Luca Brecel fell victim to the so-called ‘Crucible curse’ as qualifier David Gilbert reeled off the final four frames to claim a stunning 10-9 win over the defending champion on the opening day of the World Snooker Championship in Sheffield.

The Belgian became the 19th first-time champion to fail to defend his title at the famous venue as Gilbert, a semi-finalist in 2019, surged back level with three successive half-centuries then dispatched a nerveless 65 which proved enough to secure a famous win.

When Brecel shook hands with only one snooker required, it marked a stunning end to his kamikaze reign as champion, which had seen the 29-year-old switch his focus firmly to high-value acquisitions off the table while he struggled to reach a solitary ranking quarter-final on it.

For Gilbert it completed a stunning revival, having won a single Crucible match in the four years since his run to the last four, during which he found himself frequently questioning his motivation to continue.

A missed green off its spot when Brecel stood on the brink of victory at 9-8 proved one of many decisive moments as Brecel mixed a display of stunning potting with wild shot choices and careless errors that constantly prevented him from making the decisive move.

Brecel had blasted two centuries and two more breaks over 70 in a quickfire opening session that he shaded 6-3, seemingly dispelling fears that he was returning to Sheffield woefully ill-prepared to avoid the fate of so many former champions.

A break of 115 helped Gilbert hang onto his opponent’s coat-tails but he failed to take a series of chances in the early stages of their resumption, and Brecel had one foot in the last 16 at 9-6 before Gilbert summoned his dramatic twist.

Earlier, Judd Trump rode his luck to establish a 6-3 overnight lead over Hossein Vafaei.

Third seed Trump looked sharp and focused against the dangerous Iranian qualifier, but Vafaei was left to rue a series of missed opportunities ahead of their resumption on Sunday afternoon.

The 29-year-old could easily have headed into the mid-session interval with a 4-0 lead over the 2019 champion, but instead it was Trump who kept his nerve to carve a 3-1 advantage that he never looked likely to relinquish.

Stephen Maguire produced two centuries but could not shake off ninth seed Ali Carter, who takes a 5-4 lead into their conclusion on Sunday.

The Scot, a two-time semi-finalist, made a storming start with breaks of 93 and 114 but showed his frustration as untimely errors scattered the rest of the session, before a nervy 55 in the ninth frame enabled him to keep in touch with the two-time former finalist.

Zhang Anda, the 11th seed, trails 5-2 after the opening session against qualifier Jak Jones, in a low-quality match that was hauled off two frames early due to slow play.

Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk insists “anything is possible” as the Reds seek to overhaul Manchester City and Arsenal in what could be a thrilling season finale.

Jurgen Klopp’s side dropped to third last weekend after defeat to Crystal Palace and the initiative is now with their rivals.

However, Van Dijk remains optimistic about their chances over the final six games.

 

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“Big six. Anything is still possible. We have to give it everything and we will give it everything,” said the Netherlands captain.

“We have to focus on each game as they come.”

A Europa League exit to Atalanta in midweek was another blow to confidence but Van Dijk does not see the point in dwelling on past results.

“We have all the reasons to be disappointed. But it’s our own fault,” he added.

“It’s not one factor, it’s multiple. We’re all human beings, we all want to do well, keep clean sheets and score goals.

“But we are where we are and the situation is what it is. When the games don’t go well – obviously didn’t happen many times this season – we all have to switch it back on.

“We have to focus on ourselves like we always have been doing and that never changes.”

Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag “can’t be bothered” with criticism of the job he is doing at Old Trafford and claims he has only been able to pick his strongest team once in 18 months.

The Dutchman delivered an encouraging first season, winning the League Cup and finishing in the top four, but this campaign has been far more difficult.

They were knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage and are in a battle to finish in the top six in the Premier League, with his position coming under scrutiny following Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s minority purchase and takeover of the football operations.

United can salvage their season by winning the FA Cup and they aim to reach a second successive final when they host Championship Coventry on Sunday.

Ten Hag insists he shuts out the noise when it comes to speculation on his future.

“I don’t put energy into this, if I’m judged fairly or not,” he said. “I know what we are doing here, why I’m here, to bring trophies, to also create economic value, so we are working on those and in a process you have setbacks.

“I look at this and can see it realistically, so I see the nuance, some comments miss that, but I can’t be bothered about it, can’t go into emotions.

“I see it realistic, rationale, and I’m only focussing on my team, to improve the team and individuals. That’s what I’m here for.”

United have had injury problems to deal with and the Dutchman says the home win over Manchester City last year was the only time he had a full squad to choose from.

“I don’t have any concern about what is said on the outside,” he said. “What concerns me is that in 18 months I have never had my favourite team on the pitch in 18 months.

“That concerns me. Because the players are injured. One time (I could pick my strongest XI) was against City last season in the home game.

“That was the only time where we had a full squad, where I can pick my team and in all the other games there was always an injury aspect where we have to deal with.

“That is normal in football but not so many as we have had. And I know when we have so many injuries as we have had and on crucial key positions, you can’t deliver the results you want to bring and that is OK.

“But that is my truth. And others can have a different truth. But I can’t put energy in that.”

The man in the opposite dugout should provide a timely reminder to Ten Hag that fortunes in football can change in an instant.

Sky Blues boss Mark Robins is widely acknowledged to be the man who saved Sir Alex Ferguson’s job in 1990 when his third-round goal against Nottingham Forest ended a run of 11 games without a win.

United went on to win the FA Cup that year and the rest is history.

“Yes, I know (the story). In football, it’s sometimes like this, that a shot on the post or in the net makes a huge difference,” Ten Hag said.

“See 1966, eh? Only one time but it made them (England) world champions.”

Harry Kane scored his 40th Bayern Munich goal of the season in a 5-1 Bundesliga thumping of Union Berlin.

After reaching the Champions League semi-finals in midweek, Bayern took a step towards securing second place in the league with an emphatic victory.

Leon Goretzka opened the scoring and Kane curled in a free-kick just before half-time to take his league-leading tally to 33.

Thomas Muller scored twice in the second half, either side of a goal from Mathys Tel, with Union limited to a late consolation effort from Yorbe Vertessen.

Fourth-placed RB Leipzig needed a late winner from Lois Openda to claim a 2-1 victory at Heidenheim.

Benjamin Sesko put the visitors ahead late in the first half but Nikola Dovedan levelled before Openda secured the points five minutes from time.

Robin Hack’s hat-trick was not enough to prevent Borussia Monchengladbach from falling to a 4-3 defeat at Hoffenheim.

Hack thought he had earned a point for the visitors when he scored twice late on after Hoffenheim had taken a 3-1 lead with goals from Wout Weghorst, Grischa Promel and Ozan Kabak.

But Anton Stach found the winner for the home side in the first minute of injury time.

Koln’s hopes of survival were dealt a major blow by a 2-0 loss to bottom side Darmstadt, who appear doomed to relegation, while Bochum remain in trouble after a 1-0 loss to Wolfsburg.

Girona’s 4-1 victory over relegation-threatened Cadiz in LaLiga ensured they will be playing European football next season.

Early goals from Eric Garcia and Ivan Martin set the tone, with Artem Dovbyk and Portu making sure of the points in the second half.

Real Betis boosted their hopes of joining Girona with a 2-1 victory away at Valencia.

Ayoze Perez scored twice for the visitors – who sit eighth, two points behind Real Sociedad – either side of a Pepelu penalty.

Celta Vigo went behind at home to Las Palmas but responded brilliantly to claim a 4-1 victory that lifts them six points clear of the bottom three.

Juanma Herzog opened the scoring but Iago Aspas netted twice for Celta along with one each from Williot Swedberg and Anastasios Douvikas.

Rayo Vallecano also eased their relegation fears, Pep Chavarria and Isi Palazon scoring in the final 10 minutes in a 2-1 win over Osasuna.

In Serie A, struggling Empoli stunned defending champions Napoli 1-0, Alberto Cerri scoring the only goal in the fourth minute.

The big match at the bottom had a dramatic finish as Diego Coppola struck in injury time to earn Verona a 1-0 win over Udinese.

Rennes kept alive their hopes of sneaking into the European places in Ligue 1 by beating lowly Nantes 3-0 but they remain four points behind Lens, who defeated bottom side Clermont 1-0 thanks to an early penalty from Florian Sotoca.

Girona guaranteed they will be playing European football next season with a 4-1 thumping of struggling Cadiz in LaLiga.

After last weekend’s defeat by Atletico Madrid, third-placed Girona moved seven points clear of the capital side ahead of their meeting with Alaves on Sunday.

They took the lead in the ninth minute, Eric Garcia heading in Savio’s cross, and Yangel Herrera then saw a shot saved before Ivan Martin doubled the advantage with 22 minutes gone with a shot into the bottom corner.

Maxi Gomez had a header blocked as Cadiz sought a way back into the match but Girona nearly found a third just before half-time, Savio hitting the bar with a shot from outside the box.

The visitors, who are six points from safety, made changes for the second half and they came out positively, Chris Ramos twice going close while Lucas Pires also had a shot saved.

But Girona added a third in the 71st minute through Artem Dovbyk, whose shot found the bottom corner.

Cadiz kept pushing and got their goal in the 81st minute when Gonzalo Escalante found the net from close range following a corner.

But a minute later Girona struck again, this time Portu adding the final flourish on a historic night for the Catalan side.

Mark Robins insists his FA Cup reunion with Manchester United should not distract from his Coventry side’s own dreams of Wembley glory.

Robins was a predecessor to the fabled ‘Class of 92’ at Old Trafford, but the glory years of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville may have looked a lot different were it not for his efforts.

His match-winning goal in the third-round match against Nottingham Forest in 1990 is widely credited with keeping Sir Alex Ferguson in a job, and he was a late substitute as the Red Devils beat Crystal Palace in the final to kick off a trophy-laden golden era.

On Sunday he finds himself back at the national stadium in an FA Cup semi-final, with the fate of another United manager – the under-pressure Erik ten Hag – potentially in his hands.

Yet the 54-year-old has been happy to leave the past in the past and has not been bending his squad’s ears with tales of times gone by.

“Absolutely not. They were all born after 1990, so none of them (know about it),” he said on the eve of the game.

“I don’t speak about things like that. It doesn’t matter what I did, I just talk about them. This is totally different and management is totally different to playing.

“It’s not about me, it’s all about the players and the preparation and how they can execute against a top, top team.

“These players have got an aspiration to play in the Premier League so for me, for them, it’s a chance to see how they perform, regardless of anything else around the game.”

Robins lays no claim to the disputed version of events that paints him as the reason for sparing the most dominant manager of his generation the sack, but can still be tempted into some mild nostalgia.

“In fairness I was substitute in a cup final 34 years ago, a brilliant occasion for us as Manchester United. It was fantastic,” he said.

“There were only two substitutes in those days so to get on the bench in the first place, when there was a lot of talented individuals who didn’t make it, puts it into perspective. I’d just broken into the squad and played a part in the run up to the final.

“It’s part of my experience, it’s part of my footballing background, but it was a long, long time ago.”

One of the Sky Blues players players hoping to make some cup memories of their own is 18-goal striker Ellis Simms. A childhood Manchester City fan, Simms scored twice in the dramatic quarter-final victory over Wolves including the decisive strike in the 10th minute of added time.

He confirmed Robins has kept his own playing days firmly in the background in the build-up to a match that represents a career high for many in the Coventry squad, but believes his efforts in the dugout should be receiving greater attention.

“It was obviously a few years ago, probably before my time, but I’ve heard bits of it,” Simms said of Robins’ FA Cup success.

“He’s very humble, but we know he was a top player back in the day. Now it’s about us as players but he’s going to do everything he can to help us.

“He should get more praise than he does. Getting us this far in the competition, the majority of people didn’t think we would get this far so it’s massive credit to him.”

Tottenham’s top-four prospects have been dealt a blow after full-back Destiny Udogie was ruled out for the rest of the season.

Udogie has flourished in his first campaign in the Premier League and made 30 appearances in all competitions for Spurs.

The Italian defender has caught the eye with his ventures into midfield under Ange Postecoglou, but revealed in a post on Instagram that he had surgery on an unspecified injury and would not play again in the 2023-24 season.

 

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“An injury brings my season to an early end,” Udogie wrote.

“It doesn’t take away from how grateful I am to every person that has supported me this year.”

News of Udogie’s injury is untimely for a Tottenham team who lost 4-0 at Newcastle last weekend.

Spurs lost ground in the battle for Champions League qualification as a result and are currently three points behind fourth-placed Aston Villa.

Pep Guardiola admitted it was “unacceptable” that Manchester City’s 1-0 FA Cup semi-final win over Chelsea was scheduled for less than 72 hours after their Champions League defeat to Real Madrid.

City recovered from their European exit on Wednesday night – when they played extra-time against Real before losing on penalties – to edge past Mauricio Pochettino’s side, thanks to a goal in the 84th minute from Bernardo Silva, but they were clearly fatigued at Wembley.

Chelsea had more than enough chances to settle the semi-final in their favour but, as was the case on their last visit here against Liverpool in the Carabao Cup final, wasteful finishing was their downfall, with Nicolas Jackson the primary culprit.

Yet despite seeing his side reach their third FA Cup final in six seasons, Guardiola’s thoughts were dominated by what he considered to be poor scheduling of the match by the Football Association.

“I don’t understand how we survived today,” he said. “People cannot imagine what a punch in the face to be out of the Champions League in the way we are out.

“Why not give us one more day to arrive on Sunday because Coventry and (Manchester) United didn’t play in midweek? For broadcasters?

“OK. Don’t ask me after to do extra (media duties) because we won’t do it. It’s unacceptable to play today.

“What (the players) have done today is one of the greatest things I have seen from a group of players – 120 minutes against Real, you can prepare absolutely nothing.

“Four hours to arrive here and play the game in these conditions. I don’t understand how we survived.”

Three times 22-year-old Jackson had gilt-edged chances to put his team through to the final but each time he was foiled, most glaringly when he headed straight at goalkeeper Stefan Ortega from close range midway through the second half.

Unable to capitalise on their openings, Chelsea tired as the game wore into its final 10 minutes and they were hit with the winning goal for City, six minutes from time.

Jeremy Doku slipped a pass through for Kevin De Bruyne bursting forward down the left of the penalty area and – after running it to the byline – he pulled the ball back centrally.

Djordje Petrovic got a foot to it but could not prevent it from reaching Silva, whose first-time effort at the back post pinged off Marc Cucurella as he dived in to block and span beyond the goalkeeper to win it.

City will play either Manchester United or Coventry in the final on May 25 as they look to retain the trophy they won last season.

Guardiola was pessimistic about the demands made on his players by an increasingly-congested schedule being lessened in the future and criticised what he considered an inflexible approach from competition organisers.

“In this country, they don’t change anything,” he said. “If I pretend it will change next season, it won’t happen. But don’t ask me to make meetings. I’m busy. I have to prepare games every three days.

“It’s unsustainable. We have to perform for the fans, for the prestige of the club. How? I just want to protect my players.

“I don’t have to run. I do this for the players. It is unacceptable.”

Chelsea boss Mauricio Pochettino reflected on a game that, despite their chances, he felt his side had not done enough to win.

“The most important thing is to be clinical and not concede,” he said. “Even if today we competed well, I cannot say we were the better side.”

Arsenal recovered from a horror week by returning to the top of the Premier League with a 2-0 win at Wolves.

The Gunners’ endured potentially season-defining back-to-back defeats as they lost to Aston Villa in the league last Sunday before being knocked out of the Champions League by Bayern Munich on Wednesday.

But they returned to the summit of the Premier League thanks to goals from Leandro Trossard and Martin Odegaard at Molineux, moving a point above Manchester City, who have a game in hand.

Pep Guardiola’s side were in FA Cup semi-final action on Saturday and, with the Gunners facing Chelsea on Tuesday, they could be four points clear of City by the time the reigning champions next play against Brighton on Thursday.

That would be a big swing in momentum after what was diagnosed as a seemingly terminal defeat against Villa last week, with Liverpool, who also play twice before City are in action again, currently three points behind.

Mikel Arteta’s men were good value for their Saturday night win, even if Trossard’s opener had an air of good fortune about it and then having to wait until injury time to kill the game.

Wolves are crippled by injuries, including most of their key attacking players, but competed well and a shock result might have been possible had Joao Gomes’ first-half shot gone in instead of hitting the post.

Gary O’Neil’s men are now six games without a win in all competitions, but with home fixtures coming up against Bournemouth and Luton they will still be eyeing a top-half finish.

Arsenal did not have long to stew on that midweek defeat in Germany and were soon on top at Molineux.

Trossard was involved from the off, causing trouble down the left and his cross was tamely headed straight to Jose Sa by Bukayo Saka before the Belgian teed up Declan Rice who whistled a low shot just off target.

Trossard was then on the end of the supply line when he was found by Ben White, but he missed his kick in the middle of the penalty area.

For all Arsenal’s domination, it was Wolves who came closest to opening the scoring on the half-hour.

Gomes got the better of Jakub Kiwior down the right, advanced into the area and thundered in a shot which David Raya did well to divert onto the post.

Arsenal survived that scare and took the lead on the stroke of half-time.

Matt Doherty was weak in the challenge with Gabriel Jesus and the Brazilian set it back for Trossard, whose sliced effort went in off the post for his side’s first goal in two and a half games.

Arsenal were able to manage the contest effectively in the second half.

Wolves were so short of attacking options that midfielder Mario Lemina came on as a striker and the hosts upped the ante in the final 15 minutes.

But unsurprisingly, they were unable to create anything clear-cut as they probed for a leveller.

And Arsenal, who have not conceded in a Premier League away game since January, killed the game deep into injury time when Odegaard converted from an acute angle at the second attempt to take the three points and top spot.

Marti Cifuentes said he would sleep soundly after QPR got the vital win they needed against Preston but warned his players not to ease up.

Lyndon Dykes’ first-half goal secured a 1-0 victory that takes Rangers to 50 points, six above the relegation zone with matches against Leeds and Coventry to finish the season.

Their superior goal difference means their Championship survival will be all but secured if second-bottom Sheffield Wednesday lose at Blackburn on Sunday.

Asked if he believes Saturday’s win will be enough to keep Rangers up, Cifuentes said: “I hope so. Right now it looks like a big step forward.

“But whatever happens in the next games, I think the kind of mindset – the winning culture we need in this club – means that we are going to try to keep winning until the end of the season.

“My mindset is that of course today we took a big step forward in the right direction but until the job is done it’s not done, so we need to make sure that we go into the last two games all-in.

“I’m going to sleep pretty well, that’s for sure. But until the job is done it’s not done.

“I’m very happy for the guys. It was a difficult game with a lot of pressure and we responded.

“We had to win this game. The focus was excellent and I’m very proud of the guys.”

Dykes’ goal was his first in 16 matches for QPR and only his fifth in the league this season.

The striker took advantage to tap into an empty net at the far post after Preston keeper Freddie Woodman spilled Chris Willock’s cross.

“I’m very happy for Lyndon. Today he had one of his best games of the season, if not the best,” Cifuentes said.

“He showed character and personality. Sometimes football is about passion and I think all the guys showed a lot of passion.

“We’ve been talking about the need for ugly goals and he was in the right place at the right time.”

Preston boss Ryan Lowe suggested his players would be hauled in for extra training after their poor performance.

“It wasn’t good enough. Nowhere near the levels,” Lowe said.

“I know it’s a mistake for the goal, but we’ve got to do better all-round, with and without the ball. I didn’t recognise that team as a Preston North End team.

“Back to the drawing board, two games to go, and I don’t want the season to just peter out.

“We felt that today was a game that we could compete in and win. We competed to an extent, but the quality on show from both teams wasn’t great. I expect my team to be better.

“We didn’t sustain attacks, didn’t look after the ball and it wasn’t a performance I felt could win a game of football and I said that to the players.

“They expected to take a few extra days this week but we’ll be back in, back at the training ground working hard, because we’ve got two important games left.

“We’ve got to be solid and resolute – back to being us. Back to being what’s got us this far. We were nowhere near today.”

David Bedingham smashed 138 from 99 balls as Durham took a stranglehold on their Vitality County Championship Division One clash with Worcestershire at Kidderminster.

The home side had been bowled out for 184 as Ben Raine, Matthew Potts and Paul Coughlin claimed three wickets each to give the visitors a 60-run first-innings lead.

Bedingham’s knock, which included 13 fours and eight sixes, and 75 from skipper Scott Borthwick helped to increase that advantage to 379 by stumps on day two as the promoted side reached 319 for five.

Bowlers Craig Overton and Migael Pretorius staged a remarkable 139-run partnership to put Somerset in a commanding position against Nottinghamshire.

The pair came together at 314 for eight and remained at the wicket until the South African fell for 77. Overton was then left stranded on 95 when last man Shoaib Bashir was dismissed for a duck with the score on 454.

Nottinghamshire, who made 193 on day one, were 38 for one in their second innings as they reduced the deficit to 223 runs.

Earlier Somerset opener Sean Dickson had added just two to his overnight score of 70 and Tom Banton contributed 83, with Calvin Harrison’s four for 93 the pick of the bowling.

Fletcha Middleton and Nick Gubbins put on an unbeaten 124 for the second wicket as they attempted to drag Hampshire back into touch with Warwickshire at Southampton.

Gubbins had reached 67 and Middleton 61 by stumps with their side 140 for one after the visitors were finally bowled out for 455, thanks in large part to England spinner Liam Dawson’s haul of five for 146 in 40.1 overs.

Rory Burns and Dom Sibley forged an opening stand of 147 as champions Surrey closed to within 59 runs of Kent’s first-innings total on day two at Canterbury.

Sibley will resume on 87 from a total of 185 for one after Tom Lawes and Cameron Steel each took three wickets as the home side were bowled out for 244.

Skipper Tom Westley hit 81 to help Essex take control of their showdown with Lancashire at Chelmsford.

Having resumed on 68 for one in reply to the visitors’ 146, the hosts made 377 with opener Dean Elgar going for 79 and George Balderson taking three for 75, and the Red Rose county finished the day on 10 for one in their second innings, a deficit of 221.

In Division Two, Leicestershire opener Marcus Harris plundered a double-century as Derbyshire were left with a mountain to climb.

Harris’ 214 was the backbone of a mammoth total of 574 for seven declared in which Peter Handscomb and Ben Cox hit 68 and 69 respectively.

The hosts’ response then got off to a dreadful start with Harry Came, Luis Reece, Wayne Madsen and Brooke Guest all falling cheaply as they limped to 54 for four by the close.

Tom Alsop’s 84 and an unbeaten 75 from Cheteshwar Pujara helped Sussex reach 267 for five as they ate into Gloucestershire’s first-innings total of 417.

Danny Lamb and Jack Carson had both taken three wickets as Zafar Gohar’s 60 and 45 not out from Zaman Akhter eased the visitors past 400 at Hove.

Yorkshire face a fight to set a competitive total after a challenging second day against Middlesex at Lord’s.

Having seen the hosts take an 87-run first innings lead thanks to half-centuries from Leus du Plooy and Josh De Caires, they ended the day on 216 for seven in their second – Toby Roland-Jones and Ryan Higgins claiming three wickets each – and will resume 129 ahead.

Ricardo Vasconcelos’ 166 not out left Northamptonshire in a dominant position at Glamorgan.

The hosts were 314 for two at the close, 43 runs ahead with Ben Sanderson having taken five for 92 as the Welsh side, for whom Colin Ingram scored 82, had been dismissed for 271.

Bernardo Silva made amends for his midweek penalty miss as holders Manchester City returned to the FA Cup final with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Chelsea.

Silva badly fluffed his lines as City were agonisingly knocked out of the Champions League on penalties by Real Madrid on Wednesday but he was the match winner as they bounced back at Wembley.

The Portugal international turned home the only goal of a tight encounter six minutes from time to keep alive City’s hopes of retaining the domestic double.

Chelsea were left to rue wasting a host of chances, with Nicolas Jackson particularly culpable, on what proved a bad day for the Senegal forward in front of goal. The Londoners were also frustrated not to be awarded a penalty.

City, without the injured Erling Haaland, were not at their best – perhaps still feeling the effects of their draining encounter with Real.

With former City midfielder Cole Palmer instrumental, Chelsea made most of the running.

Palmer played in Jackson early on but his shot was too easy for Stefan Ortega.

City’s first opportunity came as Kevin De Bruyne slipped in Phil Foden with an inch-perfect pass but he went too wide attempting to go round Djordje Petrovic and Chelsea escaped.

Pep Guardiola’s side had a huge let-off when Jackson raced clear from an Enzo Fernandez long ball. Jackson only had Ortega to beat but he hesitated on the edge of the area and failed to shoot or go round the goalkeeper.

City were caught out again when Malo Gusto escaped down the right but he could not pick out Jackson in the centre. Palmer also dug out a chance for himself with some neat footwork but did not get any power on his shot.

At the other end, Marc Cucurella cleared off the line after Silva got on the end of a Jack Grealish cross but the flag was then raised.

Jackson failed to deliver again early in the second half after breaking clear in the area but shooting tamely at Ortega. The ball came back to him as Palmer whipped in a cross but his header was weak and straight at Ortega.

City had another let-off when a Palmer free-kick struck the arm of Grealish. The contact was missed by referee Michael Oliver, with Chelsea’s frustration at not getting a penalty compounded by the official awarding a goalkick.

Jackson also wanted a spot-kick after going down following a race with Kyle Walker but nothing was given.

Grealish suffered a heavy blow to the knee in a challenge from Felipe Caicedo and was withdrawn moments later. The England international voiced his frustration to the officials as he left the field, maybe suggesting Caicedo – already on a booking – should have been dealt with more severely.

Grealish’s replacement Jeremy Doku made a lively entrance and immediately tested Petrovic.

As time wore on, the game became a test of City’s resolve and the lively Doku made a notable difference.

He was involved as the deadlock was finally broken, playing in fellow Belgian De Bruyne with a clever ball. De Bruyne pulled the ball back across goal and a deflection took it into the path of Silva, who made no mistake.

It was a sweet moment for the Portuguese, who celebrated vigorously out of relief and joy.

There was no way back for Chelsea as City, befitting their champion status, held out.

QPR beat Preston 1-0 at Loftus Road to all but secure Championship safety as Lyndon Dykes ended his goal drought with a first-half winner.

Scotland striker Dykes pounced at the far post after keeper Freddie Woodman spilled Chris Willock’s cross to net his first QPR goal in 16 matches and only his fifth in the league this season.

Victory took Rangers to 50 points, six clear of the relegation zone with two matches of the campaign remaining, but their superior goal difference means the win almost certainly keeps them up.

Results elsewhere earlier on Saturday meant Marti Cifuentes’ side kicked off knowing that a win would effectively end fears of dropping into League One.

They started in determined fashion, with Lucas Andersen firing wide and both Dykes and Ilias Chair shooting well over.

A period of Preston pressure followed and Liam Millar was denied at point-blank range by Rangers keeper Asmir Begovic after exchanging passes with Ben Woodburn.

QPR were suddenly struggling, but were gifted a goal after 20 minutes.

Willock cut in from the left and delivered a cross which seemed like a routine take for Woodman, who inexplicably fumbled the ball to the grateful Dykes.

Woodman somewhat atoned by preventing a Rangers second, diving to his left to push away Willock’s fierce strike.

However, the North End keeper was guilty of another error shortly afterwards when he fumbled Andersen’s corner, but Jake Clarke-Salter’s attempt to force in the loose ball was blocked and Preston managed to scramble it clear.

As Rangers continued to threaten, Dykes won the ball in midfield and was sent through by Chair, but opted to shoot early rather than continue towards goal and his effort went harmlessly wide of the target.

Preston had another let-off in the opening minutes of the second half when Dykes and Kenneth Paal were just unable to get a decisive touch to Willock’s low cross from the right.

The visitors rode their luck again when R’s defender Steve Cook scuffed a shot wide after Preston had failed to deal with Andersen’s corner, and when Woodman flapped at another Andersen corner and his defenders were able to clear.

It was certainly a day to forget for the hapless Woodman, although he did manage to parry headers from Chair and Sam Field before QPR appealed in vain for a penalty when Chair’s cross hit Jordan Storey’s hand.

Preston threatened in the closing stages but the hosts defended well and Cifuentes can now almost allow himself to celebrate a job well done.

Rangers were second bottom of the table, six points from safety and had lost six matches in a row when the Spaniard took over as boss at the end of October following the sacking of Gareth Ainsworth.

John Mousinho admitted Portsmouth’s Sky Bet League One title celebrations had an impact on their 2-1 defeat to Wigan.

Pompey had their return to the Championship confirmed after they beat Barnsley on Tuesday, but Luke Chambers and Josh Magennis spoilt their promotion party – which saw them lift the trophy as champions.

Mousinho said: “I think Wigan deserved to win. We were awful in the first half. I don’t think we got the press right.

“We were good in possession, but not out of possession, and we got punished for it. We changed things around for the second half and we were more aggressive and much better.

“Their second goal was poor defensively. We created more chances after our goal but just couldn’t get the equaliser.

“We wanted to go out on a high, so the players are obviously disappointed to have lost that unbeaten run.

“I thought we had enough in the tank pre-match to win it, but it’s been a difficult week in terms of normality. Winning on Tuesday, the euphoria of that, and the awards here on Wednesday meant the preparation was very different from the last 44 games.

“Next week will be back to normal in terms of physicality and mentally.”

Wigan’s Jonny Smith hit a post in the 13th minute, but the visitors took the lead 10 minutes later when Chambers put the loose ball past Pompey goalkeeper Will Norris.

Latics sealed the win when Magennis beat Norris with seven minutes to go, despite Kusini Yengi pulling one back for Pompey in the 85th minute.

Wigan manager Shaun Maloney said: “It was a game of two halves really. The first half was probably the best we’ve played all season. We had chances to increase the lead but didn’t take them. That would have made the game very different.

“Pompey were talking about keeping up their unbeaten run and reaching 100 points, but we wanted to win this game. We’ve had 500 fans travel down here today, so it was important we played well.

“Luke really hurt them the first half, and it would be great to have him back next season.

“Jonny’s really stepped up. I think if anything I need more from him next season. He needs a full pre-season and I think he’s a brilliant player.

“The game changed after their goal. Sam (Tickle) has made some tremendous saves getting in where it hurts. The scuffle at the end on the touchline was just about two teams wanting to win.”

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