Pep Guardiola has thanked Sir Jim Ratcliffe for ‘helping him do his job’ by stating his admiration for Manchester City.

New Manchester United co-owner Ratcliffe recently spoke of his ambition to knock neighbours City, and another of their rivals in Liverpool, “off their perch”.

Yet in doing so he conceded United had fallen well behind both of those clubs and admitted much could be learned from their success.

He even went as far as to say City’s 4-0 demolition of Real Madrid in last season’s Champions League semi-finals was “the best quality of football I’ve ever seen”.

Guardiola says such compliments are a source of pride and feed his continuing desire for success.

The City manager, whose side host United on Sunday, said: “I just say thank you so much.

“Sometimes they are more than the titles, the compliments of the personalities that make this country, like Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s comments. It is a complete honour for us.

“One can produce emotions and feelings for the players and our rivals. That helps to do our job. Thank you so much on behalf of all of us.

“But I am sure tomorrow they will try, one way or another, to inoculate the Man Utd players with the best performance to try to beat us.”

This weekend’s derby could be a key encounter for champions City in their bid to win a fourth successive Premier League title.

Considering their recent superiority over their neighbours, and United’s inconsistency this season, City are expected to come out on top but Guardiola is wary of the pitfalls of the fixture.

He said: “Do you remember when United went to Anfield this season? Last season it was 7-0.

“Remember the comments? How many goal are Liverpool going to score? It would be easy for Liverpool.

“What was the result? Liverpool didn’t win.

“It is United. The past is the past. Tomorrow it is 11 players with pride, with a manager – we cannot deny how good he has done in the past in Amsterdam – trying to do his best.

“In different situations, with City in the position of United, I know my players would behave at Old Trafford with pride and the best character. It is going to happen to United on Sunday.

“It will be a tough game, another final for us. I know how difficult it will be.

“It has been more difficult here than at Old Trafford in our period together. We lost more (derby) games here than Old Trafford. We have to perform really well to do it.”

Emma Hayes has been backed to do an “incredible” job as United States women’s team boss by old rival Nick Cushing, who is making his own mark across the pond with New York City FC.

It is four months since it was announced that the 47-year-old would be calling time on her medal-laden time as Chelsea at the end of the season to become a national team manager.

Hayes will be returning to the country where she began her coaching career at the start of the millennium and will likely bump into one of the few managers to have dented her domestic dominance.

Cushing currently coaches Major League Soccer side NYCFC having previous led Manchester City for six years, including beating Chelsea to the 2016 Women’s Super League crown.

 

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“She’s incredible about what she does,” he said. “I loved fighting with her – we fought every weekend and every season for those trophies.

 

“I think she’ll do an incredible job. I think if I was going to hire, I would’ve hired her because she’s the best in the women’s game by far.

“Her record speaks for itself but also her ability to manage, her knowledge of the game.

“I do believe you’ll see her in the men’s game at some point. That’s my opinion. I think she’s capable and I think in time people will see her capability.

“I think she’ll be successful in the US women’s national team and then she will have almost conquered the women’s game.”

Cushing is full of admiration and praise for Hayes, whose outstanding work at Chelsea restricted him to a still impressive haul of six trophies in as many years with City.

They were tussling for the WSL title again before the 39-year-old left during the 2019-20 season to become assistant manager of fellow City Football Group side NYCFC.

They won the MLS Cup the following year and Cushing was promoted to head coach in 2022 following an initial spell as Ronny Deila’s interim replacement.

“If you give me my time again and give me a crystal ball, I would be a football player every time,” the NYCFC boss said. “10 times out of 10.

“But when you don’t get the ability to be a football player and then you invest your time at 19 to becoming a coach, you get to the point where you’re at 39 where you probably should be in the first two years of your coaching.

“But you’ve got nearly 20 years of working at academy level through all ages, then the women’s game.

“I didn’t pick my journey but if I could change anything I probably wouldn’t change much of what I’ve done.”

Cushing wants to kick on in his second full season in charge at NYCFC, who continue the new MLS season at St Louis City having narrowly lost their opener at Charlotte FC.

The 39-year-old says he is driven by a desire to keep up with successful CFG stablemates and clearly wants to take his career as far as he can, having risen through the ranks since joining City as a schools coach in 2007.

“My ambition is to work at the highest level of the game,” Cushing said when asked about the potential of one day managing boyhood club Everton.

“Every time I have gone up, I’ve never felt out of my depth and felt like it was a challenge greater than what I have capable in my character.”

Manchester United can learn from Manchester City’s success but will not try to copy their methods, according to manager Erik Ten Hag.

United head to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday for the Manchester derby once again a long way adrift of their neighbours in the Premier League.

A restructuring of United’s football hierarchy is under way following the investment made by Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s Ineos Group, with their first move to bring in Omar Berrada from City as chief executive.

Ten Hag said: “I think you can always learn from opponents who are successful and you have to do it if you want to go to high levels but, at the same time, we have to do it in a United way.

“This is a different club with a different environment, with a different DNA. But you pick up things that can be successful and you integrate it in your own model.”

Ratcliffe wasted no time setting out his ambitions for United, arguing they can knock City and Liverpool “off their perch” in three years.

United went into the weekend sitting 15 points below City and 16 adrift of Liverpool but Ten Hag insists he welcomes Ratcliffe setting public targets.

“It helps,” said the Dutchman. “We have to show ambition. We want to be the best and that is what United stands for. But, at the same time, we know also where we are now.

“We also have seen that there are moments where we go toe-to-toe. That’s the belief we have as a team. We have to pick up these moments and we have to prove it in every game. I think we are able to with this squad we have.”

United have lost five of their last six matches against City, including a 6-3 defeat at the Etihad last season and a 3-0 home loss in October.

“At this moment I have a lot of respect for them but not the respect that we think we can’t win this game,” said Ten Hag.

“On the contrary, we will show we can win this game. In the (FA) Cup final, we showed we were very close. Also first half at Old Trafford in the home game before that crazy VAR moment changes the game completely.

“The second half we didn’t play well and they played very well, so don’t let them come into the game, that is I think what we have to take with us for Sunday.”

Ahead of the last derby, City boss Pep Guardiola said Liverpool rather than United were his side’s biggest rivals, and Ten Hag added: “The last decade, that is the way it went.

“I think it’s a fair assessment. But we can’t accept this as a club. We have to bounce back. As Sir Jim says, we have to show ambition, we want to be the number one. I think that’s a good ambition.”

LaLiga leaders Real Madrid came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Valencia in an ill-tempered finish at the Mestalla that saw Jude Bellingham sent off after the final whistle.

The hosts scored two goals in four minutes midway through the first half from Hugo Duro and Roman Yaremchuk, but Vinicius Junior pulled one back on the stroke of half-time.

Vinicius then got a second in the 76th minute to level it up.

There was late drama as Valencia’s Mouctar Diakhaby suffered an apparently serious injury in the closing minutes. Moments after play restarted the referee pointed for a Valencia penalty after Nacho went flying in on Duro, but VAR came to Madrid’s rescue as the decision was overturned.

As the players went off, Bellingham was sent off, apparently for dissent, in what was his first match back after three games out with an ankle injury.

Youssef En-Nesyri’s early brace set Sevilla on their way to a 3-2 win over Real Sociedad.

Andre Silva pulled one back for the visitors in first-half stoppage time, but Sergio Ramos restored Sevilla’s two-goal advantage midway through the second half, with Brais Mendez’s late goal for Sociedad mere consolation.

Mason Greenwood was on the scoresheet as Getafe took a point from an entertaining 3-3 draw with Las Palmas.

Greenwood added to Jaime Mata’s early goal as the hosts roared into a two-goal lead inside 15 minutes. Sandro Ramirez pulled one back before Nemanja Maksimovic made it 3-1 at the break, but Las Palmas earned a point via second-half goals from Sergi Cardona and Munir El Haddadi.

Javi Hernandez’s stoppage-time goal cancelled out Florian Lejeune’s strike as Cadiz salvaged a point from a 1-1 draw at Rayo Vallecano.

Serhou Guirassy scored twice as Stuttgart won 3-2 at Wolfsburg to close the gap to second-placed Bayern Munich to four points.

Guirassy put Stuttgart in front after 14 minutes, and although Joakim Maehle levelled early in the second half, the Wolfsburg defender was soon guilty of fouling Enzo Millot in the box, giving Guirassy the opportunity to restore Stuttgart’s lead from the penalty spot.

Josha Vagnoman added a third in the 77th minute and they needed the cushion as Lukas Nmecha pulled one back for the hosts late on.

Borussia Dortmund remain fourth after goals from Karim Adeyemi and Ian Maatsen earned a 2-0 win at Union Berlin.

Leipzig stayed one point back in fifth with a 4-1 win at Bochum, who took a seventh minute lead though Maximilian Wittek but collapsed midway through the second half.

Dani Olmo levelled before the break, but three goals in five minutes from Lois Openda, Ivan Ordets and Yussuf Poulsen settled it before Bochum’s Moritz-Broni Kwarteng saw red late on.

Struggling Mainz took an early lead against Borussia Monchengladbach through Jonathan Burkhardt but could not hold on as Nathan N’Goumou levelled early in the second half, with Mainz’s Dominik Kohr sent off late on.

An embarrassing own goal from Benedikt Gimber helped Eintracht Frankfurt to a 2-1 win at Heidenheim, while Philip Tietz and Ermedin Demirovic scored two each as Augsburg thrashed Darmstadt 6-0.

Roma cruised to a 4-1 win over Monza. Lorenzo Pellegrini and Romelu Lukaku put them in control before half-time with Paulo Dybala adding a third before Leandro Paredes’ penalty. Andrea Carboni got a late consolation goal for the hosts.

Hassane Kamara struck in first-half stoppage time to cancel out Loum Tchanouna’s early goal as Udinese drew 1-1 with Salernitana, but the hosts finished with 10 men as Festy Ebosele saw red in the second half.

Torino and Fiorentina shared the points from a 0-0 draw in which Torino’s Samuele Ricci was sent off in first-half stoppage time.

Marseille had five different players on the scoresheet as they enjoyed a 5-1 away win at Clermont Foot.

Iliman Ndiaye got things started in the first half, and although Bilal Boutobba levelled early in the second half, Marseille seized control with strikes from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Jonathan Clauss, Luis Henrique and Faris Moumagna.

Jonathan David’s 56th minute strike earned Lille a 1-0 win away to Reims.

While pleased with their performance in a 0-1 loss to Jamaica in game one, Trinidad and Tobago's Head coach Angus Eve is anticipating even more improvements from his Soca Warriors when the two teams meet in the second game of the two-match series on Sunday.

With Jamaican debutante Kaheim Dixon scoring the game's lone goal in the 58th minute at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on Friday, Eve opted to focus on the positives in the exercise, which provided an opportunity for several local-based players to make their national senior team debut.

Eve gave debut starts Tiger Tanks Club Sando pair of left back Shervohnez Hamilton and midfielder Kai Moos, while AC Port of Spain's versatile wing back Liam Burns also got his first start for the twin island republic. The overseas-based pair of Kai Garvey and Justin Obikwu, who started at the left wing and centre forward positions respectively, also found favour with Eve, who felt the new players adjusted well in their first outing.

"It is going to be difficult for these guys (Garvey and Obikwu) coming from where they are coming from and trying to adjust in just a couple days of work. I thought they adjusted well. They tried to bring the strengths they had to the group," Eve said in a post-match conference.

"For the most part, I thought the group did really well. We gave up a really soft goal and we could not get ourselves back in the game. I think it was a lack of belief and that happens when players are not accustomed to playing at this level consistently. For effort, you must give all of the guys an A," he added.

Still, with the main objective being to identify players to fit into his final squad for the upcoming Copa America playoff fixture against Canada on March 23, Eve is expected to look at a different line up with hopes that they will be mor fluid and consist in their play to give the coaching staff much to think about.

"I thought it was a great exercise for the guys. When you look at the starting team, we had about six or seven players who were uncapped. We need more exercises like this to expose these guys and give them the opportunity because they have been doing well in the league," the tactician shared.

"So, it's now to give the guys who are more established a run out going into the playoff game. Rhondel Gibson was good on the ball and when he came on, the team started to believe a little bit more. He wasn't afraid to get to the ball and those are the type of players we are looking for to be that brave and show themselves," Eve ended.

The second game is scheduled for a 4:00pm kick off (3:00pm Jamaica time), at the Larry Gomes Stadium in Malabar on Sunday.

NB: That game will be live on SportsMax.

Unai Emery hailed Ollie Watkins as one of the best strikers in Europe after his double helped Aston Villa to a dramatic 3-2 win over Luton at Kenilworth Road.

A header in the 89th minute from substitute Lucas Digne ensured Villa won for the third game in a row in the Premier League to stay five points clear of Tottenham in the race for Champions League qualification.

Emery’s side were comfortably on top in the first half and went in at the break with a commanding two-goal lead given to them by Watkins’ brace.

Luton struck back, seemingly re-energised by the looming prospect of a fourth straight league defeat, with goals from Tahith Chong and Carlton Morris, but Digne’s late intervention settled the contest in Villa’s favour.

However, it was the contribution of Watkins that was singled out by Emery.

“Fantastic, brilliant,” he said of his team’s top scorer, who now has 21 for the season.

“He’s an example for other players. Every day working hard, every day trying to learn more.

“His mentality, to increase his level, practising and practising on the training ground. His commitment to work in the tactical areas we are planning every match.

“He’s scoring, he’s getting chances, he’s assisting, defending set-pieces. He has been available to play 90 minutes more or less, keeping fit to play a lot. He’s fantastic.

“But he needs his team-mates as well to help him. We are a team. We have to try to get our performances through the team. With the commitment he’s showing, for everyone he is an example.

“For mentality, it’s difficult to find a player better than him. But his skill is also a high level.

“He wants to learn every day, to increase his level. Of course, his first objective is scoring goals, but then as well, tactically, his work has been fantastic. Understanding, being clever.”

Asked if Watkins was one of the best in Europe, Emery said: “Yes, of course, he’s showing. The Premier League is the toughest league maybe in the world.

“But as a person he’s humble. He avoids the ego changing him. He’s fantastic as a person and as a professional.”

Luton boss Edwards, whose team are four points adrift of safety with 12 games to play, reflected on a result he found difficult to take.

“Bitterly disappointed,” he said. “The goals were avoidable, all three of them, as they always are.

“There was so much to like about the performance. Villa are so organised and a good team and it is not easy to score goals against them. They can hit you hard with counter-attacks or control the game.

“They are a very good team, but I thought we dominated the second half and had an outstanding performance.”

Nottingham Forest’s referee analyst Mark Clattenburg claims Paul Tierney made an mistake in the build-up to Liverpool’s last-gasp winner in Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat.

Forest’s players, staff and fans were furious after substitute Darwin Nunez’s stoppage-time effort denied them a draw.

Referee Tierney had stopped play before the build-up to the goal for an apparent head injury to Liverpool defender Ibrahima Konate.

The official blew with Forest in possession on the edge of Liverpool’s area and, after Konate had quickly recovered, Tierney dropped the ball to visiting goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, who then started the move that led to the goal.

Clattenburg, appointed to his role at Forest last month, said after the match: “The law states that, if the referee is going to stop the game – which he is entitled to for a head injury – the ball has to go back to the team that has possession. Nottingham Forest clearly had possession.

“The laws of the game clearly state that, when the referee blows his whistle, the team that has possession should get possession when the game is started again.”

Former Premier League referee Clattenburg added: “When Liverpool were given possession, they went on the attack and eventually scored from it.

“It is another decision that has gone against Nottingham Forest… We just need to hope that this luck changes.”

Forest’s players and staff surrounded Tierney at the final whistle, with coach Steven Reid shown a red card, while boss Nuno Espirito Santo refused to comment on the incident.

Forest dismissed reports club owner Evangelos Marinakis had to be restrained after chasing Tierney down the tunnel after the final whistle, but said he did approach the official.

Clattenburg added: “The owner is quite upset because, of course, he has invested a lot of money in the club. He wants to see results and he feels that another decision has gone against the club.

“He is upset. Everyone at the club is upset that they have lost in this way.

“As a club, Nottingham Forest feel as though there have been one or two decisions that have gone against them in the last few weeks.”

Clattenburg said he would speak to the referees’ governing body, the PGMOL, about the incident.

“With the relations I have with the PGMOL and the Premier League, we will discuss what has happened today and then plot what the next course of action is,” he said.

“The law is clear. When you have possession outside of the penalty area, you get possession back.

“In that crucial moment, Forest had the ball in the corner. They could have absorbed a bit of time and got the result, with the score at 0-0.”

When asked if he had been in contact with Tierney after the game, Clattenburg added: “I have not spoken to him myself. I tried to go into the referee’s room and he would not allow me in.”

The PGMOL declined to comment, while the PA news agency has also approached the Premier League for its response.

Nottingham Forest referee analyst Mark Clattenburg claims Paul Tierney made an mistake in allowing Darwin Nunez’s last-gasp winner in Saturday’s 1-0 home defeat to Liverpool.

Forest’s players, bench and fans were furious after the substitute’s stoppage-time effort denied them a draw.

Referee Tierney had stopped play before the build-up to the goal for an apparent head injury to Liverpool defender Ibrahima Konate.

The official blew with Forest in possession on the edge of Liverpool’s area and, after Konate had quickly recovered, Tierney dropped the ball to visiting goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, who then started the move that led to the goal.

Clattenburg, appointed to his role at Forest last month, said after the match: “The law states that, if the referee is going to stop the game – which he is entitled to for a head injury – the ball has to go back to the team that has possession. Nottingham Forest clearly had possession.

“The laws of the game clearly state that, when the referee blows his whistle, the team that has possession should get possession when the game is started again.”

Former Premier League referee Clattenburg added: “When Liverpool were given possession, they went on the attack and eventually scored from it.

“It is another decision that has gone against Nottingham Forest… We just need to hope that this luck changes.”

Forest’s players and staff surrounded Tierney at the final whistle, with coach Steven Reid shown a red card, while boss Nuno Espirito Santo refused to comment on the incident.

Forest dismissed reports club owner Evangelos Marinakis had to be restrained after chasing Tierney down the tunnel after the final whistle, but said he did approach the official.

Clattenburg added: “The owner is quite upset because, of course, he has invested a lot of money in the club. He wants to see results and he feels that another decision has gone against the club.

“He is upset. Everyone at the club is upset that they have lost in this way.

“As a club, Nottingham Forest feel as though there have been one or two decisions that have gone against them in the last few weeks.”

Clattenburg said he would speak to the referees’ governing body, the PGMOL, about the incident.

“With the relations I have with the PGMOL and the Premier League, we will discuss what has happened today and then plot what the next course of action is,” he said.

“The law is clear. When you have possession outside of the penalty area, you get possession back.

“In that crucial moment, Forest had the ball in the corner. They could have absorbed a bit of time and got the result, with the score at 0-0.”

When asked if he had been in contact with Tierney after the game, Clattenburg added: “I have not spoken to him myself. I tried to go into the referee’s room and he would not allow me in.”

The PGMOL declined to comment, while the PA news agency has also approached the Premier League for its response.

Aston Villa maintained their push for a top-four finish in the Premier League as substitute Lucas Digne headed an 89th-minute winner to defeat Luton 3-2 at Kenilworth Road.

Unai Emery’s side looked to have thrown away two points, allowing Luton to fight back from two goals down in the second half, until Digne arrived at the far post to turn Moussa Diaby’s deep cross past Thomas Kaminski and into the net, in front of ecstatic away fans.

The hosts had fought back bravely to level the game at 2-2, Tahith Chong and Carlton Morris scoring after a brace from Ollie Watkins had seemingly put Villa in control at the break.

Defeat for Rob Edwards’ side was their fourth in a row, whilst Villa maintained their five-point lead over Tottenham in the race for the Champions League.

Kaminski had been the home side’s hero in the opening quarter, first diving full stretch to turn away a right-footer from Jacob Ramsey, then yet more acrobatically when Watkins got in down the right and lashed one towards the near post, beaten behind brilliantly by the goalkeeper.

Yet his endeavours were rendered in vain a minute later when from the resulting corner Watkins headed Villa in front. Leon Bailey’s ball arched invitingly into the six-yard box where the Villa striker had got free, and he used the space afford by slack Luton marking to rise up and direct the ball coolly past Kaminski into the top corner for his 20th goal of the season.

Villa lost the influential Ramsey to injury on the half-hour mark, but it did little to break their confident stride. Watkins almost made it two 10 minutes before the break, standing up Teden Mengi on the right before knocking it round the defender and cracking a low shot off Kaminski’s far post.

Luton had been warned about Watkins’ pace in behind but their high line continued to allow him space, and soon he had made good on his threat of a second.

The defence had pushed up towards near the centre circle when Douglas Luiz lumped one over the top for Villa’s top scorer to stride on to. With no one in orange near him, he made light work of clipping Villa’s second goal in off the post. VAR checked for offside, but Watkins had timed his run perfectly.

Edwards’ side emerged with renewed urgency after the break and the home support responded in kind, roaring their team on as they began to find success attacking down the right with the lively Issa Kabore.

A goal to give them hope arrived after 66 minutes. Villa failed to deal with a corner, forcing Matt Cash into a desperate headed clearance off the line. Still the defence dithered, and as the ball ricocheted back into the six-yard box, Chong pounced to thump it home.

Suddenly Villa were tottering. Six minutes later, their lead was gone and it was the simplest Luton goal.

Alfie Doughty hit a huge, raking free-kick from near the touchline which sailed over everyone to the back post. Arriving unmarked with time to pick his spot was Morris, who timed his run expertly and with barely an upwards glance swept it beyond Martinez.

Luton were now rampant and an almost identical move gave Morris the chance to win it, fractionally failing to make the required contact as the ball was flashed across goal from Doughty’s free-kick.

They looked at least to have done enough for a point, but then came Digne’s dramatic intervention at the death to break Luton hearts and keep Villa in the Champions League driving seat.

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp insisted he saw nothing wrong with Darwin Nunez’s controversial stoppage-time winner at Nottingham Forest.

Nunez marked his return from injury by heading home in the ninth minute of time added on to seal a 1-0 win, which lifted his side four points clear at the top of the Premier League.

But the Uruguay international’s last-gasp effort left Forest’s players, staff and fans furious at the final whistle after referee Paul Tierney had stopped play before the build-up to Liverpool’s winner for an apparent head injury to Ibrahima Konate.

Tierney blew with Forest in possession on the edge of Liverpool’s area and after Konate had quickly recovered, the official dropped the ball to visiting goalkeeper Caoimhin Kelleher, who then started the move that led to his side’s dramatic winner.

Klopp said: “It happened exactly the same in the first half didn’t it? Exactly the same, just the other way round.

“I accepted it would happen like that because it happened in the first half. If it didn’t happen in the first half, I would have asked the question as well.

“I would assume that’s the rule, I don’t know. But because it happened twice and got handled exactly the same, I don’t really see their reasons for a discussion.”

Earlier in the game, Tierney halted a Liverpool attack after Forest skipper Ryan Yates was felled by Harvey Elliott’s shot and play resumed with home goalkeeper Matz Sels taking possession.

Klopp said: “I understand 100 per cent the excitement and the anger of Nottingham, of course, they fought for everything. But it happened twice the same and was consistent.”

Nunez’s last-gasp effort secured Liverpool their first league win at the City Ground in almost 40 years and 14 matches to heap the pressure on Manchester City and Arsenal, who play on Sunday and Monday respectively.

Klopp said it had been a huge effort from his injury-hit squad, who have registered six straight wins in all competitions, including last Sunday’s League Cup final win over Chelsea.

“Four games in 11 days, come on. Five in 15,” Klopp added. “It’s really tough. With our squad situation it’s super-tough and how the boys fought through that is really special.

“The fourth game was the toughest. It was an unbelievable effort the boys put in. A proper, proper shift.

“If you had asked me 12 days ago if it was possible to win all four games, I’d have said no.”

Forest’s players and staff surrounded Tierney at the final whistle, with coach Steven Reid shown a red card, while boss Nuno Espirito Santo refused to comment on the incident after the final whistle.

Forest later dismissed reports that owner Evangelos Marinakis had chased Tierney down the tunnel.

Nuno said: “I will not comment on the referee. We played a very good game against a very good team, fantastic players and manager and we limited them.

“They had chances, we had chances, it was a good game of football. We had clear chances to do better, to improve. We should have been more clinical.

“I’m proud of the boys because they worked very hard. They combined, they helped each other, they defend the box, they did two-on-ones – they did everything. But we can improve.”

Leicester manager Enzo Maresca said his team will need to be mentally strong after losing the last three Championship games and seeing their lead at the top of the table cut to just three points.

QPR produced a shock result at the King Power Stadium as goals from Ilias Chair and Sinclair Armstrong earned them a 2-1 win that boosts their hopes of avoiding relegation.

Leicester pulled a back through defender Ben Nelson’s first senior goal but they could not find an equaliser and both Ipswich and Leeds are closing in on the leaders.

“It’s a bad feeling. In the last three defeats, we dominated with the chances but the most important thing is to score goals. We lacked quality in the last third,” said Maresca.

“I don’t think it was a matter of being nervous, I didn’t have this feeling from the players. With 11 games to go, we need to finish in the best way.

“It’s been long time since we have been at the top and everyone is chasing us, we can’t think about that, we just need to win games.

“When you drop points and the rest win, you see yourself that they are coming, but we need balance at the moment. You cannot be so happy or so sad.

“If you get too nervous it could be dangerous, if you relax, it could be dangerous. You have to be mentally strong because we have a game in three days (at Sunderland).”

QPR manager Marti Cifuentes praised his players, but said a “great escape” is still not complete after a third successive win, which only lifted them one place up the table and leaves them outside the bottom three only on goal difference.

“We performed at a really high level against a team that is extremely good. They are a very good side with a fantastic coach and I’m sure they will go up despite the last three defeats,” said Cifuentes.

“All the credit to the players because they were very well organised for a long time. We were clinical as we had to be.

“I thought Leicester would be more dangerous and angry after the last two defeats.

“It was an important win for us, but I’m not getting carried away with a victory. The reality is the table shows we are still in a big battle. To get out and achieve this great escape, there is still a lot more to be done.”

Cifuentes praised Chair for opening the scoring. The Morocco international has continued to feature amid reports he faces a year in prison after being found guilty in Belgium of assault, with QPR saying on February 23 that “the legal proceeding is yet to reach its conclusion”.

The Spanish coach added: “I am very pleased with Ilias and the rest of the players so I am not talking much about other things that the club had already commented on. I am pleased about his goal and he is a very important player for us.”

Cifuentes was also delighted with 20-year-old forward Armstrong, who scored with his first touch after coming on as a 57th-minute substitute.

“It was a fantastic first touch, a fantastic way to start the game for him, he gave us exactly what we were looking for,” he said.

St Mirren manager Stephen Robinson praised his players for their perseverance after coming from behind to defeat Aberdeen 2-1 at home in dramatic fashion.

Neil Warnock’s side had led from Connor Barron’s first-minute strike and looked on course for a first league victory for two months.

But Mark O’Hara converted a penalty after Toyosi Olusanya was fouled in the sixth minute of time added on before Olusanya claimed the winner a minutes later.

Robinson admitted he would have preferred to have seen the goals arrive sooner but felt his team were well worthy of the final outcome.

He said: “We had 70 per cent possession and 14 shots – we deserved to win.

“It took a lot longer than we wanted to get the goals but it showed the character and quality of the squad with the subs we made.

“Conor McMenamin was outstanding after training only three days, Toyosi comes on and scores the winner, it shows the strength in depth.

“It was everything we deserved. We dominated the game. They scored from a wonder goal but outwith that they were not a threat and looked a team under pressure.

“We tried to get the ball down and when we did that we controlled the game. It didn’t surprise me. It would have been an injustice otherwise if we hadn’t scored.

“We got the penalty we deserved, arguably we could have had two more that were very close decisions. The players showed a great attitude.”

Warnock, in contrast, was devastated at not seeing the game out as Aberdeen’s winless streak in the league was extended to 10 games.

The veteran manager said: “It’s difficult to talk as I’m absolutely distraught. The lads have given me everything and I’m so disappointed to lose in the way we did.

“You can’t go away from today and not be disappointed. We were on our knees and that’s how they should feel.

“They deserved to win that game. I don’t think they [St Mirren] knew how to break us down, not a clue. So it makes it doubly disappointing.

“The penalty knocked the players’ confidence and it was disappointing to concede again after all that effort. I thought that was the best we defended since I had been here.”

Fleetwood boss Charlie Adam was beaming with pride after a vital 4-2 victory over Lancashire rivals Wigan.

Bosun Lawal, on loan from Celtic, twice pulled Town level in the first half to cancel out goals from Stephen Humphrey and Thelo Aasgaard.

And further strikes from Gavin Kilkenny and Jayden Stockley, within seven second-half minutes, put the result beyond doubt to give Fleetwood’s survival hopes a welcome boost.

Adam said: “It’s the performance I’m happy with. We took the second-half performance from midweek at Port Vale to today. I thought the lads were magnificent, we dominated the ball and caused them real problems.

“We showed real character and that’s what we are going to need. At times the quality of play was really good.”

However, the 38-year-old was keen to remind everyone that consistency is key after the Cod Army’s first win in their last six games.

“Ultimately, it’s only three points and we don’t want to get too high on it, we go again next week,” Adam said.

“We are happy with the result but now it’s about getting that performance on a consistent basis. I want this club to expect to win football matches.

“Getting used to winning football matches is a good habit to have and this group of players are smelling that the performances are good and they are getting the results the performances deserve.”

A deflated Shaun Maloney defended his Wigan players despite their disappointing performance on the Fylde coast.

The Latics looked to be building momentum in the league after their midweek victory over Bolton but succumbed to the intensity of the hosts.

Maloney said: “Look, I can’t really criticise any of my players too much after what they gave me on Tuesday.

“But the levels were definitely lower today in some really key moments; when a tackle had to be made, when we had to defend our box, blocking shots, when we had to spring back.

“We spoke after the Bolton game, and some of our players, about a real desire and determination to win that game.

“Our levels didn’t live up to that game, although I can’t criticise the mentality.

“They gave me absolutely everything again today. It’s just in those key moments, our intensity wasn’t the same as it was in midweek.

“I was concerned before the game whether we could go again, that was my worry, that’s why I made the changes I did.

“I have to give Fleetwood lots of credit, they were better than us at the fundamental things and that’s why they won the game.”

Eddie Howe is hoping there is more to come from Newcastle after seeing them secure a first home win of 2024 and the 100th of his Premier League career.

The Magpies had not tasted victory at St James’ Park since they beat Fulham 3-0 on December 16, but they ended that run by beating injury-hit Wolves by the same scoreline to suggest they could finally be emerging from a difficult run.

Coming four days after they edged past Sky Best Championship Blackburn into the FA Cup quarter-finals, the win left head coach Howe in positive mood.

 

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He said: “Sometimes you just have to find a way to get over the finishing line and you know then that there are better performances ahead. I think we were in that moment today.

 

“I don’t think today was ever going to be a classic Newcastle performance, but I think it’s a building bridge closer to where we want to be.

“I thought Blackburn was very similar. We got through, that was the main thing. Today was slightly better again and I’d like to think now with the strength of the group returned that we will hopefully see continued improvement in performances.”

Newcastle were happy to sit back and try to hit the visitors on the break during the first half, and the ploy paid handsome dividends when Alexander Isak headed home after Bruno Guimaraes’ shot had been half blocked and then Anthony Gordon slotted into an empty net after goalkeeper Jose Sa had collided with team-mate Max Kilman.

Asked if the ploy had worked as he had hoped, Howe, who lost Kieran Trippier to a calf problem, added: “It was a slight tweak from our normal way of playing. We analyse our opposition, like we do always.

“There are always tweaks and little things we try to do to help us in our performance, and that was one today, to try to maybe play a slightly more transitional game.”

Wolves, who were without injured duo Hwang Hee-chan – he is expected to be sidelined for around six weeks by a hamstring injury – and Matheus Cunha and lost both Sa and Pedro Neto at half-time, gave as good as they got for long periods, but found Magpies keeper Martin Dubravka in resilient form again.

Their day was done when substitute Tino Livramento capped a good afternoon for the hosts in stoppage time with a fine solo run and finish to wrap up the win.

Head coach Gary O’Neill, however, was not convinced about the merits of Howe’s game plan.

He said: “There’s no way that Newcastle let us have a lot of the ball. We had a lot of the ball because we were really good with the ball.

“I know Eddie Howe, I know Newcastle. They press everybody, especially at home. The reason we had the ball was our quality and how good we were with it.”

O’Neil added: “I thought structurally we were the better side, had real control of the game, control of the ball, so I’m really proud of the group for what they gave today.”

Portsmouth manager John Mousinho was delighted with the League One leaders’ helter-skelter 2-1 win at home to Oxford.

Christian Saydee came off the bench to score the goal that fired Pompey a step closer to promotion after Cameron Brannagan’s penalty had cancelled out Callum Lang’s opener for the home side.

Mousinho said: “You could describe that as a pretty breathtaking display from both sides. It was an enjoyable game to watch and with both teams pressing, it created openings for us and them.

“I think it was a good advert for Division One football and I personally think Oxford would be feeling a little hard done by not to go away with at least a point.

“It was probably not our best performance of the season but after what has historically been draws between the sides, it was nice to get the win.

“We started well with the goal but then shot ourselves in the foot for their penalty.

“We seemed to feel a bit sorry for ourselves after that until half-time and we were in fact slow starters at the start of the second half.

“But once we got the second, I felt we were in control from that point on.”

In a fast and furious opening 45 minutes, the sides went in all square.

Pompey took the lead in the second minute when a powerful shot from Lang squirmed under goalkeeper Jamie Cumming.

But Oxford equalised after six minutes when Pompey gave the ball away and Sean Raggett brought down ex-Pompey midfielder Owen Dale for a penalty which was easily converted by Brannagan.

Mark Harris then hit the Pompey post on 13 minutes.

Oxford had the first chance of the second half but Josh Murphy was also denied by the woodwork.

Pompey regained the lead after 67 minutes when Saydee held off a strong challenge to run clear and place the ball wide of Cumming.

Oxford pushed for an equaliser but to no avail.

Oxford boss Des Buckingham said: “I think that’s our best performance since taking the reins. But that’s the frustrating thing because we have come away with nothing.

“We’ve done more than enough to have won the game. We’ve hit the post twice and have had opportunities cleared off the line in the second half.

“We did enough to have won a couple of games out there today. If we can perform for the next 10 games like we did today, I will be extremely happy.

“Although frustrating, we have to approach the next game in the same way we did for this game and if we do that we will position ourselves strongly for that.”

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