Saturday 20 January 2018

In brief: Benitez's case for defence Cattermole stays positive

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez insists his side are more than well-equipped to deal with everything Blackburn will throw at his side this afternoon.

During a nervous half-hour in Bucharest during the week, it seemed the Reds' old defensive frailties had crept back in as Europa League opponents Unirea Urziceni threatened to score from virtually every set-piece.

It is something which will not have gone unnoticed by Rovers boss Sam Allardyce.

But Benitez has no concerns -- even in the absence of broken metatarsal victim Martin Skrtel -- about his defence, which has improved immeasurably in recently weeks.

"You can see the last few games we have had a lot of clean sheets, I think 13 games and nine clean sheets, so the team is very strong in defence.''

Cattermole stays positive

Lee Cattermole is convinced a run of four successive home games could have Sunderland fans looking to Europe again rather than fearing relegation as they prepared to face Fulham at the Stadium of Light today.

The vagaries of the fixture list mean Bolton, Manchester City and Birmingham will follow Roy Hodgson's men to Wearside before Sunderland head out on to the road again, and that run of games could have a significant say in the outcome of a troubled campaign.

A sequence of 13 league matches without a win has prompted talk of a fight against relegation, and an overdue turn-around cannot come quickly enough.

"We know the position we are in. We were on a bit of a bad run, but we stopped it with three games unbeaten and it's not too bad. I think those three points will prove to be massive towards the end of the season," said Cattermole.

Redknapp backs misfits

Tottenham boss Harry Redknapp insists his misfits at the start of the season can fire the club into the Champions League in the second half of the campaign.

Gareth Bale, David Bentley and Roman Pavlyuchenko have all been on the periphery at various stages and have been linked with moves away from White Hart Lane -- but they have seized their opportunities recently.

All three could start when Spurs host against Everton today. "There isn't any trick but when their opportunity comes they have to take it. It is a squad game,'' said Redknapp.

Magpies flying at the summit

Newcastle moved six points clear at the top of the Coca-Cola Championship table with a 2-1 win at Watford. Argentina defender Fabricio Coloccini headed home the second goal of his Newcastle career in the fourth minute before Andy Carroll made it 2-0 in the 50th minute.

Will Hoskins netted a consolation for the home side in the final minute.

West Brom moved second above Nottingham Forest with a 3-1 win at home to Derby thanks to a Chris Brunt double and a goal from Simon Cox.

Chris Porter had given the visitors the lead four minutes into the second half before Brunt (67 and 77) swung the game in West Brom's favour and Cox (82) netted the clincher.

Leicester strengthened their grip on fifth with a 3-0 home win over Nottingham Forest which saw the visitors drop to third in the table.

All the goals game in the second half after Bruno Berner (68) opened the scoring. Paul Gallagher (79) and Andy King (81) secured an important win.

Ten-man Preston dented Cardiff's promotion hopes as Jon Parkin scored twice in a 3-0 victory. Parkin scored from the spot after half an hour but Preston were reduced to 10 men when Paul Coutts was dismissed with almost 40 minutes remaining for a second yellow card. Parkin netted his second before Chris Brown wrapped things up late on.

Reading's improved form continued as they thumped Sheffield Wednesday 5-0 with Jimmy Kebe opening and completing the scoring.

Grzegorz Rasiak also scored twice with his efforts coming either side of a strike by Simon Church.

Craig denies Stokes' Hibs

Liam CRAIG dispatched a late penalty at Easter Road as St Johnstone left Hibs frustrated yet again in a 1-1 draw.

Just over a week after dishing out a 5-1 hammering to John Hughes' side, the visitors struck with five minutes left to cancel out Anthony Stokes' third minute spot kick.

There was further disappointment for Hibs as a double from Morgaro Gomis allowed Dundee United to overtake them and go third while Falkirk remain rooted to the bottom of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League.

Sunday Independent

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