Seven days on from the loss to Ospreys they were made to work hard for the win which brought with it an all-important bonus point. Two tries from Robbie Diack and single scores from Rob Herring and Ricky Andrew along with three Ruan Pienaar conversions helped Ulster register their 13th league win from 15 games to keep them seven points ahead of Glasgow Warriors. Daniel Halangahu’s penalty was all Zebre could muster in reply. Press Association Ulster bounced back from last week’s first home defeat in the RaboDirect Pro12 to see off Zebre with a 26-3 victory in a top-versus-bottom clash.
With just a few days of the current transfer window remaining, Hughes has promised Butland he will try to get him another loan deal – with the right club. “We’ll look at every player’s individual circumstances,” said Hughes. “Jack’s an outstanding ‘keeper – I’m very fortunate I’ve three outstanding ‘keepers. In that respect we are well served. “The important thing for Jack is his development, and we have to make sure the next stage of his career is correct so he progresses at the right level. “Ideally we would probably want to get him out and get him some game time, but it has to be at the right club with the right philosophy. “If we have that opportunity of a club that would benefit Jack, and vice versa, then we will look at it. “If that’s not the case then he will stay here and work with an excellent group of goalkeepers and he will learn doing that as well.” Asked whether he would consider another Barclays Premier League club for Butland, who played for England against Italy last year, Hughes added: “It’s about circumstances. The 20-year-old was signed by Hughes’ predecessor at the Britannia Stadium, Tony Pulis, for £4million from Birmingham on the final day of the January transfer window. Butland was immediately loaned back to Birmingham for the remainder of the Championship campaign, but is back at Stoke where he finds himself as third choice behind Asmir Begovic and Thomas Sorensen. “We’ll look at every individual situation and see whether the benefits outweigh the negatives.” Butland has been linked with a switch to West Brom in light of Ben Foster being out for 12 weeks with a stress fracture of a bone in his right foot. West Brom head coach Steve Clarke, however, is keeping his cards close to his chest as he said: “It’s disappointing for Ben because he worked hard all pre-season, and we saw with his level of performance he was in a really good place. “But these things (injuries) are a part and parcel of football, he has to deal with it, and we’re looking at 12 weeks maximum. “Looking at the market we’ll see if we can get an experienced back-up, but I’m not going to speak about names. “There are a number available, some out of contract, and so a number of ways to do a deal.” Stoke manager Mark Hughes is considering loaning out goalkeeper Jack Butland. Press Association
Press Association Adam Lallana and Jay Rodriguez strikes secured Southampton a third successive Premier League victory, albeit in somewhat fortuitous fashion in a 2-0 win over Swansea. An intelligent Rickie Lambert pass just evaded Lallana as Saints continued to threaten, finding the breakthrough in the 19th minute. Morgan Schneiderlin cushioned a header back to Davis, whose delicate chipped pass found Lallana and the Saints captain rifled home. It was just the hosts’ second goal from open play this season, but they almost had another soon after as Lallana came close to latching onto a Lambert knock back. The match was now flowing from end to end and Swansea were testing the Southampton defence with increasing regularity. Jose Fonte had to react quickly to head behind a threatening Wayne Routledge cross, before Boruc fantastically denied a header from Michu, wearing a protective scrum cap after receiving a head injury on Thursday. The Polish goalkeeper was again called into action to thwart hopeful efforts from Shelvey and Bony, as well as smother a low Dyer cross. Lambert saw a long-range free-kick parried away when Saints returned to the attack, only for Swansea to come agonisingly close to levelling. Dyer collected a clever backheel from Bony and had time to strike a left-footed effort that hit the inside of the post and flew across the goal before going out for a goal-kick. Davis and Lambert had attempts for Saints, only for Swansea to again threaten as a Dyer cross found Bony, whose powerful header was just pushed around the post by Boruc. Shelvey, Dyer and Bony all had efforts early in the second half as Swansea continued in the ascendancy after Jose Canas was booked for a lunge on Osvaldo. Saints were struggling to deal with the hosts’ possession game and Lovren was given a yellow card for bringing down Bony on the edge of the box. Shelvey floated the resulting free-kick just over, with James Ward-Prowse replacing Osvaldo as Pochettino looked to stem the flow. The change appeared to work as Swansea attacked with less regularity and Saints managed to secure a better foothold on the game. The hosts thought they had made it 2-0 in the 76th minute when Wanyama prodded home Ward-Prowse’s corner, which should not have been awarded in the first place. The Kenyan raced to the corner in celebration, only for the goal to be ruled out by referee Mike Dean to the puzzlement of those inside the ground. The home fans did not have to wait long for a second, though. Chico Flores failed to deal with a ball over the top and Rodriguez took advantage, grabbing possession and slotting home to secure three points. The result was harsh on Michael Laudrup’s team, who showed no signs of a hangover from Thursday’s Europa League clash against St Gallen as they pressed from the outset. After Lallana latched onto a neat ball from Steven Davis to put Saints ahead, Artur Boruc was forced into fine saves to stop Michu and Wilfried Bony levelling. Nathan Dyer also hit the inside of the post as half-time approached, with Swansea continuing in the ascendancy after the break. However, Southampton kept the Welsh side at bay to earn a fifth clean sheet of the term, with Rodriguez slotting home seven minutes from time after seeing a Victor Wanyama goal dubiously ruled out. It was harsh scoreline on a Swansea side that made five changes from the win over St Gallen. One of those to come in was Saints academy graduate Dyer, who burst down the right flank early on only to be blocked off by Dejan Lovren. Jonjo Shelvey tested Boruc soon after as Swansea controlled the early tempo, but Saints soon settled into their stride. Michel Vorm was fortunate to avoid punishment after appearing to handle outside the box under pressure, before Dani Osvaldo wriggled free and fired into the side netting from an acute angle. The clash between two sides known for their attractive style lived up the billing, with play flowing from end to end in a pulsating encounter at St Mary’s. Swansea dominated proceedings after Lallana’s first-half strike, only for substitute Rodriguez to make the most of slack defending to secure a 2-0 win for Mauricio Pochettino’s side.
The 64-year-old’s current deal expires at the end of the season and negotiations have been going on for some time to tie up Wenger’s long-term future, with the club currently top of the Barclays Premier League. Wenger continues to play down the concern when pressed on the issue by the media, but last month indicated he had made a decision. Gazidis also indicated there was no panic over time frames when speaking at the launch of Arsenal’s new long-term partnership with Puma, which will see the company become the club’s official kit suppliers from July 2014. “We have always been completely behind him. We are comfortable in the position and relaxed about it. Arsene will be extending with us and at the right time we will make that announcement,” Gazidis told the news conference. Although no official figures were confirmed on Monday, the commercial deal has been described as ”the biggest deal in Puma and Arsenal’s history”. The Gunners are understood to receive around £30million a year from main sponsors Emirates Airlines, and it has been reported the new deal will be for a similar amount when Puma takes over from Nike, who Arsenal have partnered since 1994. Arsenal smashed their transfer record in the last window with the £42million signing of German playmaker Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid. It has been reported the Gunners are keen to bring in Ozil’s compatriot Julian Draxler from Schalke, although Wenger continues to play down suggestions another big money deal can be completed ahead of the January 31 deadline. Gazidis indicated significant funds were still available, although those from the new kit deal would not be added to Wenger’s warchest until the summer. “The new partnership represents the biggest commercial deal in Puma’s and Arsenal’s history,” the Arsenal chief executive continued at Monday’s news conference. Arsenal chief executive Ivan Gazidis is confident Arsene Wenger will sign a new contract to remain at the Emirates Stadium. “The money from this deal will be available to the club from this summer. It represents an important step in our progression on and off the pitch. “One of our long-term goals has been to increase commercial revenues and there is a football reason for that – from the summer onwards the money will be available for the manager to spend how he sees fit. “We have a vision to be competing at the top of the world’s game, but we don’t get there overnight. “We are doing it our way, without relying on any single individual, on an independent path. “When we achieve success it will mean so much to everyone that has been in this journey, so let’s get there as soon as possible.” Press Association
Wenger expects the combative midfielder to continue his recovery in time to play some part in the final matches of the domestic season and also be available for the World Cup. A win this weekend would see Arsenal move level on 66 points with City, who thumped Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford in midweek and have two matches in hand on all their championship rivals. “We have not given up (on the title), believe me and we can show that tomorrow. It is our attitude that will decide that,” Wenger said. “Champions keep going when everybody else would give up. We have an opportunity to show that we have that mentality.” Beating City would boost Arsenal’s flagging title hopes, and also put some distance back between themselves and fifth-placed Everton, who are six points behind and with a match in hand ahead of their showdown at Goodison Park next weekend. “If people say that Everton can catch us, that means we can catch the teams above us as well because they play against each other,” said Wenger. “The next game is of massive importance because it is Man City and they fight at the top. “They are the favourites with Chelsea and Liverpool, but when you play one of the favourites, you have an opportunity to shorten the distance with them.” Wenger added: “Let’s not forget we are in an important race in the Premier League, we are in the semi-final of the FA Cup, so it is at the moment not as doom and gloom as everybody paints the situation. “We want to finish first in the league and everything else, the other priorities are still there. “You want to be in the Champions League of course, but it is never good enough to be anything other than first and you hope always you are the best. “If you ask any team, and they have to be in the top four (so) you cannot say as well it is a shame, but you want to be first – you do not work day and night to be second.” Wenger also rejected reports suggesting City were ready to offer Arsenal full-back Bacary Sagna a lucrative deal when his contract expires in the summer, branding such a move “illegal”, and remains hopeful the 31-year-old France international will stay on at the Emirates Stadium. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger will not concern himself with criticism of his team from former Manchester United midfielder Paul Scholes – a man with “zero” managerial experience. Following the Gunners’ 2-2 draw against Swansea on Tuesday night, in which midfielder Mathieu Flamini netted a bizarre last-minute own goal, Scholes had claimed Arsenal were “a million miles away” from challenging for the Barclays Premier League title. The former United man, who won a string of medals under Sir Alex Ferguson, used his role as a TV pundit to launch a fierce attack on Arsenal, claiming they had “midfield players with no discipline” and “there are no leaders”, as well as questioning the development of Jack Wilshere. However, Wenger – who took charge of his 1,000th Arsenal game in the 6-0 defeat at Chelsea last weekend – used his pre-match press conference ahead of the visit of Manchester City to put the 39-year-old firmly in his place. “Everybody has opinions, people who have managed zero games have opinions and we have to accept that. What you live is what you do on the pitch, and all the rest is only opinions,” said Wenger. “We are in a society where there are thousands of opinions every day, and some go for you and some go against you. You have to live with that. “If six points (from the top of the league) is a million miles away, then I don’t know what the translation from a mile into a point is.” The Gunners boss also took exception to Scholes’ claim that midfielder Wilshere, 22, has “not improved since he was 17”. Wenger continued: “You cannot say that. Jack Wilshere is an exceptional player for me who has been handicapped by many injuries. “Once Jack is back and consistently on the pitch, he will prove everybody wrong about that because he is an exceptional player – and Scholes knows that as well.” Wilshere is recovering from a fractured foot suffered when playing for England in a friendly against Denmark at the start of March. Press Association
The Uruguayan was given a four-month ban by FIFA from carrying out any football-related activities after biting Italy defender Giorgio Chiellini in their World Cup clash earlier this week. It is the third time Suarez has been suspended for biting an opponent and Liverpool have faced calls to cut their losses with the controversial striker, despite his outstanding campaign for the Reds last season, when he scored 31 Premier League goals in 33 matches. Former Liverpool player and manager Kenny Dalglish is confident the club will not turn their back on Luis Suarez, who he believes needs help to control his emotions. Press Association Yet Dalglish, who brought Suarez to Anfield from Ajax in January 2011, thinks more understanding needs to be shown to the 27-year-old. The Scot said in his Daily Mirror column: “It is my belief that when you bring a player to a football club, he becomes your responsibility. You don’t just turn you back on a player because he has done something wrong. “I think you will find that Liverpool will not turn their back on Suarez, whatever the ban FIFA have decided he must serve. Of course it will be a heavy blow if the club has to do without him for the opening months of the season. “You can’t really ask any one person why what happened against Italy happened, because there is only person who knows and that is Luis – some people have injuries you can’t see. “Sometimes, when people have something wrong with them, just because they don’t have a plaster cast on their leg, people think they don’t need help.” Dalglish thinks the punishment is harsh on Liverpool as the incident was out of their control. “When he was punished by the FA for the biting incident with Branislav Ivanovic and banned from domestic games, he was still allowed to play for his national team,” he added. “It seems a bit strange, then, that when he is banned for something he did with his national team, his club has to suffer, too.”
Press Association “The confidence of the team is high and some players are in good form. “When we scored the first goal it was easier for us to control and we looked always dangerous when we won the ball. We had good solidarity and compactness. “The regret is we didn’t always take advantage of the situations we created in the final third. We had opportunities to score more goals.” The win lifted Arsenal within a point of fourth-placed Manchester United but for City, it was another agonising result. Having completely wiped out the eight-point advantage leaders Chelsea once held over them over Christmas, the champions now find themselves trailing by five points again. Manager Manuel Pellegrini now accepts his side’s trip to Chelsea in a fortnight is vital to their hopes of retaining the title. He said: “The game we must play at Stamford Bridge is a very important game. We must close the gap to two points. “I hope we are going to recover and play the way we have been playing so far.” Pellegrini felt City were not their usual attacking selves. The Chilean, whose side are now heading to Abu Dhabi for a warm-weather training camp, said: “With the ball we didn’t have clear ideas, I think we didn’t play a good game. “We ran a lot and had a lot of possession but we didn’t have creative ideas to try and find the space against a team that defend very well. “We conceded two goals from set-pieces. I doubt it was a penalty but after the penalty we had enough time and we didn’t create many chances to score.” City are currently without the services of midfielder Yaya Toure due to the African Nations Cup and his absence – as it has during previous editions of the tournament – was noted. City have also not won a Premier League game without the Ivorian in their ranks since April. Pellegrini said: “I think Yaya is a very important player but I never have excuses. We play other games without Yaya and can win also. I never have excuses with one or two players why we don’t win.” Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger felt his team had produced a fine response to their critics after claiming an impressive victory at champions Manchester City. Goals from the impressive Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud gave the Gunners an unexpected 2-0 success at the Etihad Stadium and considerably enhanced their Barclays Premier League top-four prospects. It has generally been a mixed campaign for the London side but Wenger feels his men, whose recent struggles against top-four sides have been well-documented, have now shown what they are capable of. Wenger told Sky Sports: “I felt that we were well-disciplined, well-organised, had a good solidarity and overall we kept a good control of the game. We could even have done better on counter-attacks. “People are very quick on their judgement – you forget that we had many defenders out all season. As you saw today the centre-backs are a good partnership and it takes time to get back to that level. “It’s down to everybody doing their job. The first goal dictates the way of the game in these big games and today we scored first. “We looked in control away from home and we finally got a big win in a big game away from home. What is pleasing is that reinforces the belief of the team. To feel that you can do well is very important. “The five months in front are very important in the lifespan of our team. They will determine our season.” City controlled possession throughout but lacked creativity despite the return of top scorer Sergio Aguero to their starting line-up. Arsenal looked the more dangerous on the ball and created the better chances, although it needed a penalty for them to go ahead after Vincent Kompany was adjudged to have impeded Nacho Monreal. “My initial reaction from the bench was penalty,” said Wenger in his post-match press conference. “Somebody told me we were a little bit fortunate but I have to watch it again.
The finish date would clearly be untenable for United and Chelsea considering next season’s Premier League kicks off three days later on August 8 – but United boss Louis Van Gaal is believed to have sought assurances on the scheduling. Van Gaal was heavily critical of United’s three-week, five-match schedule last year, decrying the “dreadful distances” and adding: “it is not very positive for a good preparation.” The Dutchman has reportedly insisted this summer’s tour be cut to two weeks and that United’s stay in America does not extend into August, due to the early start to the domestic season. Chelsea too will have looked carefully at the itinerary – they are also expected to confirm a week-long post-season trip to Japan. However both Van Gaal and his Chelsea counterpart Jose Mourinho have acknowledged that the commercial pressures of their respective clubs demand pre-season tours in order to expand their fan-base. Last summer United played Real Madrid in front of a record crowd of more than 109,000 – plus Inter Milan and Roma before beating Liverpool in the final. Real Madrid will not be involved this time – the Champions League holders will be taking part in a sister tournament in Australia along with Manchester City. The Barclays Premier League giants will be joined by Barcelona, Paris St Germain, Porto, Fiorentina, Mexico’s Club America and three Major League Soccer sides in the line-up. The exact format is yet to be announced, although the tournament will take place between July 11 and August 5. Manchester United and Chelsea will return to the United States this summer as part of the 10-team International Champions Cup. Press Association
Press Association Not one for reflecting during his brilliant career in the saddle due to his obsession with future success, from next week McCoy can now begin to look back at his incredible achievements, some of which may never be matched. The pinnacle of National Hunt racing is the Cheltenham Festival, a stage on which McCoy rode 31 winners, with Uxizandre his final success in last month’s Ryanair Chase on a day McCoy will never forget. “There was a little bit of mixed emotions pulling up (on Uxizandre) as I had such a thrill riding a horse that was so exuberant and jumped so well, thinking that this isn’t going to happen any more,” he said. “I love riding horses that can go out like Uxizandre did and dominate a field the way he did. Those are things that are irreplaceable. “Life’s over as far as Cheltenham’s concerned . It’s not a pleasant thought but you’ve just got to get on with it. “It’s all right, I’m happy enough. I’d have liked a few more (Cheltenham winners). It’s a fantastic meeting, fantastic people, great horses – it’s where the best of it happens.” McCoy’s last ever ride will be aboard the Jonjo O’Neill-trained Box Office who, like Mr Mole, carries the colours of his retaining owner and close friend JP McManus. The legendary champion admits it is likely to be an emotional afternoon at the Esher venue. “It’s never going to be easy and when the time comes, that’s what is going to be most difficult, living without that. It’s not something I ever wanted to do but I know it’s the right thing and I’m just going to try to enjoy what’s left of it,” said McCoy. “It’s tough as I really enjoy what I do. What I’m going to replace that kind of buzz and those kind of adrenalin rushes with, I don’t know. It’s irreplacable, so I just have to make the most of it when I do.” While Saturday will undoubtedly be tinged with sadness, not least for McCoy himself, there are some changes he will be able to make to his daily routine for the better. “I’ve had the greatest way of life for the last 20-odd years that anyone could ever have,” he told RTE. “But I am looking forward to certain things: having breakfast every day and not standing on a weighing scales every day; not getting in the car some days for seven or eight hours regularly, a couple of times a week; not spending seven days a week literally travelling. Things like that, I’m not going to miss. “But I’m not complaining, because I also wish I could do it for another 20 years, that’s for sure.” Tony McCoy is trying to prepare himself for the inevitable void that he will have to fill when he brings his astonishing career to an end with two rides at Sandown on Saturday. McCoy left the racing world stunned when announcing that this would be his final season in the saddle after steering Mr Mole to success at Newbury in February and the Paul Nicholls-trained chaser is poignantly one of his mounts on the final day of the National Hunt campaign. He will officially be crowned champion jockey for the 20th successive season before riding Mr Mole in the race named in his honour, the bet365 AP McCoy Celebration Chase.
Press Association “These games will help develop our local players and prepare them to step up to the European Championship games in the autumn,” said a Rugby League Ireland spokesman. The games against developing nations Belgium, Serbia and Malta will count as full internationals for players from Ireland’s domestic competition in the build-up to the end-of-year European Championship. The Belgians, coached by former Leigh, Oldham and Oxford boss Tony Benson, will provide Ireland’s first opponents in Leinster on Sunday, July 13, and that will be followed by trips to Serbia on August 29 and Malta on September 5. Ireland have announced a series of ground-breaking internationals for 2015.