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Sir Clive Woodward: England must use intimidation as inspiration

England must use intimidation as inspiration in the cauldron of the Millennium Stadium

PUBLISHED:

22:49 GMT, 15 March 2013

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UPDATED:

08:13 GMT, 16 March 2013

The Millennium Stadium is a unique
ground. Sitting bang in the middle of the city of Cardiff, the stadium
feels like the beating heart of Wales on match days.

There are few venues around the world
where supporters can finish their pints with five minutes to spare,
pour out of the pubs and take their seats in time for kick-off.

As a coach, when you have said your
final few words to the team in the relative peace of the dressing room
and walk out to hear the crowd singing under that roof, it can feel like
you are emerging into the Colosseum in Rome.

Not intimidated: Chris Ashton dives over to score at the Millennium Stadium in 2011 when England beat Wales 26-19

Not intimidated: Chris Ashton dives over to score at the Millennium Stadium in 2011 when England beat Wales 26-19

More from Sir Clive Woodward…

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: It's time to pile on the pressure and use Cardiff cauldron to test mettle of England's players
14/03/13

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: 2013 v 2003 – how my Grand Slam heroes compare to today’s side gunning for Six Nations glory
14/03/13

EXCLUSIVE: Sir Clive Woodward talks Grand Slams with George North… Training has been brutal and we're ready to do battle
13/03/13

Sir Clive Woodward: This is the last England game for six months with everyone available and Ashton has a point to prove
11/03/13

SIR CLIVE WOODWARD: It's time for England to wake up and smell the roses
10/03/13

Sir Clive Woodward: England must fear the Italians if they are to prevent the biggest Six Nations shock ever
08/03/13

Sir Clive Woodward: Just like no-nonsense Johnno, Robshaw is a natural born leader
07/03/13

Sir Clive Woodward: Ranting Rafa He's far too shrewd for that
28/02/13

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

Stuart Lancaster and his players will
sense that fever with a welcome like no other. Despite the fierce
rivalry, you get better looked after in Wales than anywhere else – they
want to thrash you, but they want it to be a fair fight.

There are no silly games – nobody rushes you off the pitch or limits the number of balls you have for the warm-up.

Hostility is manifest in the passionate support, not stupid mind games.

In 2001, when I took England to
Wales for our first ever match at the Millennium Stadium, I decided we
should stay in Cardiff Bay because I wanted to be near town and a part
of the build-up, not stuck on the outskirts and excluded from the buzz.

You want to be in the thick of it so you're not overwhelmed when you come in on match day, particularly for a 5pm kick-off.

From the Monday morning of the build-up to that Test almost every press conference question was about the stadium.

'Intimidation' was clearly the theme but I made it clear that we were playing the Welsh team, not the stadium. I held a meeting that night and told the players to turn the word 'intimidation' into 'inspiration'.

Players prepare in different ways. Hooker Steve Thompson, for example, braced himself for the Cardiff cacophony by practising his lineout throwing with white noise blasting through his headphones. It paid off as on the day his set-piece was as accurate as ever.

The players had never been inside the ground until we were given a tour of the stadium the day before the game.

Time to shine: Ben Youngs goes through the motions under the Millennium Stadium roof

Time to shine: Ben Youngs goes through the motions under the Millennium Stadium roof

Ready for battle: Manu Tuilagi passes the ball during the England captain's run at the Millennium Stadium

Ready for battle: Manu Tuilagi passes the ball during the England captain's run at the Millennium Stadium

One game from glory: Stuart Lancaster hopes England can win their final game of the Six Nations and secure the Grand Slam

One game from glory: Stuart Lancaster hopes England can win their final game of the Six Nations and secure the Grand Slam

RBS 6 NATIONS TITLE – PERMUTATIONS

England's victory over Italy means a win against Wales in Cardiff would seal a first Grand Slam in a decade.

However, Wales have everything to play for because a victory for them could be enough to retain the RBS 6 Nations title and leave England empty-handed.

England are currently two points ahead of Wales in the table and with a points-difference advantage of 14.

Under tournament rules, if the points and points difference end level then the championship would be decided on tries scored.

Wales hold the advantage 7-5 going into the final round. If tries scored is also level, the title is shared.

Here, we examine the permutations:

ENGLAND WIN GRAND SLAM

An England victory by any margin would secure a first Grand Slam triumph in a decade.

ENGLAND WIN TITLE

An England defeat by six points or fewer would still be enough to seal the title.

If England lose by seven points but outscore Wales by three tries or more then Stuart Lancaster's men would win the title.

WALES WIN TITLE

A Wales victory by seven points, providing they stay ahead of England on tournament tries, would see Rob Howley's men retain the title.

TITLE SHARED

If Wales win by seven points but England score two more tries then the title would be shared.

I wanted my team, particularly the back three, to get used to catching high balls under the lights and watching the flight of balls against the closed roof.

We walked into the away dressing room to find giant cardboard cutouts of the entire Welsh team – bigger than life size.

You've never heard such laughter in your life. It turned out they were there for tourists as part of the stadium tour, but the stadium officials had genuinely forgotten to move them.

The facilities in the stadium are second to none.

The away dressing room is big and spacious, unlike at Murrayfield where there is a giant pillar in the middle.

When we arrived on match day, I walked on to the pitch with Martin Johnson and we were booed by the supporters.

Johnno walked into the centre of the pitch and held his hands in the air – making it very clear this was exactly where he wanted to be.

The home and away dressing rooms are about 50 metres apart in a long corridor, so you are kept well away from your opponents.

While football players tend to hang out in the tunnel before coming out together that doesn't happen in rugby.

You come out separately – England to subdued cheers, Wales to pyrotechnics, blasting music and booming choirs.

The first time you see your opponents is when you line up for the anthems. It is all part of the magic.

One of the few things I miss from my coaching days is the dressing-room atmosphere on days like today.

It is the most electric place in the world with 20 minutes to go before
kickoff – a mix of adrenaline, fear and anticipation.

Ten players in
Lancaster's starting XV have never experienced that atmosphere and I
hope they are inspired, not intimidated.

Real champions thrive in enemy
territory. The dressing room against Wales was always noisier than at
home. Guys such as Lawrence Dallaglio, Will Greenwood and Matt Dawson
would come into their own.

All white on the night: Steve Thompson prepared by blasting white noise into his headphones

All white on the night: Steve Thompson prepared by blasting white noise into his headphones

Glorying in the rivalry: Martin Johnston was never one to be intimidated

Glorying in the rivalry: Martin Johnston was never one to be intimidated

Glorying in the rivalry: Martin Johnston was never one to be intimidated

I expect Brad Barritt, Owen Farrell, Tom
Youngs and Geoff Parling to do the same, supporting captain Chris
Robshaw to deliver the final key messages and get everybody focused on
kick-off.

We won comfortably on that first trip – but that doesn't mean it wasn't a dramatic day.

After
the game we returned to the hotel to change for the post-match dinner
but travelling back to the stadium was a nightmare.

A
lot of supporters had been drinking all day and we were stuck in a sea
of red shirts, crawling through the crowds at three or four mph with a
giant red rose on the side of the coach.

Man alive: Lawrence Dallaglio came into his own in the dressing room

Man alive: Lawrence Dallaglio came into his own in the dressing room

I had a superstition and would sit front left in the coach. A man in the crowds caught my eye because he had obviously had a big day out but was running straight towards us as if he was planning to tackle the coach.

At the last minute, he sidestepped to his right in Gerald Davies-style but was promptly knocked out cold by the large wing mirror.

I stopped the coach and got out, followed by a few players and our doctor, who rushed to help while we radioed for the police.

Suddenly I realised there was me and most of the England team in the middle of a crowd of drunk fans standing over a prostrate Welshman. It looked like we had run him over!

People started pointing fingers and it all got a little tense.

Then a crowd of equally well-oiled England fans pushed their way to the front and it really started to get a bit tasty. The police arrived just in time and sense prevailed.

That was more than 10 years ago, when England had a far stronger team than Wales.

Since then, Wales have become something of a nation of experts in this tournament – to win three Grand Slams in the last eight years is an amazing achievement.

I had a great team and we only did it once. But Lancaster's team are winners and I believe they will be inspired by playing in Cardiff.

They have only ever been beaten by single figures so this game will be close.

If England keep their cool in the Cardiff cauldron, they are good enough to win.

I truly hope they do. It is time a new generation of Englishmen stepped up to the plate and won the Grand Slam.

MY SIX KEY BATTLE AREAS…

1. KEEP COOL IN THE CAULDRON

Show respect: Referee Steve Walsh (left) has a chat with France captain Thierry Dusautoir

Show respect: Referee Steve Walsh (left) has a chat with France captain Thierry Dusautoir

This England team have an abundance of testosterone flowing through them and Wales will target the players who have a history of reacting.

Joe Marler, Owen Farrell, Chris Ashton and Mike Brown have had their moments and this can be a good thing – the 2003 team were at their best when there was a bit of sulphur in the air.

But you have to tread the line between never taking a step backwards and not getting distracted or involved in anything that puts you or your team-mates off their game.

England have recieved two yellow cards in this tournament, another today could cost them the Grand Slam. Let the score do the talking and silence the crowd.

The message from Stuart Lancaster must be about finding the crucial balance – you have to compete for the ball at the breakdown, but needless penalties will kill your team.

Referee Steve Walsh was extremely strict at the contact zone in Dublin last weekend.

Listen to him, repeat his calls, react and adapt to how he is marshalling that breakdown.

If he starts penalising the tackler for not rolling away, then make a show of releasing the player early and doing what he asks.

Be smart – get the wrong side of Walsh and you're in trouble.

2. GO FORWARD BEFORE YOU GO WIDE

England have not scored a try against Wales for 196 minutes but it will be almost impossible for them to win without doing so in a game as tight as this, so they must sort out their attacking strategies.

The ambition was there against Italy, the failure was in execution.

There is no point passing the ball out wide if the opposition have more defenders in the line than you have attackers, as was often the case against Italy.

Please release me: Ben Youngs will be key to getting the ball out wide

Please release me: Ben Youngs will be key to getting the ball out wide

Use the early phases to charge directly forward and suck more defenders into the ruck and the narrow channels.

Then, when there is space out wide, release the ball.

Ben Youngs has to lead this, ordering the forwards to use their firepower and go 'route one' very early in the game.

3. OPTIONS ARE KEY TO ATTACK

Talisman Owen Farrell returns and England will take confidence in having their best half-back pairing in the spine of the side, but full back Alex Goode is key to offering a second option in attack.

The clash of the centres will be monstrous in midfield but I hope Brad Barritt and Manu Tuilagi have the confidence not just to run into contact but to pass the ball before contact.

Use Tuilagi as a decoy and out-think the Welsh. This is where Goode is key.

Goode idea: Alex Goode can be used to out-think Wales

Goode idea: Alex Goode can be used to out-think Wales

He has gone quiet in games, so he needs to come into the attack as a second receiver to create plays and get the side playing more expansively.

Barritt and Tuilagi can become a great pairing but they need Goode to give Farrell more options in the inside centre role.

4. IT'S A MISTAKE TO FOCUS ONLY ON THE DANGERMEN

Alex Cuthbert and George North are giant dangers on the wing – I couldn't believe just how big George was when I met him!

He is such an intelligent player, too, so Chris Ashton has his work cut out. Both wingers come looking for crash balls either inside or outside the fly-half.

But Wales' back line have the footballing ability to miss the winger out and if England focus on one player they can get caught out.

England just need to keep their defensive shape. If the big guys come at you hard it is about technique – hit them hard and low.

North star: Wales winger George North could cause all sorts of problems for England

North star: Wales winger George North could cause all sorts of problems for England

If your technique is sloppy – and England have been guilty of going in too high recently – then you will look stupid.

I expect a big step up in England's tackling today, Ashton included.

Both defensive coaches, Andy Farrell and Shaun Edwards, have brought huge rugby league influences into these sides.

League is fundamentally a simpler game with a bigger emphasis on defence, especially the blitz defence where players rush up and 'get in the face' of attackers.

Wales have gone 277 minutes without conceding a try (they could beat my team's tournament record of 319 minutes).

The challenge is keeping your shape when your lungs are burning and your brain is starved of oxygen.

This game will be won in the last 10 minutes and that is when the fitness of these two teams will be tested.

Power play: Stopping Sam Warburton in his tracks will be one of England's big challenges

Power play: Stopping Sam Warburton
in his tracks will be one of England's big
challenges

5. TARGET WARBURTON

It is less than 100 days to the first Lions Test and the backrow battle will be fascinating – but the turnover contest is not a question of Chris Robshaw v Sam Warburton.

Whichever England player arrives at the breakdown first has to target Warburton. Against a player of his strength, you have to decide – attack the ball or attack him.

You need to try to get him off the ball before he sets up in that 'crouched jackal' position over it.

Once he is set up, you won't be able to move him, so hit him as early as you can within the laws of the game.

6. GET THE BALL IN AND OUT OF THE SCRUM

The bigger the game, the bigger the basics. Basics are the scrum, the lineout and the restart.

For all the attacking flair in these teams out wide, if you do not nail those three foundations then you cannot create real momentum.

In the front row, Joe Marler and Dan Cole must deal with Adam Jones and Gethin Jenkins, who have been the cornerstone of Wales' three Grand Slams, so England have to be clever.

The stadium turf has a tendency to cut up so you want to get the ball in, out and away.

Win the engagement and use the scrum as a platform to restart your attack quickly.

If you leave the ball in and the scrum collapses you give the referee an opportunity to penalise you.

At restarts, England must be aware of the aerial threat of North and Cuthbert, who can out-jump forwards. Do not let them get to the ball first.

Wolves 1 Watford 1: Sako rescues Saunders after fans voice their anger at board

Wolves 1 Watford 1: Sako rescues Saunders after fans voice their anger at board

By
Neil Moxley

PUBLISHED:

21:42 GMT, 1 March 2013

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UPDATED:

23:59 GMT, 1 March 2013

Bakary Sako struck an equaliser three
minutes into added time to wreck Gianfranco Zola’s hopes of an 11th
away victory of the season.

The winger hit a right-foot shot beyond debutant Jonathan Bond after a long throw caused chaos in the visitors’ area.

Bjorn Sigurdarson flicked on the ball and Sako did the rest, claiming his 10th goal of the season.

Late show: Bakary Sako scored last-gasp equaliser for Wolves

Late show: Bakary Sako scored last-gasp equaliser for Wolves

Match facts

Wolverhampton: Ikeme, Doherty, Johnson, Gorkss, Robinson, Hunt (Cassidy 64), Henry (Davis 70), O'Hara, Sako, Sigurdarson, Doyle (Ebanks-Blake 64). Subs Not Used: De Vries, Edwards, Ward, Batth.

Booked: Sigurdarson.

Goals: Sako 90. Watford: Bond, Doyley, Nosworthy, Ekstrand, Cassetti, Abdi, Chalobah (Hogg 82), Battocchio, Anya (Pudil 84), Deeney, Vydra (Forestieri 78). Subs Not Used: Bonham, Yeates, Murray, Geijo.

Booked: Abdi.

Goals: Abdi 41.

Att: 18,571

Ref: Paul Tierney (Lancashire).

But it was not enough to pull Wolves clear of the relegation zone as they had been chasing the game since four minutes before the interval.

Almen Abdi — one of Watford’s controversial Italian loanees — struck a delightful free-kick from the edge of the area as the division’s top scorers looked to put three points between themselves and third-placed Hull City.

Protests had been planned outside the stadium before kick-off to voice concern about Wolves owner Steve Morgan’s stewardship. But the multi-millionaire had eased their anxiety by appearing before a group of supporters in midweek. He admitted making mistakes and apologised. The group which gathered under the statue of Wolves legend Billy Wright was no more than 50-strong and soon dispersed.

The air of relative calm around the stadium would have changed had Matej Vydra’s seventh-minute shot that deflected off Roger Johnson found the net.

Shortly afterwards, Bond, who had been promoted after Manuel Almunia was forced out with a hamstring injury, produced a superb double-stop.

Neat strike: Almen Abdi scores for Watford

Neat strike: Almen Abdi scores for Watford

Watford's Almen Abdi celebrates his goal

Watford's Almen Abdi celebrates his goal

He blocked Kevin Doyle’s fierce drive and then got to his feet quickly, palming Sigurdarson’s follow-up shot over the bar.

The value of that save was seen four minutes before the interval when
Watford took the lead. Karl Henry tried desperately to rob Vydra of the
ball as he advanced to the edge of the penalty area.

But amid a cluster of bodies the Czech fell to the ground and referee
Paul Tierney awarded the free-kick. Midfielder Abdi took responsibility,
curling his shot around the wall and past Carl Ikeme’s outstretched
right hand.

Bond then saved well from Doyle shortly before the hour but at the other
end, Ikechi Anya missed with a side-foot effort from six yards out and
Ikeme pulled off a superb tip-over from Christian Battocchio’s
long-range effort.

Watford may consider this two points dropped, but while the Football
League considers closing the loophole that allowed them to sign a dozen
players on loan from Udinese last summer, Zola’s men are still closing
in on promotion.

Wigan defender Ivan Ramis ruled out for season with cruciate ligament damage

Huge blow for Martinez as Wigan defender Ramis is sidelined for season with cruciate injury

By
Simon Stone, Press Association

PUBLISHED:

16:27 GMT, 15 January 2013

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UPDATED:

17:17 GMT, 15 January 2013

Wigan defender Ivan Ramis will miss the rest of the season after rupturing his cruciate ligament in Saturday's 1-1 draw at Fulham.

Latics boss Roberto Martinez feared the worst immediately after the game and scans have now revealed the Spaniard will be out until the start of next season.

'Nothing can disguise the fact this is a massive blow because Ivan is a key member of the group but we are relieved that the injury is not a severe as we feared it could have been,' Martinez said.

Down and out: Ivan Ramis will miss the rest of the campaign

Down and out: Ivan Ramis will miss the rest of the campaign

The news is a massive blow to Martinez as another senior defender, Antolin Alcaraz, is still to return after suffering a groin injury in August.

Wigan do have another alternative in Roman Golobart but the 20-year-old's relative lack of experience means Martinez may be forced to use Emmerson Boyce as an orthodox defender, rather than in the wing-back role where he has excelled over the past 12 months.

A summer arrival from Real Mallorca, 28-year-old Ramis endured a difficult debut against Chelsea but has since come into his own, making 19 appearances. He had only just returned from a hamstring problem when he suffered the latest setback at the weekend.

'The most important thing now is to think of Ivan's welfare, get the operation completed, and for him to begin his rehabilitation,' said Martinez.

'Ivan is a very strong and positive character and he is determined to return to fitness as soon as he can.

'He will receive the best possible medical rehabilitation as the club ensures to have him return as an even stronger footballer.'

El Hadji Diouf agrees 18-month contract at Leeds in deal that will see controversial forward top wage United bill

Diouf agrees 18-month contract at Leeds in deal that will see controversial forward top wage United bill

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UPDATED:

17:31 GMT, 14 December 2012

El Hadji-Diouf has signed an 18 month contract extension with Leeds United.

It is understood that the new deal will make Diouf one the club's highest earning players, as revealed by Sportsmail, representing a significant raise from his current cut-price contract of 5,000 per week.

Leeds will be relieved to have secured the new deal, as Diouf would have been able to leave the club for nothing in January with his contract set to expire in January.

Senegal striker Diouf, 31, who will line up against Ipswich at home tomorrow, joined Leeds in August and has impressed manager Neil Warnock, contributing five goals in his 24 appearances since signing for the Elland Road side.

Gone clubbing: Leeds United's Senegal striker El Hadji Diouf is now at his seventh British club having agreed an 18-month deal at Elland Road

Gone clubbing: Leeds United's Senegal striker El Hadji Diouf, here letting fly against Southampton in the Capitasl One Cup, is now at his seventh British club having agreed an 18-month deal at Elland Road

Boss Neil Warnock told leedsunited.com: 'We're
delighted he's agreed everything and hopefully he'll enjoy the next 18 months
with us.

'Obviously it's a massive boost for everyone to know
we're going to have him around and this is what we've wanted to do.

'He's a match-winning player, and there aren't many of
them around.

'He's a player who can change a game and I'm delighted
we've been able to keep him.

'He's also fitted in really well, and he's been great
with the lads.'

The 31-year-old has scored five goals in 24 appearances for
the Whites after joining in the summer.

Key man: El Hadji Diouf looks to have earned an extended stay at Leeds

Key man: El Hadji Diouf looks to have earned an extended stay at Leeds

The controversial forward, who has often found his name in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, will now remain at Leeds until June 2014.

Diouf’s relative success at Leeds has been surprising, given the nature of his relationship with Leeds boss Warnock.

Former QPR boss Warnock famously launched an attack on Diouf, branding the forward a ‘sewer rat’ during his time at Blackburn after claiming he abused Ranger’s Jamie Mackie as he lay on the pitch with a broken leg in an FA Cup clash in January 2011.

However, it now seems that the two have patched up their differences, with Diouf remaining at Leeds for the foreseeable future.

Lee Clark and Nigel Clough up against it: The Midlander

Football is a results business… but it's never that clear cut for Clark and Clough

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UPDATED:

18:02 GMT, 15 November 2012

Results define a manager's success. Pretty obvious, that.

But perhaps following on from last week's theme regarding Martin O'Neill, it might be worth bearing that in mind when the relative merits of two of the region's other managers are discussed.

I'm referring to Birmingham City's Lee Clark and Derby County's Nigel Clough.

Up against it: Birmingham manager Lee Clark has not made the best of starts at St Andrew's

Up against it: Birmingham manager Lee Clark has not made the best of starts at St Andrew's

More from Neil Moxley…

The Midlander: Was O'Neill a good Villa boss Let's end this debate once and for all…
08/11/12

The Midlander: Coventry can begin to paint rosy future with morale-boosting Wembley run
19/10/12

The Midlander: Pearson deserves so much more as Leicester target the Premier League
12/10/12

The Midlander: Bent mystery at Villa making life under Lambert very interesting
04/10/12

The Midlander: Baggies crashed out, but at least they took the Capital One Cup seriously
27/09/12

The Midlander: Dan the Man will be a tough act to follow at West Brom
20/09/12

The Midlander: Birmingham need to avoid Paladini for their own good
14/09/12

The Midlander: Whisper it quietly, but Forest could be on the road to success…
07/09/12

VIEW FULL ARCHIVE

We'll take a look at Clark first. Now, I'll be the first to admit that the Geordie's reign hasn't started well.

It's difficult to erase that performance against Barnsley from the memory, even now, two months later.

But it always struck me as odd why a manager who had a couple of years to size up players in League One wouldn't go there to breathe some excitement into a club in the Championship.

It would seem logical that Clark would pluck a couple of hungry youngsters from the third tier and give them a chance at a higher level.

Supporters of any club love to see players get a chance to prove themselves and here was an obvious opportunity to blood a couple.

Cash is too tight to mention at St Andrew's – a point I'll come onto in a minute – but the likes of Hayden Mullins, Darren Ambrose and Peter Lovenkrands aren't playing for nothing.

Hello, these are ex-Premier League players. And Ambrose cost a transfer fee, too.

It would have made sense for Clark therefore to have given a couple more, such as Swindon Town's Paul Caddis, the chance to earn themselves a reasonable increase in pay and the opportunity to advance their careers at a higher level.

Not so. Not so because the powers-that-be deemed that Clark should only sign players they had actually heard of.

Therefore, those with a Premier League profile were always going to find a way to St Andrew's, irrespective of whether they were, in fact, the type of players that the Geordie wanted in the first place.

Now, they might well have been. But
surely a manager has to have a say over who he brings into the club
After all, it's his neck on the chopping block.

Furthermore, evidence suggests that
the reason Clark was not able to re-sign Barry Ferguson was because
Fleetwood Town put together a more attractive package than the Blues for
the Carling Cup winner's services.

Hands tied: Derby manager Nigel Clough is also in a difficult position at times

Hands tied: Derby manager Nigel Clough is also in a difficult position at times

I know. Incredible, isn't it But that's the state of the club finances at the moment. Critical.

Which is why, in the absence of a credible buyer, (my hopes of substantial investment from overseas have diminished as the party concerned appears to have cooled any interest) the boost of new owners would at least bring an air of positivity to the place.

Over at Pride Park, Clough will not be in the least bit surprised that he once more finds his hands tied in the transfer market.

Despite the denials from the manager, my understanding is that the club has to make seven-figure cost savings in the New Year.

That means one of his youngsters – in all likelihood Will Hughes – will be sacrificed.

It is difficult for supporters to understand and appreciate the goings-on behind the scenes at any football club as the finances aren't always taken into consideration when the any boss, Clough in particular, has had a difficult job to do.

Only a horrible season in 2010-11 – one in which the Rams were beset by an horrendous injury-list – has he failed to improve the club's league position.

Supporters may think that four years is sufficient to make a mark. They might have a point. But the manager has had to operate against a backdrop of financial difficulty.

No return: Boss Lee Clark was unable to get Barry Ferguson back in a Birmingham shirt

No return: Boss Lee Clark was unable to get Barry Ferguson back in a Birmingham shirt

For instance, where is the logic in selling Jason Shackell, if Clough did not have to

Shaun Barker had a long-term injury. Before Shackell's knock it appeared that the Rams finally had a capable Championship pairing at centre-half.

But Shackell disappears to Burnley and, for the same money, Connor Sammon is recruited from Wigan.

Something doesn't quite add up. But – and here is the rub – if managers speak out about those problems they are immediately hauled in front of their superiors and told to keep their mouths shut – or they can be found in breach of their contract for talking about confidential business in public.

It's why neither Clark nor Clough will break ranks. Even if he the latter has to find 1.8m, he will remain tight-lipped and refuse to moan about his lot.

Price to pay: Youngster Will Hughes (left) could be sacrificed at Derby

Price to pay: Youngster Will Hughes (left) could be sacrificed at Derby

The alternative for both is to speak out, thereby jeopardising their position and give their own bosses the window of opportunity to sack them.

It is, after all, far easier to remove one manager than it is to dump and entire team of players.

In some ways, it's a classic middle-management problem, taking flak from all sides, yet you are still expected to achieve results.

So, even though any manager has to stand by his results on a Saturday afternoon, they may not paint an accurate picture.

In the oh-so-murky world of football, it's left to the rest of us to join the dots as best we can.

Alex McCleish wants Joe Jordan to be next Scotland coach

McLeish backs 'fantastic' Jordan to pip Strachan to Scotland post after Levein departure

|

UPDATED:

15:38 GMT, 11 November 2012

Alex McLeish thinks Joe Jordan would be an excellent appointment as the next Scotland manager.

The Scottish Football Association is on the look-out for a new manager for the national side after sacking Craig Levein on Monday.

Bookmakers have installed Gordon Strachan as the favourite to succeed Levein, but there have been calls for Jordan to be considered for the position.

Not you: Alex McCleish would prefer Joe Jordan to Gordon Strachan (centre)

Not you: Alex McCleish would prefer Joe Jordan to Gordon Strachan (centre)

Jordan enjoyed a glittering playing career with AC Milan, Leeds and Manchester United, but he has not managed a team on a permanent basis since 1997 when he was in charge at Bristol City.

Jordan has spent most of his recent years as Harry Redknapp's number two at Portsmouth and Tottenham, but McLeish thinks the 60-year-old would have no problem making the step up to international management.

'Joe Jordan is a fantastic candidate,' McLeish told BBC Radio Five Live's Sportsweek programme.

'He is tactically tremendous because of working with Harry all these years and with the different systems they have played.

'I don't think Joe would be caught short in terms of tactical nous at that level.'

McLeish, who also thinks former Celtic manager Strachan would do a good job if appointed, managed Scotland for 10 months with relative success before quitting to join Birmingham, who were then in the Barclays Premier League.

There was an initial clamour for the 53-year-old to take the job again after Levein's dismissal, but he insists he would prefer to take charge of a top-flight English side instead after his recent disappointing spells in charge of Birmingham and their neighbours Aston Villa.

Candidate: Jordan would do a 'fantastic' job, claims McCleish

Candidate: Jordan would do a 'fantastic' job, claims McCleish

'It's not that I wouldn't like the job. If I was offered the Scotland job… it's a very difficult job to turn down, but I feel I have unfinished business in England and I like the day-to-day stuff,” the former Rangers manager said.

McLeish believes Levein, who won just three of his 12 games in charge of the national side, should perhaps have got more out of what he regards as a decent team.

'I believe they should have done better,' McLeish said.

'I do think the current crop are a decent bunch. James Morrison started in the Premier League for West Brom and scored a great goal yesterday.

'Some of the guys haven't reached their level yet at international level.

'They haven't produced that extra couple of per cent that exists in every player on the planet.'

Papiss Cisse promises a burst of goals

I'll get back to my best: Cisse promises glut of goals after getting off the mark at Old Trafford

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UPDATED:

15:57 GMT, 27 September 2012

Papiss Cisse is hoping he can go on another memorable scoring burst to ease the pain of Newcastle's Capital One Cup exit.

After a stunning first half-season in the Premier League, when he bagged an incredible 13 goals in 14 matches, Cisse has found life tougher second time around.

Prior to Wednesday night's trip to Old Trafford, the Senegal forward had failed to score in six games this season and his place in Alan Pardew's starting line-up was coming under threat.

Off the mark: Papiss Cisse scored his first goal of the season in Wednesday night's League Cup tie at Old Trafford

Off the mark: Papiss Cisse scored his first goal of the season in Wednesday night's League Cup tie at Old Trafford

However, introduced as a second-half substitute against Manchester United, Cisse made an instant impact, nodding home Shane Ferguson's cross, and then rattling the bar with a textbook overhead kick.

And whilst his contribution was not enough to prevent the Magpies sliding to a 2-1 defeat, it is clear Cisse's confidence is starting to return.

'Yes,' the 27-year-old told www.nufc.co.uk, when asked if he thought he could now go on a goalscoring streak.

'I am very happy. For me it was very good to score.

'Two would have been very good but a goal didn't happen at that time.'

More to come: Cisse hopes the goal will help him rediscover the prolific form of last season

More to come: Cisse hopes the goal will help him rediscover the prolific form of last season

Although they are nicely wedged in mid-table, Newcastle have struggled to hit the heights this term.

Cisse's dip in form is one reason.

However, they are also dealing with the additional weight of expectation last season's fifth-placed finish has brought to a club where fans need little encouragement to get optimistic.

Anything lower than last year may be viewed as a relative failure.

Pardew realises he has to deal with that.

However, he is adamant Newcastle have a better overall squad now, which should enable them to ride over the kind of dip that eventually cost them a chance of Champions League qualification.

Long-term vision: Pardew has been awarded an eight-year contract at Newcastle

Long-term vision: Pardew has been awarded an eight-year contract at Newcastle

'You have to earn the right to play a certain level of football in the Premier League,' he said.

'We had a strong finish last season. But our depth this year is stronger.

'It is very difficult to improve on our starting XI from last year. But we didn't have it every week and it cost us.

'This time, I look at my group and know if I lose someone, I can replace them like-for-like.

'That is going to be very important as the season goes on, especially in the Premier League.'

Andy Murray on his own in British tennis

In a world of one: Brit pack failing to close gap on trailblazer Murray

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UPDATED:

21:30 GMT, 12 September 2012

While Britain’s No 1 male tennis player walked through Heathrow to spontaneous applause on Wednesday, the national No 2 was at a small tournament in a small town in Luxembourg.

The worlds of US Open champion Andy Murray and Josh Goodall, the world No 200, are further apart than ever now, with the latter in the second round of a 50,000 Challenger event taking place in Petange, calling itself the Roller Open.

Murray flew in overnight from New York and will not have been displeased with the relative lack of clamour at Heathrow, where his walk through the arrivals hall to a waiting car met with spontaneous applause from onlookers.

The champions returns: US Open winner Andy Murray and his girlfriend Kim Sears (right) arrive back at Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport on Wednesday

The champions returns: US Open winner Andy Murray and his girlfriend Kim Sears (right) arrive back at Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport on Wednesday

Before that he stood, unmolested, by the carousel waiting for luggage, chatting happily with a couple of us doing the same thing. As ever in these situations he was friendly to all-comers and keen to catch up on the latest sports gossip, intrigued by football results and the rumpus surrounding Rory McIlroy’s Olympic representation.

All appeared reassuringly un-life-changing, as he hoped it would, although he will see what impact he has made if he attends Glasgow’s Olympic parade on Friday, which he still plans to do.

Goodall, by contrast, is an anonymous foot soldier, the 26-year-old from Basingstoke continuing his struggle to break through to the big leagues with a second-round defeat in Luxembourg, where Jamie Murray is playing doubles.

Jamie Baker, the national No 3, lost in the first round there, and the fact is the men’s rankings still make alarming reading for British tennis, with only four players in the top 300.

Lagging behind: No 2 Josh Goodall is ranked someway below Murray

Lagging behind: No 2 Josh Goodall is ranked someway below Murray

Among those charged with changing that is Leon Smith, the coach who guided Murray’s junior career, including the junior US Open junior win.

He was, he admits, ‘very emotional’ watching Monday’s final at home, although his focus now as Davis Cup captain and head of national training at the Lawn Tennis Association is on developing talent to support Murray.

After two years and four months in the post he is confident it will not be too long before his former charge is not in such glorious isolation as a star of the world game.

‘Andy is a one-off, no country can just produce players like him and, coming through the juniors from 11 to 17, he hit all the benchmarks that predicted future success,’ said Smith. ‘What we are starting to do is put through good development plans for our younger players. While there is a lot more to do we are starting to see the fruits of some of the things going on.’

Talking a good game: Murray talks to the Press as he arrives back at Heathrow

Talking a good game: Murray talks to the Press as he arrives back at Heathrow

Smith is referring to the age group hitting their late teens, a few of whom offer hope of making decent careers for themselves.

Last year three British boys reached the US Open semi-finals, with Twickenham’s Oliver Golding winning the title. Shortly after Great Britain won the junior equivalent of the Davis Cup, spearheaded by Yorkshire’s Kyle Edmund, and on Sunday Stockport’s Liam Broady reached the junior final at Flushing Meadows.

Greg Rusedski, Britain’s last New York finalist before Murray, is being used to help that generation.

‘Greg’s one of the good coaches we have got working with them,’ said Smith. ‘The focus is on preparing them, then sending them away on five- or six-week trips to tough environments where they will really learn. Places like Spain and the clay, and South America.

Tough task: Greg Rusedski is coaching the tennis stars of tomorrow

Tough task: Greg Rusedski is coaching the tennis stars of tomorrow

‘The thing you are seeing is that you have got to move well to make it, so putting in the physical work to do that is a big part.’

As for the twentysomethings like Goodall, Baker and the injured James Ward, they are being kept going with a new bonus scheme that gives financial support related to results.

But Smith conceded the emerging juniors are ‘not a massive group’. The real challenge is broadening the playing base.

Until it is made easier for talented children and supportive parents to find ways to the top, we will rely on mavericks like Andy and Judy Murray.

Problem of Olympic proportions is tricky for BBC

Problem of Olympic proportions is tricky for BBC after stuttering start to coverage

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UPDATED:

22:19 GMT, 29 July 2012

Olympics 2012

Commentators, Hugh Porter and Chris Boardman, were left floundering, having to guess who was where in the race and the relative distances between the chased and the chasers.

The Olympic men’s road race is an event built around subtle tactics and specialist moves, so it was an inauspicious Olympics opener.

The BBC wasted no time in putting a spoke in the wheel of the Olympic Broadcast Services, who in turn blamed the information providers — or non-providers as it was.

Poor coverage: The BBC have been slammed for their broadcast of the men's road race

Poor coverage: The BBC have been slammed for their broadcast of the men's road race

It would seem that GPS systems struggled to handle some of the external factors thrown up during the race — hills and excessive mobile phone use believed to be among them — and so broadcasters worldwide were left to cope — some better than others, no doubt.

During an Olympic Games there are daily meetings between the likes of Olympic Broadcast Services and the world’s broadcasters — I’ve no idea how long Sunday’s meeting lasted, but I bet it went the full distance.

Thankfully things improved, on and off the road on Sunday, as OBS cameras caught the thrilling end to the women’s road race and a much-deserved silver medal for Britain’s Lizzie Armitstead.

Although the BBC are very much ‘our’ broadcaster of the Olympics, the actual sports themselves are covered by a range of production and technical staff gathered together by a company, Olympics Broadcast Services.

Better: The coverage improved for the women's road race on Sunday

Better: The coverage improved for the women's road race on Sunday

Indeed, it is part of the contract with the host city that OBS originate the core coverage.

OBS, in turn, aim to produce a technically top-class and ‘nation neutral’ service of event coverage.

They pride themselves on assembling some of the world’s leading sports television practitioners, but Saturday’s cycling proved nobody is infallible.

Also their ‘neutral’ coverage of Saturday’s gymnastics left some BBC viewers let down as to the scarce visibility of the British team’s great efforts.

Moving on, my own take on Friday’s Opening Ceremony was…BBC.

I thought it was Brilliant, Bonkers and Captivating.

It was a privilege watching it — at home in front of the television like nearly 27 million others.

Sparkling start: The opening ceremony sent jingles down the spine of the nation

Sparkling start: The opening ceremony sent jingles down the spine of the nation

The BBC themselves are off and running.

They are an experienced bunch — and it shows.

Their 24 channel streaming service is mind-blowing. At the press of a button, I knew it was raining at Wimbledon but a sunny day in Weymouth.

I was also reminded, like I am every four years, that playing in goal in a handball match may just be one of the toughest gigs in sport, that I will be regularly returning to the beach volleyball, and that air pistol shooting will never be a top television draw.

The beauty of the BBC’s comprehensive Olympic coverage, however, is if handball or air pistol shooting are your bag then at the press of a button they are there for you.

Smooth operator: Gary Lineker has looked at home fronting the BBC's Olympic coverage

Smooth operator: Gary Lineker has looked at home fronting the BBC's Olympic coverage

On-screen, Gary Lineker looks and sounds sharp.

Clare Balding is an assured and clued-up presence at the Aquatics Centre and, after something of a nervous start, I sense Mishal Husain will prove a real asset.

Guests will be wheeled in and out of the BBC studio like a revolving door.

But I did feel on Saturday evening, Gabby Logan’s ‘stellar trio’ of John McEnroe, Dame Kelly Holmes and Michael Johnson had been booked on the wrong night given the sports on which they were asked to express an opinion.

Plenty of time to put that right.

Arsenal return to training – pictures

Who needs Van Persie Arsenal return to training with captain's future up in the air

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UPDATED:

14:29 GMT, 10 July 2012

After Robin van Persie's announcement that he would not renew his contract at Arsenal was followed by an astonishing open letter criticising the board from a leading shareholder, the Gunners have returned to the relative calm of the training ground.

With a little under six weeks to go until the season kicks-off, a new look Gunners coaching set-up led the players who had avoided international duty over the summer.

Stronger together: Arsenal have returned to training with a new backroom staff barking the orders as their captain's future remains in the balance

Stronger together: Arsenal have returned to training with a new backroom staff barking the orders as their captain's future remains in the balance

Stronger together: Arsenal have returned to training with a new backroom staff barking the orders as their captain's future remains in the balance

Stronger together: Arsenal have returned to training with a new backroom staff barking the orders as their captain's future remains in the balance

The fact that wantaway Dutchman Van Persie wasn't present is not something that should fill fans with dread, though, because he, along with new signings Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud have been granted extra-time on holiday.

However, all present and correct was Arsene Wenger's backroom staff, including Steve Bould and Neil Banfield, who have both been promoted after Pat Rice ended more than four decades with the club at the end of last season.

As for the players, vice-captain, and the man expected to pick up the captain's armband as and when Van Persie is sold, Thomas Vermaelen led the group, which also included Abou Diaby, Mikel Arteta, Gervinho and Andre Santos.

Mr Muscle: Mikel Arteta, who missed the end of last season with injury, hit the ground running alongside Thomas Vermaelen

Mr Muscle: Mikel Arteta, who missed the end of last season with injury, hit the ground running alongside Thomas Vermaelen

Mr Muscle: Mikel Arteta, who missed the end of last season, hit the ground running next to Thomas Vermaelen

Mr Muscle: Mikel Arteta, who missed the end of last season, hit the ground running next to Thomas Vermaelen