Marlboro edges SJV in No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown FARRAH MAFFAI St. John Vianney’s Alison Regler kicks the pass of Marlboro’s Jenna Gatto during Saturday’s game at Roselle Catholic High School. Mustangs hold off fourth-quarter rally in 45-43 win By tim morris FARRAH MAFFAI St. John Vianney guard Shantel Brown tries to drive past Marlboro’s Brina Pollack during Saturday’s game at Roselle Catholic High School. Staff Writer When No. 1 meets No. 2, you expect a clash of wills and a highly competitive, closely fought battle that isn’t decided until the end. Saturday’s Marlboro-St. John Vianney girls’ basketball game before a standing-room-only crowd at Roselle Catholic High School may not have been artistic, but it provided the kind of drama anticipated from a No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup. In the end, undefeated and No. 1 Marlboro held off No. 2 St. John Vianney, 45-43, and won, perhaps, the biggest game in school history. Marlboro had been in control of the game throughout, but the gutsy Lancers had found a way to stay close, and with time expiring in regulation, Cheri Wittlieb drove the baseline looking to tie it up for SJV. She ran into the Mustangs Chakhia Cole, who blocked the ball out of bounds off Wittlieb. On the sidelines, both benches waited with baited breath to see if there would be a foul call. The referee pointed to the end line, signaling the ball belonged to Marlboro with one second to go. The game belonged to the Mustangs. “I didn’t think we’d get the call,” said Marlboro coach Craig Uplinger. “When we got the call, it was pure joy.” Although ranked No. 1 in the state and 17th nationally, the Mustangs had looked at themselves as the team with something to prove against St. John Vianney, Holmdel, which has been the standard-bearer for girls’ basketball in the Garden State for more than a decade. “We have so much respect for St. John Vianney,” said the Mustangs’ Jenna Gatto, who gave the Lancers fits with her 10 points and eight rebounds. “You like to play a game like this where both teams leave it all on the court.” That much the two teams did. Following a seesaw first quarter where Marlboro led 12-10 on Sharnee Zoll’s jumper, the Mustangs used a 10-0 early in the second quarter to take charge, 22-12. Brina Pollack scored six straight points during the run, including a three-pointer. Sarah Tanen came up with a big put-back off a Pollack missed free throw that pushed the lead to 20-12, and then the center scored off a feed from Zoll to push the lead to double-digits. Two free throws from Gatto gave Marlboro a 24-16 cushion at the half. St. John Vianney was lucky to still be in the game off 4-24 shooting. Marlboro’s underrated defense (which may not be underrated any longer) had a lot to do with it. SJV can wear defenses down with its patient offense centered around ball movement and screens. It just takes a moment’s loss of concentration by a defender, and a Lancer cutter is heading to the basket for an uncontested layup, or sticking an open jumper. “People look at us and talk about our athleticism and speed, but what you saw tonight was pretty good discipline on defense,” said Uplinger. “The kids play well together; they communicate and rotate. “Tonight we knew we were going up against a very disciplined offense that runs its sets,” he added. At the start of the third quarter, things didn’t get any better for the Lancers. A 6-0 Marlboro run, sparked by four points from Gatto, extended the lead to 12, 30-18. The Mustangs were facing a pretty good defense themselves that put more pressure on the ball than they are used to seeing. “Against their half-court defense we wanted to run the pick-and-roll, look for matchups and open lanes,” said Uplinger Gatto was especially effective finding the open space. Wittlieb and Shannon Coyle would get the Lancers back, igniting a 7-0 run with long-range shots that included a trey from Coyle that cut the lead to five, 30-25. Wittlieb said it was a matter of the Lancers never straying from the game plan. “We knew that the only way to win was if we kept our heads into it even when our shots weren’t falling,” she said. “We were rushing our shots in the first half. In the second we had some girls who stepped it up for us.” Marlboro held a 34-28 lead entering the fourth quarter, and Cole, who had turned an ankle in the second quarter, began to assert herself. A free throw and a layup off a nicely executed pick-and-roll stretched the lead to 37-28. But back came the Lancers with Wittlieb hitting from the outside and Coyle nailing another three-pointer. It was now 37-33 with 5:29 remaining. Gatto put the lead back to six, but the red hot Coyle would connect from beyond the arc one more time, and it was down to a one possession game, 39-36. Cole upped it to 41-36 on a drive to the basket, but it was raining threes on the Lancers’ end of the floor as Lindsay Orosz scored from beyond the arc to make it 41-39 with 3:05 remaining. Sarah Tanen, one of Marlboro’s unsung heroes with her rebounding and physical presence in the paint, scored to make it 44-39 with just over 2:00 remaining. But the Lancers were not through. Orosz and Wittlieb scored to cut it to 44-43 with 1:06 remaining. With 19 seconds left, the Lancers were forced to foul and Pollack went to the line. She made one of two for a 45-43 Marlboro lead. St. John Vianney misfired on its possession, and Cole rebounded and got fouled. She missed the front end of the one-and-one, and SJV had one last chance to tie or win with nine seconds. When Cole blocked Wittlieb’s drive, Marlboro had withstood the Lancers’ big comeback and attained the signature win that gives them legitimacy and solidifies their No. 1 ranking. “We’ve been talking about taking the next step,” said Uplinger. “You can’t ask for more in a game. It went right down to the wire.” Pollack led Marlboro (17-0) with 11 points. Gatto and Cole each netted 10. Leading the Lancers (14-2) was Wittlieb who had a game-high 14. Coyle had nine. As much as Marlboro was looking forward to playing the Lancers and having the chance to get that signature win, SJV was just as excited about playing the Mustangs. “We look forward to challenges like this,” said Wittlieb. “Marlboro is the best team around and it’s good experience for later in the season when we play in the Shore Conference and the states. “This was a loss, but we can take a lot of positives from it,” she added. There was a feeling on the part of both teams that they are going to meet again, probably at the Shore Conference Tournament where they will be the top two seeds. Saturday’s game left room for both teams to think they will be better in the anticipated rematch. For Marlboro, point guard Sharnee Zoll was shackled with foul trouble and played the fourth quarter with four fouls. Tanen was in foul difficulty herself. Then there is Cole, who twisted her ankle early in the second quarter and wasn’t fully mobile in the second half. For SJV, point guard Shantel Brown missed most of the second half with an injury, and even without her, the Lancers were able to mount a comeback. They were effective at making Marlboro play at a slower pace than the Mustangs wanted, and, of course, the Lancers don’t figure to shoot that poorly again.
Freehold Township hosting boys and girls games tomorrow night BY TIM MORRIS Staff Writer Marlboro and Red Bank Catholic’s senior girls will be on the same side tomorrow night. The seniors, who have dominated Shore Conference basketball during their four years, will be teammates on the North all-star team at Friday night’s Shore Basketball Coaches 2004 All-Star Game at Freehold Township starting at 6 p.m. The annual all-star game pits the best boys and girls seniors in the North Divisions against the best from the South. Chakhia Cole, Jenna Gatto and Christie Kastner, three-fourths of Marlboro’s celebrated senior class (guard Brina Pollack was the fourth member) will play together one more time on the North stars. The Mustangs won 101 games during their four years together. Included in those 101 wins are three Central Jersey Group IV titles and the 2003 Group IV state crown. This past season, the Mustangs collected their third sectional title and were beaten by Paterson Eastside in the Group IV final. Cole won the Kerwin Award (for being the top player in the Shore) for a record-tying second straight year. Red Bank Catholic won two Shore Conference Tournaments and two Parochial A state titles while Ali D’Amico, Lisa Kuchinski and Heather Westrol played together. The girls were the Parochial A champions this year and advanced to the Tournament of Champions semifinal, losing to eventual defending champion Shabazz, which went on to win a second straight crown. If that wasn’t enough, there is Rumson-Fair Haven’s Gately Golden who led the Bulldogs to the CJ II state sectional title. Rounding out the North squad are: Jamie Boyce, Keyport; Maura Burk, Freehold Township; Natashia Clackey, Long Branch; Michelle Dean, Middletown North; Ashley Healy, Howell; Kara Hertze, Raritan; Melissa Lehman, Shore Regional; and Jasmin Rodriguez, Holmdel. The South team they are facing is led by Freehold Borough’s Jen Towers, one of the best pivot players in the Shore; Colts Neck’s Meighan Kelly, who led the Shore in steals; and Christine Silvers and Ashley Reinecke of Toms River North, who sparked the Mariners to the South Jersey Group IV championship. Rounding out the South team are: Kathy Detata, Brick; Brittany Ester, Toms River East; Stephanie Longdo, Southern Regional; Samantha Hammil, St. Rose; Dana Danziger, Pt. Pleasant Boro; Stefanie Angstadt, Manasquan, Liz Imbriacco, St. Rose, Michele Fabio, St. Rose, Caitlin Burton, Colts Neck, Leslee Anderson, Manchester; and Natalie Zacharias, Monsignor Donovan. Marlboro’s Brian Nash, Howell’s Julie Hoebee and Raritan’s Erika Graham are the North coaches while Freehold Borough’s Suzanne Libro, Brick’s Mark Truhan and Manchester’s Rodney Copeland are coaching the South stars. The stars will be out on the boys’ side as well. The Shore’s leading scorer and Kerwin Award winner Manny Ubilla of Freehold Township will join the Raritan duo of Mike Nunes and Joe Reyes, who made the Rockets the Shore’s No. 1 team and the Group III state champions. The Rockets also won a game in the Tournament of Champions before falling to eventual champion St. Anthony. Rounding out the North stars are: Gerard Genevive, St. John Vianney; Corey Haskins, Red Bank Regional; Phil Hershowitz, Shore Regional; Matt Jetter, Mater Dei; Blaine Kordes, St. Rose; Ryan Kulat, Red Bank Regional; Dom Fone, Middletown North; Terrel Polk, Long Branch; Matt Presby, Manalapan; Walter Roberson, Freehold Township; D.J. Simms, Neptune; and Sarbjit Singh, Keyport. The South stars are led by one of the best pure-shooters in the Shore in Tom White of Manasquan, who led the Warriors to the Central Jersey Group IV title this winter. The South stars also have one of the year’s feel-good stories in Freehold Borough forward Sean Collier. Because of an asthma condition, Collier has done home study the last two years. The condition cleared up enough this year for him to return to school and get clearance to play basketball. He made the most of the opportunity, helping Freehold win 17 games and advance to the CJ III semifinals, and playing at a high enough level to make the all-star team. Rounding out the South stars are: Shawny Davis, Central Regional; Chris Earley, Manasquan; Todd Hampton, Colts Neck; Rick Hussey, Toms River East; Joe Maglione, Pinelands; Jason Miller, Rumson-Fair Haven; Ryan Mogila, Jackson; Pat Pryzblowski, Brick; Dan Redden, Brick; Vin Rivera, Pt. Pleasant Boro; Kenny Simms, Jackson; Ryan Tiplady, Toms River North; and Mike Zizack, Toms River East. RBR’s Scott Martin and Keyport’s Kevin Flynn will coach the North, and Freehold Borough’s Brian Donahue and Brick’s Joe Louis, the South. The boys will tip off at 8 p.m. Since all of the seniors have played their final scholastic games and college basketball is in the future for many, the all-star games will feature one significant change. Instead of four eight-minute quarters as in high school games, the all-star games will be 40 minutes (two 20-minute halves), as in college. BY TIM MORRISStaff Writer Freehold Townshiphosting boys and girlsgames tomorrow night
The Central Jersey Umpires Association is looking for a few good men and women. The association is expanding and needs candidates to umpire baseball and softball games. Serious prospects only, please. Great part-time job starting in March and running through November. Mid-day availability a major plus. For those interested, classes will begin Feb. 15 and run until March 22. Classes will be held at the Matawan Rec Center on Broad Street on Wednesday nights only. For further information, call Bruce at (732) 264-7131. A.J Senerchia of Lincroft was recently named a 2006 Puma Preseason High School All-American. Puma utilizes the Baseball Factory and Team One Baseball to locate the top players from across the country. Professional scouts select players based on an outstanding performance at a previous event. A.J. was selected to represent the Northeast as a catcher from more than 5,000 high school players from across the country in 2005. He was chosen to travel to Tucson, Ariz., and the Kino Sports Complex, spring training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks, to participate in the Puma Pre-Season All-American Tournament, Jan. 13-16. Senerchia, a senior at Middletown High School South, hopes the nomination will help propel him to successfully compete at the collegiate level. A.J. recently finished a great fall season of baseball playing for the Middletown Lions of the ABCCCL Jersey Shore wood bat league. He batted .570 with an on-base percentage of .700, and was chosen to represent his team as an all-star. This past summer he was chosen as an all-star and MVP for his American Legion team. St. Mary’s Athletic Association will be conducting sign-ups for the spring soccer (ages 4-14) program. The sign-ups will be held in St. Mary’s lobby on Wednesday, Feb. 8 (7-9 p.m.) and Feb. 15 (7-9 p.m.) For more information and to sign up via mail, see the Web site www.stmarychurchnj.org/smaa.htm. For more information, call Tom at (908) 492-4467. The Monmouth Women’s Softball League (modified pitch league) is looking for players and teams for its Sunday/Monday night league. The season starts late April and runs through August. For more information, call (732) 213-8216 or e-mail MWSL2002@yahoo.com The Lincroft Knights, a U11 boys competitive travel baseball team, is looking for players for the spring and fall season. Spring games are on Sundays. Players must be born on or after May 1, 1994. Tryouts are on Sunday, Jan. 29, Feb. 5 and Feb. 26 at 1 p.m. at the St. Leo the Great gym in Lincroft. Residency is not required. For more information, call (732) 530-7305 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org The Shore Umpires Association will be conducting classes for interested candidates looking to become certified in New Jersey to umpire high school baseball/softball games. Classes will begin on Feb. 15. For more information and an application, e-mail Vinny Smith at Vinny5317@yahoo.com or send a letter of interest to 42 Tindall Road, Middletown 07748. The association supplies umpires for the Shore Conference. The Bayshore Warriors, located out of the Matawan/Old Bridge area, a U11 travel baseball team, is looking for competitive and dedicated players and parents for the spring season. Tryouts will be in February. Contact the coach at (732) 970-8889 or e-mail email@example.com. Become a certified ASA Umpire. Classes are being formed for the 2006 season. Interested individuals should contact the District V umpire-in-chief Hal Schwartz at (732) 290-7841 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Classes are scheduled to begin in February and will run for approximately six weeks. Shore Track and Field Association Inc. will train interested men and women into certified officials through two courses beginning in January. While no prior experience is necessary, cadets will be educated in the rules and policies governing interscholastic sports for a period of six weeks, culminating with a closed-book, 100-question exam. Candidates need to bring two letters of reference as to why they would make good officials. In Monmouth County, telephone instructors Michael and Kathy Uhrich at (732) 741-1381. Classes will be held at Red Bank Catholic High School.
One More Laugh had the last laugh. The 3-year-old gelding pacer won the $300,000 Cane Pace at Freehold Raceway, Freehold, on Labor Day, Sept. 6, and joined legends of the sport including Bret Hanover, Albatross and Niatross. The Cane Pace is the first leg of the Pacing Triple Crown. The 2010 edition of the Cane Pace was the 56th running of the race. Sent off as the favorite, One More Laugh proved his superiority by not only going wire-to-wire for the victory, but by setting a new track record of 1:50.3 for the mile in winning by four-and-one-quarter lengths over Rockin Image. Longshot Urgent Action got up for third place. The previous track mark was 1:50.4 which was equaled by I’m Gorgeous in the Cane Pace elimination (Aug. 23). I’m Gorgeous ran out of the money in the Cane Pace final.DriverTimTetrick said after the race that One More Laugh “responded like the powerhouse I knew he was.” One More Laugh is the fifth horse to win the Meadowlands Pace and the Cane Pace. The win at Freehold Raceway increased his lifetime earnings to $1,698,920, which includes 14 wins and six second-place finishes in 23 carrier starts. The horse’s trainer and part owner Ray Schnittker, who notched his first Triple Crown victory, said One More Laugh will go to the Little Brown Jug in Delaware, Ohio, where he will try to win the second leg of the Pacing Triple Crown. The Little Brown Jug will be run on Sept. 23. The third leg of the Pacing Triple Crown, the Messenger Stakes, is scheduled to be run on Nov. 6 at Yonkers Raceway, Yonkers, N.Y. If One More Laugh sweeps the remaining two legs he will become the 11th Pacing Triple Crown winner since the series was inaugurated in 1956. The last horse to win all three races was No Pan Intended in 2003. No matter what transpires in the upcoming Triple Crown races, harness racing fans can expect to see One More Laugh around for a long time. Schnittker said he wants to race the pacer for four or five more years. In other harness racing news, on Sept. 10 at Freehold Raceway, Flex The Muscle extended his winning streak to four races and posted a stakes record time of 1:55.4 in the $80,000 Charles I. Smith Final. Driver David Miller moved the trotter quickly to the lead out of the gate, held it at every call, and then drew off in the homestretch to a four-and-three-quarter length victory over Flashback and Jetblue Volo. Flex The Muscle, a son of Muscles Yankee, erased the previous record of 1:57 established in 2007 by Princetonian. In August, Flex The Muscle, trained by Schnittker, swept two preliminary legs and the $100,000 final of New Jersey Sire Stakes at Freehold Raceway. He now has six wins and three second-place finishes in 14 starts this year. Flex The Muscle’s victory on Sept. 10 pushed his career bankroll to $383,949 for Schnittker and his partners, Jerry Silva of Long Beach, N.Y., and Arden Homestead Stable of Delhi, N.Y. Sponsored by the Standardbred Breeders and Owners Association of New Jersey, the Charles I. Smith Trot was named in memory of a New Jersey harness racing pioneer, founder of the New Jersey Sire Stakes program and owner of trotters.
BY MATTHEW ROCCO Correspondent Holmdel returns all seven starters from 23-3 team I t is safe to say the Holmdel boys tennis team has emerged as one of the top teams in New Jersey.Last season the Hornets finished with an overall record of 23-3, winning the Monmouth County and Shore Conference tournaments. The team also made it to the Central Jersey Group III final in the NJSIAA state tournament.And this season, Holmdel has all seven starters from last year.“We’re definitely strong,” head coach Chuck Chelednik said. “We have a good and experienced team, and all of the guys improved and learned from last year. Our goals would be to repeat our performance last season.”The Hornets certainly have shown to be capable of replicating their success from last spring, surging to a 10-1 record to start the 2011 season. They are in first place in the Shore Conference A Central Division with a 3-0 mark.Competing in the Bryan Bennett Memorial Tennis Tournament at Delbarton School, Morristown, Holmdel defeated Delbarton for the first time in Chelednik’s 12 years as head coach. The Hornets advanced as far as the semifinals, where they lost to Morris Knolls, 3-2, on April 10.The Hornets also posted impressive victories over Shore Conference powers Christian Brothers Academy and Marlboro, both by identical scores of 5-0 last week. Chelednik noted that Holmdel has been posting wins even when the team’s top player, sophomore Derek Liu, has a record of 5-4 against the high-caliber competition the Hornets have been facing.Holmdel currently is undefeated in doubles matches. Seniors Neeve Nikoo and David Lyu are 10-0 and juniors Ganesh Natarajan and Michael Li are 7-0.“This is definitely one of the best teams I have coached since 2002 when we won the Tournament of Champions,” Chelednik said. “It’s another year with the same guys, with another year of experience. Other teams don’t have the depth and numbers we have, and that separates us from other teams.”Senior Charlie Seifer (8-3) plays second singles for Holmdel, and junior Daway Chou-Ren (6-2) plays third singles. Freshman Sam Joynson (6-0) and senior JacobYang (3-0) have undefeated personal records.On Sunday, the Hornets topped St. Augustine, 4-1, andLenape, 4-1, to advance to the Moorestown Classic championship match, which has yet to be scheduled because Saturday’s matches were rained out.The Hornets, who hosted the first annual Holmdel Tennis Classic on Wednesday, are slated to face Red Bank Regional and Raritan on Thursday.This year’s Shore Conference Tournament begins with first-round action on April 29. The Hornets will no doubt be the top seed.The Monmouth County Flights Tournament will be heldApril 29 through May 1 at Tindall Park in Middletown.
Raritan The Raritan High School wrestling team defeated Delsea (Franklinville) in the NJSIAA Group II final on Sunday, propelling the team into the District 22 championships this weekend with a state title already in the books.The Rockets first took care of High Point, 31-18, in their semifinal match in the afternoon at Pine Belt Arena in Toms River, advancing to the final of the Group II championships. Raritan then beat a state powerhouse in Delsea, 30-28, for the program’s first state championship.It was a thrilling day for Raritan, a team that won its second sectional title and first since 2004 when it defeated Delaware Valley on Feb. 10. In the championship match on Sunday, Nick Rice, Dylan Seidenberg, Matt Lindo, Anthony Scarcella, Nick Liguori, Devin Holmes and Tyler Sookdeo registered victories for Raritan, who defeated Delsea twice this season — in the season’s opening match and then the state championship. Raritan High School’s Matt Lindo (top) tries to finish High Point’s John Torppey by pinning him during their 113- pound match in the NJSIAA Group II team championship semifinal held at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River on Feb. 12. Lindo didn’t get the pin, but he won the match by a 7-1 decision. The Rockets won the match, 31-18, advancing to the Group II final, where they captured the school’s first state wrestling championship by defeating Delsea Regional High School, 30-28. PHOTOS BY JEFF GRANIT staff “It was just absolutely amazing. I couldn’t be more proud of my guys,” head coach Rob Nucci said, adding that Raritan’s demanding schedule prepared the Rockets for what the group championships brought on Sunday.“All three teams there on Sunday, we beat already this season. It shows you how our schedule during the course of the season really set us up for the state tournament,” he said. Raritan High School’s Nick Rice (bottom) and High Point’s Christopher Epperly struggle to gain control during their 220-pound match in the NJSIAA Group II team championship semifinal. Rice went on to win the match, 10-5. “It was a complete team effort. It was something we stressed this season, embracing the grind,” he added. “And Delsea has only two losses, both of them to Raritan.”For Nucci, who is coaching his 11th season as Raritan’s head coach, the state championship brings his tenure with the Rockets full circle.“I remember seeing some of [Raritan’s wrestlers] as little boys sitting in the stands watching their older brothers,” he said. “As a coach, that is absolutely awesome.”The state championship gives the Rockets considerable momentum going into the District 22 tournament, which will be held at Red Bank Regional on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 17 and 18. In addition to Raritan and Red Bank, the championships will feature Christian Brothers Academy, Keansburg, Keyport, Long Branch, Middletown North, Middletown South, Ocean Township, Red Bank Catholic and Rumson-Fair Haven.Raritan (24-6) will be looking to defend its District 22 title from last season, when it topped second-place Ocean Township, 196-168. CBA finished third with 155 points.“It’s going to be another circus,” Nucci said of the district tournament. “At the group championships, Ocean was at the mat to our right and CBA was to our left. District 22 is up for grabs.”Ocean Township (22-2) will enter the district tournament as a contender for the top spot. After defeating Paramus, 48-15, in the Group III semifinals, Ocean fell to South Plainfield, 30-27, in the title match-up. Jason DaCruz and Colton Bigelow were district champions in 2011. Ocean’s 12 District 22 titles is a record. The Spartans won five consecutive championships from 2004 to 2008.In the Shore Conference Tournament, the Spartans beat the Rockets, 34-24. CBA (18-6) fell to Bergen Catholic in the Non-Public A championship match on Sunday, a 36-16 loss that followed a sectional victory for the Colts against St. Augustine. It was CBA’s first sectional title since 2002 and only the second in the program’s history. Erik Beshada, Christian Casselli, Vin Favia and Hayden Hrymack each won championship bouts at last year’s District 22 tournament, giving the Colts more returning champions than any of the other contenders.Long Branch lost to Raritan, 34-16, in the Central Jersey Group II semifinals on Feb. 8. The Green Wave, which won its first District 22 title in 2010, placed fourth in last season’s district championships with 151.5 points.Middletown South senior Nick Herring returns this week after winning a District 22 title last season. Herring’s championship helped the Eagles score 72 points for a fifthplace finish in 2011. The District 22 championships at Red Bank Regional will begin with the first round on Friday at 5:30 p.m. The tournament continues Saturday at 10 a.m., and title and consolation matches are slated to begin at 2 p.m. Headed to District 22 tourney at Red Bank Regional, Raritan is defending champion BY MATTHEW ROCCO Correspondent
Fernando Torres capitalised on a defensive blunder to score a last-minute winner and secure Chelsea a 2-1 Premier League victory over Manchester City at Stamford Bridge on Sunday.The Spain striker, who set up Andre Schuerrle’s first-half goal, gleefully fired into an empty net after a mix-up between City defender Matija Nastasic and Joe Hart.Sergio Aguero had levelled soon after halftime for City as victory lifted Chelsea back up to second place, level on 20 points with Liverpool and two behind leaders Arsenal.Roberto Soldado’s 80th minute penalty secured Tottenham Hotspur a 1-0 home win over Hull City and moved them up to fourth, while Sunderland moved off the foot of the table after substitute Fabio Borini lashed in a superb late winner in a 2-1 derby victory over Newcastle United.Italian Borini, on loan from Liverpool, lifted the gloom at the Stadium of Light when he thundered a 25-metre rocket past a flailing Tim Krul six minutes from time.Swansea City and West Ham United drew 0-0 in Sunday’s other game.
By Igor Nitsak and Jahmal CornerUkraine’s soccer friendly against the United States on Wednesday in Cyprus will be played under the slogan “Peace for Ukraine!,” the Football Federation of Ukraine said on its website on Tuesday.Federation president Anatoliy Konkov earlier said Ukraine had changed its mind about cancelling the match as a sign of respect for the United States.“After announcing our intention to cancel the flight to Cyprus for a friendly against the U.S. soccer team and with regard to the military aggression of Russian Federation in Ukraine’s autonomous region of Crimea, I received numerous phone calls from public and football representatives who expressed various views on this decision,” Konkov said.Konkov held a series of meetings with team coach Mykhaylo Fomenko and Minister of Youth and Sport Dmytro Bulatov.“As a result we arrived on a common idea we should play the scheduled friendly with U.S. soccer team as they represent the country that stood up to defend our national interests and territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Konkov said.“This is a very important decision to raise the patriotic spirit of the Ukrainian people. It must unite the country and show the whole world how high our flag waves and how proudly sounds the anthem of the independent state.”Konkov had said on Monday that Ukraine would not travel to Cyprus for the friendly, originally scheduled to be played in Kharkiv but moved because of Ukraine’s unstable political situation and following U.S. requests.“We cannot hold the national championship so what kind of football can we talk of at all? If we do not have an opportunity to play on home soil, why shall we go to Cyprus in these troubled times for our country?” Konkov said.“We play for our people and country. Our team do not fly to Cyprus and stay at home,” he told the ICTV channel.Ukraine’s Premier League has postponed the restart of the domestic championship after the mid-season break following Russia’s military intervention.Russian President Vladimir Putin received permission from his parliament on Saturday to use military force in Ukraine. The stated purpose was to protect ethnic Russians following the ousting of Ukraine’s Russian-backed president a week ago.Putin got the green light from parliament after Russian forces had already gained control of Crimea, an isolated Black Sea peninsula with an ethnic Russian majority and where Moscow has long had a naval base.The United States is preparing to impose sanctions on Russia for its military intervention in Crimea, although no decision had yet been made, the U.S. State Department said on Monday.
By Martyn HermanThe memory of the opening 45 minutes of England’s brief World Cup adventure in steamy Brazil when Roy Hodgson’s young cavaliers tore into Italy with joyful abandon now seems like a figment of the imagination.Despite that encounter in Manaus ending in a rather undeserved 2-1 defeat, the mood afterwards was upbeat with talk of new dawns and an England side packed with pace and movement that could only get better.A subsequent defeat by Uruguay and a stultifying 0-0 draw with Costa Rica meant England returned crestfallen, although they were spared the usual media backlash, probably because a thrilling tournament was providing other distractions.The long period of goodwill Hodgson has enjoyed hitherto in his reign appears to be running out, however.Wednesday’s 1-0 win at home to Norway in a dire friendly played out in a half-empty Wembley stadium was greeted with a chorus of disapproval and for the first time Hodgson is beginning to come under attack from media and fans alike.The clash with a limited Norway side was supposed to be a fresh start before a routine-looking Euro 2016 qualification campaign begins in Switzerland on Monday.Instead, it highlighted just how far England’s stock has fallen. Lacking creativity, self-belief and saddled with an archaic 4-4-2 system after halftime, Hodgson’s side looked exactly what they are – a mediocre international team.From the all out attack against Italy, Hodgson’s side were hesitant in possession and lacking rhythm while the manager himself appears to have gone on the defensive, both tactically and with his spiky demeanour.“Don’t hit me with statistics,” Hodgson barked at journalists who pointed out that England had managed only two shots on target – one of them Wayne Rooney’s successful penalty.EXCESS BAGGAGE“We can’t get rid of the baggage,” Hodgson added in British media on Friday. “We can’t change the fact that we’ve had a bad World Cup. We can’t play those games against Italy and Uruguay again but I think you have to give me the entitlement (the right to do the job) at least.”While the link-up play between Liverpool duo Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge offered some bright moments, Hodgson is hardly blessed with a raft of exciting talent – no so-called golden generation about to break through.The paucity of the depth of real international class in English football was evident in Hodgson’s assertion that “the fact of the matter is we haven’t got many more.”“There are four or five very good players who are not here because of injury,” he said.“Chris Smalling and Luke Shaw in defence, Ross Barkley and Adam Lallana in central midfield. There are people like Jon Flanagan at right-back. We have long-term injuries with Jay Rodriguez. They are youngsters.”True, but none of the names he reeled off are established internationals and have only a smattering of England caps between them and virtually no experience in the pinnacle of world club football, the Champions League.There was a weariness to some of Hodgson’s comments following the Norway match – an echo of some of his predecessors such as Graham Taylor, Sven Goran Eriksson and Fabio Capello, all of whom came under attack from the media at various times during their spells in charge.His view of the game appeared at odds with that of most observers who feel England are regressing.“If we’d have played badly, if a lot of players had had really poor performances, if the quality of our passing and movement was nothing like I wanted to see, if our defending wasn’t as compact, aggressive or organised as it was for long periods, I’d be the first to say so,” Hodgson said.“But I’m not going to say it’s that just because we had a bad World Cup.”All is not lost for Hodgson but the warning signs are there after a meagre seven wins from their last 18 matches – a run that has seen them drop to 20th in the FIFA world rankings.Adopting the kind of siege mentality Hodgson appears to be slipping into usually alienates the trigger-happy media.Another poor performance against ninth-ranked Switzerland on Monday would give plenty more ammunition to the snipers and leave Hodgson facing his first real crisis since taking over from Capello shortly before the Euro 2012 finals.
By Ed OsmondIreland ruthlessly wore down Scotland in a commanding 40-10 victory at Murrayfield on Saturday that lifted them above Wales at the top of the Six Nations standings on points difference.Ireland will win the title for the second year in a row unless England beat France by 26 points in the final match of the tournament at Twickenham later on Saturday.“It just feels really awkward, you win in Murrayfield with a 30-point differential and nobody is celebrating,” Ireland coach Joe Schmidt told Irish television.“We’ve got the dinner now and I’m going to try to switch away from it and not watch it, and someone will let me know and I’ll be either delighted or broken.“It’s a bizarre feeling. To go back to back would be incredible but I think it would be merited by this group. Right here right now, we’d be desperate to get the right result coming up this evening.“We just wanted to keep building, we wanted to stay dynamic and hopefully the points will look after themselves. I think the players did incredibly well.“Some of the frustrations from last week came out today in the energy that was displayed and in some of the accuracy that was demonstrated as well.”Ireland captain Paul O’Connell crashed over from close range to score an early try and flanker Sean O’Brien surged across the line to put the visitors 17-3 ahead.But Scotland regrouped and flyhalf Finn Russell scampered over in the left corner to reduce the deficit to 20-10 at halftime.Ireland dominated possession and were rewarded when centre Jared Payne scythed through the Scottish defence to touch down with Scotland in chaos.Scottish hopes took another hit when prop Geoff Cross was sent to the sin-bin but Ireland flyhalf Jonny Sexton missed two straightforward penalties.Sexton re-adjusted his radar, however, to extend the Irish lead to 33-10 and man-of-the-match O’Brien burrowed over from close range seven minutes from time.Scotland fullback Stuart Hogg failed to ground the ball over the line under heavy pressure from Jamie Heaslip and although Ian Madigan missed a late penalty to extend the lead, Ireland were left to celebrate their record victory at Murrayfield.Scotland’s fifth successive defeat in the tournament left them bottom of the Six Nations standings after another depressing campaign.