Alex Tait of Newcastle Falcons is tackled by two Bedford players during the Championship play-off final first leg.
Photograph: Jamie McDonald/Getty Images Twickenham’s fears of another summer mired in legal challenges to its rules receded tonight when Newcastle comfortably collected a nine-point cushion from the first leg of the promotion play-off.
Bedford have to travel to Kingston Park next Wednesday, a ground where Dean Richards’s side have been beaten only once this season.
Newcastle’s overall control of the game and Jimmy Gopperth’s boot will also make them favourites to bounce back into the top flight of English rugby at the first attempt, with Richards repeating the success he had with the Premiership champions, Harlequins, seven seasons ago.
Were that to be, it would spare Twickenham the embarrassment of a re-run of last summer’s London Welsh saga, which ended with the Exiles winning in court and taking their place in the Premiership despite failing to meet criteria regarding their ground.
Last month Bedford were similarly told their ground, which holds only 5,000, was not up to scratch.
They did not appeal the decision, but their chairman, Geoff Irvine, has since suggested he too might go to law should they win this play-off.
However, last night the only law being enforced is the one of might being right with Newcastle far too physical for a side they had already beaten three times this season.
Not that Bedford were ever going to go quietly.
Armed with their local knowledge about the slopes at their Goldington Road ground, Bedford (they run north to south as well as east to west) put on early pressure and went ahead when Newcastle were caught offside in front of their own posts.
Alex Tait also had to deal with a few high balls falling out of the overcast sky, but after 15 minutes the first scrum in the Bedford 22 suggested how things might go.
Bedford’s pack went backwards, conceding Gopperth’s second penalty of the night and with it the lead.
When the New Zealander banged over his third from 40 metres and into a growing breeze things were starting to look a little ominous, especially when the home pack went into reverse again on the stroke of half time.
Again Gopperth was on the mark and Bedford faced a second half starting nine points behind and with the rain and the slopes against them.
They wriggled and fought but with each Gopperth penalty the noose got tighter and the blazers can (probably) sleep in comfort.
Bedford Ransom; Stephenson, Burke (Dodge, 67), Atkinson, Short; Dorrian (Sharp, 69), Baldwin (Veenendaal, 60); Reeves, Cochrane, Boulton (Seal, 48), Howard (Barrell ,65), Tupai (Gulliver, 53), Gillanders, Fox, Fenton-Wells.
Pens Dorrian 2, Sharp.
Newcastle A Tait; Cato, Hufanga, Powell, Shortland; Gopperth, Fury (Lawson, 50); Shiells (S Wilson, 60) Vickers, Tomaszczyk, Del Fava, MacLeod, M Wilson (Tuifua, 60,) Welch, A Hogg.
Pens Gopperth 6.
Referee: Luke Pearce (RFU).
As an owner Roman Abramovich has often been criticised for the constant chopping and changing of managers which has seen seven permanent (and three interim) managers pass through the doors since the Russian s takeover a decade ago.
In terms of silverware however, no other team can match Chelsea s record for trophies won in that period, with another European trophy and sacked manager added to the, seemingly ever growing, collection this season.
The success is obviously great in the short time, but what impact is it happening on the youth players trying to break into the first team?
Since the Abramovich takeover, not one academy player has come through to become a first team regular. Some have often flirted with the breakthrough, Josh McEachran and Fabio Borini two examples, but not one academy player has been deemed good enough for regular action.
Abramovich has ploughed millions in the training and academy complex in Cobham, and the standard of player being developed there is very high, and the club have very high hopes for the likes of Nathan Ake and Nathaniel Chalobah to become first team starters.
Recent success in the FA Youth Cup is also testament to the work being done by the academy coaches at Cobham, who have no doubt been helped by the clubs worldwide scouting network.
The track record of Chelsea s ever demanding owner means that any manager sat in the dugout knows that success is the only way to keep them in a job for the foreseeable future. This means spending out on ready-made talent, rather than trying to nurture an academy player.
There is no stability, look at a team such as Brendan Rodgers Liverpool, his job is safe, and a lot of Liverpool youngsters are coming through into the first team, this isn t happening at Chelsea and the widely expected reappointment of Jose Mourinho doesn t show any sign of changing that trend.
As a manager who has never spent more than three years at a football club, and the history of his first spell as Chelsea manager, Mourinho would rather spend, win and leave, than stay for say, five years and have an academy based team.
Speaking in a recent interview with the Guardian, former U21 captain Michael Mancienne, know a first team regular with Hamburg, was criticial of Chelsea s youth policy.
I wanted to be playing regularly and obviously I knew that would be a pretty much impossible task at Chelsea.
They ve got so much money, and as a homegrown player you almost get cast aside a little bit. You feel like you don t get an opportunity unless you go out on loan. And even then you come back, think you ve done well and you get sent back out on loan again.
Mancienne joined Chelsea aged 8, and played 118 games during his senior career (2005-2011), however, only four of these came for his own club.
Mancienne was on loan during all of this period (twice QPR and Wolves), in the same period, Mancienne s Chelsea manager changed seven times.
No manager could possibly have kept a close enough track of Mancienne s loan spells to have enough confidence to bring him back to the first team and with the overwhelming pressure on winning trophies and having money available it s not surprise that Mancienne made just four senior appearances.
After sacking Carlo Ancelotti in 2011 for his baron season, it appeared the club was heading in a different direction, hiring 33-year-old Andre Villas-Boas as manager. Chairman Bruce Buck spoke about the former-Porto boss being in charge for the next 15 years when he arrived, that 15 years however, turned into 9 months, as Abramovich pulled the plug on AVB s project .
Two years on, and the club finds itself at the same crossroads, try to build a legacy like Sir Alex Ferguson s at Manchester United, or carry on with the same win or bust policy. Managers need to be given time to build squads, just like Sir Alex was and just like Sir Alex proved, it is possible to be successful and implement young players into the first team.
If Abramovich doesn t take this path, then the millions he has spent on the academy will have all been for nothing.
What s the point of having players like Ake, Chabloah or Lucas Piazon, if you re not going to allow a manager enough time to bring them through?
There s no doubt that the new manager (which is almost certainly Mourinho) will spend more money, a striker is defiantly needed, but another area that needs strengthening is the holding midfield role.
How fitting that two previously mentioned players are best suited to that role. Both could have had 20 to 25+ appearances for the club if we had an ounce of stability at the top, but instead, we will spend again and these players will either stagnate in the reserves or go to other clubs and prove how good they are.
Everything Abramovich has ever done for this football club has been to build us into a footballing super power, but the one thing he needs to take us to the next level is right at his fingertips. The team he most wants to replicate bring through a squads worth of talent through La Masia, and Cobham could do the same for the Chelsea.
Without having seen how UEFA s new Financial Fair Play rules will actually work, it s difficult to know how restricted spending will be over the next few years, but the club have worked hard to put us in a strong financial position for any possible scenario.
If we did end up in a situation where we were unable to spend big, then having a ready-made crop of talent at our disposal may come in handy in years to come, but if we continue on this path, players will not want to sign for Chelsea at a young age.
The solution to this problem is about a shift in attitude, and with the right management, the change will coincide with the same success that Chelsea has enjoyed in Abramovich s first decade at the club.
Should we worry about the academy if the first team is so successful?
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The speed of former Stoke manager Tony Pulis’s departure may have taken some at the club by surprise but the 55-year-old admits he knew the writing was on the wall before the end of the season.
Pulis issued a statement through the League Managers’ Association, who stressed the split was amicable, saying he was disappointed but accepted chairman Peter Coates wanted to go in a different direction.
The Welshman was well aware of the disaffection growing among a section of fans but felt his record over the previous seven years was worth something.
Changing tides: Tony Pulis has been swept out because Stoke are changing their direction ‘At times the minority make the noise,’ he told BBC Midlands Today in an interview conducted before his departure.
‘You have to accept criticism.
I’ve taken it before and you have to take it again, ‘The fact we’ve had such a wonderful five seasons (in the Premier League) gets lost in the wash, especially if you have a bad run.
‘When things go wrong it is magnified 10 times more in the Premier League.
‘I’m not dismissing them (the fans) because some are genuine supporters who want the club to do well, others do it for different reasons.
‘I don’t think answering my critics is the answer, the answer is to try to do your best.’ Pulis also felt the period of stability in the Premier League had raised expectations unrealistically.
‘It gets harder because expectations become more demanding.
That is life,’ he added.
‘If you keep giving people things they keep taking it and in the end they want a little bit more.
‘We are never going to be in a position to compete with the top five or six clubs unless you have the budget they use.
‘I think we’ve done well at the club with what we’ve got.’ Pure delight: Pulis says Stoke’s successes have been lost in the wash In his official LMA statement Pulis confirmed what had been suspected by many – that Coates wanted to take the club in a different direction.
‘Peter, his family and I have enjoyed every inch of the journey; he has been truly a fantastic man to work with,’ he said.
‘Although I am disappointed I do understand what he means when he says the board feels a need to take the club in a different direction.’ Coates expressed his gratitude for the work Pulis had done.
Doing well: Stoke have enjoyed stability in the Premier League since coming up ‘The last seven years have been some of the best in our long history and I would like to thank Tony for his huge contribution in this,” he said in a statement.
‘I personally regard him as a great friend and will hugely miss working with him.
‘We will now begin the difficult task of searching for a successor to Tony.
‘This will be done in private and the club will make no further statement in respect of this search until an appointment is made.’
Brady and Gronkowski: Deadly double act in the NFL Sky Bet American Football Betting Retrieving latest Sky Bet odds American Football Betting 10 Free Bet There is differing news coming out of the New England Patriots during their off-season, with Tom Brady declaring himself better than ever, but tight end Rob Gronkowski set to undergo a fourth arm operation.
The Brady-to-Gronkowski combination is one of the most dominant in the league, with the big tight end’s power and size coupled with Brady’s accurate throwing making them almost unstoppable at teams.
New England lost the 2012 Super Bowl to the Giants when Gronkowski was limited, and he was missing as they lost the AFC Championship game against eventual champions Baltimore last season.
Gronkowski originally broke his forearm in November but broke it again after returning, and he now has to go under the knife for a fourth time due to a persistent infection.
There are also reports that Gronkowski is struggling with a back injury that, although not too serious, could require minor surgery but is not related to the back procedure he underwent in 2009.
Brady boost If Gronkowski is forced to miss playing time, it will be a big blow to the Patriots offence and Brady in particular – who may be 36 by the start of his 14th season in September, but says he feels better than ever in his early preparations for the new campaign “Going into my 14th year, I have never had more confidence in how I am throwing the football,” Brady Sports Illustrated.
“I’ve never felt better throwing the football.” Many questioned how Brady would react after his big knee injury in 2008, but since then he has averaged a passer rating of over 102 with 34 touchdowns and 4,590 yards per season.
Working on his throwing mechanics is key to Brady’s success, and after the death of his mentor Tom Martinez, Brady has brought in former MLB pitcher Tom House to help him with his basic throwing.
“I owe so much to Tom Martinez,” Brady said.
“He taught me so much about how to play the game and throw the football.
I found Tom House, and really developed a rapport with him quickly.
Learning “I’ve learned, and to me, the learning process is fun.
The same way Tom Martinez was always there to watch and give me corrections, Tom House has told me why certain corrections need to be made.
“Look at a baseball swing and a golf swing.
It’s all mechanics.
Look at how Barry Bonds swings.
Look at how Floyd Mayweather punches.
When you’ve got to fit it into the tightest windows, mechanics are crucial.
“And to me, the off-season is crucial.
If you make a throw within four feet, that’s not going to be good enough.
You have to make the throw within four inches of your target.
That’s good enough.
“And that’s why the mechanics you adjust and learn in the offseason are important.
You’re going to keep them during the season.” Brady seems fully zoned in already even in May, but he’ll be desperate to have Gronkowski there catching these perfectly thrown passes if the Pats have designs on yet another Super Bowl appearance – and in New York of all places.
Real Madrid coach Jos Mourinho shouts to his players during their Copa del Rey final defeat.
Photograph: Juan Medina/Reuters Real Madrid have called a press conference for Monday evening amid growing speculation over the future of their coach, Jos Mourinho.
Madrid’s president, Florentino P rez, will speak to the media at 8pm CET (7pm BST) at the Bernab u, the club have announced in a statement on their website.
Madrid have not given any details regarding the subject of the press conference but the future of Mourinho and his return to Chelsea have dominated the Spanish media since Real’s Copa del Rey final defeat by Atl tico Madrid on Friday night.
The world’s richest club by income, Real will end this season without a major trophy.
Mourinho, who has done little to contradict reports he will return to the Premier League next season, said it had been a “disastrous” campaign and his “worst ever” as a coach.
Last summer, Mourinho signed a contract extension with Madrid tying him to the club until 2016 and the 50-year-old has helped the club claim three trophies during his three years there, winning La Liga, the Copa del Rey and the Spanish Supercopa.
However, Real failed to defend their league title this season, surrendering it to arch rivals Barcelona, and suffered further disappointment with their cup final defeat to Atletico a first loss to their neighbours in 14 years.
During Mourinho’s tenure, Madrid also suffered three successive semi-final exits in the Champions League a competition the club have been desperate to win since their ninth and last triumph in 2002.
Paris Saint-Germain’s manager, Carlo Ancelotti, has been widely tipped as Mourinho’s successor and the Italian has told the French side he wants to leave, a request denied by PSG.
| Forward Philippe Coutinho was Liverpool’s match-winner but Jamie Carragher was the star of the show at Anfield on his 737th and final appearance for the club.
The veteran centre-back brought the curtain down on a first-team career spanning 16 years 131 days – the seventh longest in the club’s history.
Such is his longevity the 35-year-old has served under six different permanent managers at Anfield but his own influence on the team during that time cannot be underestimated.
In front: Philippe Coutinho celebrates after scoring for Liverpool against Queens Park Rangers at Anfield And while the day was rightly a celebration of his achievements, the fact the game had the slight feeling of a testimonial would not have impressed the ultra-competitive, ultra-professional Carragher.
Coutinho’s sweet strike after 23 minutes provided the only goal but the difference between the two sides was huge and Liverpool should have put a hatful past relegated QPR.
There was a sense of out with the old and in with the new as 17-year-old Jordon Ibe, signed from the Wycombe academy, made his debut.
He was 13 months old when Carragher made his first Liverpool appearance but the youngster was not over-awed by the occasion, especially with all the focus on his team-mate, and after growing into his left-wing role provided the assist for the opening goal.
Cutting in from the left he teed up Coutinho to fire home a low shot from 25 yards.
The Brazilian should already have had one to his name as in the opening couple of minutes his low, diving header from Stewart Downing’s corner was cleared by full-back Michael Harriman but only after it appeared to have crossed the line.
Coutinho, Liverpool’s player of the second half of the season after arriving from Inter Milan for 8.5million in January, also almost scored direct from a corner and had a shot blocked by Shaun Derry.
Despite QPR’s lack of real attacking thrust Carragher continued to be the focus – although trying to add to his career tally of just five goals by attempting to punch a cross past Robert Green would hardly have been fitting.
Letting fly: Coutinho has impressed for Liverpool since signing in January and did so again on the final day Referee Michael Atkinson contributed to the convivial atmosphere by opting not to book the centre-back, who then saw a shot blocked from a rehearsed Downing short free-kick.
Loic Remy provided the visitors’ only threat and after an early shout for a penalty after coming into contact with Lucas Leiva he fired one shot wide and then mis-kicked from close range trying to convert Armand Traore’s cross.
With the Championship looming for QPR next season they did not seem interested in making a fight of it and Liverpool attacked at will after the break.
Acclaim: The Anfield crowd spell out JC23 before Jamie Carragher’s final game for Liverpool Tribute: The Liverpool and QPR players form a guard of honour to acknowledge Carragher One for the mantelpiece: Jamie Carragher of Liverpool is given a commemorative award Glen Johnson’s shot deflected wickedly off Derry but Green reacted quick enough to push it around the post while Daniel Sturridge’s goalbound volley hit Traore and Downing fired into the side-netting.
All afternoon the Kop had been urging Carragher to shoot – from a varying degree of ridiculous angles and distances – but he declined them all until just past the hour.
The ball dropped to him 25 yards out and he smashed a first-time effort which cannoned back off the post with Green well beaten.
One for the future: Jordan Ibe made his Premier League debut for Liverpool as they beat QPR But it is not his goals for which he will be remembered – highlighted by the statistic that since he returned to the first team in January Liverpool have lost just one of 15 league games, conceding 12 goals.
And his attitude in that respect was typified when Carragher outsprinted Remy to prevent the ball going out for a corner by mere inches and direct it back to goalkeeper Jose Reina.
He was substituted for Sebastian Coates five minutes from time to a standing ovation but the old warhorse would much rather have seen out time on the pitch than take the applause from off it – however deserved it was.
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Do not talk to Tottenham Hotspur fans about the club’s capacity to fall short.
Whether it be down to meat-based Italian pasta dishes or the scarcely believable sucker punch from a cross-town rival, they have seen their goal in recent seasons wrested from them in cruel and faintly ridiculous fashion.
This time round, the battle for Champions League qualification has again come down to the wire and there is an apprehension underpinning the excitement at White Hart Lane, the fear that fate could deal them a new and devilish card.
If Andr Villas-Boas’s team beat Sunderland at home on Sunday, they would finish on 72 points, which would be a club high in the Premier League years.
It is a haul that, almost always, is sufficient for a top-four place.
Only once since the league was slimmed down to 20 clubs in 1995-96 has the team in fourth taken more than 72 points: Liverpool finished with 76 in 2007-08.
Villas-Boas brought up the statistic on Friday morning.
It is on his mind.
But 72 may very well not be enough.
Over at Arsenal, they know what they need to do and they intend to do it.
Win at Newcastle United and they would ensure qualification to Europe’s elite competition for the 16th season in succession.
Tottenham, as they were last season when Chelsea won the Champions League to relegate them to the Europa League, despite a fourth-placed finish, would be powerless, consumed by ifs and buts.
This is what Arsenal do.
They finish in the money places and, also, they finish above Tottenham.
They torment Tottenham.
Never in Ars ne Wenger’s 17-year tenure have Arsenal trailed in behind their neighbours.
The last time it happened was in 1994-95.
It was perilously close in 2005-06, when Tottenham entered the final day one point ahead of Arsenal in fourth.
But then the majority of their team woke up with gastroenteritis or, according to folklore, a stomach bug from a dodgy lasagne and they did not have the strength to win at West Ham.
Arsenal beat Wigan Athletic and laughed loudly.
Arsenal retain the hope of a third-placed finish, although they need Chelsea to slip up at home to Everton and there is the 130-1 shot, according to bookmakers, of an unprecedented play-off between the London clubs for the third and final automatic pass to the Champions League group phase.
That fixture would take place at Villa Park on Sunday 26 May and would be needed if Chelsea were to draw against Everton and Arsenal won by one at Newcastle, scoring two more goals than Chelsea in the process.
This would see the clubs inseparable on points, goal difference and goals scored.
But Sunday’s entertainment essentially boils down to Tottenham versus Arsenal; to the quest for each club to force themselves on to the right side of the finest of margins.
Every other major issue in the division has been resolved.
The spotlight on north London promises to be intense.
There was common ground between Wenger and Villas-Boas.
The former noted how Arsenal had already equalled their 70-point tally from last season, despite the various problems that they had encountered, chief among them the demoralising departure of Robin van Persie to Manchester United, and he said that “I will keep fantastic memories of this team”.
Villas-Boas reflected a little wistfully on the clutch of recent draws and the 2-1 loss at Everton in December, when his team conceded twice in the last minute.
“The Everton defeat was the real mark on the season,” he said.
But he professed himself to be “extremely satisfied” with how his debut campaign had gone.
“We always look back with the sensation that we’ve done things properly,” Villas-Boas said.
“But it’s not up to me to judge.” The judgment will come on Sunday evening and, for Arsenal in particular, it is hard to escape the feeling that it will be black or white.
Even Wenger acknowledged that the financial consequences of missing out on the Champions League would be “big”, although he maintained that the sporting reasons would be the most painful.
As he prepared for the fixture against a Newcastle team still basking in the relief of avoiding relegation at Queens Park Rangers last Sunday, there was the narrowing of focus that has characterised the recent weeks for Arsenal.
Wenger positively brimmed with it.
At the beginning of March, after Arsenal lost the derby at White Hart Lane, they trailed Tottenham by seven points.
Villas-Boas claimed that Arsenal were “in a negative spiral and once you get into that negative spiral, it’s difficult to get out of it”.
The words ring hollow.
Arsenal have since been unbeaten, winning seven and drawing two in the league.
They even won at Bayern Munich immediately after the derby, even if it failed to prevent an away-goals exit from the Champions League.
“This team suffered for a very long time from a lack of confidence because you take the talisman away Robin van Persie and get new players in,” Wenger said.
“Then you lose the first big games and suddenly, we are faced with scepticism.
Balancing the team took a while but since this has been back we have been very efficient.
The Bayern Munich away game was very important.
You could feel after that we could do it.
“I had the feeling it could go to the last day and when we were seven points behind, we’d have been happy for that.
But we’ve fought back to be in a position where we can master our own fate.
We know how to behave to win.
Let’s just continue what we’ve done recently.” There were forward glances from both managers, inevitably, concerning personnel upgrades.
Villas-Boas spoke of his desire to appoint a technical director to oversee player transfers and he admitted that he had tried to sign the Barcelona striker David Villa last season when he was in charge at Chelsea.
Villa is a possible target for him again this summer.
Villas-Boas also said that with Jos Mourinho set to return to Chelsea and be afforded the money to make a huge impression on the market, the west London club would “absolutely be the team to beat” next season.
Tottenham, he suggested, had to try to keep pace.
It tends to feel more cerebral at Arsenal and Wenger’s reflections on Sir Alex Ferguson, the outgoing United manager, carried an unwitting subtext.
“He never looked like he refused to move forward and be open to new things,” Wenger said.
“You have to respect this progressive attitude.
We can all be a little bit restricted to our experience and what worked before.” Wenger has regularly stood accused of the above and his revelation that he was close to signing the free agent and France Under-21 striker Yaya Sanogo from Auxerre sounded like something from the tried and trusted.
It was difficult, though, to look too far beyond Sunday’s showdown, when the passions will rage and the drama swirl.
“It’s one of the biggest rivalries in football,” Villas-Boas said.
“The buzz that you feel around the club now and the pressure is extraordinary.”
Gareth Bale latest: Tottenham star will be given 150,000-a-week contract if club qualify for Champions League
Tottenham are confident they can keep Gareth Bale with a 150,000-a-week deal IF they qualify for the Champions League.
The Welsh star has been linked with a move away from Tottenham with Real Madrid the front-runners for his signature, but Spurs will double his money to keep him.
Bale, 23, will be offered a five-year deal worth 40million if they can secure their place in Europe’s premier club competition.
Star man: Tottenham believe Gareth Bale will sign a new deal…
if they reach the Champions League He signed a four-year deal worth 75,000 basic last season but having broken the 20-goal barrier this season his increased worth to the club is apparent.
Daniel Levy recognises the need to reward the attacker whose reputation is steadily growing and is seen as almost as good as Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.
If Ronaldo makes his return to Manchester United, Madrid will pull out all the stops to bring Bale to Spain.
Were Bale to be sold, Levy would demand a fee of around 60m for Tottenham’s prize-asset.
Thanks for the memories: Bale has also insisted he is happy at Spurs, but that he does want to play abroad