Should he play in the Barclays Premier League contest at the Cardiff City Stadium, it will be the first time Odemwingie has come up against his former employers since leaving Albion for the Welsh outfit in the closing stages of the last transfer window. His stint with the Baggies, which lasted three seasons, turned sour, with him driving to QPR on deadline-day in the previous window in a bid to secure a move, only for the deal to fall apart. Cardiff boss Malky Mackay has described Bluebirds summer recruit Peter Odemwingie as “a joy to work with” ahead of Saturday’s clash with the striker’s old club West Brom. But while that incident might have given the impression that the Nigeria international is a troublemaker, Mackay had only positive things to say about Odemwingie on Friday. Regarding the 32-year-old, who has so far made 12 appearances and scored two goals for Cardiff, Mackay said: “There was a lot of press around Peter concerning that January, in terms of his on-off transfer to QPR. “He obviously took a lot of stick over that, but I can only speak about the lad that I know. “I phoned up certain people who played with him and coached him and managed him and they were glowing. “If they hadn’t been, that would have given me cause for concern. “The boy I have met and I have here is articulate, he speaks four or five different languages, he is intelligent, he has smiled since the day he arrived here and he is very polite too. “He is a talented footballer and definitely wants to do well for us. He has been a joy to work with and he wants to do the best he can for the club, so it has been a really good one for us. “We did our homework on him and had he not been the right kind of person, I wouldn’t have brought him in.” Odemwingie has scored just twice for the Bluebirds since joining the club and has often had to settle for a place on the bench but his former boss Steve Clarke accepts there is a possibility he could return to haunt West Brom. Clarke said: “It is possible, it can happen. He is a goalscorer, that is his position. “So, if he is selected to play for Cardiff we will have to deal with him, the same as we will have to for anyone else they select. “Former players come back, they play against you. That’s what happens. “People move on in football. Peter has moved on from here and so have we.” Press Association
Press Association “That is really vital. We are really happy with the fighting performance and how resilient we are.” Arsenal were comfortable in the early stages and although Villa briefly started to make an impression midway through the first half, two quickfire goals put the visitors on course. England midfielder Jack Wilshere showed superb technique to control and fire home the opener at the end of a slick counter-attack in the 34th minute. Less than 60 seconds later he underlined his class again as he seized possession from Fabian Delph and lofted a fine pass for Olivier Giroud to smash home the second. The Gunners then seemed to be well in control and cruising towards victory until Christian Benteke headed home his first goal in four months to set up a frantic finish. Arsenal held on and Mertesacker felt coming through that test was character-building. The 29-year-old said: “We kept going, especially in the first half, when we did extremely well. “We put a lot of pressure on them, took the lead by the two goals that were decisive. “I think that was our own fault when we conceded that goal. We felt a bit too secure at one point. “Overall I think it was fully deserved, but I think we could have played better in the second half, especially on the counter-attack. “There was a lot of sloppy passing, and that is what we don’t expect from us. “But we managed to defend well until the end, and that is another attribute we have learned this year – to keep focused until the last moment.” Mertesacker had been making his 100th appearance for the club but that was not something he was overly keen to celebrate. He said: “Not really – it is good to be in the team at the moment. “We are on a fine way and we need to keep going. “It is not too important that a single player got his century.” Mertesacker, signed from Weder Bremen on transfer deadline day in August 2011, is in talks with Arsenal over extending his contract, as is full-back Bacary Sagna, whose current deal expires in the summer. The scenario is the same for Gunner boss Wenger, although the 64-year-old maintained at the weekend there was “no big major doubt” over the negotiations, with reports a positive conclusion could be announced shortly. Per Mertesacker believes Arsenal’s win at Aston Villa sent a strong warning to their title rivals. The Gunners held off a late rally from the home side to reclaim top spot in the Barclays Premier League with a 2-1 success at Villa Park on Monday night. Coming after the rest of the top six had won their matches over the weekend, Mertesacker echoed the thoughts of manager Arsene Wenger that the result had been the perfect response to growing pressure. The German defender, who captained the side and was outstanding on the night, said: “All the teams in the top seven won, no-one dropped any points. “There was a bit of pressure, the team could feel that, but we responded. I think everyone was expecting at home that we may drop points. “That was very important, to let the other teams see that Arsenal are alive and that we can respond. “We look at ourselves and think we are good enough to respond to any challenge they give us. “It was a strong one, they gave us a good task, but we gave them a little idea of what can happen.” The victory lifted Arsenal back above main title rivals Manchester City and Chelsea to the summit. Just two points cover those top three sides. Mertesacker said: “It is really tight at the top. “There is no chance to drop any points, so we have to show the other teams that we can feel the pressure but we can respond.
“I would have to say Steven Gerrard,” came the swift response. “He lives through all the dreams I had as a kid. Everything I wanted to do he has actually done, so I would have to say him.” Reminded of that question he recalled the answer immediately, although this time he called him ‘Stevie G’ – a sign of the friendship that has built with the England captain since getting his first cap earlier this season. “It is quite the journey,” Lambert said, smiling. “The way it has gathered momentum, it’s frightening. “Everything went our way at Southampton and each manager that came in improved me massively, especially Mauricio Pochettino. He taught me how to be a different kind of player and I think that’s helping now. “It is full credit to so many people. It’s hard to say thanks to everyone involved because there has been a lot of work gone on to make me who I am today and the player I am today. That’s mainly everyone at Southampton, from fitness to coaches to everyone.” Lambert is a rare player in the modern era that fans can empathise with, having held a normal job not so long ago and made his support for Liverpool well-known. He was at Anfield for every Champions League game during the 2005 season and got a Liver Bird tattoo on his shoulder after the famous win in Istanbul. Lambert, though, is keen not to “come across as a mad fan” and believes he can get even better at Liverpool, despite now being 32 years of age. Three years ago Rickie Lambert dreamt of swapping lives with Steven Gerrard – now he is playing alongside his idol for club and country. It has been quite the journey from the lower leagues to today, having this week joined boyhood club Liverpool before linking-up with England for the World Cup. Remarkably, Lambert was plying his trade in League One for Southampton as recently as 2011, when he was asked in an interview who he would trade places with, given the choice of anyone living or dead. “I wasn’t expecting a chance at Liverpool but I have got it,” he said. “Now that I’ve got it I will do everything to not let it go and I am more than confident that I will take the chance and I will be able to improve my game again. I’ve done that every season. “I’m going to get fitter. I’m going to do everything I can to get onto the next level now. “Even though I’m 32 I feel like a kid again. I’ve got so much enthusiasm for the game. “The fact that I’m playing under Brendan Rodgers and for Liverpool I just can’t wait. “It could have come earlier in my career – if it had I don’t think I would be performing at the level I am now. I might have missed the chance. “This is a good time because I am mentally and physically ready. If it doesn’t work out now there are no excuses. “I have done everything I can to get to this point. I wasn’t expecting a chance to play for Liverpool but now I’ve got it I’ll be trying my best to deliver.” That determined mentality was coaxed out of Lambert at Southampton, where former manager Pochettino employed some unusual methods. Pre-season is notoriously hard under the former Argentina international, who not only got his players running but also walking on hot coals “That was the easy part,” Lambert said with a laugh. “That was a relaxing afternoon. “He took us away for 18 days and it was all very specific. It wasn’t just like run to a tree and back, it was very well organised. “On the coals he got some fella in to try and give you that winning mentality. It was very interesting. “One of his methods was to walk across burning coal bare footed. It was a challenge, mind over matter. You knew nothing worse could happen to you during the season.” Press Association
City’s elite development squad coach Patrick Vieira took his team off the pitch when the 19-year-old French midfielder made the allegations after being sent off just before half-time. Press Association Sport understands the move was supported by City officials and Vieira has received the backing of anti-discrimination network FARE. Croatian club HNK Rijeka have strenuously denied any of their players racially abused Manchester City’s Seko Fofana in a friendly. However, Rijeka have issued a statement in which they dismiss the allegations. “Rijeka clearly and unequivocally rejects any possibility that the players at the match against Manchester City participated in assaulting the rival players on racial, religious or ethnic grounds,” said a statement on the club’s website. “We want to point out the fact that we mentioned at the game we had six players from the Nigeria squad, players who live and train together with our other players, who learned the Croatian language and who have never experienced any discomfort by team-mates – as they themselves can attest. “We also want to point out that Rijeka, in co-operation with FARE, supports a campaign against racism and strongly condemns any incident of its kind. “Because of this, we are surprised by the unpleasantly harsh and baseless accusations of which we are accused and that we completely reject.” Ranko Buketa, who was in charge of Rijeka’s team on Tuesday, accused City of trying to divert attention away from Fofana’s actions which led to his red card. “It looks like a move which is trying to hide a very ugly foul by the Manchester City player that resulted in exclusion, followed by a hasty and illogical decision of the coaching staff to withdraw the team from the field,” he told the club website. “Such an abrupt decision surprised us as it was made by responsible people at a respectable club like Manchester City.” Piara Powar, executive director at FARE, felt Vieira, a Senegalese-born former France international, did the right thing. “We are not, in the short term, able to stop this sort of incident happening but to have someone like Patrick Vieira, with his status, do this makes the message very clear,” Powar told Press Association Sport. “The message it sends out is categorical. It is just the sort of thing which will create change. “We have got to challenge any situation in that regard. “Rijeka are professing puzzlement as to why the team were taken off but I don’t think Patrick would have done that without good cause.” Powar said his organisation, which is active in more than 40 European countries, would be raising the matter with FIFA and he urged City to do the same. “If it was bad enough to take the team off I would hope they would make a complaint,” he added. It is not the first time City’s players have been involved in such incidents. CSKA Moscow were ordered by UEFA to close part of their stadium after midfielder Yaya Toure was racially abused during a Champions League match in October. Porto were fined £16,700 in April 2012 after their supporters directed racist chants at Toure and striker Mario Balotelli, who has since left the club, during a Europa League tie. Youth team striker Devante Cole, son of former Manchester United and Newcastle forward Andy, was racially abused by players and supporters during a UEFA Youth League match against Atletico Madrid in February. Vieira’s decision to lead his side off the pitch is not the first time players have taken direct action in the face of abuse. Midfielders Kevin Constant and Kevin Prince Boateng both walked off with their team-mates in separate incidents while playing for AC Milan and Watford Under-19s took similar action during a match in Italy in December. There has been no response so far from either FIFA or the Croatian Football Association and City are still considering the next course of action. Press Association
Press Association Steven Gerrard has backed Liverpool to bounce back from last season’s end-of-season heartbreak and mount a serious title challenge once again. And the 34-year-old insists that Brendan Rodgers’ side believe that they can go one better than their 2013-14 second-place finish and win their first league title in 24 years. Speaking about the last season’s campaign and the upcoming season, Gerrard told the Daily Mirror: “With 10, 12 games to go, people were maybe expecting us to drop away a lot sooner than we did. But we handled the pressure superbly well and we played some unbelievable football. “We are a good team, with a good manager, that is getting stronger. The confidence is rising in the dressing room and we have got to show that we are the real deal. “We are not there to just make the numbers up. There is genuine belief that we can be in there. “Good sides don’t just have one good season. They keep trying to fight for what they want. Chelsea do it. Manchester City do it. Manchester United have had a one-off bad season and they will be back. Arsenal have made a couple of really good signings. “The league is going to be very, very tough but we know we are one of the sides that has got a genuine chance of winning it. I believe that.” Luis Suarez played a major role in Liverpool’s second-place finish last season but the Reds will, of course, be unable to count on his goals and man-of-the-match performances after he joined Barcelona earlier this month. While conceding that Suarez’s departure is a massive loss, Gerrard insists that there are plenty of reasons to be optimistic in the red half of Merseyside. The Reds led the Barclays Premier League by five points with three games to go in April, but a 2-0 defeat to Chelsea at Anfield – in which Gerrard slipped to gift Demba Ba the opening goal – saw them pipped to the title by Manchester City. Gerrard, who retired from international football after the World Cup to prolong his Anfield career, is ready to put last season’s disappointment behind him and lead Liverpool in their first Champions League campaign since the 2009-10 season. He added: “Of course it (winning the title) will be difficult, it would be difficult with Luis and it will be without. All the other teams will grow and improve in the summer. “But the reason I have that belief and confidence is because of the experience of all the other games last year, and also the manager has been here for a bit longer, and because of the signings he is making. I’m pretty confident we can get right involved in it again.” Gerrard’s now infamous slip against Chelsea became the defining moment of Liverpool’s season and was followed quickly by England’s failure at the World Cup. And Gerrard admitted the past few months have been hard to stomach. He added in several national newspapers: “It’s probably been the worst three months of my life. “I’ve seen it a few times. I don’t have to watch something like that to go through the pain again and again and again. “I’ve been through the pain in the dressing room after and in the weeks and months since. I just stumbled across it. It didn’t hide away. I have TVs in my house and I read papers. There is social media. “When something like that happens you have to face up and be man enough to take it on the chin. Accept it happened. You can’t change it. “I haven’t lost my man at a set-piece. I haven’t missed a penalty. I haven’t made a bad pass or a mistake. That’s why it was cruel. Every single person on the planet slips at some point in their life, whether it is on a set of stairs, on the floor or whatever. “For me, it happened on the pitch at a really bad moment. But over the course of 38 games a lot happens for you and against you and that determines whether you win the league or not. That moment happened at a crucial time and I have to face that. And I will do.” England’s group-stage exit in Brazil was quickly followed by Gerrard’s international retirement and he revealed that Liverpool commitments played a major part in his decision. “To be fair to Brendan (Rodgers), when I had the chat with him, he said that if you want to carry on for England, I can tailor your Liverpool games,” he said. “When he said that, it made me go 100 per cent with my decision because I don’t want my Liverpool games to be tailored. I still want to be available, I want to be fresh and play at a high level for Liverpool for certainly one more season.”
But, with a home game against Liverpool to come on Sunday, Redknapp does not believe he job is under immediate threat if recent results do not improve. When asked if he was feeling any pressure, Redknapp said: “None whatsoever. ”Until you’ve been under pressure you don’t know what pressure is and I’m not under pressure, none whatsoever. I’m looking forward to the game on Sunday. ”We have played seven games, we are seven games into a Premier League season. We have played three home games, we got beaten by Hull 1-0 and missed a penalty, we beat Sunderland and drew with Stoke in a tough game – it is not easy. ”I still have every confidence in the players here that we will start getting the results, and hopefully that will start on Sunday.” Redknapp’s current deal at the club expires at the end of the current campaign and for weeks he had been expected to sign an extension. But the former West Ham and Tottenham boss is not concerned about negotiating a new contract and is still enjoying a close working relationship with Fernandes. “I don’t need assurances from anybody,” he said. The 67-year-old guided the Hoops back into the Barclays Premier League through the play-offs last year, but the side have struggled on their return to the top flight, sitting bottom of the table with just four points from their opening seven games. Former Stoke and Crystal Palace manager Tony Pulis has joined ex-Tottenham boss Tim Sherwood as a reported candidate to fill the vacancy, should QPR owner Tony Fernandes decide a change is required. QPR boss Harry Redknapp does not want any assurances over his position and insists he is not under pressure at Loftus Road. “It is up to Tony what he does. If he is not happy come and talk to me – I’m a big boy. I’m going for dinner with him tonight. I’m not going to be there buying him dinner to keep my job – I will let him buy dinner. “The impasse over my contract is that I wasn’t bothered about signing a new contract, not in the slightest. “What is a contract? A contract is you work for a club. If they don’t want you, you talk to the chairman, sort out what you’re doing and you move on. “If we stay up and at the end of the year Tony wants to talk about another year with me I’d be delighted, that is what I want to do in my life.” Fernandes has backed Redknapp since he was chosen as the man to replace Mark Hughes in November 2012. But the Malaysian businessman will be all-too aware that Redknapp was unable to prevent QPR falling into the Championship having failed to win any of the first 12 league games under Hughes and will not want to see a similar pattern emerge this year. Although Redknapp has previously said he would have very little desire to remain in place if QPR were to be relegated, he insists his passion for the game still keeps him putting in the effort to turn things around. “I was up at four o’clock this morning,” he said. “I left my house at twenty-to-five, I must be doing it for some reason, not because I need to feed the dogs, it is because I love it. “When I don’t love doing it I won’t get up in the morning. When the alarm goes off I will turn over, and on the day I don’t feel like coming in that will be it for me. “It is not easy but I’m confident we will be okay. Certainly no-one is walking around, moping around feeling sorry for themselves. If we had seven points we would be delighted. We are a couple of points short of what we should have had.” Press Association
It was reported on Monday morning that the England midfielder had suffered a setback in his recovery and could be out until at least March. But it is understood the original prognosis still stands, with Wilshere set to return after a 12-week absence following the injury suffered against Manchester United on November 22. Press Association Jack Wilshere remains on course to return from his latest ankle injury on schedule in around the middle of February, Press Association Sport understands. Wilshere underwent surgery on November 27 and an Arsenal statement at the time read: “Jack Wilshere has had successful surgery on his left ankle and will be out for approximately three months. “An assessment with a specialist confirmed the need for an operation and the 22-year-old had successful surgery to his ankle in London on Thursday afternoon.” The north London derby against Tottenham on February 7 is likely to be just too soon for Wilshere to make his return. A home game against Leicester follows on February 10, with a potential FA Cup fifth-round tie the following weekend and then the first leg of the Gunners’ Champions League last-16 tie. Arsenal have already qualified from Group D of the European competition and Tuesday’s clash with Galatasaray will confirm whether they finish first or second. To win the group, they must win and hope Borussia Dortmund lose at home to Anderlecht. Wilshere should also be available in plenty of time for his next international commitments, with England taking on Lithuania in their next Euro 2016 qualifier on March 27.
Press Association City certainly missed the commanding presence of Yaya Toure, on African Nations Cup duty with Ivory Coast, and have not won a match in which he has been absent for almost exactly 12 months. While the neat passing was still there the defending champions came up against a block – both mental and physical – once they reached the opposition penalty area and could have done with the Ivorian driving through from midfield to give Everton another dimension to worry about. But the home side dug in, despite the odd scare, to end a run of four successive league defeats. City are unbeaten in 14, which includes nine wins and three draws, but with Chelsea winning against Newcastle the find themselves two points behind the outright leaders. In truth neither side were in top form but that suited Everton more than the visitors. The tone was set for the first half in the third minute when John Stones delayed his pass back to Joel Robles, forcing the goalkeeper to kick hurriedly straight to Fernandinho – but the Brazilian was equally negligent as he passed to Jesus Navas in an offside position. While Everton struggled with their decision-making, often hanging on to the ball too long despite all the talk of them wanting their play to be more direct, City were at least more incisive with their passing – although their best openings came from errors from the hosts. The Toffees have the worst record in the league for individual mistakes which have goals – 11 – and that showed no signs of lessening. Manchester City lost ground in the Barclays Premier League title race after dropping two points against a dogged Everton at Goodison Park. Phil Jagielka allowed Muhamed Besic’s pass to bounce off him straight to David Silva, whose probing and movement was an isolated example of quality, but Navas fired wide. Stevan Jovetic failed to hit the target from three separate chances but it was only Besic’s perfectly-judged last-ditch tackle which denied Silva a shooting opportunity after City counter-attacked from an Everton corner. The closest either side came to scoring was just before the break when Joe Hart came out quickly to block Romelu Lukaku’s shot and Seamus Coleman hammered the rebound against the crossbar from distance. Lukaku’s physical presence and pace, which showed signs of returning in midweek against West Ham, gave City’s centre-backs – particularly £32million summer signing Eliaquim Mangala – something to think about, however, and when Baines released him down the left his cross-shot was parried behind by Hart. Aguero replaced Jovetic in the 67th minute but his first effort was a tentative one, volleying wide from outside the area – by which time Everton had already had a goal by Jagielka ruled out for offside against Steven Naismith. Everton’s propensity to hang onto the ball too long may have been born out of a lack of confidence from recent results but Lukaku, buoyed by his goal in midweek, should have had less reason than most to dither. But dither he did on the edge of City’s penalty area and when he was dispossessed by Pablo Zabaleta a quick transfer downfield saw Fernandinho nod home Silva’s deflected shot from close range. Everyone assumed that would be that but City have shown vulnerability when ahead before – and Everton’s dogged persistance was rewarded four minutes later when Naismith got to Baines’ free-kick before Hart to glance a header into the empty net. Manuel Pellegrini’s side were far from at their best and even the return from injury of leading scorer Sergio Aguero as a second-half substitute could not get them over the line. Fernandinho put them in front in the 74th minute but Steven Naismith’s glancing header earned a deserved 1-1 draw for the hosts.
Steve McClaren has laughed off speculation linking him with the vacant managerial post at former club QPR. Press Association The former England boss is reported to be of interest to QPR, along with Real Madrid assistant coach Paul Clement and former Tottenham manager Tim Sherwood, who is currently the favourite to fill the position. When asked about the speculation at his pre-match press conference on Thursday afternoon, McClaren said: “Shall we move on? Good try! “I answered that [speculation] a few weeks ago, and it is the same answer now. Nothing changes. We laugh it off and move on quick. “So let’s focus and concentrate on the job in hand which is trying to get Derby County into the Premier League.” Derby, who agonisingly lost to QPR in the Championship play-off final last season, are currently second in the table but level on points with league leaders Bournemouth. The Premier League strugglers are in the market for a new manager after Harry Redknapp resigned this week. McClaren, also linked with the Newcastle job recently, spent just under three months coaching under Redknapp at Loftus Road prior to becoming head coach at Derby in September 2013.
Liverpool assistant manager Colin Pascoe believes Mario Balotelli fully deserved his first Premier League goal which crucially gave them victory over top-four rivals Tottenham. Lazar Markovic had given Liverpool an early lead, which was cancelled out by Harry Kane’s 23rd of the season. Daniel Sturridge, on his first start for five months, won the penalty for Steven Gerrard to equal Robbie Fowler’s club total of 183 but that was cancelled out by Mousa Dembele’s close-range effort, only for Balotelli to have the final say. “I think that it was a great game,” said Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino. “I am disappointed and at the same time proud of the effort of our players because it was great but in football you have to be lucky to get the points and today I think we were unlucky. “I think maybe we gave the opportunity to Liverpool in the first half more than the second. “We gave many balls away – easy balls to play – and Liverpool got the ball and played on the counter-attack. “That was a little bit disappointing but I think the performance was good and we played to win the game. “I think it is a shame. We deserved a little bit more.” “Mario always works hard in training and recently he has been ill and he has had some knocks on his foot where he couldn’t get his boot on,” said the Welshman, standing in for Brendan Rodgers who had left to board a flight to Europe to watch a match tomorrow. “It is testament to himself, he kept going and got his reward.” Considering he had waited all season for the goal, Balotelli did not look particularly pleased with his effort. There was no celebration and straight after the final whistle he headed off down the tunnel without shaking hands with team-mates or opponents, or acknowledging the fans who still back him despite his disappointing campaign. “He is immensely happy. To get a winner at Anfield, I am sure he is happy. Again, with Mario he knew he would have a part to play and he certainly did,” added Pascoe. The victory was vital to Liverpool’s Champions League ambitions as it moved them within three points of third-placed Southampton, who have a match in hand, and Arsenal in fourth. “We needed to win tonight to get closer to the top,” said Pascoe. “We always thought that. Our next (league) game is Southampton and we will look at that to get three points and keep closing the gap.” The sides were locked at 2-2 with seven minutes remaining when the Italy international converted Adam Lallana’s cross. Balotelli had been left out of the previous three squads after a woeful substitute performance at Chelsea in the Capital One Cup semi-final but Pascoe said the goal was just what he needed. Press Association