Tag Archives: period

Alex Pearce says clean sheets are breeding confidence at Reading

Pearce says clean sheets are breeding confidence at Reading

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UPDATED:

22:30 GMT, 30 December 2012

Reading defender Alex Pearce believes that clean sheets are helping to grow confidence at the club.

The Royals kept back-to-back clean sheets in their previous two matches picking up a point against Swansea on Boxing Day and three against West Ham on Saturday.

It halted a run of seven defeats in a row, has stopped them slipping nine points from safety and lifted them off the foot of the table.

Optimistic mood: Reading's Alex Pearce (centre) says back-to-back clean sheets over the festive period have helped build confidence in the camp

Optimistic mood: Reading's Alex Pearce (centre) says back-to-back clean sheets over the festive period have helped build confidence in the camp

Pearce claims keeping out the league Champions Manchester City for 92 minutes – before Gareth Barry's controversial winner that looked like a foul on Nicky Shorey – helped Reading turn a corner defensively.

The 24-year-old said: 'I certainly think so. We were very good against Man City defensively, very good against Swansea defensively and very good against West Ham defensively and we had that little bit more going forward.

'But we had to get it right at the back first, build from the back and we are doing that and now we are grinding out the wins.'

Decisive strike: Pavel Pogrebnyak scored the winning goal after five minutes to sink West Ham

Decisive strike: Pavel Pogrebnyak scored the winning goal after five minutes to sink West Ham

He added: 'Players and staff want to keep clean sheets and we are happy with the last three games we played. We deserved a clean sheet at Man City, we then got two clean sheets and we are building on that.

'We got a win and we are building on that. We fully believe we can get out of this, everyone has written us off, everyone is saying we are down but inside that dressing room we have a firm belief we will do it.'

Stoke 3 Southampton 3 – Cameron Jerome scores late equaliser

Stoke 3 Southampton 3: Late Jerome stunner preserves Potters' unbeaten home record

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UPDATED:

17:20 GMT, 29 December 2012

A stunning 90th-minute volley from Cameron Jerome secured a point for 10-man Stoke in a highly-eventful draw with strugglers Southampton at the Britannia Stadium.

The Potters looked like they would pay for uncharacteristically poor defending in the first half, but fought back and substitute Jerome had the final say with a thumping volley from 30 yards.

Stoke had conceded only four goals at home in the Barclays Premier League all season and boasted the best defensive record in the division, but shipped three in the first half.

Stunner: Jerome celebrates after his long-range volley

Stunner: Jerome celebrates after his long-range volley

MATCH FACTS

Stoke: Begovic, Shotton, Huth, Upson, Wilkinson (Whitehead 70), Kightly (Crouch 75), Whelan, Nzonzi, Etherington (Jerome 57), Walters, Jones.

Subs not used: Sorensen, Palacios, Owen, Adam

Goals: Jones 16, Upson 67, Jerome 90

Booked: Jerome. Sent off: Nzonzi

Southampton: Kelvin Davis, Hooiveld, Yoshida, Fonte, Shaw (Fox 82), Puncheon (Richardson 85), Schneiderlin, Cork, Rodriguez, Do Prado, Lambert

Subs not used: Boruc, Steven Davis, Ramirez, Mayuka, De Ridder.

Goals: Lambert 10, Rodriguez 24, Wilkinson OG 36

Booked: Fonte, Rodriguez

Referee: Mark Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear)

Attendance: 26,391

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MCaptain Ryan Shawcross and full-back
Geoff Cameron were both serving one-match suspensions for picking up
five yellow cards, with Matthew Upson and Ryan Shotton coming in, and
the reshuffle seemed to unsettle the Potters.

Poor defending allowed Rickie Lambert to open the scoring 10 minutes in
and, although Kenwyne Jones soon equalised, Jay Rodriguez was presented
with Saints' second in the 24th minute.

An Andy Wilkinson own goal in the 36th minute summed up a miserable half
for the hosts, but they responded in the second period and Matthew
Upson pulled one back in the 67th minute.

Steven Nzonzi was sent off soon after but Stoke kept pressing and got
their reward, sending Southampton back into the bottom three.

Defensive stability has been one of Stoke's key strengths and there were
signs the changes would have a big effect when Southampton scored in
the 10th minute.

It was the first chance of the game and would have infuriated Stoke boss
Tony Pulis as none of his defenders cut out Guly Do Prado's cross and
Lambert had the simple task of poking in at the back post.

The hosts should have been level inside two minutes when Nzonzi's shot
was deflected to Jones in space at the back post, but somehow he skewed
his shot wide.

However, the big striker made amends in the 16th minute in some style with a lovely backheel from Ryan Shotton's low cross

Flying start: The Southampton players celebrate Rickie Lambert's opener at the Britannia Stadium

Flying start: The Southampton players celebrate Rickie Lambert's opener at the Britannia Stadium

Stoke looked the more likely to add to their tally at that point but
they well and truly shot themselves in the foot to hand Southampton a
second goal in the 24th minute.

There did not look too much danger when Lambert swung in a cross from
the right but Robert Huth beat his goalkeeper to the ball and poked it
against the bar, leaving Rodriguez a tap-in.

The visitors had their tails up, with Jason Puncheon causing a lot of
trouble on the right, and he twisted and turned his way past Andy
Wilkinson before firing in a shot that Asmir Begovic pushed behind.

All square: Kenwyne Jones was in the right place to equalise for Stoke

All square: Kenwyne Jones was in the right place to equalise for Stoke

Puncheon played a key part in Saints' third goal after 36 minutes, with
his cross headed towards goal by Lambert before Wilkinson stabbed it
over the line.

Stoke started the second half brightly, no doubt responding to a few
choice words from Pulis, and Michael Kightly fired in a shot from
distance that Kelvin Davis comfortably held onto.

There was a worrying moment for Pulis when Huth and Wilkinson clashed
heads, drawing blood from both, but they were bandaged up and able to
continue, although Huth had to change his shorts as well as his shirt.

We'll take it: Lambert (far left) and Jay Rodriguez were celebrating after Andy Wilkinson's own goal

We'll take it: Lambert (far left) and Jay Rodriguez were celebrating after Andy Wilkinson's own goal

Pulis threw on a third striker as Jerome replaced Matthew Etherington,
and Stoke began to pepper the Southampton box with crosses.

It was not all about the hosts, though, and Saints really should have
added a fourth in the 65th minute as they split Stoke's defence open
once again.

Lambert played in Rodriguez, who was denied by a fine save from Begovic,
but the ball fell to Do Prado with the goal gaping only for the striker
to shoot wide.

Three an easy: Rodriguez (left) looked to have won the game for the visitors

Three an easy: Rodriguez (left) looked to have won the game for the visitors

And that miss looked very costly a minute later as Stoke pulled one
back. For once Southampton failed to deal with a corner and Upson
squeezed his shot under Davis, who should have done better.

The Potters then appealed vociferously for a penalty when Jose Fonte
appeared clearly to handle a cross in a challenge with Jones, but
referee Mark Clattenburg was unmoved.

And Stoke's hopes of getting something from the game were then dealt a
real blow when Nzonzi was shown a straight red card in the 71st minute
for a challenge on Jack Cork.

Cut up: Robert Huth was left bleeding after a collision with Stoke team-mate Wilkinson

Cut up: Robert Huth was left bleeding after a collision with Stoke team-mate Wilkinson

The midfielder caught Cork with a painful blow but it looked a harsh
decision and Nzonzi was clearly unhappy as he left the pitch.

Pulis made his final change, sending on Peter Crouch for Kightly,
meaning Michael Owen would have to be content with a return to the bench
after two months out of the squad.

Seeing red: Nzonzi is sent off by Mark Clattenburg

Seeing red: Nzonzi is sent off by Mark Clattenburg

Seeing red: Nzonzi is sent off by Mark Clattenburg

Jerome was booked for protesting that Maya Yoshida had handled in the
area as the hosts desperately sought a late equaliser, and when the
striker did put the ball in the net shortly after he was rightly flagged
for offside.

Jerome was not to be denied, though, crashing in a tremendous shot off
the underside of the bar as the clock ticked towards 90 minutes, and
Stoke might even have won it but Davis kept out a Crouch header at the
death.

Bolton 3 Birmingham 1 – match report

Bolton 3 Birmingham 1: Trotters come from behind to record first win in three

PUBLISHED:

17:25 GMT, 29 December 2012

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UPDATED:

17:46 GMT, 29 December 2012

Bolton put the disappointment of back-to-back defeats behind them with a come-from-behind victory over struggling Birmingham.

Dougie Freedman's side suffered losses to lowly Peterborough and Sheffield Wednesday over the festive period and fell behind after just 11 minutes on Saturday.

Nikola Zigic headed his fifth of the season but the hosts hit back to lead by half-time with goals from Marcos Alonso and Chung-Yong Lee.

Comeback: Lee (second left) put Bolton in front

Comeback: Lee (second left) put Bolton in front

Match facts

Bolton: Bogdan; Mears, Ream, Knight, Alonso; Lee, Pratley, Spearing (Butterfield 89), Andrews, Eagles (Afobe 90); K Davies.

Subs not used: Lonergan, Ricketts, Riley, Petrov, Sordell.

Booked: Lee.

Goals: Alonso 27, Lee 33, Andrews (pen) 79.

Birmingham: Butland; Hancox, Caldwell, Davies, Robinson; Burke (Redmond 72), Spector (Elliott 59), Mullins, Reilly (Jervis 79), Hall; Zigic.

Subs not used: Doyle, Pablo, Gordon, Delfouneso.

Booked: Mullins, Caldwell, Zigic. Sent off: Zigic.

Goal: Zigic 11.

Referee: Simon Hooper.

Attendance: 17,068.

Click here for the latest Championship table, fixtures and results

A second-half penalty from Keith Andrews
settled the matter and Zigic saw red as Birmingham's three-match
unbeaten run came to an end.

The hosts started much the brighter, Chris Eagles cutting in from the
right and trying his luck with an early long-range strike but Jack
Butland was equal to the challenge.

The Trotters threatened again moments later as Jay Spearing hit a superb
looping volley from 30 yards which just dropped wide of the post.

But it was Lee Clark's side who seized the advantage. Chris Burke's
right-wing corner hung in the air and Zigic came through a crowded scene
to nod home from six yards.

Bolton's frustration continued to build when Eagles flashed a shot across goal after being played in by Kevin Davies' backheel.

They did not have to wait much longer for the goal their dominance
deserved after Tyrone Mears burst down the right and delivered a teasing
ball for Alonso to provide the headed finish, outmuscling Curtis Davies
to do so, in the 27th minute.

Spot on: Andrews slots home Bolton's third

Spot on: Andrews slots home Bolton's third

It got even better for Freedman's side just past the half-hour mark, Lee
skipping past two defenders, rounding Butland and squeezing the ball in
from a tight angle.

The impressive Spearing linked well with Davies and the veteran striker
forced a smart stop from Butland as Bolton finished the half on top.

Clark turned to his bench for inspiration early in the second half, bringing on Wade Elliott for Jonathan Spector.

The veteran winger was soon involved, feeding Burke down the flank but his cross cleared everyone in a packed penalty area.

Burke tried to atone but his 20-yard strike was well held by Adam Bogdan as the visitors began to grow into the game.

But after Steven Caldwell handled in the box, Andrews stepped up to calmly steer the spot-kick past Butland in the 79th minute.

Zigic was given his marching orders late on after picking up two
bookings in little over a minute as the Serb went from hero to zero.

Friedel to fight Lloris at Tottenham after signing new deal to 2014

Friedel chooses fight over flight after signing to stay at Tottenham until 2014

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UPDATED:

09:44 GMT, 26 December 2012

Brad Friedel has signed a new contract to extend his stay with Tottenham until 2014.

The United States goalkeeper had been linked with a return to Blackburn after being deposed as first-choice by summer signing Hugo Lloris but now appears set to fight for his place.

Friedel, the only player in Premier League history to have made over 300 consecutive league starts, arrived at Spurs from Aston Villa in 2011.

Commited: Despite interest from former club Blackburn, Friedel wants to stay at White Hart Lane

Commited: Despite interest from former club Blackburn, Friedel wants to stay at White Hart Lane

His commitment to the club leaves manager Andre Villas-Boas with four goalkeepers – the other two, Heurelho Gomes and Carlo Cudicini, are both big earners and could be set for exits

Lloris, meanwhile, says he cannot wait to have his first taste of Boxing Day tension, even though it has meant sacrificing his usual extravagant dining.

The France captain is preparing for their visit to Villa today but admits he usually “feasts” over Christmas and is not used to showing restraint from gorging on fine food.

Down but not out: Lloris' arrival has not convinced Friedel he needs to leave the club

Down but not out: Lloris' arrival has not convinced Friedel he needs to leave the club

Players in Ligue 1 are handed a two-week break from football over the festive period, before the campaign resumes on Friday, January 11.

‘Usually it was a period where I lay around, enjoying many feasts,’ he told L’Equipe.

‘I heard someone shout from the stands, “these aren’t holidays, so watch your line”.’

Safe hands: Lloris is looking forward to facing Aston Villa

Safe hands: Lloris is looking forward to facing Aston Villa

Taking it in good humour, the former Lyonnais stopper admits to having chuckled at this, but knows the importance of staying focused.

‘It is a family event and it shows all the passion of football in England. I can’t wait to see it for myself.’

Wayne Rooney says Sir Alex Ferguson was right to substitute him against Swansea

I'll bounce back from Swans flop! Rooney vows to show his true colours against Toon

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UPDATED:

22:00 GMT, 25 December 2012

For Wayne Rooney, recent Christmas and New Year experiences have not been good.

Last season, for example, the Manchester United centre forward was a substitute as his team beat Wigan 5-0 on Boxing Day before being dropped completely for the following home defeat to Blackburn after spending too long – in his manager's opinion at least – out on the town with team mate Darron Gibson.

Twelve months on and Rooney has found himself having to apologise again. Not for any social misdemeanours this time, merely a performance at Swansea on Sunday that Match of the Day pundit Alan Shearer labelled his worst for years.

Bad day at the office: Wayne Rooney admits he was not at his best against Swansea

Bad day at the office: Wayne Rooney admits he was not at his best against Swansea

That may be exaggerating things a little but Rooney still heads in to today's game with Newcastle at Old Trafford feeling that he has a little making up to do.

'I could feel it on the pitch that things weren't right at Swansea,' said Rooney.

'Some days you have an off day I could feel that and I couldn't complain at being substituted.

'But the good thing I think about football, and especially over the Christmas period, is that you have lots of games and the Swansea game has gone for me and it is certainly not one I will remember.

'I will relish the next one, though.

'The position we are in at the minute, it is a great opportunity to make that gap even bigger between us and Manchester City at the top of the league.

'Obviously against Swansea we couldn't do it but, as I say, hopefully we will get six points from the next two games and see what happens.'

Rooney's season has been one of sporadic performances so for. Having returned from his summer break slightly overweight, the England international then picked up a nasty injury to his thigh in early win over Fulham.

In a recent Sportsmail interview, United ambassador Sir Bobby Charlton suggested that there was improvement yet to come from Rooney's relationship with Robin van Persie and certainly in South Wales on Sunday they two have them seemed to be speaking a different language.

Right decision: Rooney had no complaints about being substituted against Swansea

Right decision: Rooney had no complaints about being substituted against Swansea

The worry form Wednesday's opponents Newcastle is that a Christmas home game against struggling opposition presents a perfect opportunity for things to come together. After all, Rooney rarely plays poorly for two games running.

'We are four points clear in the Premier League and of course we are happy with that,' he said.

'We are still in a good position with two home games coming up now.

'We need to make sure we take maximum points from them.

'We know it's early days and there is a long way to go but we are in a healthy position at the moment.

'And so we need to try and keep on.'

Finding his form: Rooney is aiming to be back to his best against Newcastle

Finding his form: Rooney is aiming to be back to his best against Newcastle

Newcastle contributed to a difficult festive period for United last season by beating them 3-0 at St James' Park. Today, however, they arrive in poor shape with Alan Pardew fretting over a run of two wins in twelve games in all competitions and worrying also about the future of star striker Demba Ba.

As far as United manager Sir Alex Ferguson is concerned, the root cause of Newcastle's problems is not difficult to locate.

Ferguson said: 'The new players they brought in last season caught us all by surprise.

'We didn't really know a lot about them.

'I knew about Ba, of course, but I didn't know anything about Cabaye or Cisse to be honest with you.

'They had fantastic seasons.

'Second time round, clubs are starting to analyse them a bit different, plus, more importantly, he's had some injuries.

Caught out: Newcastle beat Manchester United last season

Caught out: Newcastle beat Manchester United last season

'Cabaye's out till next year, Tiote is out to next year, he's had one or two important players injured, and that does make a difference when you've not got a squad as strong as the likes of ourselves or City or Chelsea.

'I'm not entirely surprised, although I am surprised they are so low down the table.'

Ferguson is sure to make some changes for today's game and it is expected that captain Nemanja Vidic will step down again after a difficult first start since September at the weekend.

Rooney, however, is expecting the club captain to make a significant difference to United's uncertain defending over the coming weeks and months.

'It was good to see him get 90 minutes at Swansea,' added Rooney.

'He has been out for a while and he has been working hard in the gym and at the training ground.

'He has done well to come back and he will be a massive player for us between now and the end of the season.

'He is a great defender and great to have in the team and a great leader.

'We have a few players in the team who can lead from the back or the front and he is our captain and does that.'

QPR star Adel Taarabt claims his agent is in talks with AC Milan over possible move

QPR star Taarabt says he is in talks with AC Milan… and could use move as stepping stone for Real or Barca

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UPDATED:

08:48 GMT, 25 December 2012

QPR playmaker Adel Taarabt claims he is in talks with AC Milan over a possible move to the San Siro.

The Moroccan star says his agent is in talks with Milan chief executive Adriano Galliani and that Milan could tempt him to turn down any potential advances from a top Premier League club or Real Madrid or Barcelona.

Taarabt played a key role for struggling QPR in their first Premier League win of the season against Fulham earlier this month when he scored both goals, and his performances have lead to speculation that he could leave the struggling club.

Heading to Italy Adel Taarabt claims his agent is talking to AC Milan

Heading to Italy Adel Taarabt claims his agent is talking to AC Milan

Taarabt told Gazzetta dello Sport: ‘I would only refuse offers from the big English clubs if Milan made me an offer.

‘My agent is in talks with Galliani, but it depends on what happens with Robinho and [reported AC Milan target Javier] Pastore.

Star performer: Taarabt has been in good form for struggling QPR

Star performer: Taarabt has been in good form for struggling QPR

‘Milan aren’t going through a glorious period now, and they’re no longer a part of the top clubs.

‘However, if I joined Milan then it would open up the doors for me to great clubs like Real Madrid and Barca.’

And Taarabt believe he could be a success with the Italian giants – just like his friend and former Tottenham team-mate Kevin-Prince Boateng.

Milan man: Taarabt says the success of Kevin Prince Boateng at Milan makes him believe he can do well there

Milan man: Taarabt says the success of Kevin Prince Boateng at Milan makes him believe he can do well there

Both players struggled to make an impact on the first team at White Hart Lane before being sold and Taarabt added: ‘My friend Boateng is also at Milan. When we were at Tottenham he was often in the stands, so I think that I have a chance too.’

Fulham boss Martin Jol fears relegation scrap in 2013

Sort it out! Fulham boss Jol fears relegation scrap if worrying slump continues

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UPDATED:

20:11 GMT, 24 December 2012

Martin Jol believes Fulham will find themselves in a 'relegation battle' if they do not pick up points over the festive period.

The Cottagers lost a number of key players during the summer but begun the season surprisingly well.

Things, though, have taken a turn for the worse of late and Jol has only led his side to one victory in their previous 10 matches.

Slump: Fulham are dropping like a stone towards the relegation zone

Slump: Fulham are dropping like a stone towards the relegation zone

That poor form has seen them plummet in the table and the Dutchman knows they need to improve in the coming games, starting when Southampton visit Craven Cottage on Boxing Day.

'We wanted that win last week against QPR but I don't think we were good enough,' Jol said.

'Against Liverpool we didn't show our strength and hopefully we can pick up the points not because it is a vital game for us. It is a vital game for them as well.

'We are in a good position, we have got a good cushion but if we don't pick up the points in the next week or so then we're really in a relegation battle with other teams.'

Jol believes Southampton are one of the sides that will around the dropzone come the end of the season, but will not be taking them for granted on Boxing Day.

'Sometimes they showed they can get the results and sometimes their weaknesses have been exploited, like we have,' he said.

'You saw a big contradiction with Aston Villa, losing 8-0 at Chelsea after winning at Liverpool the week before.

'That is the Barclays Premier League for you. It is unbelievably strong so you have to be strong in your organisation and you need your players that can make the difference.

'I feel we have got these players and hopefully they will be available. Even when they're not, we have got other players that can do the job, but the margin is a bit thin between being successful and not successful.'

Up please: Jol has fired a stern warning in the direction of his squad

Up please: Jol has fired a stern warning in the direction of his squad

Jol may well be able to welcome back one of those key players, with Bryan Ruiz rated 50-50 for the match after a hamstring injury.

Steve Sidwell returns after a one-match ban, but Mahamadou Diarra and Mladen Petric are doubts, while Damien Duff is definitely out.

Southampton's only injury concern is likely to be that of captain Adam Lallana, although Jol is wary of their other attacking options.

'I don't think it matters,' he said of the left winger. 'If you see them, they had Jay Rodriguez and we had a close look at him.

'He was quite expensive and they bought him. They have Gaston Ramirez, who has over 10million and is a good player.

'He can play on that flank and if you see Jason Puncheon on the other flank, he has done very well. They also have Emmanuel Mayuka, who we had a look at as well. He was 6million or 7million.

'They have a few players that can fill in that role. We have to do that all the time so why couldn't they come up with a solution'

Manchester City full of festive cheer as they train on Christmas Eve

Merry Mario leads Manchester City training as defending champions gear up for festive period

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UPDATED:

15:40 GMT, 24 December 2012

Making up two points on leaders and fierce rivals Manchester United would have bought more than a hint of festive cheer to City's training ground on Christmas Eve.

And the presence of the club's very own crackers character Mario Balotelli gave the squad a lift, as did the sight of captain Vincent Kompany coming through the session.

In fact, so good was the spirit in camp that youngster Matija Nastasic, who has previously enjoyed a winter break in Italy, said he was relishing his first taste of England's traditionally busy Christmas schedule.

Christmas crackers: Manchester City got an early present when they made up two points on United

Christmas crackers: Manchester City got an early present when they made up two points on United

Christmas cheer: Mario Balotelli was put through his paces in the freezing cold of Manchester

Christmas cheer: Mario Balotelli was put through his paces in the freezing cold of Manchester

Christmas cheer: Mario Balotelli was put through his paces in the freezing cold of Manchester

The 19-year-old centre-back, who has
made a big impression since his arrival from Fiorentina in August, is
unfazed by the prospect of playing five games in the space of 15 days.

He
is also far from concerned by the fact the next two of those matches,
at Sunderland on Boxing Day and Norwich next Saturday, will involve
lengthy journeys.

'To me
it is not a problem,' said the Serbia international. 'I am always happy
when I am playing, so this time of the season makes me happiest of all!

Carlos the joker: Tevez was the one enjoying the Christmas Ever session the most, judging by his smile

Carlos the joker: Tevez was the one enjoying the Christmas Ever session the most, judging by his smile

Carlos the joker: Tevez was the one enjoying the Christmas Ever session the most, judging by his smile

'My father and mother are here, so I won't miss my family. I don't look at the two long away trips as a problem at all.

'Now we concentrate on the Sunderland game, and then we focus on Norwich – it's not a headache.

'The league in Italy stops, and we have a break, but playing here is no problem for me. I am looking forward to the next couple of games.'

City needed a last-gasp winner from Gareth Barry to beat Barclays Premier League bottom side Reading in the first of their festive matches at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday.

Having gone into the game trailing leaders Manchester United by six points, the champions were in danger of handing their title rivals another boost until Barry headed home a contentious goal in injury time.

Reading felt Barry had fouled Nicky Shorey but City celebrated a valuable three points amid much relief and their joy increased later in the weekend when Swansea held United to a draw.

Although Reading showed commendable
resilience throughout, Nastasic felt victory was deserved for City's
obvious superiority and greater number of chances over the whole game.

Nastasic
said: 'We knew the game would be difficult because it was obvious they
would just come and defend, but we deserved the goal in the last minute.

'Reading
played 11 men behind the ball, in a small area which always makes it
very difficult to attack – but that was their game plan.

Space at the table: Roberto Mancini will no doubt be distracted on the big day as he prepares for Boxing Day

Space at the table: Roberto Mancini will no doubt be distracted on the big day as he prepares for Boxing Day

Hart stopper: Joe Hart will hope 2013 doesn't see a repeat of the odd mistake he made this year

Hart stopper: Joe Hart will hope 2013 doesn't see a repeat of the odd mistake he made this year

'We are a very strong team, self-motivated and full of confidence at the moment. What is important is that we keep the same attitude, if we want to win the Premier League. We won the game, and that is the important thing.'

Nastasic's consistent and unfussy performances are currently keeping England centre-back Joleon Lescott out of the City side.

There was even the unusual sight on Saturday of Lescott and captain Vincent Kompany – the heart of City's title-winning defence last season – on the bench as Nastasic partnered Kolo Toure.

Manager Roberto Mancini's regard for the player is evident and he is quickly becoming a fans' favourite.

Nastasic
said: 'It makes me happy if the fans think highly of me, and I just
want to keep playing the way I am – that is the objective for the whole
team, not just me.'

Kompany
was not risked against Reading as he continues to recover from the
groin injury he suffered in the Manchester derby defeat a fortnight ago.

Head for the top: Gareth Barry got the champion out of trouble with a late goal against Reading

Head for the top: Gareth Barry got the champion out of trouble with a late goal against Reading

Head for the top: Gareth Barry got the champion out of trouble with a late goal against Reading

Another teenager, Karim Rekik, was also deployed at left-back as both Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov were sidelined by niggles.

Their fitness will be assessed ahead of the trip to the Stadium of Light while controversial striker Mario Balotelli could come back into contention after illness last week but forward Samir Nasri is out with a hamstring injury.

The match marks the halfway point of the season and Mancini wants his side to start picking up the tempo.

The Italian said: 'We can work better but at the same time I think that we need to do more than last year. From the first six months we need to work better – that's individuals and the group.'

Steven Fletcher backs Sunderland revival after beating Southampton

Red-hot Fletcher revels in Sunderland revival after victory over Southampton

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UPDATED:

15:09 GMT, 23 December 2012

Steven Fletcher always knew Sunderland's season would start to turn around and believes their win at Southampton will help them through their tough Christmas period.

The Black Cats have struggled this season and headed to St Mary's in 16th place, just a point and a place better off than the hosts.

Fletcher's first half strike proved the difference in appalling conditions on the south coast as Martin O'Neill's side eked out a 1-0 win to make it two victories from their last three matches.

Festive cheer: Steven Fletcher celebrates his winner at Southampton for Sunderland

Festive cheer: Steven Fletcher celebrates his winner at Southampton for Sunderland

'We're all professional boys,' the Scotland international said. 'We all know what is needed when we need to go and win game.

'I thought it was a good performance. We attacked well and defended well so you're always going to win games when you play like that.

'Sometimes it is not pretty and we ground it out. We needed the three points and we got that.

'We're just happy we got three points and a good performance as well.'

It is a result that Fletcher hopes can act as a catalyst for further success this Christmas, with Manchester City, Tottenham and Liverpool all lying in wait.

'We approach them with a bit of confidence,' the striker said.

Pleased as punch: Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill was delighted after his side picked up three points away from home

Pleased as punch: Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill was delighted after his side picked up three points away from home

'We know we've got a hard Christmas period coming up but we've built a bit of confidence and we'll take that into the next game.

'The boys are all very tight. We all get on very well. It is a good bunch of lads.

'If we keep our heads down and keep working hard, we'll get results like this.'

Fletcher's instinctive strike was the summer signing's eighth league goal of the campaign.

The 25-year-old has shone for Sunderland and would like nothing more than to add to his tally when City visit the Stadium of Light on Boxing Day.

'I think Sessy [Stephane Sessegnon] will take an assist for that one but I think he had a shot,' he said with a smile.

'I am just glad I got another goal and we got the win.

'It just came to me quick and my instinct was to side-foot it away. Luckily for me it went in the back of the net.

'It would be nice to get a goal under my belt and another win, but we'll wait to see what happens.”

Thibaut Courtois is likely to stay at Chelsea next season

Chelsea set to keep Courtois at Stamford Bridge next season… but Barca are sniffing around

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UPDATED:

13:37 GMT, 23 December 2012

Chelsea are intending to keep goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois at Stamford Bridge after his loan spell with Atletico Madrid ends, but they will have to wrestle him away from the lure of Barcelona.

The 20-year old remains in Madrid until the summer and, although his current deal with the Blues expires in 2016, he could earn a big pay rise if he agrees new terms.

He was snapped up for just six million euros (4.9m) from Genk in August 2011 and is now in his second loan spell with Atletico, succeeding David de Gea after his transfer to Manchester United.

Highly rated: Thibaut Courtois has impressed in his displays for Atletico Madrid

Highly rated: Thibaut Courtois has impressed in his displays for Atletico Madrid

The Belgian stopper kept 15 clean sheets over 38 appearances last year and helped Los Rojiblancos to finish fifth in La Liga.

After his impressive year, Courtois requested an extended loan period, which Chelsea agreed to, but his performances have sparked interest from Barcelona.

Chelsea regard him as a long-term successor to Petr Cech and him staying with the club next season could mean both deputies Ross Turnbull and Hilario are off-loaded.