Sport Soccer

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Lennon's boost for Juve clash

Neil Lennon was reassured he can trust his younger players after he rung the changes and secured a 3-1 Clydesdale Bank Premier League win at second-placed Inverness ahead the "biggest game" of his managerial career against Juventus.

The Celtic manager made nine changes as he kept his core personnel fresh for the last-16 clash with the Italian giants on Tuesday.

Nick Ross gave Caley the lead in the ninth minute only for midfielder Kris Commons to level in the 20th minute.

Three minutes into the second half debutant Rami Gershon headed the champions into the lead before Miku grabbed a third in the 82nd minute as the visitors ran out easy winners.

But Lennon denied that his side's 15-point lead over Caley at the top of the table before the game made his decision any easier.

"It is a balancing act but I had Juventus in mind,'' said Lennon. "It is the biggest game we have had here since Gordon Strachan's time and the biggest game of some of the players' career, and certainly my managerial career.

"We have got a cushion but that is no guarantee you are going to win the league. If the gap had been three points, I would probably still have taken the gamble."

Juventus are five points clear at the top of Serie A after comfortably beating Fiorentina 2-0 last night thanks to first-half goals from Mirko Vucinic and Alessandro Matri, but Lennon does not believe they will be a more difficult prospect than Barcelona.

"Juventus are very rigid in their formation, three at the back, one sitting and two wing-backs getting forward. They are a little bit more defensive-minded and they will be very difficult to break down although they probably don't have the same flair or quality in forward areas."

There was further good news for Lennon with Scotland winger James Forrest winning his battle with a hamstring complaint to be in the Celtic squad.

Vicente gives Brighton lift

Former Spain international Vicente fired Brighton to within two points of the play-offs as Hull missed the chance to go second in the npower Championship.

The 31-year-old midfielder has struggled with a constant stream of injuries since boss Gus Poyet persuaded him to move to the Seagulls 18 months ago after 11 years with Valencia.

But when he does get on the pitch, Vicente is a class act and he proved it by climbing off the bench to grab Brighton's 83rd-minute winner with a free-kick, his first goal of the season.

Hull needed only a point to climb into the automatic play-off spots and would have grabbed all three themselves but for some fine second-half saves from Tomasz Kuszczak.

Hendrick strike not enough

Manager Dave Jones praised his side's spirited display after watching Sheffield Wednesday rally from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Derby.

Republic of Ireland international Jeff Hendrick put Derby in front in the 23rd and Jamie Ward extended the visitors' lead from the penalty spot three minutes after the brea.

Michail Antonio pulled a goal back in the 51st minute following a goalmouth scramble and six minutes later Miguel Llera equalised after getting his head to a great cross from Antonio.

"You give yourself a mountain to climb when you give a penalty away and full credit to everybody in the dressing room because they worked hard and got back into it,'' said Jones. "Everybody showed great character, rolled up their sleeves and got going.''

Saunders vows to battle on

Wolves manager Dean Saunders vowed to put things right after his side crashed deeper into trouble following the 2-2 npower Championship draw against Leeds United at Molineux.

An injury-time equaliser from central defender Danny Batth ensured that Wolves stayed out of the relegation zone – but only on goal difference.

Batth's late, late show denied Leeds what would have been a hard-fought win after they bounced back from falling behind following an own goal by captain Lee Peltier with a strike from Luke Varney and a Ross McCormack penalty.

Saunders, who has taken just three points from his five games in charge, is ready to move into the loan market to try and shore up his leaky defence.

"If you can't defend goal kicks, long throws and free-kicks then you will concede goals and I have got to do something about it,'' said Saunders. "Three managers have got the sack because the team have been conceding goals and I won't be the fourth.''

Bayern surge 15 points clear

Leaders Bayern Munich demolished Schalke 04 4-0 with two goals from Austria international David Alaba to keep their title charge on track and open a 15-point gap at the top of the Bundesliga.

Alaba scored either side of a sensational Bastian Schweinsteiger free kick with Mario Gomez, starting ahead of top scorer Mario Mandzukic, drilling in the fourth as Bayern made it four straight wins.

Irish Independent

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