven years earlier: 'I’m really nervous, are you'

He just looked at me and said: 'I’m not that bothered, to be honest, mate'. I was like: 'Thanks mate!'

I actually found out I was playing the week before. Wes used to have poker nights, once a week on a Monday night. It started off with just a few, but we ended up with 25 to 30 down there. You’d get first-teamers but reserves too, people like me, Chris Eagles, Mark Howard.

At one, Rooney said to me: 'I’ve seen the team, you’re playing next week.'

The manager (Sir Alex Ferguson) once had a word about my poker. I was with the first team on the way back from Birmingham City, playing cards at the back of the bus with the lads.

The next day, the manager had a word. We weren't playing for big amounts, but he told me to stop playing poker, concentrate on my football.

He actually brought up Keith Gillespie, who had gambling problems. It wasn’t the hairdryer, but it was good advice.

I didn’t often speak to the manager at United. If you walked past him at Carrington, he’d make conversation but I worked more with Brian McClair and Jim Ryan.

Debut: Adam Eckersley (No 44) joins the melee of Manchester United players as they swamp goalscorer Liam Miller during the 4-1 Carling Cup win over Barnet at Old Trafford in 2005

Debut: Adam Eckersley (No 44) joins the melee of Manchester United players as they swamp
goalscorer Liam Miller during the 4-1 Carling Cup win over Barnet at Old Trafford in 2005

Rocket man: Eckersley scores against Peterborough during a pre-season friendly at London Road

Rocket man: Eckersley scores against Peterborough during a pre-season friendly at London Road

Larking around: Wes Brown has a giggle at Ruud van Nistelrooy's expense during United training in 2005

Larking around: Wes Brown has a giggle at Ruud van Nistelrooy's expense during United training in 2005

Still, you knew that he knew everything: how you were playing, how you were training.

When I left for good, his last words to me were: 'You’re going to have a great career, you’ve been fantastic here.'

That was really good to hear.

I was in Puccini’s restaurant in Swinton, Greater Manchester, when I first heard about going to Denmark. In 2006, our reserve team manager at United, Rene Meulensteen, went to manage Brondby.

He signed Mark Howard from United. I’ve known Mark since I was five – we played for the same junior team in Salford, Barr Hill – and one day he phoned me up. He asked if I wanted to sign on loan. It was the first I’d heard of it!

Brondby wasn’t my first loan spell abroad. Earlier that year, I went to Antwerp in Belgium. It came as a shock: I came into training one morning, Jim Ryan dragged me in, and said you’re going to Antwerp this afternoon.

There were a few of us over there: Danny Simpson (now at Newcastle United), Sylvan Ebanks-Blake (Wolves), Lee Martin (Ipswich). We lived in a hotel for six months. It was a good opportunity to play first-team football.

What’s the difference between the reserves and first-team games It’s a feeling. In a first team, you’re someone important. You’re doing a job. You’re playing for points, for people’s livelihoods, for the manager’s job.

We would get six or seven thousand people at Antwerp, rather than 300 down at Altrincham for United reserves. I saw my career as a ladder, and this was another step up the ladder.

Injuries aren’t funny. I came back early from my loan spell at Brondby because I did my hamstring. I couldn’t take being injured.

I missed the buzz of the crowd, so I came back too soon. When you get older, you know when to stop. You think, 'You can either miss three games or three months'. When you’re younger, you don’t think like that. You just want to be out there.

Fitness battle: Eckersley at a Danish hospital with his legs in a special recuperation chamber

Fitness battle: Eckersley at a Danish hospital with his legs in a special recuperation chamber

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If you’re coming back from loan spells injured every week, it doesn’t look good. You look at other people who’ve had good loan spells and it really helps them: Tom Cleverley at Wigan, Jonny Evans at Sunderland, Danny Simpson at Sunderland and Blackburn, others.

Injuries held me back a little bit: I’m not saying I’d have been good enough for the first team, but they didn’t help.

In 2007, I had a loan spell at Port Vale and was sent off on my debut (at home to Brighton). I was booked in the first half for a good tackle, threw the ball into the floor, and gave the ref some stick.

In the 80th minute, the attacker was through, I caught him, it was almost a professional foul. I think the ref remembered the stick – he couldn’t get the red card out quick enough!

I still got man of the match though, so not all bad.

Looking back, I rushed my permanent move to Port Vale in 2008. No disrespect, but I think I could have signed for a team higher up the leagues. But I was at the end of my tether with reserve-team football.

I needed a new challenge. I had Evra, Heinze, Silvestre ahead of me. I thought 'you’ve got no chance'.

I signed a six-month deal at Port Vale, but I didn’t really like the football. The Horsens manager, Kent Nielsen (who played at Aston Villa from 1989 to 1991), had seen me during my loan spell at Brondby, and took me over there.

I knew the league, I knew the living conditions. In my first season, I injured my knee and we were relegated, but we won the First Division (the Danish second tier) the next season.

I then went to AGF, who’d been relegated from the Superliga. We went straight back up. Now we’re five points off second, although Copenhagen are running away with the league.

Take a look: Reading manager Brian McDermott watched Eckersley last year but a deal never materialised

Take a look: Reading manager Brian McDermott watched Eckersley last year but a deal never materialised

Living in Denmark was a lot easier after I met my Danish girlfriend, Elizabeth – she's now my wife. I’ve got to know her family; it’s like a home from home.

Do I speak Danish Elizabeth’s trying with me every day. The problem is, everyone here speaks English so well. I’m taking lessons though, and this time next year I reckon I’ll be OK. I don’t want my wife and kids, when we have them, speaking behind my back!

I’m not desperate to come back to England. If a Premier League team came in for me, of course I’d consider it.

Brian McDermott at Reading watched me last year but it didn’t work out. But there’s nowhere I wouldn’t go: Germany, Holland, anywhere. Moving abroad has made me grow up fast.

Family guy: Eckersley with his daughter in Denmark

Family guy: Eckersley with his daughter in Denmark

David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo are the best I’ve played with. If I had to choose Beckham.

I remember a first-team session at United, eight versus eight. Roy Keane was on my team; Beckham was on theirs. He kept crossing, and they kept scoring from them. I couldn’t get near him. Keane was shouting at me, going mad: 'Adam! You’ve got to get out to him, stop the crosses!'

I thought: 'The best full backs in the world can’t stop him, so what chance do I have!'

Keane just wanted the best though. I’m a bit like that with the younger players now.

Top class: Cristiano Ronaldo

Simply the best: David Beckham

Simply the best: Adam played with David Beckham (right) and Ronaldo at United but rates Becks as better

FOLLOW ADAM ON TWITTER

CLICK HERE TO FOLLOW @ADAMECK6

There are some really good players in Denmark – Lars Jacobsen (Copenhagen, formerly Everton, Blackburn and West Ham), Dennis Rommedahl (Brondby, formerly Ajax and Charlton), Martin Jorgensen (AGF, formerly Udinsese and Fiorentina). It’s a tough league and I enjoy it.

If you’d told me 10 years ago how my career would go, I wouldn’t have believed it. I’ve spoken to my mum about it. It’s amazing how it’s gone.

Elizabeth says it was all mapped out so I’d meet her.

Wasps 25 Sale 18: Sharks relegation fears worsen

Wasps 25 Sale 18: Suffering Sharks rise above Danny debacle to claim bonus point

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UPDATED:

22:27 GMT, 23 December 2012

Sale arrived at Adams Park in a state of near disarray on Sunday but they left with renewed hope in their relegation fight, as Johnny Leota’s last-minute try and Rob Miller’s conversion secured a vital bonus point.

This was Wasps’ eighth consecutive home win in all competitions and they were propelled to victory by marauding 20-year-old No 8 Billy Vunipola.

Fortress: Wasps have now won eight from eight at Adams Park this season

Fortress: Wasps have now won eight from eight at Adams Park this season

His storming break from a scrum in the
52nd minute set up a try for Rhys Thomas to put the result beyond doubt
and suggest he could soon force his way into the senior England squad to
join his brother, Saracens prop Mako.

While Dai Young’s side climbed to
seventh in the Aviva Premiership table, the scoreline was far more
significant for the bottom club, who closed the gap behind London Irish
to five points.

Bonus: Richie Vernon is mobbed after scoring Sale's try

Bonus: Richie Vernon is mobbed after scoring Sale's try

After the 62-0 massacre at the hands
of Toulon last Sunday, there was character and resilience from the
Sharks on Sunday, personified by returning hooker Marc Jones. It all
came to fruition in the closing seconds when, from a scrum on the right,
Cillian Willis darted forward and Leota barged through to touch down.
Miller, who had missed two routine shots at goal, struck the conversion
with conviction.

Such a scenario seemed highly
unlikely before the game. After the record loss in France, Danny
Cipriani had been dropped, with interim director of rugby John Mitchell
pulling no punches in deriding the fly-half’s defensive work. Then,
after Sale’s head of social media had ignited a storm by condemning
protesting fans as ‘f***wits’ on Facebook, chairman Brian Kennedy
delivered his own damning verdict on Cipriani.

Lion-in-waiting: Joe Launchbury collects a high ball for the home side

Lion-in-waiting: Joe Launchbury collects a high ball for the home side

‘Danny didn’t want to tackle last
week,’ he said. ‘If you can’t defend, there’s no place for you in
Premiership rugby. Danny had a dreadful game in defence last week. If
you’re not prepared to put your body on the line for this club, who pay
your wages and give you the chance to play at the highest level each
week, then you won’t be in the squad.’

Cipriani was stunned by the public
broadside from his employer, but Mitchell didn’t spare him after this
match either. Referring to his decision to leave him out, the Kiwi said:
‘I’m certainly not Santa Claus — I don’t care where he played before.
All I’ve asked him to do is defend. Our defence was good last week until
he chose to be an individual. You have to serve your team-mates before
yourself. If he improves his defence, he’ll be back involved again.’

Putting the boot in: Stephen Jones (centre) kicked 14 points

Putting the boot in: Stephen Jones (centre) kicked 14 points

Despite the potentially disruptive
nature of this sideshow, Sale improved their performance from the
previous week and Mitchell added: ‘You cannot discount the importance of
that bonus point today. If we can win our next game, at home to
Worcester, it would put us right back where we need to be.
‘Everyone has to take responsibility for where we are and things have to
change. We’ve got to make it happen on the 28th, then it can become a
defining game.’

While Sale’s kickers struggled,
Stephen Jones landed 14 points – four penalties and a conversion – with a
flawless display. Elliot Daly weighed in with a three-point shot from
the left flank on halfway, just before the break. That gave Wasps the
lead again, after Sam Tuitupou’s rampaging run in midfield had caused
sufficient mayhem for Richie Vernon to score the visitors’ first try on
the right.

Battering ram: James Haskell is tackled by David Seymour

Battering ram: James Haskell is tackled by David Seymour

In the second half, it was Vunipola’s
dramatic intervention which gave the hosts the decisive edge and while
Young was critical of the team effort, he was effusive in his praise of
the Anglo-Tongan back-row prospect, saying: ‘Billy was outstanding in
attack and defence. He’s been in the same vein of form for most of this
season, it’s hard to believe he is only 20.

‘If he was called upon by England, he
wouldn’t let anyone down and I don’t think it will be too long before
he is putting on an England jersey.’

Kevin Pietersen rested from England"s limited overs tour of New Zealand

Pietersen rested from England's limited overs tour of New Zealand but Anderson, Trott and Swann all return

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UPDATED:

10:18 GMT, 23 December 2012

Kevin Pietersen has been rested for England's one-day and Twenty20 squads for February's tour of New Zealand.

The batsman was included in the 50-over party for the five-match series in India next month after his successful 'reintegration' into the national set-up, but will not head to New Zealand as selectors look to manage the workload of key players.

James Anderson, Jonathan Trott and Graeme Swann have returned to the 14-man one-day squad after being rested for the India series.

Taking a rest: Kevin Pietersen will not play in the limited overs form of the game

Taking a rest: Kevin Pietersen will not play in the limited overs form of the game

The 14-man T20 squad features two changes from the party selected for the recent series against India with Stuart Broad returning from a heel injury to captain the side and quick Steven Finn also back in the fold.

National selector Geoff Miller said: 'Following on from the ODI tour to India the tour to New Zealand will require players to adapt to different conditions and will prove a real challenge for the squad as we look to continue the progress we have made in limited overs cricket recently.

'There are a number of players who we have decided not to select for parts of the competitive programme this winter as we look to manage their workloads effectively while ensuring we remain competitive across all formats.

Back in the attack: James Anderson will be in the attack after missing the India series

Back in the attack: James Anderson will be in the attack after missing the India series

'We feel this is the best way of keeping players as physically and mentally fresh as possible during a demanding 2013 and beyond.

'Kevin Pietersen will miss the limited overs tour of New Zealand with Graeme Swann missing the T20 leg of the tour.

'This approach also provides an opportunity for talented young players to gain more international experience which will be important for their development and the development of England sides in the future.'

England's three-match ODI series begins on February 17 in Hamilton.

The England and Wales Cricket Board also announced a 15-man England Lions squad for the limited overs tour of Australia in February which will be captained by Joe Root, who made his Test debut earlier this month against India.

Leading the Lions: Joe Root will captain the England Lions in Australia

Leading the Lions: Joe Root will captain the England Lions in Australia

Miller added: 'The tour of Australia will provide a tough test for this Lions squad and it will present an opportunity for the players to show us that they are capable of representing England at ODI level in the future.

'The vast majority of these players were on the England Performance Programme in India during the end of this year, so we are looking forward to seeing the skills they have developed put into practice during the tour in February 2013.

'Australia is the venue for the 2015 ICC World Cup, along with New Zealand, so we hope this will help us identify potential players that could go on to be a part of the 2015 World Cup squad.'

Essex teenager Reece Topley is in the party, alongside Gary Ballance, Varun Chopra, Ben Foakes, Toby Roland-Jones and Chris Wright, who are also uncapped at Lions level.

England T20 and ODI squads for the tour of New Zealand and the England Lions squad for the ODI series in Australia

England T20 squad: Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire, capt), Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire), Tim Bresnan (Yorkshire), Danny Briggs (Hampshire), Jos Buttler (Somerset), Jade Dernbach (Surrey), Steven Finn (Middlesex), Alex Hales (Nottinghamshire), Michael Lumb (Nottinghamshire), Stuart Meaker (Surrey), Eoin Morgan (Middlesex), Samit Patel (Nottinghamshire), James Tredwell (Kent), Luke Wright (Sussex).

England ODI squad: Alastair Cook (Essex, capt), James Anderson (Lancashire), Jonny Bairstow (Yorkshire), Ian Bell (Warwickshire), Tim Bresnan (Yorkshire), Stuart Broad (Nottinghamshire), Jos Buttler (Somerset), Steven Finn (Middlesex), Craig Kieswetter (Somerset), Eoin Morgan (Middlesex), Samit Patel (Nottinghamshire), Graeme Swann (Nottinghamshire), James Tredwell (Kent), Jonathan Trott (Warwickshire).

England Lions squad: Joe Root (Yorkshire, capt), Gary Ballance (Yorkshire), Scott Borthwick (Durham), Danny Briggs (Hampshire), Varun Chopra (Warwickshire), Matthew Coles (Kent), Ben Foakes (Essex), Alex Hales (Nottinghamshire), James Harris (Middlesex), Simon Kerrigan (Lancashire), Toby Roland-Jones (Middlesex), Ben Stokes (Durham), James Taylor (Nottinghamshire), Reece Topley (Essex), Chris Wright (Warwickshire).

FA Cup round-up: Luton lead the non-league charge while Burton spring surprise

FA Cup round-up: Luton lead the non-league charge ahead of third round draw

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UPDATED:

18:31 GMT, 1 December 2012

Blue Square Premier Luton are the
first non-league side guaranteed a place in the third round draw after
goals from Andre Gray and Alex Lawless gave the Hatters a 2-1 win over
Conference South Dorchester at Kenilworth Road.

Harrogate Town and Hastings Town will join Luton in the hat after playing out a 1-1 draw at Wetherby Road.

Tom Platt's header put Harrogate ahead after 41 minutes before Jamie Crellin equalised for the Ryman Premier visitors.

In the hat: Luton's Alex Lawless celebrates his side's winner

In the hat: Luton's Alex Lawless celebrates his side's winner

Burton Albion claimed the only upset on FA Cup second round day as a fifth minute goal from Calvin Zola proved enough to give the npower League Two outfit a 1-0 away to League One strugglers Crewe.

Fellow League Two side Port Vale had looked set to join them in the headlines with Tom Pope's 33rd minute strike putting Micky Adams' men within sight of a famous win over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane.

But the Blades dealt a double blow to Vale's dreams of an upset with Shaun Miller heading an equaliser in the final minute then going on to net an injury-time winner to give his side a dramatic 2-1 win.

Big moment: Hastings players celebrate

Big moment: Hastings players celebrate

Opening up: Tom Platt scores the opening goal for Harrogate

Opening up: Tom Platt scores the opening goal for Harrogate

And Blue Square Premier pair Lincoln and Mansfield must do it all again in their bid to join the big guns after a 3-3 draw at Sincil Bank.

Matthew Rhead's injury-time equaliser gave the visitors a second chance at reaching round three.

Chelmsford's Cup dream came to an end in a 3-0 defeat at Crawley.

Nicky Adams, Billy Clarke and Graham Alexander scored for the League Two side, while the visitors had Donovan Simmonds sent off in the first half.

Liam Cooper gave League Two Chesterfield a shock lead against League One leaders Tranmere at Prenton Park, but goals from Cole Stockton and Adam McGurk rescued a 2-1 win for Rovers.

League Two leaders Gillingham were not so fortunate, falling 2-0 at League One Preston whose goals came in the first half from Jeffrey Monakana and Stuart Beavon.

Three up: Gary Alexander celebrates his goal for Crawley

Three up: Gary Alexander celebrates his goal for Crawley

Oxford claimed a second chance against Accrington Stanley after a dramatic 3-3 draw with four goals coming in the last 10 minutes.

Lee Molyneux seemed to have won it for Stanley in injury-time, but there was still time for Michael Raynes to hit a leveller.

Gary McSheffrey's 38th minute penalty paved the way for Coventry's 2-1 win over League Two Morecambe at the Ricoh Arena, while a late double from Matt Derbyshire ensured Oldham's progression with a 3-1 win over Doncaster.

Danny Hylton scored twice as struggling Aldershot claimed a surprise 3-2 win at League Two rivals Fleetwood, while Bournemouth's long trip to Carlisle proved worthwhile as Wes Fogden's early goal set up a 3-1 away win.

League Two Rotherham earned a second crack at Notts County after holding the League One side to a 1-1 home draw, while Bury face a midweek replay at Southend after they were deadlocked by the same score at Gigg Lane.

James Beattie scores for Accrington Stanley, and other League Two results

League Two review: Ex-England striker Beattie ends three-year drought in Stanley win

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UPDATED:

00:36 GMT, 21 November 2012

Target man: James Beattie scored for Accrington Stanley

Target man: James Beattie scored for Accrington Stanley

James Beattie scored his first professional goal in three years as Accrington Stanley beat Lancashire rivals Fleetwood.

The former England international joined the club earlier this month having been released from Sheffield United in the summer.

Beattie blasted home an early penalty after Romuald Boco had been felled, the first time 34-year-old has found the net in 54 appearances.

George Miller and Boco added further goals before Jamie McGuire grabbed a late consolation for the hosts.

The result leaves Stanley 14th in League Two, while their beaten opponents are in fourth.

Elsewhere, Gillingham saw their lead at the top cut to four points after Jamie Cureton's late header handed Exeter a surprise 3-2 win at Priestfield Stadium.

Cureton scored his 14th and 15th goals of the season to grab victory for the improving Grecians despite Chris Whelpdale putting the leaders in front with just four minutes on the clock.

Alan Gow struck a 27th minute equaliser then Cureton hit his first in the 54th minute before Danny Jackman equalised for the hosts on 79. Cureton converted a Liam Sercombe cross from close-range to take the points.

Second-placed Port Vale took full advantage, celebrating coming out of administration this week by hammering Bristol Rovers 4-0 at Vale Park. Tom Pope scored a hat-trick and Ben Williamson also got on the scoresheet.

Third-placed Cheltenham were thrashed 4-1 at Chesterfield, for whom Chris Atkinson and Sam Togwell scored to give them the half-time lead.
Kaid Mohamed briefly reduced the deficit before the hosts scored further goals through Marc Richards and Jack Lester.

Wycombe moved off the bottom of the table with an excellent 3-2 win at Rotherham, who had taken a first minute lead through Daniel Nardiello.

Wanderers responded with a Dave Winfield equaliser and a double from Matt McClure, before Mark Bradley gave the home side a glimmer of hope late on.

A fourth minute goal from Dani Lopez proved enough to give fellow strugglers Aldershot a precious 1-0 win at Burton, sending Barnet back to the bottom despite their 2-2 home draw with Oxford.

Jake Hyde put the Londoners in front in the fifth minute but Sean Rigg quickly equalised and Andrew Whing put Oxford in front, only for Hyde's second of the night to take a share of the points.

Southend eased to a 4-0 win at Wimbledon with two from Gavin Tomlin and further goals from Ryan Cresswell and Barry Corr.

Meanwhile Northampton boosted their play-off ambitions by easing to a 3-0 win over Morecambe at Sixfields. Adebayo Akinfenwa, Ishmel Demontagnac and a Kevin Ellison own goal proved enough for the Cobblers.

Plymouth slumped dangerously back towards the drop zone after a 21st minute goal from Gary Jones gave Bradford a 1-0 win at Valley Parade.

Sale 25 Saracens 23

Sale 25 Saracens 23: Miller strikes late to earn Sharks narrow win

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UPDATED:

22:22 GMT, 16 November 2012

Rob Miller's late penalty secured Sale Sharks' first triumph of this season's LV= Cup at the expense of Saracens at the Salford City Stadium.

Tries by Kameli Ratuvou and Joel Tomkins to go alongside 10 points from the boot of Nils Mordt gave Sarries a 20-12 half-time advantage, with Sale's response before the interval coming through Mark Cueto's score and a penalty try.

A Fraser McKenzie touchdown and a Danny Cipriani penalty took the Sharks into the lead before Ben Spencer's three-pointer edged the visitors ahead again, but Miller slotted a late penalty to earn the victory for the hosts.

Narrow win: Sale celebrate on their way to beating Saracens

Narrow win: Sale celebrate on their way to beating Saracens

With a vital Aviva Premiership encounter against Gloucester looming, Sale chose to select a weaker outfit to the one that had gone down 34-28 to London Irish the previous week.

However, it still looked stronger on paper than a Saracens team which rested the majority of their star players, particularly with Dwayne Peel and Cipriani starting at half-back for the hosts.

And the seven-times capped England international showed his quality from the off when a superb cut-out pass put Corne Uys in space.

The centre then produced a similarly sublime piece of skill to send Cueto away in the corner unopposed. Jordan Davies missed the conversion, but the home side led 5-0 after three minutes.

That advantage did not last long, though, as two scores in as many minutes put the visitors in front.

Firstly, Mordt slotted a penalty when Sale were penalised for holding on before a length-of-the-field move ended in Ratuvou touching down.

Instigated by Nick Auterac, the prop showed impressive pace to run 40 metres. Excellent support work and good hands from forwards and backs alike put the Fijian in space, and he did the rest.

Charge: Kearnan Myall of Sale Sharks is tackled by Ben Ransom of Saracens

Charge: Kearnan Myall of Sale Sharks is tackled by Ben Ransom of Saracens

It seemed to unsettle the Manchester-based outfit and Ben Ransom almost extended the away team's lead, but his jinking run was halted metres from the line.

That missed opportunity was to prove costly as the Sharks proceeded to go up the other end and score when referee Llyr ApGeraint Roberts awarded a penalty try for collapsing a maul.

But Saracens always looked dangerous with ball in hand. Another Ransom break set up a penalty opportunity which Mordt duly converted to take it to 13-12 in the visitors' favour.

Sarries full-back Ransom then rounded off an outstanding individual performance in the first half as a third menacing run allowed Tomkins to cross the whitewash, with Mordt adding the extras from out wide.

As conditions worsened for the start of the second period, the match became scrappy, but Eoin Sheriff offered the hosts hope after he was sin-binned for repeated team infringements.

And Sale took advantage of the extra man as McKenzie evaded two weak tackles to go over, Davies converting.

Cipriani and Spencer then traded three-pointers as Sarries held a one-point lead going into the closing stages, before Miller's late effort from the tee gave the Sharks victory.

Luxembourg 1 Scotland 2: Red hot Jordan Rhodes

Luxembourg 1 Scotland 2: Red-hot Rhodes at the double as minnows nearly upset Tartan Army

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UPDATED:

21:49 GMT, 14 November 2012

Jordan Rhodes hit a first-half double as an attack-minded Scotland side began life after Craig Levein with a narrow friendly victory in Luxembourg.

Rhodes, who scored a hat-trick for Scotland Under-21s on his previous trip to the Stade Josy Barthel, headed home from close range on 10 minutes and then slotted a simple second.

However, Scotland failed to build on their lead and survived some nervous moments after Lars Gerson's well-placed free-kick brought Luxembourg back into the game 90 seconds after the break.

Doubling up: Jordan Rhodes struck twice to earn Scotland a narrow win

Doubling up: Jordan Rhodes struck twice to earn Scotland a narrow win

Both Scotland goals were followed by
cries of 'Are you watching Craig Levein' from the visiting support, who
vastly outnumbered the home fans in the attendance of 2,521.

Their mood was no doubt lifted by
caretaker manager Billy Stark's 4-4-2 formation with Kenny Miller
partnering Rhodes up front and Steven Naismith and debutant Andrew
Shinnie playing in advanced wide positions.

Levein, who paid the price for taking
two points from Scotland's first four World Cup qualifiers, had last
played two strikers from the start in a 2-1 win against Liechtenstein at
Hampden in September 2010.

Inverness midfielder Shinnie was the
only debutant in the starting line-up but there were rare starts for
Matt Gilks and Grant Hanley, while Charlie Mulgrew lined up in central
midfield.

Tucked home: Rhodes knocks in the second goal

Tucked home: Rhodes knocks in the second goal

Match Facts

Luxembourg: Joubert, Mutsch, Bukvic, Deville, Schnell, Janisch, Blaise, Gerson, Payal, Bettmer, Leweck.

Subs: Oberweis, Malget, Hoffmann, Peters, Da Mota Alves, Bensi, Laterza, Philipps, Jans, Turpel.

Goal: Gerson 47

Scotland: Gilks, Whittaker, Dixon, Berra, Hanley, Mulgrew, Fletcher, Shinnie, Naismith, Rhodes, Miller.

Subs: Samson, Webster, Barr, Davidson, Kelly, Griffiths, Bell.

Goals: Rhodes 11, 23

Referee: Cyrill Zimmermann (Switzerland)

The Celtic player saw a lot of the
ball in the opening stages as Scotland dominated possession on a pitch
that was already cutting up.

Rhodes had his first chance when
Luxembourg defender Guy Blaise missed his kick after Naismith had helped
the ball up the left, but the Blackburn striker was well wide as he
steered the ball past the onrushing goalkeeper.

However, Rhodes only had two minutes to wait for the opener after more poor defending.

Scotland worked the ball to Paul Dixon
on the left wing and he sent over an inviting cross which Ante Bukvic
turned against his own post. Rhodes was on hand to head the ball over
the line from close range.

Gilks made his first save in the 16th
minute after Naismith had lost right-back Tom Schnell at a short
free-kick. The defender sent over a deep cross that was met by Mario
Mutsch but the Blackpool goalkeeper got down to hold the header.

Mutsch soon fired wide from 22 yards after Scotland again found themselves a man short down their left.

Miller curled over after a Rhodes
lay-off before the Blackburn forward hit his second in the 23rd minute.
Shinnie collected Whittaker's cross from the right and hit the byline
before driving the ball towards goal.

His effort was blocked but fell for kindly for Rhodes who slipped the ball home with his left foot from six yards.

Rhodes to glory: The youngster is congratulated by his compatriots

Rhodes to glory: The youngster is congratulated by his compatriots

Miller was soon through on goal after a
series of short, sharp passes with Naismith but the flag was raised as
the striker shot straight at Jonathan Joubert.

Scotland continued to control
possession but they were almost caught out before the break when Mutsch
broke down the left and sent over a low cross to right-winger Charles
Leweck, whose drive was held by Gilks.

Kilmarnock midfielder Liam Kelly
replaced Mulgrew at half-time to make his debut but he soon gave away a
foul that allowed the hosts back into the game. The execution was superb
as Gerson curled his 25-yard free-kick into the top corner to leave
Gilks with no chance.

Scotland continued to dominate
possession but were making little headway with Naismith growing
frustrated at the number of fouls committed by the home defenders.

Scraped: Scotland only won by one goal against the minnow opposition

Scraped: Scotland only won by one goal against the minnow opposition

Leigh Griffiths became the third new cap in the 70th minute when he replaced Shinnie with Miller moving wide right.

Scotland soon had a let-off after a move broke down on the right with Whittaker out of position.

Hanley backed off after David Turpel
collected the ball and the Luxembourg forward turned and sent the ball
inside him and out to Mutsch.

The home captain's cross found Stefano
Bensi in a great position but Gilks did enough to unconvincingly palm
the header wide for a corner.

Battle: Charles Leweck (left) tries to keep up with Scotland's Paul Dixon.

Battle: Charles Leweck (left) tries to keep up with Scotland's Paul Dixon.

Before the match, Stark had signalled
his intention of making six substitutions but the game was in the
balance and Scotland's formation, now looking more like a 4-2-4, was
giving the hosts space to attack.

Rhodes thought he had his hat-trick as
he headed home Kelly's cross but the flag was immediately raised and
Bensi tested Gilks again with a 20-yard drive that the goalkeeper got
down well to hold.

Gilks then saved Turpel's header
before Murray Davidson won his first cap as the midfielder came on for
Rhodes to see help see out the match in injury-time.

Test Match Special row: Jonathan Agnew hits out as The Cricketer defends Test Match Sofa

Sofa wars: Editor of The Cricketer defends Test Match Sofa in row with BBC's Test Match Special
We're no parasites and no threat, Test Match Sofa hits back at BBC
Andrew Miller left baffled by hostility from BeebTMS anchor Agnew responds by threatening never to read magazine againEngland T20 captain Broad supports Agnew in row

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UPDATED:

13:04 GMT, 1 November 2012

Test Match Sofa, the alternative cricket commentary which operates from central London not from Test venues, has this week been described as a 'parasite' that needs to be 'nailed' and 'swept offline'. Here ANDREW MILLER, the editor of The Cricketer magazine, who owns TestMatchSofa.com, hits back at those allegations…

Earlier this year, one of the oldest voices in cricket took a leap of faith and jumped into bed with one of the newest.

The Cricketer magazine, established in 1921 by Pelham Warner, saw in Test Match Sofa, an irreverent online cricket commentary service established in Tooting in 2009 by Daniel Norcross, a spark of innovative potential that it simply could not afford to pass up.

The tie-up was never going to be to everyone’s taste, but like two inter-joining circles on a Venn diagram, that was never really the point. In a print media market that seems to be shrinking as quickly as broadband speeds are rising, innovation is vital if you want to stay afloat.

Alastair Cook (second, left) takes evasive action from a shot by Ajinkya Rahane of India 'A' during the final day of England's first warm-up match

England expects: Alastair Cook (second, left) takes evasive action from a shot by Ajinkya Rahane of India 'A' during the final day of England's first warm-up match

WHAT IS TEST MATCH SOFA

test match sofa logo

Test
Match Sofa is an online broadcaster providing cricket ball-by-ball commentary for
all England test matches and selected One Day Internationals.

The
station is available worldwide serving as alternative commentary to
the BBC's Test Match Special which is only available in the UK.

The station began broadcasting from
the Tooting Bec home of one of the station's creators, Daniel
Norcross, but moved to a rented house in Nunhead, also in South
London, in August 2010. In January 2011, Test Match Sofa moved to an
undisclosed location, believed to be somewhere in central London.

Listeners interact with the show's commentators through
Twitter, with this interaction often influencing the agenda.

Follow Test Match Sofa on Twitter @TestMatchSofa

The Cricketer saw in Test Match Sofa a
cult following of young, technologically savvy cricket fans – a
demographic that it might not have attracted by any other means. In
return the Sofa was offered shelter and status, and a chance for that
seed of a concept to germinate. At a stroke, each had doubled their
potential audience, and shored up the other’s foundations. It was, and
remains, a win-win scenario.

We
expected resistance to our venture, and it duly arrived – though not
from the quarters we had imagined. The ECB, recognising that we were not
breaching any rights, ceased correspondence on the subject back in May,
ahead of England’s Test series against West Indies. Test Match Special,
on the other hand, have taken the Sofa’s existence as a personal slight
– culminating in a declaration on Wednesday that it needed to be
'nailed' and 'swept offline'.

We're flattered by TMS’s attention, but baffled by their hostility. At what point in that magnificent programme's evolution did the promotion of cricket become a zero-sum game To complain, as they do, that Test Match Sofa is a 'parasite' that pays nothing for rights and gives nothing in return is a sad parody of the public access position the BBC once held dear.

After a summer in which rain, the Olympics and the Tour de France combined to squeeze cricket to the margins of public interest, surely the game needs as many people as possible to make as much noise on its behalf as is feasible. Anyone who believes otherwise might also argue against letting schoolkids enter for free on the fifth day of a Test.

The Sofa does not profess to fill the void by any means, but it provides a start. Through the use of Twitter (@testmatchsofa), every listener is offered a voice that, as often as not, will help dictate the narrative of the day’s play. In so doing, we aim to cement the enjoyment of a new breed of cricket listener – ones who, like those who will doubtless enter their blog comments below – want a conversation with their commentators, not a lecture.

Different audience: The Test Match Sofa crew pose up

Different audience: The Test Match Sofa crew pose up

Surely, if any BBC institution could still be relied upon to uphold the company's Reithian principles it should be TMS, the voice of cricket for more than half a century and, let's be frank about this, the very reason why Norcross and his colleagues were inspired to establish the Sofa in the first place.

Without exception, the Sofa team venerates TMS. Every one of the enthusiastic amateurs who give up their own time to watch cricket in a windowless studio do so because their youths were misspent with radios under their pillows and Wisdens in their stockings.

Front row, from left, Henry Blofeld, Jonathan Agnew and scorer Bill Frindall. Back row from left, producer Peter Baxter, assistant producer Shilpa Patel, Vic Marks, Mike Selvey, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Colin Croft and Tony Cozier

Window to the world: Members of the BBC Radio Test Match Special team in the commentary box at Lord's with the window cut out on the far right. Front row, from left, Henry Blofeld, Jonathan Agnew and scorer Bill Frindall. Back row from left, producer Peter Baxter, assistant producer Shilpa Patel, Vic Marks, Mike Selvey, Christopher Martin-Jenkins, Colin Croft and Tony Cozier

… AND WHAT IS TEST MATCH SPECIAL

Test Match Special (known as TMS) provides ball-by-ball coverage of most Test cricket, One Day International, and Twenty20 matches and tournaments involving England.

It is, rightly, considered by most cricket lovers THE place to listen to coverage of England matches.

Former England captain Michael Vaughan and former professional cricketer Jonathan Agnew commentate for BBC Test Match Special

BBC Radio was the first broadcaster to cover every ball of a Test match.

TMS is broadcast on Radio 4 long wave (198 LW). At times of cricket matches, the normal BBC Radio 4 schedule continues on its FM frequencies, while longwave is taken over by the cricket. This has sparked controversy with some Radio 4 listeners unable to change frequencies. The shipping forecast is, however, retained. TMS can also be heard via the Internet.

TMS's coverage of England's tour to India had been under threat over fees demanded by the Indian board to broadcast from the grounds.

However, TMS producer Adam Mountford revealed on Twitter on Thursday that a deal had finally been reached.

'We are pleased to confirm that Test Match Special will broadcast England's cricket tour of India from the grounds,' he said.

Follow Adam Mountford on Twitter @tmsproducer

Jonathan Agnew and Christopher
Martin-Jenkins remain two of the greatest broadcasters of any
generation. But as a homogenized TMS leans more and more on ex-pros and
multi-sports specialists to fill the vacancies that crop up in the
course of time, one wonders where the next John Arlotts and Brian
Johnstons will appear to infuse cricket commentary with the whimsy and
digressions of old I’d suggest, right now, the Sofa is the likelier of
the breeding grounds.

And yet, TMS is still the undisputed master of the airwaves. Earlier this year, the question was put to me, rhetorically, what would happen if the BBC chose to stop broadcasting from the grounds and tried to do it off the telly On account of the India access row, we might be about to find out … and I think the answer has come as a greater surprise to the BBC.

Peter Baxter, the former TMS producer, understood the value of his product (and by extension the rights that the BBC pay) when in 1999, he demanded that a special window be cut in the middle of the enormous sheet of glass covering the front of the new Lord’s media centre. Quite rightly, he wanted to be able to dangle his effects mike into the crowd to provide total aural immersion to TMS’s legions of listeners.

That sense of being there is priceless – it’s the hum of contented silence that tells you you’ve twiddled your long-wave radio to the right frequency – and it’s something that the BCCI, rarely slow to spot a changing trend, have recognised.

Radio rights per se are irrelevant in the internet age. You can no sooner stop Test Match Sofa from commenting on the action than demand silence while fans watch it in the pub. The true value lies in being able to call it from the ground. Remarkably, it has taken the Sofa’s existence to remind TMS quite how important they are.

Andrew Miller is editor of The
Cricketer magazine, who own TestMatchSofa.com

AGGERS HITS BACK AND BROAD JOINS ARGUMENT

After reading the Cricketer on Thursday, Test Match Special presenter Jonathan Agnew tweeted: 'I've never read such hypocrisy & assumed knowledge as that spouted by the once great Cricketer magazine today. I won't be reading it again.'

England's Twenty20 captain and former Sportsmail columnist Stuart Broad also weighed in to the argument, saying: 'Don't read the media Aggers… What have I told you!! Can only bring negativity to your world!'

Celtic 5 St Johnstone 0 match report: Kris Commons hat-trick helps Bhoys into League Cup semi-finals

Celtic 5 St Johnstone 0: Lennon gets an explosive response as Bhoys rise to the bait

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UPDATED:

00:10 GMT, 31 October 2012

Neil Lennon lit the fuse on Sunday. Here, he was able to step back and watch the fireworks at Celtic Park.

The Parkhead boss had left his players in no doubt about his fury after Saturday’s dismal 2-0 home defeat from Kilmarnock, delivering a blistering address when he gathered them together 24 hours later.

The message was clear. If there was any more sloppiness or complacency when dealing with domestic business then the perpetrators could prepare for a stint in the stand.

Kris is more like it: Commons slams home the second-half penalty which completed his hat-trick

Kris is more like it: Commons slams home the second-half penalty which completed his hat-trick

Match facts

Celtic: Forster, Lustig, Ambrose (McCourt 71), Wilson, Izaguirre, Commons, Brown (Matthews 64), Wanyama, Ledley, Hooper (Mulgrew 46),
Watt. Subs not used: Zaluska, Kayal.

Booked: Watt, Ambrose, Lustig.

Goals: Commons 28, 32, Hooper 38, Commons 57 (pen), Mulgrew 61.

St Johnstone: Mannus, Miller, Anderson, McCracken, MacKay, Millar, Murray Davidson (Robertson 64), Moon, Craig, Vine (MacLean 46), Tade (Hasselbaink 74). Subs not used: Tuffey, Scobbie.

Booked: MacKay, Anderson, Miller, Hasselbaink.

Att: 14,399.

Ref: Bobby Madden.

Click for all the latest SPL stats, tables and fixtures

It’s safe to say the warning was
heeded. A strong Celtic line-up — showing five changes from the weekend —
simply decimated St Johnstone to march into the semi-finals of the
League Cup. This was decisiveness in action.

Kris Commons led the way with a
clinical display of attacking prowess. The winger unquestionably scored
twice and laid claim to a hat-trick after his strike was deflected in by
Liam Craig for the opener. Gary Hooper and Charlie Mulgrew also placed
their names on a scoresheet which could have witnessed even more
entries.

The Perth side had defeated Celtic
2-1 at McDiarmid Park six weeks ago and were also the last Scottish team
to win at Parkhead prior to last weekend. Yet any hope was swiftly shot
down.

Celtic entered the match with
Lennon’s words ringing in the ears and with the additional motivation of
taking a step closer to the only domestic trophy missing under their
manager’s command. Two successive defeats in the final have left a
bitter taste they are determined to wash away this term.

Dejection: St Johnstone keeper Alan Mannus

Dejection: St Johnstone keeper Alan Mannus reflects on a hard night

The fans, however, remain less
stirred by this competition. The night before Hallowe’en, there was a
vaguely ghostly atmosphere about Parkhead, with the top tier closed and a
crowd of just 14,399 spread around the other seats.

Yet St Johnstone were unable to
capitalise on the lack of intimidation from the stands. Boss Steve Lomas
celebrates his first anniversary in charge this weekend and the
previous 12 months can rarely have delivered such a brutal defeat.

For all that Celtic were excellent in
much of their attacking play, Lomas would have cringed at some of the
efforts to keep them at bay.

It was no surprise to see Lennon make
sweeping alterations to his starting line-up after being left dismayed
by the plunge in performance levels at the weekend.

Out went Adam Matthews, James
Forrest, Beram Kayal, Mulgrew and Miku. In came Mikael Lustig, Scott
Brown, Victor Wanyama, Tony Watt and Hooper. There could be no question
about how seriously the Celtic manager was taking the tie.

Goal machine: Gary Hooper was on the scoresheet once again

Goal machine: Gary Hooper was on the scoresheet once again

Lennon was seeking a greater urgency
than witnessed in their feeble efforts against Killie and certain
individuals immediately answered the call.

Captain Brown always injects an
additional drive to the side and, stationed wide right in midfield, he
looked determined to raise the tempo whenever possible.

One nimble hurdle of Dave MacKay’s
sliding challenge took him into the penalty area, where his cutback was
forced behind by a desperate lunge from Saints centre-half David
McCracken.

Commons then smacked in a low effort
that squirted off goalkeeper Alan Mannus, before Lustig cut a neat pass
to Hooper for the striker to send a snapshot narrowly wide.

Celtic were clearly the dominant
side, yet there was a flicker of concern when Efe Ambrose reprised some
of the sloppiness that pockmarked his performance on Saturday.

The Nigerian over-ran the ball to concede possession to Kevin Moon, who promptly released Liam Craig on the left flank.

With Lennon glaring from the touchline, Ambrose was mightily relieved when a dangerous delivery was eventually cleared.

Crisp strike: Charlie Mulgrew unleashes Celtic's fifth

Crisp strike: Charlie Mulgrew unleashes Celtic's fifth

In truth, however, that was only the
briefest of deviations in a one-way first half. It seemed only a matter
of time before Celtic scored, but Commons took it upon himself to speed
up the process.

The Scotland winger seemed locked in a
one-man mission to torment Mannus as he peppered his goalmouth from
distance before enjoying a slice of good fortune when finally forcing
the opener after 28 minutes. He teased Dave Mackay on the fringe of the
area to engineer enough space to fizz in a right-footed cross-shot that
was diverted into the net by the outstretched foot of Craig.

It took only four minutes for
Commons to double the advantage. Brown fed Lustig down the left and his
clever low cross was gathered by Hooper around 20 yards from goal. He
slipped a through ball for Commons and an angled finish gave Mannus no
hope.

St Johnstone appealed in vain for an offside flag, with captain Mackay venting his anger at assistant referee Alan Mulvanney.

Steven Anderson then cleared a Lustig
header off the line as Celtic continued to rampage forward at will.
That, however, only served to delay a third goal until the 39th minute.
Again, the outstanding Commons was heavily involved as he sprinted free
on the left to deliver a pinpoint centre that was swept into the net by
the grateful Hooper. St Johnstone looked punch-drunk.

Improved performance: Neil Lennon demanded more from his players - and he got it

Improved performance: Neil Lennon demanded more from his players – and he got it

The interval would have come as a
blessed relief to Lomas and his players, but both sides were changed
when they reappeared for the second period.

Saints withdrew Rowan Vine to
introduce Steven MacLean, while Mulgrew replaced Hooper. Mulgrew took up
a role wide on the left, allowing Commons to move closer to central
striker Watt.

The switches did nothing to alter the
flow of proceedings. One fine run by Gregory Tade caused a degree of
panic in the home defence, but that was nothing compared to the disarray
in the Saints backline.

They fell further behind after 56
minutes when Anderson was penalised for tugging back Watt as he turned
to control a Mulgrew cross. Commons drilled in the spot-kick with
minimum of fuss to spark debate about whether or not he had actually
claimed a treble.

Five minutes later, it was 5-0. Watt
drifted wide right to angle in a cross that was brushed away by the
diving Mannus but gathered by Mulgrew at the far post.

For what seemed like an eternity, he
twisted this way and that against Gary Miller before eventually
whipping a left-foot shot into the net. Mulgrew’s composure was
admirable but the defending he faced was pitiful.

Fraser Forster had been a bystander
for so much of the evening but produced late saves from substitutes
David Robertson and Nigel Hasselbaink to set the seal on a satisfying
recovery mission for Celtic.

Swindon 2 Aston Villa 3: Match report

Swindon 2 Aston Villa 3: Heartbreak for Di Canio as Benteke grabs late winner

|

UPDATED:

22:07 GMT, 30 October 2012

League Aston Villa are through to the quarter-finals of the Capital One Cup for the third time in four seasons after Christian Benteke scored a late winner against Swindon at the County Ground.

Villa looked to be cruising to victory as goals from Benteke – a 7million summer signing from Genk – and Gabriel Agbonlahor earned them a 2-0 half-time lead.

But the npower League One side, who had already overcome Stoke in this season's competition, fought back through two goals from substitute Miles Storey before Benteke had the final say.

Easy does it: Christian Benteke celebrates with Karim El Ahmadi (C) and Stephen Ireland after giving Villa the lead

Easy does it: Christian Benteke celebrates with Karim El Ahmadi (C) and Stephen Ireland after giving Villa the lead

Match facts

Swindon: Foderingham, Devera, McCormack, Flint, McEveley, Ritchie, Miller, Ferry, Roberts, Benson, Collins. Subs not used: Bedwell, Archibald-Henville, Nathan Thompson, Williams, Louis Thompson,
Storey.

Goals: Storey 78,81

Aston Villa: Given, Lowton, Herd, Vlaar, Lichaj, Weimann, Ireland, El Ahmadi, Bannan, Agbonlahor, Benteke. Subs not used: Guzan, Bent, Albrighton, Holman, Delph, Stevens.

Goals: Benteke 30, 90, Agbonlahor 39

Referee: Stuart Attwell.

Click for the latest League Cup results and stats

It was his third goal in two games and Villa boss Paul Lambert will hope his side can build on this success after their worst start to a league campaign in 43 years.
Stephen Ireland also impressed in the play-maker role and set up the opening two goals.

Lambert made five changes from the side which drew at home to Norwich at the weekend but there was again no place in the starting line-up for 18million club record signing Darren Bent.

Benteke was again preferred as the main striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation and the Belgian had the first effort on goal, a downward header which was comfortably saved by Wes Foderingham.

Barry Bannan curled a 25 yard drive wide but there was little to choose between the sides in the opening quarter of the game.

Villa were indebted to a goal-line clearance from full-back Matt Lowton in keeping out a shot on the turn from Paul Benson after 26 minutes.

Heads up: Christian Benteke heads home the first goal for Villa

Heads up: Christian Benteke heads home the first goal for Villa

It proved to be crucial as Villa took control with two goals in the space of 10 minutes before half-time.

Ireland created the opening goal when he got to the by-line and his cross was headed home in powerful fashion by Benteke for his second goal in two games.

Villa were forced into a change when central defender Chris Herd limped out of the action and was replaced by Enda Stevens.

In the goals: Gabriel Agbonlahor scores the second goal for Aston Villa

In the goals: Gabriel Agbonlahor scores the second goal for Aston Villa

But the visitors were starting to look more menacing and a superb strike from Agbonlahor doubled their lead.

Once again Ireland was the creator with his perfectly weighted pass although Agbonlahor still had much to do before cutting inside and unleashing a powerful 20 yard shot which flew past Foderingham.

The Swindon keeper produced a fine reflex save on the stroke of half-time to turn over Andreas Weimann's volley.

Out of the cup: Paolo Di Canio could not inspire Swindon to another famous win

Out of the cup: Paolo Di Canio could not inspire Swindon to another famous win

Swindon needed to make inroads into Villa's advantage at the start of the second period and a dangerous low cross from Simon Ferry just eluded Benson.

Gary Roberts headed over from a Collins centre and was then guilty of squandering a golden chance to reduce the arrears.

Matt Ritchie delivered a pinpoint ball across the box into the path of the unmarked Roberts at the far post but he headed against the outside of a post.

Comeback: Miles Storey scored twice in the second half, but it was not enough

Comeback: Miles Storey scored twice in the second half, but it was not enough

Villa started to reassert themselves, with Ireland continuing to impress, and Foderingham blocked a shot from Benteke with his feet.

But Swindon turned the tie on its head with two goals in two minutes.

With 11 minutes remaining, substitute Storey converted a centre.

At the double: Storey celebrates scoring for Swindon

At the double: Storey celebrates scoring for Swindon

Storey drew the home side level when he back-heeled a low ball into the box from Andy Williams past Shay Given.

But Benteke broke Swindon's hearts with seconds remaining when he hammered home a cross from Eric Lichaj.