Northern Ireland captain Steven Davis has been straining at the leash ahead of tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Israel following a week of frustration. Press Association “I hope we can use the frustration of the past week to our advantage because we will be fresh. Given the fact the Russia game was postponed twice we are looking forward to this game even more than normal. “Sitting around the hotel has been tough as mentally we have been preparing for a game which never happened. After training on Thursday we were pretty much doing nothing on Friday and Saturday, other than waiting on news if the game was on or not. “The games room in our hotel has been busier than ever and a few of the lads have topped up their skills on the pool table, table tennis and darts. Now we are all looking forward to a good game.” O’Neill was among the first to head to Windsor Park yesterday morning to assess the state of the playing surface and was satisfied with what he saw. A combination of milder weather and hard work from Irish Football Association staff meant that FIFA delegates gave the okay for Israel to complete a pre-match training session at the ground at 5pm. With concerns about the viability of the game easing, the focus has turned to the result and O’Neill is eager to deliver a good one after a testing few days for everyone in the capital. “This week we’ve had power cuts and everything else that was going on in the country, there was a lot more severe things going on other than the fact we couldn’t get a football match on,” he said. “The weather got the better of us on this occasion. But I always think the players are fully aware and recognise the significance of a positive result. “We see that with Ulster rugby, we see that with our golfers when they are successful and this is an opportunity for us for a good performance and a good result. If it brightens the nation then that’s a nice side effect to have.” Michael O’Neill’s squad met up for a planned double header last Monday but were left kicking their heels in the team hotel as the first match against Russia fell foul of extreme snow on Friday and again on Saturday. That has led to an unexpectedly large period of down time for the players and Southampton midfielder Davis is eager to get back into competitive action. “We’ve had a good week’s preparation but we are just desperate to play a game,” said Davis.
The profit announced by the club is almost £10million more than for the same period in 2011. The Swans returned a profit of £14.6million for their first season in the Premier League. Swansea have announced a record profit of £15.9million for the six months up to the end of November 2012. Press Association The profit before tax of £20.4million was made up of a £5.6million profit from operations, while a further £14.8million came from player sales, including those of Joe Allen to Liverpool and Scott Sinclair to Manchester City. Turnover, with the exclusion of player sales, has also risen to £28.5million, a growth of 11.5 per cent from the £25.5million for the previous six months. Finance Director Don Keefe said: “The funds generated by the profit are invaluable bearing in mind the extent of finance needed, not only to maintain Premier League status, but for the expansion of capacity in the Liberty Stadium and the development of appropriate training facilities of a standard befitting a Premier League club.” A budget of £5.5million – most of which has been spent – was allocated for the development of a new training ground in Landore, which is now operational, while work is under way on another training facility being built in conjunction with Swansea University in Fairwood. Plans for the initial phase of expanding the club’s Liberty Stadium home have been submitted to the local planning authority.
While conditions were as conducive as they ever would be for a fast time, a measure of Lethal Force’s standing can be seen by the fact that he covered the six furlongs in 1.09.11 – some four-tenths of a second quicker than European champion sprinter Stravinsky managed back in 1999. Kirby, who picked up a four-day whip ban on a day when he received a total of eight days, said of the winner: “He’s fast. I jumped out, got into a beautiful rhythm and things went nicely to plan, but he had no concentration just after the two pole. When I gave him a smack he jinked, he nearly slipped, he wasn’t expecting it. But he was very good.” Cox added: “I’m so proud of him. Even when he won at Royal Ascot they said he was lucky and it was a good ride, but I think he’s confirmed today he’s pretty good. There might be a few doubters silenced now. I’m thrilled for everyone back home. “He came back from Ascot really well and he was cherry-ripe today. Physically he has matured, and strengthening from three to four has been the key. To break the track record is brilliant. “I was a bit worried about the undulations, but he put that to bed really well. Adam said if anything he was idling a bit in front. He gave him a smack and the result was clear. “He’ll tell us how he comes back from here. We’ve got lots of nice options. He’s a seven-furlong Group Two winner, so the Maurice de Gheest is possible (over six and a half furlongs at Deauville) and beyond that we’ve had lots of kind invitations from as far afield as Australia and Hong Kong. We’ll just take it a step at a time.” Press Association Adam Kirby blazed up the stands rail on the Clive Cox-trained grey (9-2) with Slade Power never far away and Sole Power held up for his usual late challenge, but the writing was on the wall when the leader kicked away inside the final two furlongs. Winner of the Diamond Jubilee Stakes at Royal Ascot, Lethal Force again proved too good for closest pursuer Society Rock, this time by a length and a half, with a further three-quarters of a length to Slade Power in third. Shea Shea and Sole Power were another neck and a head away, with Aidan O’Brien’s Gale Force Ten in sixth. Eddie Lynam’s pair Sole Power and Slade Power did the County Meath trainer proud in the Darley July Cup at Newmarket but they were ultimately no match for Lethal Force, who confirmed himself the leading sprinter in Europe.
Elmander is the latest addition to a Norwich squad which has seen major investment over the course of the summer, and he will now compete with fellow new signings Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Gary Hooper, as well as January acquisition Luciano Becchio, for a place in the Canaries’ attack. Hooper is still sidelined following a shin injury suffered during pre-season, but club-record signing Van Wolfswinkel started his Norwich career in style as he headed in the equaliser in Saturday’s 2-2 draw at home to Everton. Capped 71 times by Sweden, Elmander became Bolton’s own record signing when he joined from Toulouse in 2008 and went on to make 92 appearances in the top flight for Wanderers. Now he is back in the Premier League and is looking forward to pulling on a Norwich shirt. “I’m very happy,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to starting training with the lads and to playing some games also. I know Norwich City has great fans and there’s a great atmosphere in the stadium, plus I know a couple of players here already too. “I’m very glad that the deal has been done and now I’m looking forward to the season ahead.” He becomes Hughton’s eighth summer signing, with Javier Garrido, Leroy Fer, Carlo Nash, Nathan Redmond and Martin Olsson also penning deals with the Norfolk club, and the former Newcastle boss was pleased to add yet more numbers to his squad. “I’m really delighted to bring in a player of Johan’s experience,” Hughton said. “Not only at club and Premier League level but as a current international. It’s great to welcome him to our squad.” Press Association The 32-year-old has been at the Super Lig club for two seasons having moved to Turkey following a spell in the Barclays Premier League with Bolton. Elmander has been linked with a move to Carrow Road in recent weeks although manager Chris Hughton had claimed last week he was unsure of where the rumours of a move for the Sweden international had come from. Norwich have further strengthened their attacking options by completing a season-long loan deal for Galatasaray forward Johan Elmander.
The Magpies were ahead in the 18th minute when poor Villa defending allowed Hatem Ben Arfa the chance to convert. The hosts levelled through Christian Benteke’s header in the 67th minute, but Newcastle went back in front in the 73rd when Brad Guzan palmed away the impressive Ben Arfa’s shot and substitute Gouffran pounced. Newcastle’s steady improvement this season continued as Yoan Gouffran’s strike earned them a 2-1 win at Aston Villa. The hosts then suffered another setback, with Jores Okore, who had injured himself in a challenge with Remy, having to come off, Ciaran Clark coming on in his place. Fabian Delph was then shown a yellow card for scything down Ben Arfa. Yohan Cabaye – back in the Newcastle starting XI after his proposed move to Arsenal did not materialise – and Remy tried their luck on the Villa goal with ambitious efforts that went well off-target. Then, with four minutes of normal time remaining before the interval, Villa passed up a good-looking opportunity to level as Tim Krul failed to clear a cross with an attempted punch and the stray ball was struck into the side-netting by Clark. Weimann dragged a shot wide soon after, before Cabaye cracked one across the face of the Villa goal just prior to the break. Villa started the second half brightly and Antonio Luna made a bizarre decision in a useful position, electing to cross and seeing the ball cleared away when he might have shot. Agbonlahor was then even more wasteful, somehow shooting wide right in front of goal from Weimann’s cross when it seemed easier to score. Newcastle looked to step things up and Guzan turned a Ben Arfa strike behind for a corner, from which Debuchy then fired wide. Villa then sent on transfer deadline day signing Libor Kozak for his debut and, within seconds, they equalised. A corner was swung in by Ashley Westwood from the right and Krul tried to claim it, but Benteke rose highest of everyone in the box to crash home a header, his fifth goal of the season in all competitions. Villa were on level terms for just six minutes as Ben Arfa proved a thorn in their side once again, dancing forward and drilling a shot that Guzan could only parry. Gouffran, who had come on for Remy, was on hand and had the space to bury the loose ball. Cisse headed wide moments later before another substitute, Cheick Tiote, sent a shot at Guzan. At the other end, Delph lashed the ball the wrong side of the post and Villa were unable to muster much more from there. There has been plenty of talk about doom and gloom around Newcastle after a summer that only yielded one signing in loan capture Loic Remy, who made his first start for the club here. But since they lost their first Barclays Premier League game of the campaign 4-0 against Manchester City, the three other top-flight fixtures for Alan Pardew’s men this term have seen them draw 0-0 with West Ham, beat Fulham 1-0 and then record this victory over Villa. Villa, on the other hand, began the season with a 3-1 win at Arsenal, but have now lost three league matches in a row. A good tackle from Mathieu Debuchy took the ball away from Gabriel Agbonlahor in the box early on, and while each side did their best to probe in the opening exchanges, neither had much joy in finding a way through. That changed just after the quarter-hour mark when slack Villa play allowed Newcastle to snatch the lead. Karim El Ahmadi was hustled into losing possession and the ball was picked up on the left by Remy, who managed to evade Matthew Lowton and fashion a cut-back into the danger zone. There were several Villa players in the box but the pass came via Papiss Cisse to Ben Arfa, and the France midfielder had little trouble finishing from close range. Villa responded in a positive manner, with Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa having to do well to halt Benteke’s progress and Andreas Weimann seeing his shot in the area blocked by Fabricio Coloccini. Press Association
Wilshere was photographed outside a London nightclub in the early hours of Thursday morning as players wound down following Arsenal’s 2-0 win over Napoli earlier in the week, when the 21-year-old had started on the bench. The England midfielder’s representatives maintained Wilshere was taking part in a ”prank” where he agreed to hold the cigarette as part of a ”dare”, stressing he was ”utterly committed to fitness and a healthy lifestyle”, while the player himself on Friday afternoon responded by posting a photograph on his official Twitter feed of France World Cup winner Zinedine Zidane smoking, which he then followed it up by saying: ”But for the record….I don’t smoke!” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger feels Jack Wilshere can meet the challenges of competition for places in Arsenal’s dynamic midfielder head on despite making headlines for the wrong reasons after being pictured with a cigarette – but warned there can be no guarantees of selection for anyone. Press Association Wenger, whose side head to West Brom on Sunday looking to maintain their place at the top of the Barclays Premier League, spoke out against the health issues of smoking in his pre-match press conference, and said he would to take up the issue directly with the player. While Wilshere will have been left in no doubt as to what is expected from his future conduct, Wenger moved to quash suggestions the combative midfielder, who has battled through a number of injury problems in recent seasons, was now on the periphery following the fine start to the new campaign by Wales international Aaron Ramsey and the club-record £43million signing of Mesut Ozil. “I told you Jack is an important player for the squad, and he will play, but there is competition for places of course. On one side, people want you to have good players, on the other, that means you cannot give any guarantee to anybody,” said Wenger, who revealed full-back Bacary Sagna was set for around three weeks on the sidelines because of a hamstring problem. “Higher up, he is less comfortable at the moment. He does not like to be back to goal, he likes to face the game. Why? Because he has a burst to pass people with the ball at his feet. “From deep he does that very well, he creates the openings for that little burst to run with the ball. He is a physically strong boy he has a good body. He can win the challenge and make the difference and open the game up. “He is getting it (his burst) back. I think to play on the flanks helps him to find that back, because on the flanks you have to do a lot of that.” England manager Roy Hodgson has again called Wilshere into his squad for the crucial World Cup qualifiers against Montenegro and Poland. Wenger has no doubts the Arsenal man can make a major impact at Wembley, despite making headlines for the wrong reasons this week. “Even with one cigarette, he will be good,” the Gunners boss added.
Tony Pulis watched from the stands as his new club Crystal Palace snatched just a second win of the season at Hull, breathing new life into their relegation battle. They were almost pegged back in the dying seconds when Livermore saw his effort bundled off the line and Liam Rosenior clattered a post from 25 yards, but Pulis will now take the hot seat with a spring in his step. Prior to that late drama it was a grim and forgettable outing at the KC Stadium, as notable for the home fans’ protests against the proposed renaming of the club as anything that occurred on the field. Owner Assem Allam looks set to proceed with plans to rebrand the side as Hull Tigers, but there was nothing for the locals to roar about as they turned in arguably their limpest display of the season. Hull were incensed by referee Anthony Taylor after just two minutes when he pulled back play for a clash of heads between Paul McShane and Marouane Chamakh. George Boyd was in a decent position to advance on goal when the whistle was blown but the lengthy attention – and twin bandages – required by both injured parties went some way to justifying Taylor’s call. Chamakh, in fact, never fully recovered and was replaced by Jerome in the 36th minute. Boyd and Robbie Brady were taking turns to push up in search of the flick-ons provided by centre forward Yannick Sagbo, although nothing concrete came through that route in the opening stages. At the other end, Kagisho Dikgachoi managed to get in front of McShane and into the area but his shot sailed high and wide. Caretaker boss Keith Millen, who will hand over the baton to Pulis, signed off his stint with a 1-0 victory, secured when Barry Bannan converted Cameron Jerome’s cut back in the 81st minute. By then Palace were down to 10 men and seemingly hanging on to a point after Yannick Bolasie was harshly dismissed for a lunge at Jake Livermore. Most of the best entertainment involved fan protests against the proposed name change, with a large ‘WE ARE HULL CITY’ banner being paraded around the stands before stewards waged an unsuccessful tug-of-war with the ring leaders. When the message was once again unfurled, it was met with deafening approval from all four corners. Hull attempted to draw attention back to the pitch, Tom Huddlestone and Boyd working a quick free-kick to Curtis Davies in the Palace box. The centre-half got a strong connection on his header but could not force it through a crowded area. By the time the sides headed for the tunnel, neither had mustered a goalscoring attempt worthy of the title, although a deflected effort from Boyd at least required Julian Speroni to make a save. Steve Bruce removed the ineffective Brady at the break, sending on Danny Graham in his place to increase Hull’s attacking options. Within seven minutes of the restart they created the best chance so far. Boyd found the run of Sagbo, but the Ivorian hesitated slightly when one on one with Speroni and saw his shot well saved. Palace countered immediately, Bolasie looking for the advancing Dwight Gayle only for Ahmed Elmohamady to make a vital interception. An unlikely breakthrough reared its head when Boyd tripped over the ball and then passed straight to Bolasie, but the winger screwed his shot wide of Allan McGregor’s goal. The tempo was picking up, Jerome and Robert Koren exchanging 20-yard strikes and Davies losing his footing when the ball dropped to him from a Hull corner in the 70th minute. The latter was actually an inviting chance by the standards on offer but the home captain could not even manage a solid connection. With 12 minutes to go, the door creaked open for Hull as Bolasie saw red sliding in on Livermore. But incredibly it was the visitors who took the lead just three minutes later. Hull were guilty of switching off at the back as Jerome jinked into the box and left them exposed as the striker reached the byline and rolled the ball across goal. Bannan was the man arriving to meet it and slid home to set up an unlikely success. Hull had the numerical advantage but limited time to make it count. As it was they almost levelled twice at the end of added time – Livermore’s attempt blocked on the goal-line and Rosenior’s sweetly-struck follow-up rebounding off the woodwork. Press Association
After being unveiled as the European captain at a press conference in Hong Kong, Miguel Angel Jimenez announced the first four automatic qualifiers for his 10-man team, with McDowell being joined by Wales’ Jamie Donaldson, Frenchman Victor Dubuisson and Spaniard Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. The quartet secured their places on the team thanks to their final position in the 2013 Race to Dubai. The remaining spots in the European side will be taken from the leading four available players from the Official World Golf Ranking on February 3, 2014, the playing captain and one captain’s pick by Jimenez. McDowell, who won the US Open in 2010 and claimed the winning point at that year’s Ryder Cup, said: “I am really looking forward to playing the EurAsia Cup. “It’s a great concept to bring Asia and Europe together and I think it has a lot of potential to become a very big event.” The Northern Irishman added: “Everyone knows the standards in Asian golf are continually rising and I have no doubt it will be a tough job to go away from home and win. “But if we gel as a team and get the pairings right then we will have a chance because there will be a lot of quality and experienced players in the European Team and I am sure a few of them will be looking to sharpen their match play skills with an eye on the Ryder Cup next year.” Thailand’s Thongchai Jaidee is captain of the Asian team. His team will include the leading four available Asian players from the final 2013 Asian Tour Order of Merit, the leading three available Asian players invited on the basis of their Official World Golf Ranking, the playing captain and two captain’s picks. The EurAsia Cup will take place at Glenmarie Golf and Country Club in Kuala Lumpur from March 27-29. Former US Open champion and Ryder Cup winner Graeme McDowell will help lead Team Europe’s challenge at next year’s inaugural EurAsia Cup in Malaysia. Press Association
Gus Poyet is ready to gamble in a bid to drag Sunderland out of relegation trouble. Asked what the Portuguese had said in the wake of the seven-goal thriller, Poyet revealed: “In different language, he said more or less the same: ‘If you play like that, you won’t go down’. “It’s good that the players can see that as well because it is a compliment to the players. “For me, if we play seven or eight games like the other day and against Aston Villa and we don’t win one, there is something that’s incredible against this football club. “But it doesn’t happen. If we perform like that for seven or eight games, you are going to win three or four, so that’s what I am looking for. “I am looking forward to seeing if we can maintain that and find that balance. “We defended very, very well against Villa; we didn’t score from two yards. We scored three against Chelsea and you should win, and we conceded four and we defended really badly. “Football is a complete game: you need to defend well and score your chances, and then you become a consistent team.” Striker Jozy Altidore is likely to retain his place as Poyet’s lone striker for the clash with another of the manager’s former clubs after getting the nod over Scotland international Steven Fletcher in midweek. The United States frontman rewarded Poyet’s faith in him with the opening goal, his first for the club in the league. The manager said: “I am sure that a few of them (the fans) were not happy with me before the game, and then they say, ‘Maybe he was right’. “For decision to go right, you need the player. I can make 100 decisions, but it’s up to the player then to make that decision right. “He needed to play, it was the time I needed to make a decision. He didn’t play in the previous two or three and I thought it was the right game for him. I am happy that I was right.” However, they did so empty-handed and will embark upon Saturday evening’s home clash with Tottenham still sitting at the bottom of the Barclays Premier League table and eight points adrift of safety. That is a situation Poyet knows has to change sooner rather than later if they are to maintain their top-flight status. He said: “Unfortunately, we still don’t have enough points, we still look at the table and it’s not great. We need to win football games. “That balance is slightly going one way. We need to start maybe taking a few more risks because we don’t have enough points. “We are in a situation where it is difficult to catch the teams in front of us because we cannot put two wins together. Every time we make a step forward, the second step is flat or backwards and we cannot really get there. “The league is like that – everybody beats everybody, every game is difficult. All the teams are going to win football games and we haven’t won enough.” Despite their plight, Poyet has seen enough both on the training pitch and in games to believe his squad is equipped to mount a fightback. He said as much after the Chelsea game and had his view endorsed by opposite number Jose Mourinho after the final whistle. The 46-year-old Uruguayan has enjoyed a measure of success since replacing Paolo Di Canio at the helm in September, and has increased the club’s meagre points total from one to eight during the ensuing weeks. Performance levels have increased significantly too and the Black Cats emerged from Wednesday night’s 4-3 defeat by title-chasing Chelsea with their heads held high. Press Association
West Ham manager Sam Allardyce believes Saturday’s clash with West Brom is a “must-win” for his relegation-threatened side. Matt Jarvis, Joey O’Brien and Cole were guilty of missing decent opportunities to put West Ham out of sight early in the second half, allowing Arsenal to comeback through Theo Walcott’s brace and a Lukas Podolski strike. “The chance to catch up is getting a little wider and wider each game when you don’t pick up points,” Allardyce said of the relegation scrap. “But we have to take a lot of positives out of the way we played against Arsenal and make sure we played like that, like we did at Tottenham in the cup against West Brom. “When we’ve had that opportunity recently, we haven’t done that. We haven’t played as well as that, apart from when we beat Fulham 3-0 here. “We played Sunderland here and never got to this level so ended with a draw. We played against Aston Villa at a high level but didn’t score. We played at Crystal Palace and lost and lost after going 1-0 up against Norwich. “They are key let-downs. You can always lose to Arsenal even if you play your best. “It is disappointing for the lads when they have put such a big effort in and made so many chances against this team and not finished the game off.” While a Capital One Cup semi-final with Manchester City is on the horizon, so too is Championship football unless the Hammers buck up their ideas. The 3-1 defeat to Arsenal on Boxing Day was hardly unexpected given the way Arsene Wenger’s side have performed this season, but that means little to the east Londoners. Having thrown away the lead given to them by Carlton Cole, the loss means West Ham have now won just one of their last 11 Barclays Premier League matches. Unsurprisingly, that form leaves them in the relegation zone ahead of this weekend’s match with West Brom – the first of pivotal back-to-back matches, with a trip to Fulham following on New Year’s Day. “Our big games are the West Broms and Fulhams in the next two games,” manager Allardyce said. “It is about performing like that against those clubs, which give you a better chance to win the game. “We have to believe, at the end of the day, that we will convert the chances as we did, certainly the home game a few weeks ago against Fulham. “West Brom is becoming a must-win, so we have to go all out without being over anxious or over adventurous because if we start leaving back doors open and start conceding too many goals. “We’re going to have to score far more goals than we concede to win a game of football. That is not always the way forwards.” While trying to remain philosophical, Allardyce was clearly irked by the way his side failed to capitalise on their lead against Arsenal. Press Association