Thursday, September 20, 2012

Amir Khan fires Freddie Roach

By Dan Rafael |
LAS VEGAS -- Former junior welterweight titlist Amir Khan fired Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach on Friday, ending their four-year partnership during which Khan claimed two world titles but also suffered a shocking fourth-round knockout in July.

Roach was on hand at the Wynn Las Vegas for the weigh-in for Saturday's fight between lineal middleweight champion Sergio Martinez and titleholder Julio Cesar Chavez, whom Roach trains, when he received a call from Khan giving him the news.

"He said, 'I know you're busy with your other fighters and I'm going to go in a different direction,' " Roach told "He said, 'No hard feelings, maybe we'll get back together someday.' He was being nice. I wished him luck. I've been fired before."

On his Twitter feed, Khan wrote, "Officially, I've left Freddie Roach. Just spoke to him and had a good professional chat and maybe in the future we work together.

"Freddie understood why I'm looking at other trainers and wished me all the best for the future."

Khan's new trainer is not set yet but he has been in New York meeting with candidates. The favorite to replace Roach, a five-time trainer of the year, is Virgil Hunter, the reigning trainer of the year for his work with super middleweight champion Andre Ward.

Hunter flew to New York this week after Ward's victory last Saturday against light heavyweight champion Chad Dawson, to meet with Khan and to work out with him, according to a source with knowledge of the trip and the meeting.

Another name being mentioned is Pedro Diaz, who trains former three-division titlist Miguel Cotto.

Khan has lost two fights in a row, a fourth-round knockout to Danny Garcia on July 14 in a title unification fight and a controversial split decision to Lamont Peterson in December. He is looking for a trainer who can devote more one-on-one time to him. Khan's training camps often overlapped with those of Chavez and Roach's most important fighter, Manny Pacquiao.

England's Khan, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist, hired Roach after his upset first-round knockout loss to Breidis Prescott in 2008. But with Roach in his corner, Khan rebounded and eventually a 140-pound world title by soundly outpointing Andriy Kotelnik in 2009. Khan made five defenses and unified two titles before losing to Peterson.

Khan (26-3, 18 KOs) plans to return to the ring in December.

Rafael Marquez out of fight

By Dan Rafael |
Rafael Marquez of Mexico has for the third time postponed a fight with fellow former junior featherweight titlist Wilfredo Vazquez Jr. of Puerto Rico, promoter Peter Rivera of PR Best Boxing Promotions announced Monday.

Marquez (41-7, 37 KOs) was scheduled to face Vazquez (21-2-1, 18 KOs) in the main event of an Aug. 4 pay-per-view card at the Coliseo Ruben Rodriguez in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, Vazquez's hometown. However, the show was postponed after Marquez suffered a right hand injury in training.

The fight was rescheduled for Oct. 6 but has been called off again. However, the card will still go on, Rivera said. Jonathan Oquendo (22-2, 15 KOs), who was scheduled to face Jose Nieves on the undercard, will instead move up into the scheduled 12-round main event to take the place of Marquez, the former bantamweight champion and younger brother of Juan Manuel Marquez.

Oquendo has not fought since last October because of an ATV accident in Puerto Rico. The crash with another vehicle killed Oquendo's girlfriend and left him with minor injuries.

"Rafael Marquez is facing health problems and working on some personal issues and will not fight against Wilfredo Vazquez Jr.," Rivera said. "Now, we are going to make Vazquez Jr. against Oquendo, a fight long awaited by Puerto Rican fans."

In the co-feature, former longtime strawweight champion Ivan "Iron Boy" Calderon of Puerto Rico will challenge titleholder Moises Fuentes of Mexico for his old belt. Calderon (35-2-1, 6 KOs) held a strawweight title from 2003 until 2007 before he vacated the belt and moved up to the junior flyweight division and won a world title in August 2007.

After six defenses, Calderon lost his title via eight-round knockout to Giovani Segura in a title unification bout in August 2010. Segura stopped him again, this time in the third round, of an October 2011 rematch. At that point, Calderon, 37, decided to return to the strawweight division -- the 105-pound weight class that is boxing's smallest -- and won a decision against Felipe Rivas last October, setting the stage for his shot against Fuentes.

Fuentes (15-1, 7 KOs), 26, claimed his title -- the same one Calderon used to hold -- last August with a split decision win against Raul Garcia. Fuentes has made one defense, a first-round knockout of Julio Cesar Felix in June.

Also on the card, Jose "Chelo" Gonzalez (20-0, 15 KOs) will meet Eudy Bernardo (13-0, 8 KOs) in a lightweight fight and former Puerto Rican Olympic heavyweight Victor Bisbal (20-1, 14 KOs) fights Alex Gonzalez (20-7, 10 KOs).

Multiple injuries idle Sergio Martinez

By Dan Rafael |
Middleweight champion Sergio Martinez will undergo right knee surgery next week after suffering a minor tear during his unanimous decision victory against titleholder Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. last Saturday night at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, promoter Lou DiBella told on Wednesday.

Martinez also suffered a fractured left hand during the fourth round and it is in a soft cast, but will not require surgery, DiBella said.

In addition, Martinez needed five stitches to close a cut over his left eye and two staples to close a deep gash in his scalp.

"He has some kind of tear in his knee," DiBella said. "It's not severe or an immense injury, thankfully. The hand is broken. His left hand is in a soft cast. It's a hairline fracture. There is also a bad bruise as well as the hairline fracture. That shouldn't be a big problem. The hand turned out to be better than we thought it was."

DiBella said the knee needs arthroscopic surgery to "clean it up."

Sampson Lewkowicz, Martinez's adviser, said the surgery will take place Wednesday in Spain, where Martinez, who is from Argentina, lived for several years and went after the fight.

Martinez will need six to eight weeks after the surgery to recover, but likely won't fight again until May, Lewkowicz said.

There has been discussion of a rematch with Chavez, who was way behind on the scorecards before knocking Martinez down -- which is how he hurt his knee -- in the dramatic 12th round. But Martinez survived the likely round of the year to win 118-109, 118-109, 117-110.

"Sergio told me after the fight he would rather die than lose like that after beating Chavez so badly for the entire fight," Lewkowicz said. "He said he would have been so embarrassed. I said, 'How did you get up from that knockdown?' He said he got up for all of the millions of Argentines in this world."

A May rematch has been floated by both sides, but is likely out of the question because Chavez (46-1-1, 32 KOs) tested positive for marijuana -- his second positive test in Nevada since 2009 -- after the fight.Because it is Chavez's second infraction, he is looking at a suspension that could last a year.

"I finally watched the 12th round again, and how Sergio got up and kept fighting I'll never know," DiBella said. "He's a man. He's just a man's man. I'd like to be that guy for a week."

DiBella said he and Chavez promoter Bob Arum of Top Rank are going to talk about a rematch but not immediately. Chavez's positive drug test aside, "My fighter is having surgery and I'm exhausted, but we can get together and make a fair deal," DiBella said.

DiBella also said he would explore other options for Martinez (50-2-2, 28 KOs). They hope to lure junior middleweight titleholder Floyd Mayweather Jr. into a fight.

HBO will air the replay of Martinez-Chavez on Saturday (9:30 p.m. ET/PT).

Randall Bailey to defend title

By Dan Rafael |
Randall Bailey's welterweight title defense against former junior welterweight titleholder Devon Alexander was rescheduled Wednesday for Oct. 20 at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., Golden Boy Promotions announced.

Bailey, who came from behind to drop Mike Jones in the 10th round and then knock him out in the 11th on June 9 on the Manny Pacquiao-Timothy Bradley Jr. pay-per-view undercard, was supposed to make his first defense against Alexander in the main event of a Showtime card on Sept. 8 in Las Vegas.

However, a week before the fight, Bailey (43-7, 37 KOs), 37, of Miami, suffered a back injury in training, and the bout was postponed.

 "I am so happy to be able to get back in the gym and continue to train," said Bailey, one of boxing's best pure punchers. "At my age, you can't take anything for granted and injuries are harder to overcome, but I am totally healed and ready to shock the world again by beating another young fighter like Devon Alexander. I said I would knock Devon Alexander out before and I am going to say it again. It's going to be a great fight."

Added Lou DiBella, Bailey's promoter: "Randall is the hardest puncher in boxing and he is a true champion. If Devon Alexander wants his belt, he is going to have to take it and withstand the hardest right hand in the sport."

Alexander (23-1, 13 KOs), 25, of St. Louis, moved up to welterweight in February and outpointed former junior welterweight titlist Marcos Maidana in easy fashion. This will be Alexander's second fight at 147 pounds.

"The opportunity to be a part of this piece of boxing history means a lot to me," Alexander said of fighting on the debut card at the arena. "Randall Bailey and I have some unfinished business, and I plan on starting the night off right for all of the fans watching at the new Barclays Center and at home on Showtime. I am going to walk away as the IBF welterweight world champion on Oct. 20."

Added Kevin Cunningham, Alexander's trainer and manager: "We are very excited to get the opportunity to win a world title on such a historic night of boxing. Brooklyn has great boxing fans, and Devon's going to put on a show for them."

By adding Bailey-Alexander to the first boxing card at the Barclays Center, the new home of the NBA's Brooklyn Nets, there will be four world title bouts on the card. There hasn't been even one world title fight in Brooklyn since Aug. 5,1931, when Maxie Rosenbloom outpointed Jimmy Slattery in a 15-round bout at Ebbets Field to retain the light heavyweight championship.

"We are thrilled to not only be re-announcing this hard-hitting matchup, but also to be able to add it to the already powerful night of boxing planned for Barclays Center on Oct. 20," Golden Boy president Oscar De La Hoya said. "With four world championship fights and a great undercard to kick off a new era of boxing in Brooklyn, this show is going to be like the Super Bowl of boxing and definitely will be a night to remember."

Headlining the card will be unified junior welterweight titlist Danny Garcia (24-0, 15 KOs) of Philadelphia in a rematch with Mexican star and former four-division titlist Erik Morales (52-8, 36 KOs), whom Garcia knocked down in the 11th round and outpointed March 24 to win a vacant belt. Morales had been stripped of the 140-pound title the day before for failing to make weight.

Also on the Showtime-televised card:

•  Brooklyn's Paulie Malignaggi (31-4, 7 KOs), who has not fought at home since his professional debut in 2001, will make the first defense of his welterweight title against Mexico's Pablo Cesar Cano (25-1-1, 19 KOs), who gave up an interim junior welterweight belt to move up in weight for the opportunity.

•  Middleweight contender "Kid Chocolate" Peter Quillin (27-0, 20 KOs), who lives in Manhattan but spent many years in Brooklyn, will challenge titleholder Hassan N'Dam N'Jikam (27-0, 17 KOs) of France.

"I really didn't think the Barclays Center event could get any bigger, but that is exactly what has happened," said Stephen Espinoza, a general manager of Showtime Sports. "It's been our strategy at Showtime to increase the quality and the quantity of our boxing coverage. For this network to televise four title fights on one night, not on pay-per-view, demonstrates the commitment we've made to our subscribers and to boxing fans. Thanks to the promoters and to Devon and Randall for bringing this fourth fight to the table. What a special night this will be for these talented fighters, for Brooklyn and for the sport of boxing."

The undercard is loaded with several Brooklyn fighters, including middleweight and former prospect of the year Daniel Jacobs, former welterweight titlist Luis Collazo and former junior welterweight title challenger Dmitriy Salita, along with Bronx junior middleweight prospect Eddie Gomez.

The card is the first under the previously announced deal between Barclays Center and Golden Boy Promotions to promote monthly cards at the new arena.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. must pay fees

Associated Press
LAS VEGAS -- A federal judge has ordered boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. to pay about $114,000 for avoiding questioning from rival fighter Manny Pacquiao's lawyers in a defamation case.

Attorneys for Pacquiao earlier lost a bid to end the lawsuit with a more severe sanction -- a default judgment for Pacquiao.

But on Monday, they won more than $113,000 in legal fees and $774 in costs for what U.S. District Judge Larry Hicks bluntly called "Mayweather's obviously intentional decision not to appear for his court ordered deposition."

Pacquiao, a Filipino fighter against whom the undefeated Mayweather is frequently measured, has alleged that Mayweather defamed him by suggesting Pacquiao used performance-enhancing substances.

Pacquiao has denied the claim. He filed the lawsuit in Las Vegas in December 2009 and has sought unspecified damages.

"Calling a professional athlete a cheater is the most serious charge one can make," the lawsuit said. "Accusing an athlete of using performance-enhancing drugs -- however baseless and lacking in evidence -- is toxic."

The two boxers never have fought in the ring, and the court saga playing out in Las Vegas has been seen as an impediment to a much-anticipated bout.

Mayweather lawyer Mark Tratos in Las Vegas declined comment. Pacquiao lawyers Daniel Petrocelli and David Marroso in Los Angeles didn't immediately respond Wednesday to messages about the court order.

News of the ruling came at the same time Las Vegas police reported handing a residential disturbance call involving Mayweather at his daughter's mother's house last week. No one was arrested and no criminal charges were filed in the Sept. 9 incident.

A Mayweather business entity owns the property, according to county records, and Melissa Brim, the mother of Mayweather's daughter, lives there, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported.

Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Brim on Wednesday were unsuccessful.

Police found no evidence of a physical altercation, Las Vegas police officer Bill Cassell said, and no one in the house wanted to file a police report. Cassell called the case closed.

With no police report, an aide to Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said the incident had no bearing on an unrelated domestic battery case for which Mayweather served two months this summer in a Las Vegas jail. He was released Aug. 3, and is not currently on probation.

Mayweather pleaded guilty last December to reduced misdemeanor charges stemming from a hair-pulling, arm-twisting attack on another former girlfriend, Josie Harris, while two of their three children watched. Harris and the children now live in the Los Angeles area.

Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press

Sergio Martinez vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

Sergio Martinez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. met in a middleweight title fight on Sept. 15, 2012 at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. Martinez, the Ring Magazine middleweight champion, defeated Chavez, the WBC middleweight champion, via unanimous decision.

Martinez controlled most of the fight and dominated the results on the scorecards (118-109, 118-109, 117-110), despite being knocked down in the final round. Martinez won his sixth consecutive fight, improving his overall record to 50-2-2. Chavez suffered his first professional defeat, falling to 46-1-1 with one no contest.

The referee for the fight was Tony Weeks. The judges were Stanley Christodoulou, Adalaide Byrd and Dave Moretti.

Tottenham - Lazio Betting Preview: Back goals when Lazio visit London

EPL - Reading vs Tottenham, Jermain Defoe, Aaron Lennon & Kyle
Andre Villas-Boas is looking for his first home win as Spurs boss when his side welcome Vladmir Petkovic's side to White Hart Lane. Willie Duncan is backing goals at both ends

By William Duncan

ottenham enjoyed their first win of the season when they ran out as comfortable 3-1 winners over Reading on Sunday and the Lilywhites will be looking for follow up with a second successive victory when they welcome Serie A side Lazio to White Hart Lane in the Europa League group stages on Thursday evening.

Spurs are chalked up as 17/20 (1.85) favourites with William Hill to get their European adventure off to a winning start by grabbing all three points against Vladimir Petkovic’s side.

Lazio, though, have made a fine start to the season, winning all three of their Serie A matches thus far and will travel to north London confident of springing an upset. Lazio are priced up at 3/1 (4.0) with William Hill to shock Spurs while the same firm offer 12/5 (3.40) that the match ends in a draw.

Andre Villas-Boas has previously indicated that he intends to take Spurs’ tilt at European glory seriously and is expected to field a strong side for the visit of Lazio.

With that in mind, Spurs are likely to pose a real threat going forward and in-form striker Jermain Defoe – who has netted three goals in four starts for the Lilywhites so far this season – is chalked up at 5/1 (6.0) with William Hill to open the scoring while Gareth Bale, who scored his first goal of the new campaign against Reading, is available at a hugely tempting 13/2 (7.50) with the same firm to break the deadlock, a price that is especially appealing given that Bale's pace is likely to test an ageing Lazio defence to the limit.

However, Spurs will need to be wary of the danger posed by Petkovic’s side. Lazio have scored three times in each of their last three meetings and, with Spurs having conceded in all four of their Premier League matches this season, the Rome based club will feel confident of troubling the Lilywhites defence here.

Veteran German striker Miroslav Klose can be backed at William Hill’s 13/2 (7.50) quote to score the first goal of the game while Brazilian star Anderson Hernanes, who scored twice in Lazio’s 3-1 win over Chievo at the weekend, can be backed at 8/1 (9.0) with William Hill to score the opener on Thursday.

With so much attacking quality on show, though, the best bet of the night is surely the 10/11 (1.91) quote from William Hill for both teams to score and that price should be snapped up with vigour here.

Robshaw: Foden loss could benefit others

Chris Robshaw believes the loss of key players could benefit England in the long term
Chris Robshaw is hoping the loss of Ben Foden for the QBE autumn internationals could actually have long term benefits for England's bid to win the 2015 Rugby World Cup on home soil.

Foden damaged ankle ligaments against Bath on Friday and England expect to be without the Northampton full-back for the Tests against Fiji, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. England will also be without Leicester flanker Tom Croft while scrum-half Ben Youngs and prop Alex Corbisiero both face a race against time to be fit.

"Foden and Croft are both in the leadership group with responsibility in the squad, so of course they will be massive losses to the side," said Robshaw, the England captain. "But with that, it gives an opportunity to someone else to come in."

Alex Goode and Mike Brown both played at full-back against South Africa in the summer and will be battling for the England 15 jersey this autumn.

Robshaw added: "The likes of Mike Brown and Alex Goode are both playing very well at the moment and I'm sure there will be other players who will push their credentials as well.

"Unfortunately, injuries are something that happens in our sport and we have to be able to react and have faith in the players coming in, not just to do a good job but do a great job and put pressure on another player to get back in the side.

"That's what you want in the squad. If you look at New Zealand, if they have a couple of injuries they might go two players deep and still have world-class players in that position who come in and do a great job.

"That's where we want to be as a national side - to have two or three quality international players in every position, so that if someone has to come in, you know they're going to do an excellent job."

Robshaw feels England will be wiser for their summer experience in South Africa, when they lost the first two Tests but bounced back to draw the third. While far from the finished article, England must retain fourth place in the world rankings through the autumn in order to claim a vital top seeding for the 2015 World Cup.

"We've been to South Africa now and we've been to various countries in Europe as well, learning and taking little points out of those games," Robshaw said. "There have been a lot of positives we can take from our performances, but also weaknesses which we have to eradicate."

Copyright © 2012 The Press Association. All rights reserved.

Scotland skipper Darren Fletcher returns to action as Man United open with a win

MANCHESTER UNITED were leading through Michael Carrick's goal when Sir Alex Ferguson gave Fletcher a run out after being out fighting a chronic bowel condition.

Darren Fletcher returns to action for Man United in the Champions League
Darren Fletcher returns to action for Man United in the Champions League

DARREN FLETCHER handed Scotland a massive boost last night when he made his first outing in 10 months.

The midfielder was given a standing ovation when he replaced Paul Scholes 11 minutes from time and helped Man United see out victory over the Turks.

Fletcher has been fighting a career-threatening bowel condition and last played on November 22, 2011.

He was missed by Craig Levein for this month’s draws against Serbia and Macedonia and last night’s cameo will raise hopes he can turn out against Belgium and Wales next month.

Fletcher’s arrival was one of the few highlights on a tough night for United.
Michael Carrick puts United in front at Old Trafford
Michael Carrick puts United in front at Old Trafford

It started well with Michael Carrick netting after just seven minutes. Shinji Kagawa slipped Carrick through and he stepped inside keeper Fernando Musiera and steered the ball home despite being tripped.

Galatasaray had a penalty denied when Nemanja Vidic lunged in on Umut Bulut then Nordin Amrabat and Hamit Altintop hit the woodwork as United struggled.

Nani fluffed a chance to seal victory in 52 minutes but he missed from the spot, allowing Musiera an easy save to his right after trying a shimmy.

Sir Alex Ferguson was furious and as nerves became frayed he called for Fletcher’s battling qualities to help keep the Turks at bay.

Chelsea boss Roberto Di Matteo 'deflated' by Juventus draw

Chelsea manager Roberto Di Matteo

Roberto Di Matteo said Chelsea were left feeling "deflated" after giving up a 2-0 lead against Juventus in the Champions League, but praised Oscar for scoring a brace on his full debut.

The Brazilian netted twice in two minutes before Juve hit back through Arturo Vidal and Fabio Quagliarella, who equalised with 10 minutes left.

"We are disappointed and a little bit deflated," said Di Matteo.

"Oscar did a perfect job tactically and scored two goals."

The 21-year-old midfielder, who joined from Brazilian side Internacional for about £25m in the summer, opened his Chelsea account with a deflected shot, before curling in a stunning second.
 Di Matteo, who led Chelsea to their first Champions League title last season, added: "It was a great debut for Oscar.

"It was just the right moment for him to start the game in the Champions League. He has been mostly away with his national team so we need a bit of time to work with him. He was perfect tonight.

"He took on board the information we gave him and it was great to see we have a player like this in our ranks. He is a big talent. He has got a bit of everything.

"We shouldn't forget he is still a young man but he is already well established with the Brazil team. We are lucky to have him here."

But the Italian was disappointed by his side's failure to defend the lead Oscar had given them.

"I think we should have dealt with it a little bit better," he said of the late equaliser.

"We lost possession just beforehand and we should have reacted much quicker to losing the ball than we did."

Defensive midfielder John Obi Mikel surrendered the ball in the build-up to the equaliser, and compounded his error by failing to stop Claudio Marchisio from playing in Quagliarella.

"If I want to make up an excuse, I can," the Nigeria international said. "But, for me, I gave the ball away. I put my hands up, we move on.

"I'm sorry about the mistake, but there are no excuses. I think that's what you get from playing in the Champions League.

"You make a mistake, you get punished for it."

The Blues next travel to play Danish side FC Nordsjaelland, beaten 2-0 by Shakhtar Donetsk in their Group E opener, for their next Champions League game on Tuesday 2 October.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Murray's triumph the antithesis of British failure

Britain's Andy Murray poses with his trophy in Central Park after winning the men's singles title at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York September 11, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
By Martyn Herman
(Thomson Reuter)
(Reuters) - British tennis was savouring its first male grand slam champion for 76 years on Tuesday but Andy Murray's extraordinary feat in New York was actually the antithesis of decades of failure from the nation where the sport was born.

The 25-year-old's refusal to accept second best in Monday's U.S. Open final against Serbian ironman Novak Djokovic, to stare defeat in the face and still find the will to outlast one of sport's greatest warriors are not qualities to be found in any of Britain's Lawn Tennis Association coaching manuals.
If they were, Scot Murray might not be ploughing a lone furrow in the world's top 100 in which he is the only British male.

Thanks to the hugely profitable Wimbledon championships, British tennis enjoys a budget that is the envy of the rest of the world, yet its failure to provide a crop of players capable of competing at the highest echelons of men's tennis has long been a cause for embarrassment and amusement.

Before a scrawny, teenage Murray announced himself as a major talent by winning the U.S. Open juniors in 2004, Wimbledon nearly-man Tim Henman had shouldered the nation's hopes year after year along with Canadian-born Greg Rusedski.

Henman grew up with a tennis court in his back garden and Rusedski on the other side of the Atlantic. Like Murray, they were not products of a failing system.

When Henman and Rusedski, a former U.S. Open runner-up, neared retirement, British tennis was staring at an alarming black hole. However, Murray's mother and coach Judy had the courage and foresight to pack her son off to Barcelona aged 15 to acquire a proper tennis education.

Already blessed with a razor sharp tennis mind and a natural feel for ball on strings, it was at the Sanchez Vicario Academy that Murray honed the metronomic groundstrokes that did for Djokovic with thousands of hours of relentless hitting drills.


The fruits of that labour soon became apparent as Murray climbed 449 places in the world rankings after turning professional in 2005, reaching the third round of Wimbledon where he lost in five sets to Argentina's David Nalbandian.

Yet, those early steps into the seniors were difficult ones.

Still growing into his 18-year-old frame, Murray's physical conditioning was clearly lacking, while his messy hair and whiskers, dishevelled appearance and teenage scowl did not endear him to a British public still yearning for that "nice chap Tim" to come up trumps.

Not that Murray really cared.

Clearly prepared to go it alone, he focused all his energy on getting fitter and stronger, rather than indulging in popularity contests.

He hired, then fired, Andre Agassi's former coach Brad Gilbert and surrounded himself with a team with whom he felt comfortable, headed by coach Miles Maclagan who came on board in 2007.

Murray reached his first grand slam final in 2008, losing to Roger Federer at Flushing Meadows.

He lost to Federer again in the 2010 Australian Open final and 12 months later fell to Djokovic, meaning that in his first three grand slam finals he had failed to win a single set - prompting unfair suggestions that he was too passive and "choked" when it came to the crunch.

When Djokovic, a few weeks younger than Murray, broke the grand slam domination of Federer and Rafa Nadal, culminating in the Serb's incredible 2011 when he was almost unbeatable, the focus on Murray's perceived under-achievement grew more intense.

Murray, who had dispensed with Maclagan's services in 2010, responded by hiring Ivan Lendl at the start of 2012, the poker-faced Czech-born multiple grand slam champion who made a career out of winning titles rather than friends.

It has proved to be a masterstroke with Murray proving beyond doubt he is a bone-fide member of the "big four".

Few doubted that Murray had what it took to break his grand slam duck but Lendl appears to have eradicated the demons that often haunted the Scot on the biggest of stages.

Murray became the first British man since Bunny Austin in 1938 to reach the Wimbledon final this year and his performance against Federer illustrated his new belief, even if it did end in tearful failure as the Swiss maestro battled back to victory after Murray had won the opening set.

The British public took Murray to their heart after that emotional defeat and he rewarded them a month later when he returned to the All England Club to beat Djokovic and then Federer on his way to Olympic gold.

Failure to back that up and beat Djokovic in the cauldron-like atmosphere on Arthur Ashe Stadium would have given more ammunition to the doubters.

When he surrendered the third and fourth sets to the rampaging Serb, it looked odds on that Murray would become the first man to lose his first five grand slam finals.

Instead, like a true champion, he found another gear to clinch a momentous five-hour triumph as the New York crowd roared its approval.

With the monkey finally off his back, Federer in the twilight of his career and Nadal's knees creaking, 2013 promises even greater rewards for Murray whose rivalry with Djokovic is already shaping up to become one of the sport's most entertaining.

(This version of the story has been corrected in the 21st paragraph to Bunny Austin from Fred Perry)

(Editing by Mark Meadows)

Woeful England bring glorious summer of sport to a halt

WCQ 14 - England vs Ukraine, Steven Gerrard & Cuneyt Cakir
The Three Lions were poor as they drew their second World Cup qualifier 1-1 against Ukraine at Wembley on Tuesday night in front of a half-empty stadium
By Greg Stobart at Wembley

Trust the England football team to bring a golden summer of sport to a juddering climax. Roy Hodgson’s side scraped their way to a 1-1 home draw with Ukraine in World Cup qualifying to extinguish any hopes of riding the crest of the Olympic wave.

After a glorious summer for the nation, after the Olympic victory parade and Andy Murray’s US Open tennis victory on Monday, it was always going to be an anti-climax on Tuesday night, wasn’t it?

But England rained on the parade in emphatic style, lacking any cohesion in their play as Frank Lampard’s late penalty saved the Three Lions’ blushes following Yevhen Konoplianka’s stunning first-half opener for the visitors.

The attitude of the public towards the England team could hardly have been clearer. The official attendance of 68,102 was way down on usual qualifiers at Wembley and it felt like less, with the whole upper tier on one side of the stadium completely empty.

Compare that to the packed venues around London for the Olympic and Paralympic Games to cheer on barely-known athletes, some of which were presented to the crowd at half-time to just about the loudest cheer of the night.

The managerial change has done nothing to inject some enthusiasm into England but Hodgson is not responsible for the public’s apathy, which feels like it has been building for the last two decades and is yet to reach its absolute nadir.

The contrast between Premier League stars and Olympic and Paralympic athletes has been drawn rather too glibly in some quarters, but what it understandable is that people find it very hard to identify with Hodgson’s highly-paid stars.

Many are considered pampered, arrogant and unsporting and at times they don’t help their own image.

But the heart of the matter is that performances have been bad. Very bad. Fans are fed up, they are bored. Never has there been a more obvious case to rework Fifa's ranking system than the fact that England are laughably ranked as the third best team in the world.

England were without a number of their main players on Tuesday night - notably John Terry, Wayne Rooney and Ashley Cole - and reality hit home following the 5-0 thumping of the giants of Moldova in Chisnau on Friday.

Hodgson’s view on the performance against Ukraine was as worrying as it was surprising. The hope must be that he was trying to keep up the morale of the players, attempting to prevent that Wembley fear noted by his predecessor Fabio Capello.

“I’m not prepared to say it wasn’t a great performance,” said Hodgson. “I didn’t think we did that badly. We started very poorly in the first 10 minutes but we had quite good control once we got into the game. I was very pleased with the way we kept probing, playing our football and creating chances.

“You can’t allow the result to totally cloud your judgement on the way your team is playing.”

England were not all bad. Jermain Defoe found the net in the first-half only to find that the referee had penalised him for raising an arm towards a Ukraine defender, while Manchester United midfielder missed wonderful chances to put the hosts ahead before Konoplianka’s firecracker in the 39th minute.

At least he got in the position to score, right? True, but on this stage you can’t miss those chances. The likes of Cleverley and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain remain the bright hopes for England but it will take time to iron out the inconsistency.

What has been consistent is the failure of Lampard and Steven Gerrard to operate effectively in a two-man central midfield against good opposition.

Here, Gerrard sat in a deeper role and seemed to play in second gear for most of the game before being sent-off in the dying stages. Gerrard could have little complaint about either booking, the first for a raised arm in an aerial challenge and the second a mistimed tackle from behind.

Shortly after, the scoreboard announced the England captain as the man-of-the-match before, presumably, someone realised he was no longer on the pitch and that honour was awarded to Lampard.

But both players were desperately poor, offering no control of the game, with only substitute Danny Welbeck providing any sort of vibrancy and creativity to England in the entire 90 minutes.

England needed someone like Michael Carrick in midfield to put his foot on the ball and dictate tempo and possession. Instead, the passing was slow, predictable and inaccurate, summed up by the way Joleon Lescott gave the ball away in the build-up to Ukraine’s opener.

England face the prospect of some very tricky trips to Poland and Ukraine in a qualifying group in which only the winner will automatically earn a place at Brazil 2014.

By the end of the campaign, maybe people will feel more energised, but at the moment it’s same old England, boring England, and it could not be a further cry from the glorious summer for other sports.

Lendl - Andy can get better

Andy Murray's coach Ivan Lendl insists there is much more to come from the new US Open champion.
Ivan Lendl: Very happy for Andy Murray
Ivan Lendl: Very happy for Andy Murray
Murray finally ended his grand slam title drought after four final failures when he claimed a thrilling five-set victory against Novak Djokovic in New York.

That saw Murray, who also won the Olympic title in London, become Britain's first major winner in 76 years.

And Lendl, who was also defeated on four occasions in a grand slam final before winning his fifth, the victory is the start of a golden run.

"I'm very happy for him. It's a great achievement for him and let's hope he can continue and rack up many more," said Lendl, who joined the Murray team last December.

"You can help somebody for a very short period of time. However, it takes more than that. You cannot help somebody in one week, you cannot do that in one month and hopefully we are not anywhere near where Andy can be."

Ricky Hatton set to return to the ring after three-year absence

Ricky Hatton in 2009
THE Hitman has shed three stones in training this year, sparking rumors of an imminent comeback which is expected to take place at the MEN Arena in Manchester on November 24.

RICKY HATTON is ready to end his three-year retirement by announcing his return to the ring on Friday.

The former world light-welterweight and welterweight champion will meet the press in Manchester to unveil details of his first fight since a brutal second-round knockout by Manny Pacquiao in May 2009.

The Hitman has shed three stones in training this year, sparking rumours of an imminent comeback which is expected to take place at the MEN Arena in Manchester on November 24.

Hatton, 33, now runs his own promotions company and plans to sign a multi-fight deal with a broadcaster that will culminate in a rematch next year with New Yorker Paulie Malignaggi, whom he beat in Las Vegas in 2008.

Malignaggi has since won the WBA welterweight title with a stoppage win over Vyacheslav Senchenko in Ukraine in April.

After being knocked out by Pacquiao, the fight would suit Hatton as Malignaggi is a light puncher – with only seven of his 31 wins coming inside the distance.

World Cup qualifier: Scotland 1 Macedonia 1

CRAIG LEVEIN will insist Scotland’s hopes of reaching Brazil in 2014 haven’t been crushed but others, the long-suffering Tartan Army, have lost belief.
Gary Caldwell hangs his head after Scotland fail to secure three points
Gary Caldwell hangs his head after Scotland fail to secure three points

TWO World Cup ties played, two points gathered. Draw your own conclusions.

Craig Levein will insist Scotland’s hopes of reaching Brazil in 2014 haven’t been crushed but others, the long-suffering Tartan Army, have lost belief.

They jeered Levein and his players at the final whistle because they’d expected so much more. Their confidence in the squad was tested in Saturday’s draw with Serbia but last night it sounded as though they’d had enough.

Only a couple of steps along the road to Rio and already Scotland are cut adrift of Serbia, Croatia and Belgium.

They’re all on four points after two games and although the Scots are only two points behind the gap, if we are being honest, is much wider than that.

Levein made three changes from Saturday – Charlie Adam, Steven Naismith, and Robert Snodgrass were replaced by Shaun Maloney, James Forrest and Jamie Mackie – but nothing much changed.

Scotland were still hesitant and seemed to lack belief.

Perhaps we’d all fallen into the trap of believing they are better than they are but last night we saw that Macedonia, who are about 50 places lower than us in FIFA’s rankings, are actually better.

At least they were in this game.

And Goran Pandev? He strode about Hampden with a style and grace no Scot could match. He was imperious and the more he made his side play the more Scotland retreated into themselves.

It was painful to watch us but wonderful to look at him. If only we had someone who could dominate a game the way he did. If only we could manufacture more opportunities. If only we could score more goals.

If only... if only we had players capable of giving our support the success they crave and deserve. But the harsh truth is we don’t and although Levein will beg to differ you cannot deny what we have seen over these two matches.

Scotland lack fluency, panache, and maybe even confidence.

There are eight games left in Group A and 24 points to be won but does anyone believe we’ll harvest enough of them?

We just don’t have it and the sooner we snap back to reality the better.

Serbia and Macedonia came to Hampden and demonstrated the arts of passing and moving and as things stand Scotland are no further forward than we were before Levein, who has beaten only Liechtenstein and Lithuania in the competitive arena, took over.

Now we have to go to Wales and then Belgium next month and pick up points.

After last night’s crushing 6-1 defeat by the Serbs the Welsh are on their knees but we are staggering.

The Scotland players who had stood tall and proud when they emerged from the tunnel last night to be greeted by the face of Andy Murray on Hampden’s big screens, slumped off at full time.

Before kick-off the fans had belted out ‘there’s only one Andy Murray,’ while hoping the players in Dark Blue would also raise the bar to their game. Murray had been fantastic at Flushing Meadows and now it was Scotland’s chance to be magnificent in Mount Florida.

But it was Macedonia who looked inspired as they began carving avenues through Scotland’s rearguard.

Alan Hutton, who was supposed to be charging down the right, was being drawn back along with his team-mates and they conceded two corners. The first was defended but the second, in 11 minutes, silenced Hampden.

The ball was played short, Scotland’s defenders froze, but Pandev didn’t. He surged forward on the left and his delivery was perfect for Nikolce Noveski.
Nikolche Noveski puts Macedonia ahead
Nikolche Noveski puts Macedonia ahead

He looked offside but neither the Russian ref, Sergey Karasev, nor his assistant spotted that and the midfield player made the most of his good fortune.

Scotland were a goal down and the biggest crime was not that the ref had failed to stop play but that seven Scotland defenders were caught out at the corner and five when Noveski pounced.

The songs of praise for Murray turned to boos for Levein’s players, who were struggling to subdue their opponents.

Pandev, in particular, was a real threat. It was as though the SFA had granted Macedonia’s captain the freedom of Hampden. He was everywhere, dashing and probing and unnerving Scotland’s defence almost at will.

He was tormenting the home side. He would twist one way and turn another and at one point he left two defenders trailing before sticking a pass through to Mirko Ivanovski before Allan McGregor made an excellent save.

It was half an hour before Scotland won their first corner, which was a true reflection on how this tie had opened.

The Macedonians were passing and moving better than Scotland. Actually, they were streets ahead and the crowd was growing increasingly restless.

They needed a sign, a flowing attack, a rasping shot. Anything, something to make them believe again and Levein was at the edge of the technical area trying to bring some cohesion to his side.

Some intelligence and subtlety would have helped, too, but Gary Caldwell decided some basics were required to deal with Pandev. The Wigan defender clattered into the Napoli player, who was left nursing a sore head.

But he got up, as did Hutton after he’d been fouled by Ferhan Hasani, who had just taken over from the injured Ivan Trchkovski. Then, three minutes from the break, the encouragement the fans craved was delivered by Miller.

Forrest was involved then James Morrison, who threaded a terrific pass through to Jamie Mackie with the QPR man unselfishly squaring for Miller to finish off. Scotland had been poor but they were level. Hope was alive.
Kenny Miller grabbed an equaliser for Scotland
Kenny Miller grabbed an equaliser for Scotland

But to revive the World Cup dream Scotland had to believe in themselves much more than they’d shown in that dismal first half. Pandev had to be subdued, Ivanovski, too, and Vanche Shikov, at the heart of Macedonia’s defence, had to be worked.

The tempo had to be increased and that’s what the Scots were doing now while trying to bring Maloney, Forrest and Mackie into the game.

Nikola Grigorov and Pandev were booked for moaning about a free kick against them but the Macedonians were soon back on the front foot pressing and testing for openings.

Clearly they believed they could win this match and Andy Webster and Paul Dixon had to combine to block Muhamed Demiri. Then, seconds later, Hasani’s shot battered McGregor’s left-hand post.

Time for change and much to the disgust of the fans Levein sent on Charlie Adam for Miller. The crowd immediately chanted for Jordan Rhodes as Adam was booked for sliding into Pandev.

The Tartan Army was bemused but in 65 minutes they got something to cheer when Rhodes was sent on for Morrison. So much now rested on the shoulders of the young Blackburn striker and within minutes he had a golden opportunity.

Adam escaped deep on Scotland’s right and sent in a low near-post cross.

Rhodes read Adam’s intentions and threw himself at the ball making good connection but his header flew wide.

At the other end Pandev threaded a great ball through to Ivanovski who looked certain to score but again McGregor raced from his line and made another terrific save.

Craig Levein looks on

Rhodes then had another chance when Forrest swung the ball from right to the far post but Daniel Georgievski managed to do enough to put the striker off.

Scotland were pushing hard now and Naismith was sent on for Mackie as Levein went for broke.

Macedonia were beginning to creak a bit at the back and their manager, Cedomir Janevski, was urging his players to keep calm because he knew that a point was a good return, although in the end Scotland were the team that was fortunate to share the spoils.

They were better in the second half but still less than convincing.

Two points from two home games leaves us with an awful lot to do if we are to catch up on the road to Brazil.

We’re already limping while others are striding out. If only Andy Murray had stuck in at football.

Man by man

Compiled by Gary Ralston


Allan McGregor 8

Took up from where he left off against Serbia. Helpless at Noveski’s opener but kept the Scots in the game with crucial stops in each half.

Alan Hutton 6

Rarely on the front foot early on and lacked conviction but became a danger down the right with clever runs from Forrest creating space.

Andy Webster 6

The darting runs of Mirko Ivanovski threatened to leave him flat-footed and the speed of the Macedonian frontman was always a challenge.

Christophe Berra 6

Had to scramble for defensive cover at times and although he and Webster creaked on occasions, McGregor proved a valiant last line of defence.

Paul Dixon 6

Much less assured than his Man of the Match performance against the Serbs. He seemed to focus on defence leaving us short of a left-wing raider.

Gary Caldwell 6

Lost a little discipline early on as he chased forward leaving danger man Pandev to lace passes and exploit the space between midfield and attack.

Shaun Maloney 5

Struggled to be a creative force in the centre of midfield as the Scots toiled to break down the visitors. Moved out to left but still found it tough.

James Morrison 5

Another unconvincing performance. Pass for the equaliser was crucial but it was one of few occasions he found a way through. Hooked in second half.

Jamie Mackie 5

Never at ease on the left as he failed to get beyond the ball or link with Morrison or Miller to make the space from which he would have prospered.

Kenny Miller 5

Played better at the weekend and took pelters. His poaching instincts proved vital for equaliser, but he couldn’t make the ball stick.

James Forrest 7

Not always well served with possession, especially in the first half, but he didn’t half work hard off the ball in a bid to become involved.


Charlie Adam 4

Still groans about set-piece delivery but he kept Scotland on front foot.

Jordan Rhodes 4

Connected with deliveries at either post and added a physical dimension.

Steven Naismith 2

On for Mackie and added further to the urgency but winner still elusive.

Subs not used: Marshall, Hanley, Snodgrass, Cowie, Dorrans, McCormack, Foster, Phillips, Samson.

FYR Macedonia: Bogatinov, Georgievski, Sikov, Noveski, Popov, Ibraimi (Tasevski 89), Gligorov
(Sumulikoski 70), Demiri, Trickovski (Hasani 37), Pandev, Ivanovski. Subs not used: Pacovski, Mojsov, Grncarov, Ristic, Lazevski, Georgiev, Naumovski.

Referee: Sergei Karasev (Russia).

Hodgson defends Gerrard

Roy Hodgson insisted England captain Steven Gerrard was harshly treated after being sent off in their disappointing 1-1 World Cup Group H qualifying draw against Ukraine at Wembley.

All in all England were shown five yellow cards and a red against Ukraine and it means Gerrard and full-back Glen Johnson, who was booked in Moldova last Friday for kicking the ball away, will now be banned for the World Cup qualifier against San Marino at Wembley next month.

Hodgson, however, criticised Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir for his handling of the game, saying: "I thought all the yellow cards were harsh. It was not a game were there were a lot of bad fouls. There were not a lot of fouls full stop. There were far too many yellow cards for the fouls that were committed and we certainly got too many."

He continued: "Steven Gerrard is certainly very unlucky to be sent off. I don't think the two fouls he was adjudged to have committed were worthy of that sanction."
The other England players booked against Ukraine were James Milner, Jermain Defoe and Joleon Lescott in a match during which England went behind to a brilliant 25-yard opener from Yevgen Konoplianka and were grateful for an 87th minute penalty from Frank Lampard after defender Yevhen Khacheridi had handled the ball.

A defiant Hodgson, however, praised England's performance.

He said: "You are always relieved when you are losing 1-0 and you get a late equaliser. I suppose all games you don't win at home people say it's not a great performance but I didn't think we did that badly.

"We kept at our task. We started poorly in the first 10 minutes but once we got into our stride we had quite good control of the game.

"We went one down to a wonder strike and from then on against a good Ukrainian team you are always going to be up against it but I was pleased with the way we kept playing our football, taking the game to them and creating chances.

"In the end we fully deserved our equaliser so I suppose I'll dodge the question whether it was a good performance or whatever and say that I was very pleased with the way the players went about their task."

Monday, September 03, 2012

Liverpool owner defends transfer work

John W Henry
Liverpool owner John W Henry has written an open letter to the club's fans in which he has admitted he was "disappointed" not to add to the squad on transfer deadline day but has defended the club's summer operations, pinning the blame for financial pressures on "the errors of previous regimes."

Liverpool fans were angered on Friday when the club loaned Andy Carroll to West Ham yet failed to bring in a replacement, with long-term attacking target Clint Dempsey joining Tottenham in a permanent deal.

Carroll's departure left Liverpool with just two senior forwards in Luis Suarez and Fabio Borini, and the club's frustration deepened on Sunday when they were defeated 2-0 at home by Arsenal to ensure their worst start to a season since 1962-63.

"I am as disappointed as anyone connected with Liverpool Football Club that we were unable to add further to our strike force in this summer transfer window," said Henry in an open letter. "But that was not through any lack of desire or effort on the part of all of those involved.

"They pushed hard in the final days of the transfer window on a number of forward targets and it is unfortunate that on this occasion we were unable to conclude acceptable deals to bring those targets in.

"But a summer window which brought in three young, but significantly talented starters in Joe Allen, Nuri Sahin and Fabio Borini as well as two exciting young potential stars of the future - Samed Yesil and Oussama Assaidi - could hardly be deemed a failure as we build for the future."

It is reported Liverpool were unable to match the offer made by Spurs for Dempsey and though manager Brendan Rodgers clearly felt there was money to spend, and said he fully expected a replacement for Carroll to be purchased, Henry says the club are still paying for mistakes made in the past that have reined in their ambitions.

Tom Hicks and George Gillett's reign left the club in financial peril while FSG's previous manager Kenny Dalglish and director of football Damien Comolli spent over £100 million on players who have largely made little impact.

Henry says FSG are willing to accept blame for their part in Liverpool's current predicament, but will not again put the future of the club at risk in order to chase short-term reward.

"We are still in the process of reversing the errors of previous regimes," he said. "It will not happen overnight. It has been compounded by our own mistakes in a difficult first two years of ownership. It has been a harsh education, but make no mistake, the club is healthier today than when we took over.

"Spending is not merely about buying talent. Our ambitions do not lie in cementing a mid-table place with expensive, short-term quick fixes that will only contribute for a couple of years. Our emphasis will be on developing our own players using the skills of an increasingly impressive coaching team. Much thought and investment already have gone into developing a self-sustaining pool of youngsters imbued in the club's traditions.

"That ethos is to win. We will invest to succeed. But we will not mortgage the future with risky spending."

Van Persie hits hat-trick but rues his penalty dink

Southampton 2 Manchester United 3

There are not many footballers who win a game in injury time with their hat-trick goal and then feel obliged to apologise to their team-mates afterwards, but then there are not many who can hold a candle to the extravagantly gifted Robin van Persie.

The old belief that every brilliant footballer must conquer his flaws as well as his genius was never so evident as in Van Persie's performance, which included a 68th-minute penalty miss, a preposterously self-indulgent "Panenka" saved by Kelvin Davis with Manchester United trailing 2-1. It was Van Persie at his wasteful worst, a bad case of I-dink-therefore-I-am.

The response was breathtaking. He scored in the 87th and 92nd minutes to win the match for his team, break Southampton hearts, and departed the pitch with the match ball in his hands – not before he had stood in front of the United support as they lauded him relentlessly with the kind of fervour a very famous club reserves only for its very best players. It would have been one hell of a game even without Van Persie's injury-time intervention.

Southampton were within a whisker of an incredible victory, having twice taken the lead over United in a game so open and exhilarating that it felt like a cup final. The home team were excellent at times, exploiting the weaknesses of their opponents and coaxing great performances from good players.

It was Sir Alex Ferguson's 1,000th league game in charge of United and he came close to losing it. That it ended with him turning to an opposing manager who had just seen his hopes smashed in the space of five brutal minutes at the end of the game was a fitting way to mark a milestone in a career for Ferguson that has borne witness to much of that sort of thing.

It was difficult not to marvel at Van Persie for the cold-blooded execution of his three goals as well as wondering at the inexplicable instinct which, he admitted himself, took possession of him in the last moment before he hit his penalty.

The Dutchman said that never before had he attempted to dink a penalty, in the manner of Andrea Pirlo in the Euro 2012 shoot-out with England, and like all great thinking footballers, blamed his alter ego.

"I don't know what I was thinking," Van Persie said afterwards. "I wanted to hit it hard like I always do and then in the last second I changed my mind, maybe it was 'my brother' or something. It wasn't good enough. I was a bit down about it immediately afterwards and then I got a bit lucky with the goal for 2-2. In the end it was a very dramatic 3-2...

"I'm very disappointed with the penalty. When that happens at 2-1 down, you can't take a penalty like that. Something went wrong big time."

Even Ferguson was forced to admit that trailing 2-1 with goals from Rickie Lambert in the first half and then Morgan Schneiderlin on 55 minutes, he thought his team were "well out of it". It was shortly after the hour that he sent on Paul Scholes in the place of Tom Cleverley and from then on United had more purpose in midfield, starting with the penalty they won and finally the two winning goals.

"I have to say a big thank you to Paul Scholes," Van Persie said. "Every single pass he hit was the right one and there were a couple of unbelievable passes over 30 to 40 metres. With him you always have to be on your toes because anything can happen. For me, he is the man of the match."

It was not just Scholes' introduction that changed the direction of the game, it was also the Southampton manager Nigel Adkins' decision to substitute Lambert and the captain Adam Lallana in quick succession, starting with Lambert with 16 minutes left, that took the wind out of Saints' sails. United sensed an opponent that were backing off them.

Lallana was excellent going forward despite his defensive struggles to manage the power of Antonio Valencia. Lambert scored the first at the back post having comprehensively outjumped Rafael da Silva to head in Jason Puncheon's cross from the right wing. Schneiderlin scored from another back-post cross, this time from Lambert, after Patrice Evra slipped badly.

Adkins' team cross the ball well but they can also pass the ball too. They could consider themselves unfortunate not to be in the lead at half-time, having conceded when Van Persie brought Valencia's cross down on his chest and Nathaniel Clyne slipped at the crucial moment. It gave the striker enough space for a sight of goal but few could have found the corner quite like him.

At 2-1 there was a ludicrous challenge by Jos Hooiveld on Van Persie in the area that gifted United the penalty that should have got them back into the game. Having missed that, Van Persie did not get another chance until Rio Ferdinand headed against the post and the striker scored the rebound. On 92 minutes he escaped Jose Fonte and glanced a superb header past Davis.

"We put ourselves in a position to win the game and we haven't," Adkins said. "United always finish the game strongly and we didn't see it through."

Cruel place, the Premier League, in which Southampton sit last, the only team on zero points, and this was a cruel reminder of what the big beasts of the division can do to you.

In Ferguson's view, Scholes had "changed the game completely" and he should know. It is just that when a player can scale the heights like Van Persie, in spite of his mistakes, it is difficult to begrudge him the bottle of champagne.

Match facts

Booked: So'ton Hooiveld.

Man of the match Van Persie.

Match rating 9/10.

Possession: So'ton 45%. Man Utd 55%.

Attempts on target: So'ton 4. Man Utd 7.

Referee M Dean (Cheshire).

Att 31,609.

Oscar Pistorius apologises for timing of Paralympics criticism

Alan Fonteles Cardoso Oliveira wins gold ahead of Oscar Pistorius
Oscar Pistorius has apologised for the timing of his comments following his loss in the Paralympic T44 200m final.

The South African had criticised the International Paralympic Committee, saying gold medallist Alan Oliveira's artificial legs were too long.

In a statement he said: "That was Alan's moment and I would like to put on record the respect I have for him.

"I want to apologise for the timing of my comments but I do believe there is an issue here."
 The world record holder was overhauled by Oliveira in the final 20m of the race, won by the Brazilian in 21.45 seconds with Pistorius second in 21.52.

The IPC said all artificial legs - known as blades - adhered to strict regulations and had been verified and agreed before the race.

But immediately after his loss, Pistorius told Channel 4: "We are not running in a fair race here.

"I don't know how you can come back, watching the replay, from eight metres behind on the 100 to win. It's absolutely ridiculous."

Oliveira said the comments of his "idol" were hard to take.

"The length of my blades is all right," said the South American. "I went through all the procedures with the referees. I believe Pistorius also knows that."
 Pistorius set a new world record of 21.30 seconds when qualifying for the final on Saturday, breaking the mark of 21.88 set by Oliveira in his own heat two races earlier.

On Monday morning Pistorius issued the apology.

"I accept that raising these concerns immediately as I stepped off the track was wrong," said Pistorius.

"I am a proud Paralympian and believe in the fairness of sport. I am happy to work with the IPC who obviously share these aims."

IPC communications director Craig Spence said Pistorius had raised his concern over the rules with them.

"We agreed to meet him at a later date so he could he raise his questions in a formal environment away from the emotion of the stadium," Spence said.

"The IPC respects the significant role Oscar has played in raising the global profile of Paralympic Sport since his Games debut in 2004. Therefore we are more than willing to give him an opportunity to air his views in a non-emotional environment at a meeting to be organised at a later date."

The IPC said in a statement that all competitors had been checked before the race.

"All were within the regulations outlined in the IPC Athletics Classification Handbook," the IPC said.

"Since 2010 athletes competing at IPC international competitions have been checked at regular occasions in the call room prior to participation."