Press Association Jose Mourinho admitted Chelsea were “fortunate” to snatch a 1-0 victory over QPR but insisted there is nothing lucky about the Blues’ seven-point lead at the top of the table. “A team who arrives in August and is top of the league every day until April – that is the team that deserves the credit. “We have had a good run since day one so nobody should be disappointed because we have been on a good run since August. Now we need 11 more points (to win the title).” Courtois’ strong performance will be a welcome boost for the Chelsea keeper, who has endured a difficult few weeks. The Belgian’s skewed kick led to a goal against Hull last month and Charlie Adam’s wonder-strike saw him beaten from 66 yards against Stoke last weekend. “He helped us win the match,” Mourinho said. “I thought Courtois did very well, he was there for us. “I told him at the start of the week after Hull and after Charlie Adam, we need him to give us a couple of points with a couple of saves and he did it.” The result leaves QPR two points adrift of safety, having played one game more than Burnley, Sunderland and Hull, and two more than Leicester. Rangers boss Chris Ramsey defended his goalkeeper Rob Green, whose skewed clearance gifted Chelsea possession in the build-up to the goal, and lamented his players’ poor defending. “I am very disappointed, disappointed in the manner we let the goal in,” Ramsey said. “I’m not blaming Rob for the goal, it wasn’t one of his best kicks but we had a long time to defend it properly and we didn’t. “When the ball goes out wide and we’ve got about eight players behind the ball you can’t blame him, it’s just a bad clearance. “The way we let the goal in at the end was one we could have defended miles better than we did. All that running everyone does has now gone to waste. “The fans were fantastic and the players did give them something to hope for, for most of the game. “The reason I’m sitting here sick is we could have given the fans a big boost by getting a point here against a top team.” “Were we fortunate? Yes. It was a typical game for 0-0,” Mourinho said. “We controlled them very well and kept them far from the box because in the box (Bobby) Zamora and (Charlie) Austin are killers. “They closed us down very well, they were very well-organised defensively and gave us a difficult match. “I am obviously very happy with my team because we kept good emotional control, we never lost balance or were under pressure. “We were always very stable and then we scored in the crucial moment of the game – I feel sorry for them because they fought hard to get a point.” The victory comes as another blow to the fading hopes of the chasing pack, with Arsenal, Manchester United and Manchester City all trying to close the gap on the league leaders. Chelsea have been joint top or top of the table since the opening day of the season and are on course to break Manchester United’s 1993/94 record of 262 consecutive days at the summit. “I don’t know if it hurts them (our rivals) or not, what I know is it’s not normal to be top of the league since day one,” Mourinho said. Cesc Fabregas scored an 88th-minute winner at Loftus Road to restore Chelsea’s advantage over second-placed Arsenal and maintain the side’s march towards the title. The Spaniard’s strike was Chelsea’s only shot on target during a disappointing West London derby, which QPR could have won had Thibaut Courtois not denied Matt Phillips’ close-range effort in the second half.
Press Association The Senegal international went from opening the scoring to completing his hat-trick in two minutes and 56 seconds – the quickest in Premier League history, beating the record of four minutes and 33 seconds set by Liverpool’s Robbie Fowler in 1994 against Arsenal. “I’m happy,” Mane said. “If you see the last few weeks, it has not been easy, but you have to accept it – that’s football. “We just tried to give our best in training to work hard, and finally we’ve got the rewards. “I think we did a great performance, because we worked together as a team. “Everybody was very, very focused on working together.” Mane’s hat-trick was the catalyst for a timely win for Southampton in the race for European qualification. It saw Saints move on to a best ever Premier League points tally of 60 and Mane was quick to praise fellow star man Long. The Ireland international provided two assists and his second goal was a late contender for goal of the season, having beaten Shay Given with a curling 40-yard strike. “Thank you to him because he did a good job with a great performance,” Mane told Southampton’s official YouTube channel. “I’m happy for him today because he scored two goals for the team – his second was a nice goal, unbelievable – and he always works hard in training. “I’m very happy. It’s important to score for the team but I am just happy that the team won for the fans – they’re always amazing, unbelievable. Everybody is happy.” Fortunately for Villa, the fact Hull lost 2-0 at Tottenham meant their safety was assured just a few hours later – welcome news to Tim Sherwood after a gut-wrenching first half at St Mary’s. “It’s hard,” the Villa boss said. “It’s difficult. You feel it in your stomach. You feel sick. “There’s not a lot you can do about it. You have to be professional. You have to realise you’ve got a job to do to try and help as best you can. “At half-time we just tried to calm them down and just make them aware that it wasn’t good enough which they were all aware of. They’re not stupid and to make sure that we tried to get some pride out of the second period.” Sadio Mane’s delight was as clear as it was understandable after setting Southampton on course for a memorable victory with the fastest ever Premier League hat-trick. Saints’ impressive season had looked to be petering out, only for it to set alight as they ran amok against FA Cup finalists Aston Villa at St Mary’s. Shane Long’s brace and a Graziano Pelle volley helped Ronald Koeman’s side to a wonderful 6-1 win, although it was Mane’s quick-fire treble which provided the main talking point.
Newcastle managing director Lee Charnley will draw up a fresh short-list as he looks to appoint a head coach following an eventful few weeks on Tyneside. The Magpies eventually secured their Barclays Premier League status on Sunday with a 2-0 win over West Ham, their first in 11 attempts at the end of a run which threatened to condemn them to life in the Sky Bet Championship. They did so with John Carver at the helm following his appointment until the end of the season in January in the wake of Alan Pardew’s surprise departure for Crystal Palace. Carver remains adamant he wants the job on a permanent basis, confident he can improve markedly on a return of just 13 points from the 19 league games of which he took charge given better fortune on the injury and suspension front, and a summer during which much-needed reinforcement work can be carried out. The 50-year-old, who had initially been asked to take over on a caretaker basis, was handed the reins for the remainder of the campaign when Charnley, having considered a series of candidates – among them Steve McClaren, Remi Garde and Christophe Galtier – opted not to make a permanent appointment, with the man he wanted not available at the time. However, Press Association Sport understands the picture has changed significantly since then, and not least because of owner Mike Ashley’s revelation at the weekend that he is ready to invest in the squad and target silverware. McClaren, who twice stayed loyal to Derby when approached by the Magpies, was sacked by the Rams on Monday evening, but there has been no fresh contact between the two parties, while speculation linking Burton’s Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink with the club was greeted with raised eyebrows at St James’ Park on Tuesday morning. It is understood Charnley will take his time once again, with sources on Tyneside insisting nothing is imminent, although a decision is expected within a matter of weeks as the club plans for a brighter future. Carver’s situation needs to be resolved – he has five years remaining on his contract, although has indicated he would have no problem returning to his role as number two if he did not get the main job – and given the support he has received from both Charnley and Ashley, his credentials, bruised as they may have been by the events of the last five months, will be assessed. However, the number both of potential candidates and clubs looking for new managers has changed since January and Ashley’s investment plan – which was announced in a surprise television interview before he knew the club’s fate – has moved the goalposts somewhat. Nevertheless, there will be a limit to the type of candidate Newcastle can attract and while the likes of McClaren, Garde and Michael Laudrup are likely to be considered, Galtier has signed a contract extension with St Etienne and Thomas Tuchel has replaced Jurgen Klopp at Borussia Dortmund. Big names such as Klopp, Carlo Ancelotti and Rafael Benitez are simply not on the club’s horizon. Whoever does get the job will work alongside Charnley and chief scout Graham Carr to address last season’s problems and implement Ashley’s transfer policy, which seems certain to change this summer. But one of last term’s few success stories, Daryl Janmaat, has admitted the current crop of players let Carver down during the second half of the campaign. He said: “John deserved the win against West Ham because he has worked really hard with the team. He tried everything. I feel sorry for him – we let him down in games and it can’t happen again.” Janmaat is hopeful the squad will be significantly stronger by the start of the new season and admits he is looking forward to a big few months for the club. He said: “I think we need it in some places. I am looking forward to that and hopefully we have a really great squad next season.” Press Association
Press Association Sothern scored twice in quick succession in the second before winning a penalty stroke, which was saved. Peter Caruth scored Ireland’s third after fine link-up play before Ronan Gormley netted from a penalty corner early in the second half. Sothern’s third followed before Stephen Dowds netted a sixth. Goalkeeper David Harte suffered a neck injury following a collision with a Chinese forward and had to be replaced by David Fitzgerald. Ireland play Belgium on Sunday, but have already advanced to the quarter-finals. Ireland’s first win of the tournament – after a draw with Great Britain and loss to Malaysia – came in convincing fashion against a team which has now lost four times and conceded 23 goals. Britain beat China 8-1 on Thursday and Ireland were left frustrated by disciplined defending in the first quarter. Alan Sothern scored a hat-trick as Ireland beat China 6-0 in their World League Semi-Final Pool B clash in Antwerp.
Press Association In-form Robbie Keane is ready to heap the misery on Gibraltar once again after shaking off the injury problems which denied him the chance to shoot down Scotland. The 35-year-old Republic of Ireland skipper plundered a hat-trick inside 13 minutes as his team thumped the Euro 2016 Group D minnows 7-0 at the Aviva Stadium in October last year, but managed only 17 frustrating minutes as a substitute when the Scots left Dublin with a precious point in June with the after-effects of a groin injury hampering him. However, Keane is back in business after blasting 12 goals in his last eight games for club LA Galaxy and is relishing the chance to add to his remarkable tally of 65 senior international goals at the Estadio Algarve in faro on Friday evening. Ireland will go into the game with five men – Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy, James McClean, Glenn Whelan and Marc Wilson – just one booking away from a ban with Germany and Poland to come next month. However, manager Martin O’Neill insists he wants those of them involved to forget about what might lie in store . O’Neill said: “It is what it is and of course those players who are on two yellow cards, I would like to remind them just that there are some challenges that you would think might not be worth it; of course there are other ones that certainly would be. “It is what it is. Some players get booked, as we have seen, now for innocuous things and it tallies up. But I cannot start predicting and worrying myself about anything that’s happening.” The Ireland captain said: “Obviously the last game, for the first time in my career I was out for more than four weeks – it ended up being two months, which is the longest it’s ever been, so physically for the last game, I definitely wasn’t right. “I didn’t feel as fit as I’d like to, playing only I think one game or two games, maybe, 30 minutes and 60 minutes, I think, before I came in with the squad, so I certainly wasn’t fully fit. “But I’ve had a good few months now since then. I’ve been fully fit, the team has obviously been doing well and personally, it’s been going very, very well for me, so I certainly feel fit and raring to go.” Keane’s distinguished career is undoubtedly drawing to a close, but the striker, who has established himself as one of the leading goalscorers in international football, insists retirement is simply not in his thoughts, for now at least. He said: “It matters that I want to win every game I am involved in. I certainly won’t be retiring before October, so I will be fully focussed on the next few months and these four games, concentrating fully on tomorrow and then we can have a conversation maybe next year or two years’ time, if you want.” Ireland simply must beat Gibraltar and Georgia in Dublin on Monday evening if they are to maintain any hope of qualifying for next summer’s finals in France, and having experienced a near thing in 2007 when the republic were almost embarrassed by San Marino, Keane will be taking nothing for granted. He said: “That’s certainly a game I always refer to – it was probably one of the worst performances we have played for a long time. But in the end, we managed to get the three points with a last-minute goal by Stephen Ireland, so that’s why you always have to be cautious when you are playing these teams. “If you look at the cups in England, there’s always an upset somewhere, so we have to make sure that’s not us.”
Manchester United defender Marcos Rojo has described his relationship with boss Louis van Gaal as “normal”. Press Association The 25-year-old did not play in any of United’s first seven games this term and only two of the opening 13. But he has started all six since then, earning praise – including from Van Gaal – for his efforts at left-back. And asked if he had a good relationship with Van Gaal, Rojo was quoted on Tuesday as telling ESPN: “It is normal, as with any other coach. “I don’t ask him why he includes me in a game when I play, so I don’t have any right in asking him why I don’t play when he decides that I don’t have to do it. It’s as simple as that. “Van Gaal does the same as any coach in the world. He decides who plays according to what he sees during the week, he chooses the players that he sees in the best condition and we have to accept all the decisions that the coach takes”. Rojo added of Dutchman Van Gaal, who has a reputation for an uncompromising style of management: “He is a very professional coach, he wants to get out the very best from each one – that doesn’t mean that he is rough. “He wants his work to have success and we have to understand what he expects from each one of us.” Relations between the pair appeared strained not long ago, with Van Gaal reportedly angry at Rojo over the summer that passport issues had prevented him from joining up with the United’s pre-season tour. It had looked as if the Argentina international might leave the club only a year after his arrival from Sporting Lisbon and, after a move did not materialise, there were then further problems for Rojo when Van Gaal in September claimed he had failed to tell him about a hamstring injury he suffered.
But when Mane headed over from close range almost immediately after, the home team lost urgency and belief. The visitors only looked capable of scoring via a set piece or individual error, and in the 44th minute so it ultimately proved. When Jordan Veretout’s unremarkable corner evaded Southampton’s defence, Lescott was left with the simplest of close-range tap-ins to finish into a near-open goal. That Southampton rarely looked like equalising no doubt inspired Koeman to introduce Spanish substitutes Juanmi and Romeu in the 63rd minute. Against Liverpool the manager’s changes led to an increasingly one-sided defeat, but on this occasion they had the desire effect. Juanmi had already threatened with a low shot from the edge of the area that Guzan did well to save when, in the 73rd minute, Southampton won a corner. Ward-Prowse crossed directly into the penalty area and, from a similar position to Lescott, the stretching Romeu did well to reach the ball and poke it into the back of the net. Further chances came their way in the closing stages when, notably, another substitute, Shane Long, went close with a strike from distance, but a winning goal eluded them. It does little for their hopes of survival, but Villa should be grateful for the draw that means they now have six points from 15 games . TWEET OF THE MATCH “Well done boys. Great point!!! Congrats on the goal @JoleonLescott” – Despite being left out of the side, Aston Villa youngster Jack Grealish congratulates his team-mates after a morale-boosting draw at Southampton. PLAYER RATINGS Southampton Maarten Stekelenburg: 6 Cedric: 6 Jose Fonte: 6 Virgil van Dijk: 7 Ryan Bertrand: 7 Victor Wanyama: 6 James Ward-Prowse: 8 Steven Davis: 7 Sadio Mane: 7 Dusan Tadic: 7 Graziano Pelle: 5 Subs Oriol Romeu: 8 Juanmi: 7 Shane Long: 7 Aston Villa Brad Guzan: 6 Alan Hutton: 6 Jores Okore: 5 Joleon Lescott: 7 Carlos Sanchez: 6 Leandro Bacuna: 6 Idrissa Gueye: 6 Jordan Veretout: 6 Scott Sinclair: 6 Jordan Ayew: 6 Rudy Gestede: 4 Subs Ashley Westwood: 7 Gabriel Agbonlahor: 5 Kieran Richardson: 6 STAR PLAYER James Ward-Prowse. The promising midfielder again demonstrated his talent with a fine display in which he showed both belief and an eye for a pass. His distribution did much to keep Southampton ticking, and provided their most regular threat. MOMENT OF THE MATCH In the first half, Aston Villa goalkeeper Brad Guzan made a pathetic attempt at punching a corner and instead sent it straight to Jose Fonte, who was still inside the area. The defender’s goal-bound shot was cleared, but that lack of organisation and conviction captured why Villa are bottom of the Premier League. VIEW FROM THE BENCH Ronald Koeman needed his Southampton team to react from the 6-1 loss to Liverpool, and they did. Greater confidence would likely have led to victory. Aston Villa’s Remi Garde knows his team are in trouble; if he can lead them to survival he might prove the Premier League’s finest managerial impact yet: that’s how much chance they have. MOAN OF THE MATCH Southampton’s fans booed their team off at half-time, so perhaps they need a reminder that not so long ago they almost went out of business. To be mid-table in the Premier League, particularly when not a traditional power and having lost so many fine players in recent seasons, should not be taken for granted. WHO’S UP NEXT Crystal Palace v Southampton (Barclays Premier League, Saturday, December 12) Aston Villa v Arsenal (Barclays Premier League, Saturday, December 12) The manager retained their familiar 4-3-3 shape, only recalling fit-again captain Jose Fonte for Steven Caulker in central defence, and the promising James Ward-Prowse for Jordy Clasie in midfield. Koeman may have been worried about his team’s poor run, but his concerns were minimal in comparison to Remi Garde. In the three games since his appointment at Villa, the Frenchman has overseen two defeats and a draw and from the team which lost 3-2 at home to Watford came in Rudy Gestede, Leandro Bacuna, Jores Okore and Lescott. Given he had yet to improve Villa’s fragile confidence, the suspicion remained that an early Saints goal would result in a further loss of belief and another convincing defeat. Southampton’s approach immediately after kick-off suggested they shared that belief, and had they secured the opening goal their efforts deserved a comfortable victory would almost certainly have followed. Instead, Dusan Tadic struck over the crossbar when Sadio Mane’s second-minute burst of pace and cut-back had created space for him to shoot. A minute later, Graziano Pelle connected too heavily with Tadic’s cross, following Victor Wanyama’s through-ball, to send the ball even further off target. Villa’s threat had been almost non-existent by the 19th minute, when Gestede cleared Fonte’s close-range toe-poke from crossing the line after goalkeeper Brad Guzan poorly punched a corner into his path. Joleon Lescott gave the visitors an undeserved lead and exceptional opportunity with a goal in the first half, but they remain bottom of the Barclays Premier League after substitute Oriol Romeu secured a 1-1 draw. After Wednesday’s 6-1 Capital One Cup defeat at home to Liverpool, manager Ronald Koeman had spoken of his team’s lack of balance between defence and attack and his belief it may be necessary to alter their approach. Southampton halted a run of three straight defeats but had to come from behind to secure a draw at home to struggling Aston Villa. Press Association
But, despite the defeat, Aviva Premiership giants Leicester should not read too much into the result before they meet Munster in the Champions Cup at Thomond Park on Saturday as head coach Anthony Foley rested a number of his key men for that crucial Limerick date. Third-placed Munster’s aim prior to the match was to get back to winning ways after an 18-12 home defeat to Connacht last week, while the Dragons were desperate to win after a poor performance at Edinburgh in their last outing. And it was all to play for after the first period as the sides went in level at 6-6. Jones put the Welshmen ahead after four minutes with a 38-metre penalty but Scannell levelled with a 25-metre goal after the Dragons were guilty of going over the top at a ruck. Munster should have crossed the home line twice as the first half wore on. British Lions tourist Simon Zebo had a run to the left corner but illegally wriggled the last metre over the line to touch down after he was tackled. But full-back Gonzalez Amorosino had a far better chance as a great passing movement involving Scannell and wing Ronan O’Mahony sent the Argentine international hurtling to the line only for Amorosino to knock-on at the vital moment. Jones and Scannell swapped penalties while the Dragons got themselves into scoring positions. A tremendous Zebo tackle prevented home full-back Carl Meyer from diving over, while referee Gary Conway ruled that Thomas Rhys Thomas’ drive to the Munster posts was not a touchdown. A solitary try at the end from lock Rynard Landman took the Dragons clear. Fly-half Dorian Jones booted three penalties, a drop-goal and conversion, while his replacement Jason Tovey added a penalty. Munster’s points came from two Rory Scannell penalties but, while they were in the game for the vast majority of the time, the final ten minutes saw the Dragons pull away. Newport Gwent Dragons secured their third Guinness Pro12 triumph of the season as they beat high-flying Munster 22-6 at Rodney Parade. Jones’ monster 40-metre drop-goal put the Dragons back in front just after the re-start but neither side showed much invention towards getting an elusive try, with handling errors abounding through a messy third quarter of the game. Home scrum-half Sarel Pretorius made a dashing run into the Munster 22 but the movement saw the Dragons spill the ball at the next ruck and Munster clear their lines. Jones had a shot to stretch the Dragons lead but his 35-metre penalty hit the post and bounced into grateful Munster hands, but he was successful with his fourth penalty attempt. Jones twice tried to drop another three points but missed on both occasions, the second a straight-forward kick 25 metres from the posts. But the Dragons finally broke the try deadlock and ensured they took the victory when Landman cut inside from ten metres to dive over the line. Jones converted and Tovey landed a final penalty in the closing moments for good measure. Press Association
United manager Louis van Gaal suggested Schweinsteiger under-performed during his side’s Champions League defeat to Wolfsburg on Tuesday evening, and that is why he was substituted. “I have changed him and I don’t change players for nothing, (it’s because) I think I can do better with other players, but we are all human beings and also Bastian Schweinsteiger is a human being,” Van Gaal said after the game. Joachim Low has backed Manchester United midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger by promising his role as Germany captain is safe. “He wants to play at the highest level and certainly in Germany to show his qualities, but I cannot say that he was the Schweinsteiger from my period in Munich today.” Germany head coach Low has no doubts about Schweinsteiger, and insists he will continue to pick him, while trusting him to step up his performances at club level. “We at the German Football Association know what we are getting with Bastian,” Low told the Bild newspaper. “He’s still a world-class player and undisputedly our captain.” According to Low, the 31-year-old former Bayern Munich midfielder still needs time to get used to a different style of play, and a different league having spent all of his career up until the summer in the Bundesliga. “You’ve got to give even an experienced player like him time to adapt to a new league,” Low said. “I am sure that Manchester United are still going to get a lot of joy out of Schweinsteiger.” Press Association
Giroud scored a hat-trick in Wednesday’s 3-0 Champions League win at Olympiacos and netted his 50th league goal for the Gunners – and 14th of the season – at Villa Park and boss Wenger reckons the 29-year-old can be under appreciated. He said: “I believe he is at the top of his game. He is questioned sometimes but finally the numbers get people to realise he is a good player. “Olivier has improved technically. His link play is better and when you have the option to go for long balls he is always an interesting option. “He’s not got electric pace, he is more a player who likes to play with his back to goal. He is not spectacular individually but he is a very efficient player for the team. Mentally he is very strong.” Arsenal face second placed Manchester City next Monday with the chance to be top at Christmas after Petr Cech also equalled David James’ clean sheet record with his 169th shut out in the Premier League at Villa Park. And Wenger is grateful for the long break to prepare for the game against a title rival. He said: “Let’s see tomorrow, if Leicester beat Chelsea they have a very good chance to be top at Christmas. “It’s a big game, we want to win at home and beat City at home. We have eight days to prepare. It will be an interesting one but we at least can recover first and prepare then. Arsene Wenger has called for Olivier Giroud to get the credit he deserves after the striker fired Arsenal to the top of the Barclays Premier League. “I was a bit anxious today because we had given a lot on Wednesday and came back very late on Thursday morning. I knew Villa were fighting to survive.” Alexis Sanchez is still missing with a hamstring injury but Wenger refused to completely rule him out of the game against City. “I think the closest to have the chance is Sanchez but medically we think he won’t be ready – but Sanchez being Sanchez you never know,” he added. In contrast to Arsenal, Villa are eight points from safety after 15 winless games in the league having won just two points from the last 30 available. They go to Newcastle on Saturday before facing fellow strugglers Norwich and Sunderland over Christmas and boss Remi Garde, who won the title with Arsenal in 1998, admitted the games will define the season. “Probably, we will have to win if we want to be safe,” said Garde, who recalled Jack Grealish to the squad after dropping him for two games for partying after a 4-0 defeat to Everton last month. “We can still be safe but we are coming into a period where we have to win. I see this situation as more of an opportunity than a problem but we have to be ready. “I still believe we are capable of winning the next game. I enjoy working in this league. We are struggling, I still haven’t won a game and I’m very frustrated but I know in football you can change things with work.” The France international’s penalty and Aaron Ramsey’s breakaway goal gave the Gunners a comfortable 2-0 win at rock bottom Aston Villa on Sunday. They moved a point clear at the top, although Leicester will replace them if they beat Chelsea at the King Power Stadium on Monday. Press Association