The pitch at Windsor Park will be assessed by FIFA delegates at 2pm this afternoon to check conditions are suitable for Israel to train ahead of tomorrow’s World Cup qualifier against Northern Ireland. The scheduled match against Russia was postponed on Friday night and again on Saturday due to heavy snow in Belfast, but conditions have eased significantly in the capital and the Irish Football Association are confident there will be no issues with the playing surface. Israel are scheduled to train at Windsor Park at 5pm. The match referee, alongside FIFA officials, will make a planned inspection at 10.30am tomorrow morning – during which time the pitch will be assessed again in line with standard regulations. Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill made his own visit to the stadium earlier today and is certain there will be no problems with the pitch. He said: “I was at the pitch this morning, it’s not wet and it’s not sticky. “In fact it’s nice and dry and it’s as good as it was before the snow was on it. “The pitch is nice and firm, albeit slightly softer than it was when we trained on it on Thursday but we have no concerns about the pitch at all. “The groundsman has done a fantastic job.” Press Association
Assistant boss David Platt claims Manchester City will not ease up in their remaining Barclays Premier League games, even if they secure second place. He added: “If we can secure second place within the next two or three games that won’t put any kind of slant on our last two games, at Reading and at home against Norwich. “We want to win football matches, that is what the players want to do. They don’t like getting beaten, which they did at Tottenham last week, even though we controlled the game for large periods. “We have no doubts. We don’t need the stimulus and motivation of going for trophies to go out there and perform.” But Platt does admit that thoughts will soon start to turn towards next season. City, who snatched the title in such exhilarating fashion on the final day of last term, were unable to hit the ground running at the start of the current campaign. That is something they intend to avoid repeating next August. Former England international Platt said: “Maybe once we have made sure nobody can come past us we can look at some kind of strategy for next season. Football is no different to horse racing, you want to show them a racecourse because you can stand them in good stead the following year. We will have a look at that later. “At this moment in time our focus and intensity is to make sure we amass full points, secure second position and win an FA Cup final. Once we have done that we will look at other things.” Press Association City may not have defended their title but they are determined to claim the runners-up spot and win the FA Cup to put a healthier gloss on their campaign. With a six-point advantage over third-placed Chelsea, they look well on course to achieve that first aim, but Platt insists there will be no slackening off with the second task in mind. City travel to Swansea and host West Brom before taking on Wigan in the FA Cup final at Wembley, and Platt, the first-team coach at the Etihad Stadium, said: “I have been saying for weeks that this football club is obligated to win football matches.”
Callum McManaman struck 10 minutes from time to give Wigan a 3-2 victory over West Brom and keep the Latics’ hopes of another great escape alive. The hosts were gifted a chance from nothing in the 10th minute when Ben Watson’s handball handed them a promising free-kick, but Dorrans shot straight at Joel Robles. Kone was seeing less of the ball up front for the Latics but almost caught Ben Foster off guard with a skiddy long-range effort in the 19th minute. West Brom took a deserved lead when Claudio Yacob kicked things off with a tackle deep in his own half and Romelu Lukaku picked out Markus Rosenberg’s run with a wonderfully measured pass into the right channel. The Swede easily outstripped Watson and his low ball across goal left Long with a simple close-range finish. Maloney went close with a free-kick in the 37th minute and the equaliser arrived two minutes later as Maloney found Jean Beausejour on the left flank and Kone beat Jonas Olsson to nod home the Chilean’s cross at the far post. Steve Clarke’s side had more energy after the break and restored their lead five minutes into the second half. McAuley was the scorer, rising to head Dorrans’ free-kick home after Kone made only a half-hearted attempt to track his run. McArthur immediately found the net after coming off the bench, diving to head home Maloney’s cross at full stretch for a dramatic first touch. Wigan lost Beausejour to injury in the 74th minute but they were soon celebrating when McManaman and Maloney combined to put the visitors ahead for the first time. Maloney, somewhat inevitably, was the instigator, charging down the left wing and beating two men before pulling the ball back from the byline. The finish was a simple one for McManaman but the effect could yet be huge on their season. The Latics twice came from behind before McManaman, who scored his first Barclays Premier League goal against Tottenham last weekend, swept home from close range following Shaun Maloney’s superb run. Shane Long and Gareth McAuley put West Brom ahead in the 29th and 50th minutes, only for Arouna Kone and James McArthur – with his first touch – the drag the visitors back into it. Press Association
Canaries boss Chris Hughton – who has been on a £20million summer spending spree to bolster his squad – made several changes for the second half, including the introduction of club record signing Ricky van Wolfswinkel, a regular scorer in the Portuguese Liga with Sporting Lisbon before an £8m switch to Norfolk. Braga pulled a goal back after 54 minutes through Paulo Vinicius and, following more Norwich substitutions, were level with 20 minutes left when Rafa finished off a flowing passing move. Bunn tipped another goalbound effort from the attacking midfielder over and Yazalde sent an angled drive just wide as the English side closed out the latter stages to leave The Quarry with a draw. Scotland winger Robert Snodgrass was back in the Norwich starting XI and completed 90 minutes after missing the friendly at Brighton because of family reasons, as he returned to Glasgow after his partner, who is pregnant, was involved in a car accident. Norwich now have two home friendlies next week, against Real Sociedad on Tuesday and then Panathinaikos on August 10, ahead of the Barclays Premier League opener with Everton. New signing Gary Hooper netted a brace as Norwich drew with Portuguese side Braga 2-2 at the AXA Stadium. Press Association The 25-year-old forward, who moved from Scottish champions Celtic in a £5million deal last week, put the Canaries ahead after six minutes and added another after 28 minutes – just after Braga midfielder Ruben Micael had hit the post – as he slotted home when Elliott Bennett’s shot was parried out by the goalkeeper. In a sign of what was to come, the hosts rallied before the break when Mark Bunn saved from Salvador Agra.
Press Association And he insists there is no reason why his side cannot put the memories of last season’s struggle behind them and regain the form that saw them sweep to fifth place in the 2011-12 campaign. Pardew said: “There is always that special feeling when the Premier League is kicking off and I think we’ve worked hard on pre-season and got the group in fantastic condition. “You can never read too much into pre-season – two years ago we lost to Leeds in our final pre-season game and were all over the place, but we went on to finish fifth. “What I do know is the guys are fitter than they’ve ever been under my management and they’re ready to go. “Last year was difficult for us, not only with the extra games but also because it was compounded by an injury crisis. We will be better armed next time we go into Europe and that’s where we want to play.” Pardew’s lack of success in bringing in new players this summer – his only addition so far, Loic Remy, is ruled out with a thigh strain – comes in sharp contrast to the millions splashed by City’s new boss Manuel Pellegrini. But Pardew believes rather than being daunted by their opening fixture, his side have a magnificent chance to produce a performance which will be seen as a statement of intent for the season ahead. Pardew added: “It’s a psychological game for us in terms of putting ourselves in the minds of everybody with a really strong performance and hopefully we’ll get some points out of it. “City have invested heavily again and obviously they will be one of the top contenders for the title, so it is going to be a tough game but it is one we are more than ready for. “Pellegrini’s style is not too different to Roberto Mancini but I think there is more of an emphasis on being forward-thinking and they will look to put more pressure on us when we have got the ball. “We need to take care but the ideal scenario is to get a result of some kind and I think we’ve got the players to do it. We’ve got some fabulous players and we’ve got an opportunity, and hopefully we can take it.” The Magpies head to Manchester City on Monday with plenty of cause to celebrate the end of a summer break marked by behind-the-scenes upheaval, transfer woe and a high-profile sponsorship dispute. But Pardew has remained remarkably upbeat through all the issues, not least the controversial appointment of former boss Joe Kinnear as the club’s new director of football. Newcastle boss Alan Pardew is adamant any talk of frustration at St James’ Park could not be further from the truth and his team are better prepared than ever for the new Barclays Premier League season ahead.
Newcastle have reopened talks with Lyon striker Bafetimbi Gomis as they attempt to bolster their squad ahead of the transfer deadline, Press Association Sport understands. Pardew was diplomatic when asked about the situation, although he knows it will be resolved within days. He said: “Some of the issues around this situation, I think, best remain private, if I am honest, for now. “At some point in the future, I think the fans can understand why I want to do that. I hope they do. At the moment, I am keeping some of the issues private.” The news comes a day after Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas was quoted as saying the France international had his heart set on a move to Germany. Newcastle are long-term admirers of the 28-year-old frontman, who has also attracted interest from Marseille, although they have as yet been unable to make a breakthrough in a protracted saga. Manager Alan Pardew has been desperate to boost his striking resources ever since Demba Ba’s departure for Chelsea in January and with Senegal international Papiss Cisse currently becalmed in front of goal, his need is growing by the day. Remy was a threat for relegated QPR during the second half of last season and Pardew is hopeful he will be involved from the bench in Saturday’s Barclays Premier League clash with Fulham. However, the addition of another goalscorer would significantly strengthen his hand. Director of football Joe Kinnear vowed to land a striker within days of his appointment and belatedly tied up the Remy deal, but whether or not the club can persuade Gomis that his long-term future is on Tyneside remains to be seen. The Magpies head for Morecambe in the Capital One Cup second round still not knowing if France midfielder Yohan Cabaye will be on the books when the transfer window closes on Monday. The 27-year-old will not be involved once again at the Globe Arena after Arsenal tabled a formal bid for him, although the Gunners are yet to return with a second offer after their initial approach was rejected out of hand. The two parties have resumed discussions which stalled earlier this summer after the clubs had agreed a fee. The Magpies have to date made only one summer signing with Loic Remy having arrived on a season-long loan deal from QPR, although he is yet to play for the club which initially tried to sign him in January because of a calf injury. Press Association
With Czech midfielder Tomas Rosicky suffering a thigh injury on international duty, Ozil could be thrown straight into the starting XI at the Stadium on Light. The German maintains he is ready to meet the challenge head on. “I look forward to playing in this league,” he said. “Of course it is very physical here, but it is a man is sport and I am really glad to play in the best league in the world. “I want to prove myself in England, therefore I look forward to playing here. “I also played in the Bundesliga and Spain and always proved myself. I know that I will prove myself here as well.” Ozil maintains it was the confidence of Wenger which proved vital in his decision to leave Madrid, when it became clear he no longer was central to the plans of Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti following the world-record signing of Gareth Bale from Tottenham. Reports in Spain have questioned Ozil’s off-field behaviour. Press Association The German playmaker’s departure from Real Madrid in a £43million deal on transfer deadline day was greeted by disbelief from his former team-mates at the Bernabeu. However, Madrid’s loss is Arsenal’s gain as manager Arsene Wenger finally landed the marquee signing he desired to bolster a long overdue sustained assault on the title. However, the 24-year-old defended himself and insisted he would not let any unsubstantiated speculation affect his fresh start in London. “I don’t want to say anything bad about Madrid because I had three wonderful years there. I have great friends there. We achieved a lot with the club and (won) trophies. That is why I don’t want to talk a lot about it,” Ozil said as he was unveiled to the press at Arsenal’s Hertfordshire training base on Thursday. “People who know me know how professional I am and I think [in] the past years, you can see how many games I played – 159 games. “If you are not professional in your life, then I don’t think you can play that many games. “People know how professional I am and this is what counts. All the rumours, I don’t care about them. “I have a new task here. I am just looking ahead. “I am in London now. We have big goals here and we will work very hard to reach these goals.” Wenger believes Ozil’s arrival can help England midfielder Jack Wilshere thrive in a deeper role at the heart of the Gunners side. “In midfield, Jack Wilshere is more comfortable in deeper positions and Ozil more in a higher position, that is why I don’t think they conflict,” said Wenger, who expects both Wilshere and Theo Walcott, on the receiving end of a nasty kick during the World Cup qualifier in Ukraine, to be available this weekend. “I didn’t always think that, but looking at Jack over the years now, he likes to come deep to take the ball and make a difference, and then give and go again. “Ozil, though, is more behind the striker, higher up on the field.” New Arsenal midfielder Mesut Ozil is relishing the challenge of throwing himself straight into the rough and tumble of the Barclays Premier League – starting at Sunderland on Saturday.
“Robbie has trained this week which just goes to show what the medical people can do. It’s just over two weeks since the operation,” said Bruce. “We’ll see for a reaction but as long as there isn’t one he’ll come straight back in the squad. It’s quite remarkable what they can do to fix what is labelled as a hernia. “To be playing in two and a half weeks shows what they can do. “He’s pain free and running around like a two-year-old so let’s hope he stays like that.” Brady’s team-mate Stephen Quinn might be forgiven for taking news of the return to fitness with mixed feelings given he was the man to step up from the bench and replace him against Aston Villa. But he considers Brady – who is also a colleague with the Republic of Ireland – a close friend and insists any battle for the shirt is both friendly and productive for the side. “It’s great for the team to have this competition,” said Quinn. “Robbie coming back is great news for the team. I’m delighted for him because Robbie is such a good player and he got off to a great start in the Premier League. Brady was playing through the pain barrier in the early part of the season, scoring four times in the process, but could no longer go on and was sent for a hernia operation after netting the winner against West Ham on 1-0 on September 28. At the time there were fears he could be out for over a month but he is back in full training already and pushing for a place at Goodison Park on Saturday. Press Association “It’s always been that way, even last season. I pulled my hamstring and found it hard to get back because competition was really high. Now we have top players like (Tom) Huddlestone and (Jake) Livermore and that’s healthy too. “There’s a buzz around the place and there’s a really good camaraderie around the place.” Having been buoyed by Brady’s recovery, Bruce is also hoping to have good news on the contract front soon. Sone Aluko, who has impressed as the link man between midfield and attack this season, has been in talks for a number of weeks over a new deal. His current one expires at the end of the campaign and Bruce has spoken in the past about the need to tie him down before his on-field performances attract too much attention. “I’m going in to have a word with my bosses to see if there’s any development,” said the Tigers manager. “Maybe we’ll know a little bit in the next few days. “We’re trying our utmost to get it over the line so let’s hope this time next week everything will be hunky dory. “At the moment we’re still boxing a bit.” Bruce is not expecting any of his international players to have picked up injuries over the recent break but, as ever, will have little time to work with the likes of Egytian pair Ahmed Elmohamady and Gedo, and Honduras defender Maynor Figueroa after they return to the club following long-haul flights. Figueroa will at least be buoyed by scoring in the 2-2 draw in Jamaica which ensured his country will take part in the World Cup, while Elmohamady and Gedo were part of the Egypt squad thrashed 6-1 in their play-off first leg in Ghana. Hull manager Steve Bruce is expecting top-scorer Robbie Brady to make a quicker-than-expected return to action against Everton this weekend.
England goalkeeper Joe Hart was dropped by Manchester City for the visit of Norwich in the Barclays Premier League, the club announced via Twitter. Hart was relegated to the substitutes’ bench while City, again without injured captain Vincent Kompany, had Matija Nastasic and Martin Demichelis in central defence. Norwich made two changes from last week’s draw with Cardiff as Steven Whittaker and Bradley Johnson replaced the injured Alex Tettey and Robert Snodgrass. Press Association Manager Manuel Pellegrini decided the time had come to leave out Hart after a number of errors this season, preferring Romanian Costel Pantilimon in his place. Pantilmon impressed in a rare start during City’s Capital One Cup victory over Newcastle on Wednesday.
However, he accepts next summer could be a different matter if the Reds have not qualified for the Champions League. The England midfielder admits he spent much of pre-season wondering whether the Uruguay international would remain at Anfield, especially after Arsenal’s £40,000,001 bid and the player himself claiming the Reds had reneged on a deal to allow him to join a Champions League side. Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard expects to have a worry-free January as he believes striker Luis Suarez is committed to the club. Press Association That is why Gerrard rates the 26-year-old as the best player he has played alongside. “Yes. Simple. He’s out on his own,” added the midfielder. “The only player who comes close to producing what Luis produced in a red shirt is Fernando Torres but Luis just pipped him for me.” Since returning from his ban, carried over from the previous season for biting Chelsea’s Branislav Ivanovic, Suarez has shown no signs of unhappiness over what happened during the summer. To the contrary, he has frequently made encouraging noises about how happy he is and how well the campaign is going with Liverpool third in the Premier League, five points behind leaders Arsenal. “We’re doing well right now but we need to carry on that form into the Christmas period,” he told Match magazine. “I think our best is yet to come, which hopefully means well for the end of the season and our chances of making next season’s Champions League. That’s one of our aims. “It’s good to be playing well and contributing with goals, but the most important thing is getting three points every week. “I wouldn’t be scoring without the help of my team-mates, so thanks to them.” Fellow striker Daniel Sturridge, who himself has scored eight times in 10 league matches, recently described his partnership with Suarez as “a beautiful thing”. Suarez repaid the compliment by saying: “He’s a fantastic player and strike partner and we get on very well. “I hope we continue to score goals and win more awards, but it doesn’t matter who gets the goals or awards as long as we keep winning games.” Suarez has since revealed Gerrard’s words of persuasion were a significant factor in him not pressing further for a move. Liverpool’s captain said he is not as concerned about the coming transfer window as he was during the last one but admits familiar problems may resurface next summer, especially if the Reds do not re-establish their place in the top four. “I don’t feel like that about January… January will be different because I think Luis is committed,” he told ESPN. “I think he is happy. I think he is pleased with the decision he has made to stay around. “He is in good form. The team are playing well so I think January won’t be a problem. “But come the summer, I think depending how Liverpool have done will determine what goes through Luis’ mind. “He is the key. His goals, his performance and his form will be the key whether we finish in the top four or not.” Suarez scored 30 goals in all competitions for the Merseysiders last season and he has already found the net six times in five league matches in the current campaign after missing the start through suspension.