Celtic 1-1 Ross County

 Posted by at 12:14 AM
Apr 252016
Leigh Griffiths took his goal tally for the season to 38 in a rare moment of quality for Celtic

Celtic stretched their lead at the top of the Premiership to nine points despite a dreary performance against Ross County at a subdued Parkhead.

Leigh Griffiths’ 38th goal of the season put the champions ahead.

But Stewart Murdoch’s 64th-minute strike from the edge of the box gave Jim McIntyre’s team a deserved point.

Sections of the home support unveiled anti-board banners before kick-off and the mood inside the stadium at the end was one of frustration and anger.

There was a brief flurry of boos on the full-time whistle, despite Celtic moving to within four points – three should be sufficient, given their vastly superior goal difference over Aberdeen – of securing a fifth league title in a row.

But there was no sign of a club on the cusp of a party on Sunday. County were the ones who left with smiles. They were alone in that.

‘Desperately lacking in atmosphere and edge’

Griffiths scored midway through the opening half when County backed off him in the penalty area, almost inviting him to have a smack at goal. The striker took them up on their offer and promptly rifled his shot high past Scott Fox in the visitors’ goal.

It was a rare moment of quality on a day that was low-key and desperately lacking in atmosphere, edge and decent football.

Patrick Roberts almost teed-up Tom Rogic for a second Celtic goal just before the half-hour, but the Australian blew his moment. Then it was County’s turn to waste a chance – and a what a good one it was.

Liam Boyce had a prolific first half of the season but has had a barren second half, with only one goal since the turn of the year.

He had a great opportunity to double the 2016 total just before the break but he headed straight at Craig Gordon when anything to the left or right of the goalkeeper would surely have seen him score.

Stewart Murdoch’s strike from 25 yards brought County a deserved equaliser

Having spurned one good chance, County then failed to make the most of another shortly after the restart, Michael Gardyne volleying over from close-range.

Celtic had a few moments after that. A Griffiths free-kick, a Griffiths shot, a chance for Roberts. There was never really a sense that they had killed County off, though.

Alex Schalk gave them a fright when he went one-on-one with the exposed Charlie Mulgrew and fired just over. The equaliser came soon enough, Murdoch thumping his shot into the same corner of the net that Griffiths had found earlier in the game.

It was a deserved goal for County, an illustration of their mental strength and yet another indication of Celtic’s awful vulnerability.

Further examples came in a flow. Nir Bitton earned hollers of scorn when scooping miles over from decent range, then Colin Kazim-Richards missed a glorious chance. The Turkish international has scored one goal in more than seven hours for Celtic – against East Kilbride.

County went close themselves when Schalk thundered in a shot that flew just past Gordon’s post.

It ended in stalemate. A great point for the visitors. Another poor day for Celtic.

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Sunderland 0-0 Arsenal

 Posted by at 11:36 PM
Apr 242016
Jermain Defoe came close to beating Petr Cech on two occasions

Sunderland climbed out of the relegation zone with a deserved point against an uninspiring Arsenal.

Both sides had penalty appeals for handball denied and Patrick van Aanholt struck Arsenal’s post with a free-kick.

Sunderland keeper Vito Mannone had to be sharp to keep out Mesut Ozil’s free-kick and Alex Iwobi’s follow-up.

Arsenal’s Jack Wilshere came on for a first game in 10 months, but the visitors relied on numerous Petr Cech saves to preserve a point.

The failure to win could prove costly for Arsenal, who occupy the final Champions League qualifying spot, but lie just five points above fifth-placed Manchester United, having played a game more.

Sunderland showing survival spirit

Olivier Giroud had 11 touches in the Sunderland penalty area, but not a single shot on target

Sunderland may only have lifted themselves above Norwich City on goal difference, but they end their four-game stretch in the bottom three and Sam Allardyce’s side have now lost just one of their last seven league games.

This was their fifth draw in that sequence though, and with a more cut-throat mentality in the final third – or fewer moments of brilliance from Cech – they would have secured a victory.

The Wearsiders wanted a penalty in the first half when the ball struck centre-half Per Mertesacker’s arm at point-blank range, but referee Mike Dean deemed the contact accidental.

Similarly, Dean ruled in Sunderland’s favour as DeAndre Yedlin blocked with an arm at the other end.

It was in the second half that the home side showed they may have the guile to survive the drop, with Cech producing a double save from Jermain Defoe and Yann M’Vila, before Defoe went agonisingly close with a lobbed effort that dropped the wrong side of the post.

Gunners misfire

It was perhaps an opportunity missed against an Arsenal side whose performance was sluggish from start to finish.

A 19th-consecutive season in the Champions League is by no means confirmed and after three draws in four games, and Arsene Wenger’s men are seemingly opening the door for FA Cup finalists United to make a late move into the top four.

They forced the best saves from Mannone in the first half but were devoid of ideas after the break, when they could only muster two shots on target and none from their striker Olivier Giroud, who is now goalless in 17 Premier League games.

The introduction of England trio Danny Welbeck, Theo Walcott and Wilshere failed to spark any invention for the visitors.

Wilshere returns to the fray

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Sunderland 0-0 Arsenal: We have to fight for Champions League – Wenger

Wilshere’s return will have been the greatest positive for Arsenal, 330 days since his last appearance for the club, when he played the final 13 minutes of the FA Cup final win over Aston Villa last year.

He went on to feature twice for England in the summer but suffered a hairline fracture in his left leg in August and then needed an operation in September to aid his recovery.

His career has been plagued with ankle problems and since 2013 he has been ruled out by 21 different injuries.

The 24-year-old has less than three weeks and just three more games to prove to England boss Roy Hodgson that he is fit and sharp enough to be considered for Euro 2016 in France, with the squad to be announced on 12 May.

“Of course I want to go and be involved. I feel I am ready to push for that place,” Wilshere told BBC Sport.

Man of the match – Lamine Kone

Kone (right) and his centre-back partner Younes Kaboul were superb. But Kone edges it for his commanding 15 clearances – 12 more than any team-mate – and seven out of nine aerial duels won

What they said

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce: “In the second half, we did enough to maybe pinch the game 1-0.

“Arsenal had chances as well but I thought we coped extremely well with their possession.

“I thought we definitely should have had a penalty.

“Mertesacker turned his back on the ball with his arms in the air and stopped what looked like a certain goal.

“With DeAndre it hit his leg and then his arm, and I think it’s difficult to get your arm out of the way in that situation.

“We’ve got ourselves out of the bottom three now for the first time in many months and the challenge now for the lads is to stay out of it.”

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Sunderland 0-0 Arsenal: Disappointed with Gunners draw- Allardyce

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger: “I think our first half was very good but we couldn’t take our chances.

“The second half wasn’t as good but this can always happen in the second half of the third game when you have played Sunday, Thursday, Sunday.

“It leaves us having to win the next game, as always. We fight against teams who fight not to go down and we know how important being in the Premier League is.”

On the penalty decisions: “I think when a guy is close to the ball and it’s not deliberate handball then it’s not a penalty and that’s how it was on both.”

What’s next?

Sunderland have four games remaining to secure survival, starting with Saturday’s trip to Stoke and followed by the visits of Chelsea and Everton and a journey to Watford on the final day.

Arsenal can do the Black Cats a favour by beating Norwich at home on Saturday, and then go to Manchester City before finishing the season at home against Aston Villa.

The stats you need to know

  • Mesut Ozil has created 137 goal-scoring chances for team-mates this season in the top flight, more than any other player in a single Premier League campaign since 2003-04
  • Arsenal have won just three of their last 12 Premier League away games (W3 D6 L3) after winning 10 of the previous 12 (W10 D1 L1)
  • Sunderland have kept three clean sheets in their last four top-flight games after conceding in each of the 16 before that
  • Olivier Giroud has now gone 14 Premier League games without scoring, his longest goal-drought in the competition
  • Since the start of 2016, both Sunderland and Arsenal have drawn a league-high seven games
  • The Gunners are now unbeaten in seven Premier League games, their best run without defeat since May 2015 (10 games)
  • The draw was Sunderland’s first point against any of the current top four in the Premier League this season (L7)

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Apr 242016
Eden Hazard was the PFA and Football Writers’ Player of the Year for 2015

Chelsea midfielder Eden Hazard says he and his team-mates do not want Tottenham to win the Premier League.

Tottenham are five points behind leaders Leicester with four games left.

Defending champions Chelsea host Tottenham at Stamford Bridge on 2 May and Leicester on 15 May, the final day of the season.

“The fans, the club, the players, we don’t want Tottenham to win the Premier League,” Hazard, 25, told BBC’s Match of the Day programme.

“We hope for Leicester because they deserve to be champions this season.

“We have a good game next week against Tottenham and if we can beat them it will be good.”

Hazard, the 2015 Professional Footballers’ Association Player of the Year, scored twice in Chelsea’s 4-1 win over Bournemouth on Saturday, his first league goals of the season.

Chelsea midfielder Cesc Fabregas, who played for Tottenham’s north London rivals Arsenal from 2003 to 2011, also wants Leicester to win the league and expects them to secure the title before the game against the Blues.

“I believe they’ll have it wrapped up by then,” the Spaniard told Sky Sports.

“Spurs are pushing hard to get as close to them as possible but I think Leicester will win it and deservedly.

“I don’t want Spurs to win it and, for what they’ve done through the season, I would love Leicester to win the Premier League.”

Match of the Day analyst Martin Keown said Hazard’s words will give the Spurs players extra motivation ahead of the meeting with Chelsea.

“The Tottenham players are probably listening to that right now and it’s goading them,” said the former Arsenal and England defender.

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