Mar 202016

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Crystal Palace 0-1 Leicester: Claudio Ranieri says Champions League close

Claudio Ranieri says his Leicester side are “on the home straight” after the Premier League leaders beat Crystal Palace to go eight points clear.

Second-placed Tottenham can narrow that gap to five points on Sunday by beating Bournemouth, after which both teams will have seven games remaining.

“We have to be focused,” said Ranieri.

“Sometimes I’ve said we are at the last turn and now we are on the final, home straight. Now I want to see my horses, how they run.”

‘Worthy champions’

Riyad Mahrez turned in Jamie Vardy’s cross to see off a stubborn Palace side at Selhurst Park, where Leicester fans saw their team, now odds-on for the title with all the major UK bookmakers, pick up a third successive victory.

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Leicester have not won title yet – Morgan

The Foxes supporters sang “we’re going to win the league” solidly for 15 minutes after the final whistle, and it took repeated announcements from the stadium announcer to persuade them to leave.

“Our fans are singing a very good song but we have to stay calm,” added Italian Ranieri.

“I remember at the start of the season. I have not forgotten. The goal was to save the team and now everybody is speaking about us. Not only in England, all over the world.

“Everyone is pushing behind us and that is a great energy that we feel. If in the end someone is better than us, we still had a fantastic achievement.”

Palace boss Alan Pardew said Leicester deserve to win the league, despite defeat extending his side’s winless run to 13 league games.

“We are down, frustrated, we wanted to keep momentum after the FA Cup win over Reading but Leicester are top of the league for a reason,” he conceded.

“They have a lovely balance to the team. They will be difficult to catch and would be worthy champions.”


Former Everton winger Kevin Kilbane on BBC Final Score:

“Claudio Ranieri is quick to get off the pitch, he shows his respect to the supporters and he lets his players get on with it.

“It’s about them, it’s not about him. That shows what Leicester are all about. Ranieri wants to free himself of all the limelight, he wants his players to take all the plaudits.

“How many managers in this position start to believe their own hype? But he’s quick to praise his staff, he’s quick to praise the club itself for what they’ve achieved and he’s quick to praise his players.”

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Chelsea 2-2 West Ham United

 Posted by at 1:05 AM
Mar 202016
Cesc Fabregas scored his fifth and sixth league goals of the season

Cesc Fabregas scored a free-kick and a late penalty as Chelsea earned a point to frustrate West Ham’s Champions League ambitions.

The Hammers took the lead when Manuel Lanzini beat Thibaut Courtois with a sumptuous curling effort from 25 yards.

Fabregas’s superb set piece on the stroke of half-time pegged them back.

Substitute Andy Carroll looked to have won it for West Ham, before Fabregas snatched a point after Michail Antonio fouled Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

Victory would have moved West Ham in front of Manchester City into fourth place, but Slaven Bilic’s side were unable to add Chelsea to Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal on their list of away scalps this season.

Chelsea, who remain unbeaten in the league under interim boss Guus Hiddink, stay 10th.

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Chelsea penalty hard to accept – Bilic

Hammers hard done by?

After Carroll finished clinically from Dimitri Payet’s superb through-ball, West Ham were two minutes plus added time away from their first victory in Stamford Bridge at 14 years when substitute Loftus-Cheek tumbled in the area.

West Ham have now conceded six penalties this season – and only been awarded one

Referee Robert Madley pointed to the spot, but replays appeared to show that rather than being clipped by Antonio, the midfielder tripped over his own feet.

In addition, Antonio – who had scored in each of his previous three league matches – appeared to be outside the box when Loftus-Cheek went down.

“To concede that late is gutting, but to concede it from a penalty that is not a penalty is unacceptable,” Bilic said.

“It was not close to the line. It was way out. It was not a penalty. We are gutted and we are not getting these decisions.”

Fabregas shines as Blues show fighting spirit

Cesc Fabregas’s all-action display (left) was in contrast to an ineffectual performance by his West Ham counterpart Mark Noble (right)

Following last week’s defeat by Everton in the FA Cup, reigning league champions Chelsea have nothing left to play for this season – but they showed plenty of battling spirit to take a point from this match.

The Blues were not at their fluent best but 18 crosses and 22 shots told the tale of their unstinting endeavour in forward areas.

Fabregas, a superb performer last season, has endured a much more difficult campaign this time round, and has sometimes been accused of going missing in difficult matches, but here he was at his influential best.

His free-kick was masterful, getting the ball up and down from 25 yards and beating the dive of Adrian after Winston Reid had fouled Oscar.

But his performance was about much more than goals – the 28-year-old Spaniard also had more shots, passes and touches than anyone else on the pitch.

Man of the match – Cesc Fabregas

Fabregas made 81 passes and had 100 touches in a performance reminiscent of his best displays of last season

What they said

Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink: “We stared well in the first 10 minutes but we then started losing the possession too easily. We reacted just before half-time, especially with the beautiful Fabregas free-kick. In the second half we got caught on the counter, but we reacted perfectly to get the draw.

“This is a very good West Ham side. They are knocking on the door for the top four. I was happy with the late penalty decision. It’s difficult for me to make a judgement – I think he was tripped on the line. On the line is part of the box.”

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Hiddink pleased by ‘entertaining game’

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic: “I don’t look too much at the table but what gives me confidence is the way we are playing, no matter who or where.

“We are capable and we are having chances against any team. That approach should take us far.”

The stats you need to know

  • Cesc Fabregas scored twice in a Premier League game for the first time since December 2009 – a game which also featured his last goal direct from a free-kick.
  • Fabregas is the fourth Chelsea player this season to score a direct free-kick goal in all competitions (Oscar, Willian, Hazard being the other three).
  • Four of Manuel Lanzini’s five Premier League goals this season have been scored away from home.
  • Chelsea have now conceded in each of their last nine Premier League games at Stamford Bridge.

What’s next?

Chelsea face Aston Villa on 2 April, while West Ham host Crystal Palace.

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Mar 202016
West Brom had lost just once in their previous seven games but failed to register a shot on target

Norwich secured their first win in 11 league games to move out of the bottom three with victory at West Brom.

After a turgid first half, Robbie Brady put the away side ahead with the game’s only shot on target.

West Brom went close through Claudio Yacob’s first-half drive before Stephane Sessegnon wasted their best chance, firing wide from a tight angle.

Norwich are now three points clear of the drop-zone in 17th, but will return to 18th if Sunderland win on Sunday.

Sam Allardyce’s side play local rivals Newcastle United, who are 19th, at St James’ Park.

West Brom, for whom this was a first home defeat since December, stay 11th.

Relive Norwich’s win at West Brom

Just where did West Brom go?

Tony Pulis’s side had been on an impressive run, winning three of their last five – including a 1-0 home victory over Manchester United in their previous game.

But that was two weeks ago, and the Baggies looked more than a little rusty here.

There were 17 shots on goal between the two sides, but Brady’s second-half winner was the only one on target

Saido Berahino, Salomon Rondon and Sessegnon all wasted decent openings in the first half, each time shooting wildly when composure was required.

Yacob fizzed an effort high and wide after John Ruddy clawed out a swirling corner but in the second half the opposition goalkeeper had almost nothing to do.

The introduction of Rickie Lambert from the bench failed to spark a late rally from the home side, and even with six minutes of added time they finished with a whimper.

The turning point for Norwich?

This win ended a run of six consecutive defeats away from home for Norwich, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

The Canaries didn’t cover themselves in glory in the first half either, but after the break they began to look something more like side that picked up some impressive results earlier in the season.

After the goal, Jonny Howson, Gary O’Neil, Brady and Matt Jarvis began to dominate in midfield and their play at the back was also much improved.

The Canaries hadn’t kept a clean sheet away from home in the league all season, but they never looked like being pegged back after Jarvis’s miscue fell to Brady for a close-range finish.

With only seven matches left to play, this was an important victory, but there are more vital games to come. Norwich host relegation rivals Newcastle after the international break, and Sunderland two weeks later.

Now, and after holding Manchester city to a 0-0 draw last week, they’ll feel a lot more optimistic about avoiding the drop.

What the managers said

West Brom manager Tony Pulis: “It’s disappointing. We were on such a good run and playing so well. I couldn’t see it coming, they’ve trained well this week.

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West Brom 0-1 Norwich: West Brom had ‘no spark’ – Tony Pulis

“We’re not good enough to be anything less than 11 players playing to their maximum. Today, I don’t think there’s a player who could say they hit any sort of form.

“You have to give Norwich credit but if we don’t play well and the opposition don’t play well, I thought it had 0-0 written all over it. We didn’t have a player who gave us a spark and the same for them.”

Norwich manager Alex Neil: “The boys performed well, we deserved to win. The frustrating thing is we’ve played well in the three or four games before and haven’t picked up any points.

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Norwich will fight tooth and nail to stay up – Alex Neil

“There haven’t been enough breaks go our way recently. Today was a big result, and we’ve got a batch of another four big games coming up.

“We need to take this momentum into those matches, we will fight tooth and nail to stay up.”

Man of the match – Robbie Brady (Norwich)

Before being taken off as a precaution following an awkward landing, Brady pounced for the game’s decisive goal

What’s next?

West Brom have to wait another two weeks before they play again, when they travel to Sunderland on 2 April. Norwich’s next game is at home to Newcastle on the same day.

The stats you need to know

  • Brady has now equalled his best ever Premier League goal record in a season (three, scored with Hull in 2013-14)
  • Jarvis provided his first assist in the Premier League since January 2014
  • Norwich became the final Premier League team to keep a clean sheet away from home this season
  • The last four league meetings between the Baggies and the Canaries have seen wins for the away team and the home team failing to score

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Everton 0-2 Arsenal

 Posted by at 11:31 PM
Mar 192016
Welbeck scored his fourth goal in nine games since returning from injury

Arsenal responded to their exits from both the Champions League and FA Cup with a comfortable victory over Everton at Goodison Park.

Danny Welbeck opened the scoring on seven minutes, put through by Alexis Sanchez to round Joel Robles and slot home for his fourth of the season.

On 42 minutes, teenager Alex Iwobi marked his maiden Premier League start with a first goal for the club.

The results leaves the Gunners eight points behind leaders Leicester City.

It was a first win in four league matches for third-placed Arsenal, who dominated the game.

In contrast, Everton failed to test their opponents properly and had just two shots on target as their dreadful home form – now four defeats in five in the league – continued.

Relive Arsenal’s stroll at Goodison Park

Light at the end of a bad week

Arsenal began the week with a 2-1 home defeat by Watford in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup being knocked out of the FA Cup.

Then on Wednesday they lost 3-1 to Barcelona at the Nou Camp as they were knocked out of the Champions League.

With only the league to focus on, this looked like a must-win match for the Gunners if they were to stay in touch with Leicester.

And with fifth-placed West Ham only three points behind before kick-off, with the top four qualifying for next season’s Champions League.

In the event, they responded to last week’s disappointments with a positive performance and earned a first league win since they beat Leicester 2-1 on 14 February.

Super Eagle

A proud uncle

It was a dream full league debut by Iwobi, the 19-year-old Nigeria midfielder.

He has come through the ranks at Arsenal’s Hale End academy and made his first-team debut in October’s 3-0 League Cup defeat to Sheffield Wednesday and signed a new contract last year.

Iwobi was born in Lagos but played for England’s youth teams before deciding to represent Nigeria and has won two caps for the Super Eagles.

He boasts footballing pedigree as his uncle is former Bolton and Nigeria legend Jay-Jay Okocha.

Iwobi was brimming with confidence in attack and had the most shots of any of his team-mates.

He linked well with Welbeck and showed composure and strength to hold off the challenge of Ramiro Funes Mori before scoring his goal.

Man of the match – Alex Iwobi (Arsenal)

Three shots, one goal – a dream first league start for Iwobi

Everton lack home comfort

Everton have now won just one of their last nine Premier League games at Goodison Park.

They have the league’s worst defensive record at home, conceding 28 goals – already the most they have shipped in a 38-game Premier League season.

The Toffees’ record is worse than bottom club Aston Villa, who have let in 25 at Villa Park.

They have kept only two clean sheets at home in the league this season and their Goodison Park record reads: played 16, won four, drawn four, lost eight.

The fans were audibly frustrated at their team’s poor form and the home defence was exposed horribly by Hector Bellerin’s well-flighted pass for Iwobi’s goal.

Roberto Martinez changed formation at half-time, bringing on England defender John Stones for midfielder Muhamed Besic and switching to a back three.

The change worked as Everton looked more compact in the second-half, but they rarely threatened a comeback.

The average position of Everton’s centre-backs Mori (25) and Phil Jagielka (6) was higher than their Arsenal counterparts – a factor in the Gunners’ second goal

What the managers said

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger: “It was a very significant win for us and a mental test. We continued the level of performance against Barcelona. I like this group, I like the mental attitude – it has been questioned and it hurts me. When you work every day with them you see how much effort they put in.”

Everton manager Roberto Martinez on BT Sport: “We looked like the team who had an extra game [in midweek]. Arsenal started with intensity and we didn’t really turn up in terms of that intensity. I haven’t seen us play that badly this season.”

The stats you need to know

  • Arsenal enjoyed only their third victory in their last 10 away Premier League games (drawn four, lost three).]
  • Welbeck has now scored four Premier League goals against Everton, his joint-best return against any side (along with Aston Villa).
  • Iwobi scored on his first Premier League start, the first Arsenal player to do so since Joel Campbell last October.
  • Bellerin has provided three assists in his last two Premier League games after managing just two in his previous 46.

What next?

The Premier League takes a break for international football and Arsenal do not play again until 2 April when Watford visit the Emirates,

Next for Everton is a trip to Old Trafford to face Manchester United on 3 April.

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Kilmarnock 0-1 Celtic

 Posted by at 10:21 PM
Mar 192016
Tom Rogic broke Kilmarnock hearts with a stunning late goal for Celtic

An incredible last-minute strike from Tom Rogic gave Celtic a precious victory against Kilmarnock.

Both sides had chances to win with Killie’s Kris Boyd testing keeper Craig Gordon and Celtic’s Erik Sviatchenko having a header cleared off the line.

But it was disappointment in the end for Lee Clark, who had watched his struggling side defend valiantly.

And Rogic’s long-range strike ensures Celtic go into the international break top of the Scottish Premiership.

Ronny Deila’s side re-establish a four-point gap over Aberdeen, who face Motherwell later on Saturday, with Celtic’s next league game against Hearts on 2 April.

Dogged Killie

Both sides at Rugby Park were desperate for the three points, but for very different reasons.

Kilmarnock are eager not to be dragged into a relegation battle with Dundee United, who trail them by eight points ahead of their meeting with Dundee on Sunday, while Celtic are well aware of the Dons snapping at their heels in the title fight.

Celtic handed a first league start to Turkish forward Colin Kazim-Richards and Clark had to make do without his top scorer Josh Magennis, who rolled his ankle in training, and Steven Smith, who is out for the season.

The first real chance fell to Kilmarnock’s Boyd, whose angled volley from a Kallum Higginbotham centre was blocked well by Gordon.

The visitors looked content to nibble away at a pretty solid home defence – Leigh Griffiths and Sviatchenko both watching headers flash wide.

Sviatchenko (second from right) had a headed chance for Celtic in the first half

Deila switched his formation to accommodate Kris Commons’ replacement Patrick Roberts in the second half but Lee Hodson almost took advantage of some positional confusion in the Celtic midfield as he burst through to fire just past a post.

Denmark international Sviatchenko thought he had broken the deadlock with a header from Roberts’ corner only to be foiled by Julien Faubert’s alertness on the line.

As the clock continued to count, down the frustration among the Celtic fans grew louder.

Needless mistakes at the back fed that as Dedryck Boyata – who replaced the injured Kieran Tierney in the first half – was caught badly to allow Gary Dicker an unchallenged shot, but the midfielder’s effort was wayward.

Late rally delivers for Deila

Kazim-Richards had a speculative shot with 10 minutes to go but it was weak and reflected his afternoon’s performance.

Top scorer Griffiths almost snatched victory at the end but his curved strike sailed wide.

And just as a draw looked inevitable, Nir Bitton’s replacement Rogic sent a thunderous 25-yard shot past Jamie MacDonald to send the Celtic fans falling over each other in delight behind the Kilmarnock goal.

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