Charles Byrnes has revealed it is “50-50 at best” stable star Solwhit will line up in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle at next month’s Cheltenham Festival. Despite being sidelined for almost two years by injury, the six-time Grade One winner has returned seemingly as good as ever this winter. He ran a fine comeback race behind Bog Warrior at Punchestown in December and took another step forward to beat the talented So Young in last month’s Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas. Solwhit is a 14-1 shot with the sponsors for the staying hurdle crown at Prestbury Park, but is far from certain to take his chance after losing weight following his latest appearance. Press Association “We haven’t really made any plans for him. We gave him a few weeks off after his last run as he came back very light,” said Byrnes. “He had two hard races quite close together so we had to back off him and give him a chance to put some weight back on. There weren’t any real problems, but I think his last run took quite a bit out of him. “He won’t be running in either the Red Mills Hurdle at Gowran or the Boyne Hurdle in Navan next week anyway. “I don’t know whether he’ll go to Cheltenham at this stage. I’d say it’s 50-50 at best he’ll run there. “We will leave him in the World Hurdle, but it might be more likely we’ll wait for the Aintree Hurdle. We’ll just have to see.”
“He has never carried any weight, has never suffered a serious injury and never misses a training session. He is still at the head of the pack during pre-season. He just has this insatiable appetite to continue playing. “He will play next year and who knows he could possibly play for another year after that. I am sure he will get to 41 and still be playing because he is such a fit lad.” As one of United’s few non-internationals, Giggs would appear to be a prime candidate to figure in Saturday’s Barclays Premier League trip to Sunderland. Already 15 points clear, Ferguson’s men can extend their massive advantage even further given Manchester City are not in action until later in the day. Yet Ferguson has an additional target to aim for, eclipsing the mark set by Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea in 2005, which in turn would end any lingering hope City have of hauling back that huge deficit. “The record is 95 points by Chelsea,” said Ferguson. “If we get to 95 points I would be absolutely delighted. That would be a fantastic season. And if we do get to that position, we have probably won the league.” It has been the best possible recovery by United after having the title snatched from their grasp by City striker Sergio Aguero with virtually the very last kick of last season. And one that Ferguson did not expect. “I expected it to be really tight,” he said. “The first point was that after last season, we wanted to make sure we didn’t lose it on goal difference, and that has improved markedly. But I never thought we would be 15 points clear at this stage of the season.” Press Association The Manchester United man’s one-year contract extension will take him past his 40th birthday, which will enable him to join Gordon Strachan and former Red Devils team-mate Teddy Sheringham in a very exclusive veteran’s club for outfield players. Yet Ferguson does not believe that will be the end of Giggs’ assault on the personal record books. “Ryan is an exceptional human being,” Ferguson told Sirius XM. Sir Alex Ferguson is tipping Ryan Giggs to become the oldest outfield player in Premier League history.
Press Association However, he has to do so without Gigginstown’s retained jockey Davy Russell, who has been prevented from riding at the meeting by the British Horseracing Authority, despite being cleared to ride by the equivalent Irish body following the punctured lung he suffered at Cheltenham. Bryan Cooper, who has ridden First Lieutenant on his last four starts, keeps the mount. “He’s back up in trip. He gets three miles no problem at all,” said Morris. “If anything he just lacked a bit of toe (at Cheltenham) but I’m not worried at all about going up in trip. “It’s unreal Davy can’t ride him and I’m sure if it was any other meeting it wouldn’t be a problem, but you can understand why they are being cautious. “He ran a good race in the Ryanair and I’m sure he’ll go well again.” After lengthy discussions with his owners Gigginstown House Stud before the Cheltenham Festival, it was decided the eight-year-old would run in the two-mile-five furlong Ryanair Chase, rather than the Gold Cup over three-and-a-quarter miles. That left Sir Des Champs to run in the Gold Cup for the same owners and while both ran very creditably to finish second, Morris is happy his stable star gets to try his luck over a longer distance this week. Mouse Morris expects the step back up in trip to suit First Lieutenant in the Betfred Bowl at Aintree on Thursday.
Otman Bakkal, the PSV Eindhoven player bitten by Luis Suarez two years ago, was astonished to see the Liverpool striker repeat the offence. He added: “It happened once already. At first I thought maybe it was an accident but, apparently, he loses it sometimes. I don’t know what to say. “I thought he meant it when he said sorry. I think he wants to win so badly that he loses his mind sometimes but afterwards he comes to his senses. “I am a footballer as well and this affects all of us, but for me it’s more important to leave all this behind me. “It doesn’t belong on the pitch. It was the end of him in Holland. Now we just have to wait and see what the FA does – and then what his future will be in England.” Press Association The Uruguay international was fined by his club and charged by the Football Association for biting Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic in Sunday’s 2-2 draw at Anfield. Back in November 2010, Suarez was handed a seven-match ban by the Dutch FA and fined by his then club Ajax for biting midfielder Bakkal during an Eredivisie match. And Bakkal was amazed by the latest event, telling The Sun: “I saw it and it was unbelievable. It’s something you can never imagine happening on a pitch.”
The 33-year-old Aston Villa captain has declared himself ready to embrace new challenges in a bid to make a difference to the lives of people who, like himself, are diagnosed with leukaemia. Lennon has remained close friends with Petrov since the Bulgarian departed for Villa in 2006 and saluted his strength in his battle against acute leukaemia. Petrov is now in remission after being diagnosed with the illness in March last year and the ex-Celtic captain told his club’s official website: “Obviously it’s very sad that Stiliyan has announced his retirement from football.” Celtic manager Neil Lennon has paid tribute to the “absolute courage and positivity” of Stiliyan Petrov after his former Parkhead team-mate announced his retirement from football. He added: “He was a fine footballer and enjoyed a magnificent career at Celtic and Aston Villa, as well as representing and captaining Bulgaria on many occasions. First and foremost, of course, is his health, and the news earlier this year that Stiliyan is in remission was a great boost for everyone. “I’m sure that Stiliyan’s characteristic determination, along with the fact he’s surrounded by a loving family, will ensure he’s a success in this next stage of his life. “The words he has spoken today demonstrate his absolute courage and positivity and show exactly the kind of man he is. It was a pleasure to play alongside such a great footballer, but, for me, I’m even luckier to call him my friend.” Petrov was barely out of his teenage years when John Barnes signed him for Celtic in 1999 but he matured quickly to form an integral part of Martin O’Neill’s successful team, winning four titles and four domestic cup winners’ medals as well as appearing in the 2003 UEFA Cup final. Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell said: “The thoughts and best wishes of the whole Celtic Family are with Stiliyan, as they have been ever since we first heard the terrible news about his illness. I think the way he has coped with this and battled it, is in keeping with the type of character he is. “Stiliyan was a great Celtic player in a great Celtic team who achieved wonderful success for the club, both in Scotland and in Europe, and from the time he arrived in Glasgow back in 1999 as a 20-year-old until he left seven years later, and beyond that, he has remained an extremely popular figure with the Celtic support. “We all wish Stiliyan, Paulina and their family well as he retires from football and begins the next stage of his life.” Press Association
He added: “It’s hard to comment with the season still ongoing and with the manager not here or chosen yet. It would be easy to speculate. “I have seen speculation before and a completely different manager walks through the door so you never know on that front. But he is certainly one of the greatest if not the greatest manager in world football.” Whether Lampard is here to welcome Mourinho back as a player or interested observer is not yet clear. The 34-year-old’s contract expires this summer and no new deal has yet been agreed, although reports suggest Mourinho’s return would see him offered an extension. “I’ve always said that I wanted to spend all of my career here so I think everyone knows that,” Lampard said. “I honestly don’t know (whether Mourinho’s return would help my cause). “We have got two weeks that will decide whether our season has been a successful one or not. That is the main focus. “Of course Jose Mourinho would be a great manager for any club to have but I don’t think it is right to talk about him while he is still Real Madrid manager.” The Portuguese enjoyed a highly successful three years at the Stamford Bridge helm before making a shock exit in September 2007. Now, less than six years on, it seems as if Mourinho will be returning to west London, with a summer move from Real Madrid heavily mooted. Lampard was an integral member of the side that enjoyed so much success under Mourinho and would welcome the ‘Special One’s’ return, and he said: “I think it would be a great thing for the club. He is a successful manager and he would be a great thing for any club.” Press Association Frank Lampard believes Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea return would be a “great thing for the club”.
It had looked like another shock could be on the cards, only for an own goal from captain Barry Molloy to put Derry on the back foot before half-time. Giray Kacar put Trabzonspor further ahead early in the second half but City continued to threaten, with Ryan McBride firing just wide in injury time as the match finished 4-2 to the hosts. There was also defeat for Hibernian, who face an uphill battle in next week’s second leg tie with Malmo. The Swedish league leaders secured a comfortable 2-0 win this evening thanks to first-half goals from skipper Jiloan Hamad and Magnus Eriksson. Prestatyn Town’s task next week looks nigh on impossible after suffering a 5-0 hammering in Croatia. Rijeka came into the match as overwhelming favourites and did not disappoint, with former international Leon Benko netting a hat-trick before Vedran Jugovic and Damir Zlomislic added gloss to the scoreline. Blues manager David Jeffrey had admitted concerns over the heat’s impact on his players in the build-up to the second qualifying round first leg. However, the Northern Irish side faced similar energy-sapping conditions against AEL Limassol in last season’s Champions League and had clearly learned from that experience. Burns grabbed the winner in just the 25th minute, firing past Christian Gimenez after good work down the left. Xanthi enjoyed the lion’s share of possession after the goal, but Linfield held on to take a 1-0 lead into next week’s second leg at Windsor Park. There was another shock result in Scandinavia, where Frazer Wright secured St Johnstone a 1-0 victory against 22-time Norwegian champions Rosenborg. The centre-half made the most of a brief period of Saints pressure in the opening stages to net from close range and secure his side a precious away goal. It was quite a start to manager Tommy Wright’s reign, but there were worrying moments following the 19th-minute strike and they were forced to defend stoutly to protect their lead. Derry were another side to impress in Europe as they gave Trabzonspor a scare. Adrian Mierzejewski and Paulo Henrique efforts gave the Turkish side a two-goal lead within 16 minutes, only for City to come storming back. David McDaid pulled one back at the Huseyin Avni Aker Stadium, before Patrick Kavanagh drew parity in the 32nd minute. Press Association Aaron Burns’ strike secured Linfield a famous Europa League win against Xanthi on Thursday evening in Greece.
West Brom boss Steve Clarke has plenty of confidence in his charges and expects his side to challenge in the top half of the Premier League again this season despite their slow start. The Baggies finished eighth last term but have made a number of summer signings to strengthen the squad’s depth. “There’s more to come,” Clarke said. “Three or four players came late in the window. We need a little bit of time to gel. There were good signs there that we’re going to be a strong force in the Premier League again this season.” Victor Anichebe made his West Brom debut following his move from Everton and combined well with Nicolas Anelka, but neither was clinical when it mattered. Clarke added: “They showed good signs, they linked up well at times. Victor showed what he can do for us. He’s a different type of striker to Nicolas, big strong, can hold the ball up. “They both got into really good positions where on another day where confidence is higher they would both have scored. “Good signs for the future.” On-loan Marseille midfielder Morgan Amalfitano also started, but a third deadline day arrival was absent in Stephane Sessegnon. Clarke hopes the work permit issue which kept the Benin forward out of the Craven Cottage fixture will be resolved imminently and that Sessegnon will be permitted to play against his former club Sunderland next weekend. Shane Long is again likely to be absent with a knee problem. Clarke said Long was “doubtful for next week’s game”. The Scot added: “Beyond that, I don’t think the diagnosis is any worse than that. It’s not something we’re looking at as a long-term injury.” Fulham manager Martin Jol was the target for a vocal minority of fans frustrated at a sixth home game without a win. The last home win at Craven Cottage was on April 1 versus QPR. Fulham were without on loan Aston Villa striker Darren Bent, but Jol was satisfied with the display, apart from the inability to add to Steve Sidwell’s opener and the late lapse which allowed McAuley to score. “I don’t think we missed anybody,” Jol said. “I think we played better than before, the balance was good. I thought (Pajtim) Kasami did very well, the balance looked good. “I left one or two players out and gave Kasami a chance again because he did very well when he played. “We did okay, but the only thing is we looked a bit tired at the end. For a lot of players it was their third game in seven days, but that is not an excuse not to score a second goal.” “Some of the lads asked if I could do three in three. I’ve done that so now I might have to try to score four in four. “It hung up quite nicely and I just had to get my head on it. “I knew if I got it on target it had a chance of going in (and) it was great to score in injury time. “It gives you an extra buzz when you get a point in an away game in the last minute. “We needed it. It was important we got off the mark. It’s a monkey off our back.” The Baggies climbed above Sunderland and the Black Cats are their next opponents. “It gives us a platform to build from going into next week’s home game with Sunderland,” McAuley added. “We need to take the positives from this game and grow in confidence.” Gareth McAuley hopes to continue his scoring streak after meeting the expectations of his West Brom team-mates to earn a point at Fulham. Northern Ireland defender McAuley, who scored against Portugal and Luxembourg during the international break, headed in Chris Brunt’s stoppage-time corner for the Baggies’ first goal of the Barclays Premier League season in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Craven Cottage. “It’s not been too bad a week for me,” McAuley said on wba.co.uk. Press Association
Press Association Mourinho still had a busy first transfer window after returning to Stamford Bridge, with Andre Schurrle, Marco van Ginkel and Willian all commanding big fees. But the Portuguese stopped short of pushing for the likes of Falcao and Cavani, who ended up at Ligue 1 sides Monaco and Paris Saint-Germain respectively, because the outlays would have jeopardised Chelsea’s standing when it comes to UEFA’s new rules on spending. Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho was interested in signing the likes of Radamel Falcao and Edinson Cavani in the summer – but claims he did not go through with deals to keep the Blues in line with the new Financial Fair Play rules. Mourinho’s Chelsea are currently top of the Barclays Premier League and are still in the FA Cup and Champions League and, when asked if Financial Fair Play was the reason moves for Cavani and Falcao never got off the ground, he replied: “Correct. Because of transfer fees and salaries. “Players are not just about transfer fees, but big wages. Of course there’s a certain profile of player we don’t go near.” Mourinho claimed to relish the challenge of the financial restraints, adding: “It’s even better and even more enjoyable work, I think.” Chelsea have been synonymous with spending big on players since Roman Abramovich took over at the club more than a decade ago. But now Mourinho is overseeing a change in philosophy, with over £20million profit taken throughout January as the signings of Nemanja Matic and Mohamed Salah were offset with the sales of Kevin De Bruyne and Juan Mata. Former Inter Milan and Real Madrid coach Mourinho praised the work done by his predecessors as he believes Chelsea will be in a strong position when financial restraints come into place that could see some of Europe’s biggest sides fall foul and miss out on entering the Champions League. “Chelsea made great investment in the past, and in some moments were also a bit criticised because we did so much,” he added. “But things change. Chelsea adapted well to the situation. When you see De Bruyne, who played three or four matches for Chelsea, gave us a big profit, there are other players who maybe don’t play a single match for Chelsea and we will sell them at a profit. “We had to organise ourselves in a different way. Before me, Chelsea did fantastic work in this level: (Romelu) Lukaku, De Bruyne, (Thibaut) Courtois, young (Thorgan) Hazard, Piazon. Not all of them will have a career at Chelsea, but all of them are important in this new financial organisation. “So Chelsea worked very, very well and probably started doing that before other clubs. Because of that, even if Financial Fair Play comes into practice, I think Chelsea are advanced projecting that new situation and did very, very well. It was before me.”
Dimitri Seluk claims City have not made Toure feel valued and appreciated, especially on his 31st birthday which clashed with a party in Abu Dhabi to celebrate City’s title triumph. Seluk told The Sun: “There’s a big possibility Yaya will leave this summer. Yaya Toure’s agent claims the Ivory Coast midfielder may leave Barclays Premier League champions Manchester City this summer. “What happened at his birthday meant the club don’t care about him. It was proof. “In a normal team, his team-mates and club would at least give him good wishes. “He’s very upset and he started thinking of leaving the club. And he will leave if things carry on like this. “It’s not a question of money or contract, believe me. He has everything he needs. For Yaya what is the most important thing is human relationships. “When your best worker has his birthday from time to time it’s not bad to shake his hand. To make him feel valued and appreciated. They don’t give any attention to Yaya.” Toure signed a new four-year deal with City last season. Press Association