Wayne Rooney has leapt to the defence of under-fire Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea. The former Atletico Madrid man has come in for heavy criticism in the past couple of weeks. De Gea was blamed by Gary Neville, among others, for a stoppage-time Tottenham equaliser a fortnight ago, prompting manager Sir Alex Ferguson to hit out at the opinions of “idiots”. But De Gea produced a series of excellent saves at Fulham on Saturday as United eked out a crucial 1-0 win, and Rooney said: “David has made some great saves over the last few weeks. I know he got a little bit of criticism after the Tottenham game but it wasn’t the biggest mistake I’ve ever seen. We’re all behind him. He’s a great player for the future as well.” There are still issues to be addressed about De Gea’s future. Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho is believed to be a fan and there have been suggestions the Primera Division champions will attempt to take Spain’s Olympic keeper home in the summer, even if there is a change of manager at the Bernabeu. And the certainty Jack Butland will join Stoke in the summer gives credence to speculation that Asmir Begovic will make the short journey north from the Britannia Stadium to Old Trafford at the same time. Even Ferguson’s post-match admission on Saturday that goalkeeping coach Eric Steele has been urging De Gea to enjoy his time at Old Trafford is an indicator all is not well with a player who cost £18million just 18 months ago. But, for now at least, United are circling the wagons around someone, for good or bad, they will have to rely on for the remainder of the campaign. “People underestimate the reflexes he’s got,” defender Jonny Evans said. “We are used to seeing him do that. His shot-stopping ability is very good and his save from (John Arne) Riise was excellent.” Press Association
The top trainer and jockey respectively at the Cheltenham Festival, the latest Mullins and Walsh representative was a 1-6 favourite after he bolted up on his second start in Ireland at Gowran Park a month ago. Walsh kept things simple in the Limerick Races Congratulate World Hurdle Winner Solwhit Hurdle, bouncing out in front from flag-fall, and had most of his rivals cooked a long way from home. Press Association Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh continued their fantastic week as Djakadam justified cramped odds with an all-the-way victory at Limerick. Courage, a long way behind Djakadam at Gowran Park, made more of a race of it on this occasion, but was still seven lengths behind at the line. Walsh said: “He beat Courage plenty far the last day, so he was entitled to do it again. He can’t do any more than win, I suppose. I’d imagine he’ll step up in class now. He was bought to be a chaser and that’s what he will do.” Unoccupied ran out a wide-margin winner of the Newton Abbot Racecourse Handicap Hurdle for Edward O’Grady and Mark Enright. A 6-1 shot following a disappointing performance at Naas three weeks ago, the seven-year-old pulled right away in the home straight, safely negotiating the final couple of obstacles to seal a 12-length verdict. The Charles Byrnes-trained Whiskey Hall was a heavily-backed 2-1 favourite on his first start since finishing second in this race a year ago, but once again had to make do with the runner-up spot.
They head into the game brimming with confidence after Friday’s 0-0 draw in Sweden, which kept alive their hopes of claiming second spot in Group C. However, that point will only prove worthwhile if they add three more to it this evening, and while that may require a different approach, Trapattoni will not throw caution to the wind. He said: “I saw 20 games before I came to Ireland – I don’t remember this ‘show’. To remember the show, I must go back to Roy Keane and that great team. I played against this strong Ireland team. But for 24 years, we had been missing tournaments. I saw many games on DVD and I can’t remember seeing this.” Giovanni Trapattoni has insisted victory is all that matters for Ireland in tonight’s World Cup qualifier against Austria. Press Association The Italian continued: “Our team has produced this and we can win. Against France and against the teams in the first qualifying campaign, against Georgia, Montenegro and also Bulgaria, we played great football. Don’t forget, we have played well in the past.” Trapattoni has never made any apologies for his concentration on substance rather than style, although he went into the game in Stockholm knowing defeat could have signalled the end of his tenure. His pragmatism will come to the fore once again when he employs striker Connor Sammon alongside Shane Long in the absence of injured skipper Robbie Keane, because he believes the Derby frontman will be better suited to the task of both extending the Austrian defence and closing them down in possession than the more creative Wes Hoolahan. Provided that left-back Marc Wilson shakes off a groin injury, the Italian’s starting XI will see only one further change with Glenn Whelan returning in place of Paul Green. That will mean only two of the men who started the final Euro 2012 game against Italy in Poznan will remain, largely as a result of retirements and injuries. Whelan is one, and the other is Sunderland defender John O’Shea, whose experience among so many youngsters could prove vital. Trapattoni said: “He has personality whether he plays right-back or centre-half. He plays always in first team of a Premier League club and has played many games. “He can also play right-back, but at this moment he will stay at centre-half, where his experience as defender now is important as we are missing Richard Dunne.”
Press Association Chelsea tackle Premier League leaders Manchester United in their FA Cup quarter-final replay on Monday as part of a hectic fixture schedule in which they also will hope to progress in the Europa League. Wenger feels having so many key games in quick succession could work either way – but will not get overly concerned with how anyone else is set to perform. “It can be very positive if you are on a good run, and very negative if you are in bad form,” he said. “But let’s just take care of the way we play, take care of our spirit and give it our all.” Ivory Coast forward Gervinho certainly did that against the Royals, firing the home side into an early lead in what was one of his best recent displays. The 25-year-old has polarised opinion among Gunners fans since his £11million move from Lille in July 2011, with a string of inconsistent displays. Wenger feels all of his current squad have what it takes to help the club move forwards, although he will look to strengthen the group in the summer. “Gervinho did not play for his future [against Reading], he was just playing for his club, that is what every player does,” said Wenger. “We are a group of players who want to go for it, and to go for it together. Sometimes Gervinho plays, sometimes [Theo] Walcott, sometimes [Lukas] Podolski, but we can only do it if we all have the same target and do it together.” The Gunners chalked up a sixth win in the last eight Barclays Premier League games when they saw off relegation battlers Reading 4-1 at the Emirates Stadium in what was Nigel Adkins’ first match in charge of the visitors. With Chelsea losing at Southampton, the Gunners are now just two points behind the Blues, and four off third-placed Tottenham – on whom they hold a game in hand, and Wenger said: “We have the experience, we have done it before and is what we want to do again. I am sure we will, but it demands a lot of dedication and nerves until the end.” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has challenged his side to hold their nerve as they look to chase down Chelsea and Tottenham in the race for Champions League qualification.
Press Association Liverpool have announced Steven Gerrard will have a testimonial match against Olympiacos in August. Gerrard scored one of his most famous goals against Olympiacos in 2004, helping Liverpool come from behind to win 3-1 and keep them in the Champions League. They went on to win the competition that season. Gerrard, who made his Liverpool debut almost 15 years ago, told the club’s website: “I am delighted to be honoured by Liverpool with a testimonial match and particularly thrilled that Olympiacos have accepted my invitation to play the fixture. Last time we met proved to be such a memorable game both for me personally and Liverpool Football Club. “I am also especially grateful that Olympiacos have truly embraced the aim of this match and chosen to donate their fee to charity. I am looking forward to what I know will be a fantastic game and a wonderful occasion.” The Reds will take on the Greek champions on August 3 in their only pre-season match to be played at Anfield. Proceeds from the event will go to the Steven Gerrard Foundation, while Olympiacos will donate their appearance fee to local charities in Greece.
Press Association Chelsea took a mighty stride towards a place in next season’s Champions League as Juan Mata’s deflected late winner earned a 1-0 victory over 10-man Manchester United. With Michael Carrick missing, United were forced to look to Ryan Giggs for some incisive passing and it took the veteran Welshman some time to find his range. In the meantime, both Rafael and Jones burst into the box, only for Petr Cech’s massive frame to get in the way. On the latter occasion, the ball broke to Tom Cleverley, who blazed over, just as Antonio Valencia had done in the opening stages. The end of season feel was rather at odds with Chelsea’s predicament. The Europa League finalists may be good for interim manager Rafa Benitez’s CV, but there is no certainty they will be featuring in next season’s Champions League yet. Demba Ba put a couple of chances over, as did Victor Moses in the opening period. Mata belted a free-kick into the United wall and Valencia overhit a cross as Wayne Rooney and Fernando Torres were introduced deep into the second half. The deadlock should have been broken 15 minutes from time when Frank Lampard picked out Mata with a sublime chip into the box, but, unmarked, the Spain midfielder inexplicably failed to make any contact with his header and Rafael bundled away. It was all rather humdrum until the final five minutes. Rooney felt Ramires had fouled him on the edge of the Chelsea area to win possession in the first place, but once they countered, the visitors always had an extra man. The ball was eventually ferried out to Mata, whose shot may have been creeping in, but definitely did after it flicked off Jones, bouncing in off the post. United’s frustrations boiled over almost immediately as Rafael went through the back of Luiz by the corner flag for which referee Howard Webb produced a red card. The drabbest of affairs seemed certain to end in a goalless stalemate until Mata’s shot flicked off Phil Jones and crept in at the far post. United thought they should have had a free-kick earlier in the move and their frustrations boiled over as Rafael was sent off in the final minute for chopping down David Luiz. The result means victory for Chelsea against Tottenham at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday will seal a top-four spot thanks to their superior goal difference.
Huddersfield have signed Wales international defender Jazz Richards on loan from Swansea. “With Jack Hunt’s departure and the recent injury that Calum Woods has suffered, we were looking to increase our options in that area of the pitch and Jazz is exactly the type of player we have here at the club,” Robins told the club’s official website. “He is young, but has good experience of the Championship with Swansea and last season’s loan at Crystal Palace, and now he’s hungry for more. “Swansea play good passing football and he fits the mould when it comes to playing in our side. “He has a lot of quality both technically and physically and we’re delighted to have him at the club.” Richards is a product of the Swansea academy and made his debut for the Welsh club as an 18-year-old against Middlesbrough in 2009. He has made over 35 first-team appearances for Swansea and featured on 11 occasions for Crystal Palace while on loan there at the back end of last season. The Swansea-born defender made his senior debut for Wales in a 2-0 defeat to Mexico in New Jersey in May 2012. The versatile 22-year-old, who can play at either full-back position or in midfield, has joined Huddersfield on a 93-day emergency loan and will go straight into Mark Robins’ squad for Saturday’s home derby against Doncaster. Town boss Robins has moved quickly to draft in cover for right-back Jack Hunt, who joined Crystal Palace for a reported £2million fee on transfer deadline day. Press Association
Press Association Belgium coach Marc Wilmots has been quoted as saying that Fellaini has ligament damage and requires surgery but is set to be able to play on Friday. And reports have also emerged suggesting Fellaini, who joined United from Everton on transfer deadline day, will delay having an operation until December. On Tuesday afternoon, an article on United’s official website said: “Marouane Fellaini has trained with Belgium wearing a protective cast on his injured wrist. “Although some reports suggest the midfielder faces an operation and a spell on the sidelines, the deadline-day arrival is due to play in a splint against Croatia and Wales in the World Cup qualifiers.” The World Cup qualifying play-offs are in November, although current Group A leaders Belgium look unlikely to feature in them, while United’s Champions League Group A campaign finishes on December 10. The article also confirmed that United striker Robin van Persie sat out Holland’s latest training session due to a problem with a little toe and could be a doubt for Friday’s home qualifier against Hungary. Manchester United midfielder Marouane Fellaini is expected to play in a splint for Belgium in their World Cup qualifiers against Croatia and Wales. Fellaini missed United’s 2-1 Barclays Premier League win at Sunderland due to an injured wrist, with the Old Trafford club subsequently saying on their Facebook site the problem could keep the 25-year-old out for “at least a few weeks”, while manager David Moyes said: “He’s going to see a specialist. It doesn’t sound too good.” Fellaini has linked up with the Belgium squad, though, ahead of their clashes with Croatia away on Friday and Wales at home next Tuesday, and trained with a protective cast on his wrist.
Ireland’s record-breaking champion amateur Patrick Mullins has appealed to the entire racing industry to support Limerick Charity Raceday at the Patrickswell course on Monday. “A lot of credit has to go to Limerick racecourse and to Horse Racing Ireland and to Andrew McNamara who have put a lot of time into staging it,” said Mullins. “Sometimes people don’t realise how much effort has to go into it and I hope the whole industry gets behind it. “The generosity shown so far has been astounding and hopefully it will continue tomorrow for the two boys.” Mullins has just the one ride on the seven-race card, Cut Loose, for his aunt Mags Mullins in the concluding www.thetote.com (Pro-Am) INH Flat Race. “I was meant to ride in the champions race but there were too few horses for the heavier lads and I’m afraid I got jocked off!” he said. “I thought he ran a cracker first time out. I rode him work last week and he’d improved a little. I’ll be disappointed if he wasn’t really involved in the finish.” Five races on the card form part of the jockeys’ challenge as a team from Ireland takes on a British squad. There will also be plenty of interest in the Betfair Cash Out Flat & National Hunt Champion Jockeys Handicap, too, in which McCoy and Walsh are among those taking on the likes of O’Brien and Fallon. Top National Hunt and Flat jockeys from the United Kingdom and Ireland, including Tony McCoy, Richard Johnson, Ruby Walsh, Pat Smullen and Kieren Fallon, will be in action to help raise money for the Jockeys Emergency Fund. With money being raised to support the rehabilitation efforts of JT McNamara and Jonjo Bright after their life-changing injuries, there could hardly be a worthier cause. Press Association
He is yet to score his first goal for the club and, with limited game time the summer signing has not had the immediate impact many supporters would have expected. But when asked if the fee paid for Lamela meant there was pressure to pick him, Villas-Boas replied: “Not really, no. “We have been speaking a lot with him. I think getting acquainted to the Premier League is important but he doesn’t know the language. (Roberto) Soldado had some knowledge of the language before (he came) so it was a little bit easier for him. “With Erik it was a little bit more difficult but we have given him massive, massive help and his family arrived this week. “He knows he isn’t producing half of what he can produce but he understands the situation now is that he has to compete for his place.” Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas believes the language barrier is preventing club-record signing Erik Lamela from hitting the ground running at White Hart Lane. The 21-year-old Argentina international, signed from Roma in the summer for a fee believed to be close to £30million, has featured only sparingly for Spurs and has yet to be handed a start in the Barclays Premier League. Lamela was an unused substitute in Sunday’s 1-0 win over Hull and the former River Plate forward has had to make do with looking to have an impact in Europa League ties. Press Association