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Aston Villa 0-1 Crystal Palace | Premier League match report

Guardian Sport - Thu, 12/26/2013 - 12:27

Pictures: our pick of the best images from Boxing Day's matches

Crystal Palace clambered out of the relegation zone after Dwight Gayle came on as a late substitute to curl in a memorable winning goal two minutes into stoppage time.

Tony Pulis has led his new charges to three wins from six games and the escape act, not so long ago seemingly a fantasy, now seems possible. If Palace are to survive, Aston Villa may be one of the teams they can dispatch into trouble.

Paul Lambert's team, having failed to score in five of their past six home games, were booed off the field at the end of a dreadful, shapeless performance. They have the worst home record in the division and, with 11 points from 12 games since they beat Manchester City in September, are in relegation form.

Gayle, a £6m summer signing from Peterborough United, now has three Premier League goals for Palace. Villa look toothless and lacking direction.

The first half was a write-off, a turkey, as the two out-of-form sides cancelled each other out. Palace, after two successive defeats, replaced the suspended Marouane Chamakh with Yannick Bolasie, packing the midfield, and allowed Barry Bannan, acquired from Villa in August, the freedom behind the lone front man.

But while Palace set up cautiously, Villa could not claim the initiative. The return from suspension of Gabriel Agbonlahor might have helped compensate for the continued absence of Christian Benteke, still out with a knee injury, but the home side failed to find any rhythm.

Only in stoppage time, when Adrian Mariappa headed over his own crossbar after Libor Kozak nudged on Marc Albrighton's corner, did the Palace goal come under any threat in the first half.

It was as if both managers told their teams during half-time that the whole game depended on them remembering how to attack. Twice Jason Puncheon should have scored for Palace, but opted against shooting first time when he arrived late on to Yannick Bolasie's pull-back, and Brad Guzan saved his delayed left-footed effort.

Andreas Weimann also spurned two clear chances, volleying Fabien Delph's cross straight at Speroni before spooning an inviting chance over the bar from Matt Lowton's intelligent ball, either side of Guzan tipping Bannan's shot against the post.

The quality was still dubious but at least the players took the handbrake off. What we were left with appeared to be two bumper cars careering around a fairground circuit, uncertain of their destination.

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West Ham United 1-3 Arsenal

Guardian Sport - Thu, 12/26/2013 - 12:19

Pictures: the best images from Boxing Day's matches

Arsenal are back on track. There was a period early in the second half when Carlton Cole had put West Ham United in front and the home team suddenly tore into their opponents when it was possible to fear the worst for Arsène Wenger and his players. The demons of those dropped points against Everton, Manchester City and then Chelsea had begun to circle in the capital's East End.

But Arsenal are a more talented and resilient group this season and they offered a little more proof here in what was a richly entertaining derby. They absorbed the loss of the excellent Aaron Ramsey to a muscular injury to bite back and it was Theo Walcott who was their hero of the final half hour.

His first was a jink and a drive that was spilled by the West Ham goalkeeper Adrian but the second was a wonderfully reactive header after the substitute Lukas Podolski's cross had changed direction slightly at late notice off the head of James Tomkins. Walcott adjusted in a flash to direct a firm header past Adrian. The England forward has four goals in three games following his return in the defeat at City.

Podolski applied the gloss. On for his first football since August and a serious hamstring injury, he lashed home a trademark left-footed blast after Olivier Giroud had expertly laid off Walcott's cross and all was well once more in Arsenal's world. They ought to have been more comfortable after a first half in which they fashioned good chances but if the wobble was deeply uncomfortable, they overcame it.

It is West Ham for whom times are bleak. With only one Premier League win since early October, they are struggling sorely for survival and much could now hinge upon their matches against West Bromwich Albion and Fulham. There was plenty of fight from them and flashes of ability but it was not enough.

Wenger's worry had been fatigue and he was keen to rotate and yet his only change from Monday's 0-0 draw with Chelsea had been one that was enforced by injury; Santi Cazorla stepping in for Tomas Rosicky, who had suffered a knock. Wenger's faith in his best players is unshakable and, with the Premier League margins so tight, he appears loath to risk resting any of them, however heavy their legs might feel. Giroud's lone striker work-load, in particular, has been prodigious.

Cazorla was excellent; his touch ever easy on the eye and Arsenal created the chances in the first half to have taken control. The clearest fell to Giroud in the 34th minute, Ramsey sending him clean through but the left-footed finish was dragged well wide of the far post. Giroud swung his boot in frustration.

Arsenal looked to Ramsey, who was given the licence by the deep-sitting Mikel Arteta to maraud forward when his team had the ball and he fashioned a wonderful chance for Walcott on 26 minutes. The weight on the chipped pass was perfect but Walcott's volley flashed wide to have Wenger throwing his hands at the sky.

Cazorla drew a save from Adrian with a long-range header after a corner was cleared to him; he had another first-half pop that flew just over the crossbar and Arteta shot narrowly wide from long ange. Arsenal made inroads behind West Ham's full-backs but Giroud could not apply the decisive touch. West Ham had little to pep them in terms of recent league form and their quality was more patchy than that of their opponents but they refused to bend to Arsenal's script. Cole was a muscular presence up front, while Matt Jarvis looked to have the beating of Bacary Sagna.

Mark Noble's free-kick that was curled for the far top corner drew a smart early save from Wojciech Szczesny, while the Arsenal goalkeeper collected Mohamed Diamé's stinging drive at the second attempt. Per Mertesacker had to stretch out a leg to deny Cole inside the area.

West Ham took the second half by storm. The breakthrough goal came when Jarvis checked inside Sagna to cross and, after Arteta could only half-clear, Kevin Nolan fizzed a shot at goal. Szczesny was partially unsighted but he could only parry at Cole's feet and the striker shot home.

Upton Park came to life and the home team, rather abruptly, had the opportunities to finish the game. Noble came to the fore with his assured passing and Arsenal suddenly looked horribly dishevelled at the back.

Three big chances came for West Ham in quick succession and it was no exaggeration to say that Arsenal were hanging on. Noble put Jarvis through only for Szczesny to make a vital save; O'Brien, completely unmarked, headed wide from Diamé's cross and Cole could not finish from the substitute Razvan Rat's centre. You felt at the time that West Ham would live to regret their profligacy.

Arsenal refocused and they went again after the hour mark. They lost Ramsey to a muscle tear but they did not allow it to derail them. Their patience and character was impressive. Adrian denied Cazorla and Mesut Özil but he ought to have done better on the equaliser, allowing Walcott's shot to slip through his fingers. He might claim that the ball came through a crowd.

Arsenal turned full circle upon Walcott's second and, after Podolski had been denied by Adrian following Cazorla's pass, the German enjoyed his moment in front of goal. It is West Ham who must find answers.

David Hytner
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Man City v Liverpool – live!

Guardian Sport - Thu, 12/26/2013 - 12:16

MBM report: It's a top-of-the-table clash at the Etihad. Join Jacob Steinberg for all the action

Jacob Steinberg

Chelsea 1-0 Swansea City

Guardian Sport - Thu, 12/26/2013 - 12:10

Pictures: our pick of the best images from Boxing Day's matches

Managing Chelsea may already carry a health warning, for all the hefty compensation pay-offs flung the way of the departed. Yet, even in overseeing a victory against a blunt Swansea City side, José Mourinho is clearly struggling to shrug off a creeping sense of anxiety. His side's shortcomings are affecting him more with each passing week.

Mourinho was a blur of frustration here as familiar failings threatened to undermine his team's challenge. He was all bellowed instruction and pantomime reaction in his technical area, regularly screaming in disbelief at his back-room staff cowering on the bench behind as clear-cut chance after half-chance was passed up wastefully by his players. Profligacy infects this team and dents their effectiveness. This should have been a stroll but, in the end, the overriding reaction to the final whistle was actually relief.

The home side had dominated from the outset, battering away in an attempt to squeeze a sight at goal from well organised opponents. There was a barrage of early corners and much of Swansea's defending to repel them was admirable, the sight of Ashley Williams diving in to block or Neil Taylor heaving to intercept were regular features, even if they invited pressure. They had eventually cracked: the recalled Ashley Cole's interception and pass liberated Eden Hazard just before the half-hour mark. The Belgian ran at Jordi Amat and veered in-field away from the centre-back and his shot may still have been saved but Williams' instinctive dive in to block confused Gerhard Tremmel and the ball scuttled under the defender and through the goalkeeper via a faint touch, to put Chelsea ahead.

Yet, if that might once have opened the floodgates, the tension which built thereafter has felt common over recent weeks. Mourinho had cursed animatedly as Samuel Eto'o failed to squeeze in a second after Tremmel's error in possession, the Portuguese aiming a kick at an imaginary ball in his technical area.

Juan Mata's cleverly looped pass beyond Amat just before the break should have led to another, only for the goalkeeper to deny Eto'o's scuffed effort and, 13 seconds after the break, the German produced a remarkable save to deny the forward from Mata's cross. The delivery had been delicious, by-passing panicked defenders though Mourinho, arms stretched wide, was left baffled as to why Eto'o could not direct his volley a yard either side of the goalkeeper.

Each miss provoked more anxiety, even if Swansea's own threat was negligible. Álvaro Vázquez's half-volley, tipped over the bar by Petr Cech, was their only real opportunity until Wilfried Bony's brawn was flung on for the latter stages. By then Chelsea fans were gripped by nerves, exasperated that Tremmel had stretched to turn aside the substitute Frank Lampard's low shot and wincing whenever the Welsh club sought a more direct route to goal with Bony their target. Mourinho moved to shake hands with the Swansea manager, Michael Laudrup, long before the completion of added time. It was as if he was urging this all to be over.

Dominic Fifield
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Cardiff City 0-3 Southampton | Premier League match report

Guardian Sport - Thu, 12/26/2013 - 12:08

Pictures: our pick of the best images from Boxing Day's matches

Malky Mackay had a stay of execution last weekend but he was a condemned man on Thursday night after his Cardiff team were outclassed at home by Southampton, who arrived with no wins and four defeats from their previous six games.

The Welsh club had identified it as a must-win fixture in their battle to stay clear of the relegation zone, but they leaked three goals in the first 27 minutes to leave their controversial owner, Vincent Tan, ready to call time on Mackay's two-and-a-half year reign as manager.

There were protests against Tan and in support of Mackay before and during the game, the fans giving voluble voice to their new anthem, "Don't sack Mackay", and chanting "Malky" over and over again while Tan, who has "rebranded" the club in red, was also reminded that Cardiff would "always be blue". After this dreadful result the Malaysian money man will be even more inclined to take it all with the proverbial pinch of salt. He left his seat five minutes from the end – to prepare Mackay's P45?

Cardiff ought to have taken the lead after 11 minutes, when Craig Noone's cross picked out Peter Whittingham who, five yards out, made a ghastly hash of a sidefoot volley which lifted the ball over the bar. His profligacy was punished five minutes later, Jay Rodriguez demonstrating the sidefoot finish in tucking away Adam Lallana's squared pass from the right at the far post.

In the 20th minute Rodriguez struck again, catching Kevin Theophile-Catherine "sleeping" as he stole in to dispatch Ricky Lambert's cross from deep on the right.

Within another seven minutes Mackay appeared to be the proverbial dead man walking. Another lofted ball into the penalty area found the Cardiff defence wanting as a header from Rodriguez set up Lambert for a routine finish from six yards.

Now it was the Saints' fans making themselves heard, cheering their team's infinitely superior passing game.

Cardiff's attempts to rescue a lost cause were undermined by their failure to retain possession for any length of time.

For the second half they sent on Andreas Cornelius, their £8m Danish target man, in place of Peter Odemwingie and within five minutes of his introduction the substitute threatened with a glancing header from Whittingham's corner.

Cardiff huffed and puffed to no avail and were left with easily their worst result in the Premier League. If they were playing for their manager's future, you would hardly have guessed it. They had the look of a Championship team playing above their station.

Joe Lovejoy
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Norwich City 1-2 Fulham | Premier League match report

Guardian Sport - Thu, 12/26/2013 - 12:07

Pictures: our pick of the best images from Boxing Day's matches

There was encouragement for Fulham here that went beyond the acquisition of a three vital points away from home. Having fallen behind to a deflected strike by Gary Hooper, Rene Meulensteen's much-changed side came back with spirit, and having equalised through Pajtim Kasami's free-kick, played well enough to deserve the fine late strike by Scott Parker that gace the Cottagers renewed hope of avoiding relegation.

While Norwich were unchanged from the side which drew 0-0 at Sunderland in their previous outing, Meulensteen shook things up in the hope of avoiding a fourth defeat in five games since he took over from the sacked Martin Jol at the beginning of December. With captain Dimitar Berbatov yet to recover from a groin injury, Meulensteen brought in Damien Duff, Alexander Kacaniklic, Fernando Amorebieta and Kasami in an attempt to stop the rot. Robbie Stockdale replaced the injured Maarten Stekelenburg in goal.

New first-team technical director Alan Curbishley, watching from the directors box, can only have been encouraged by an opening during which Fulham had looked the sharper of the two teams. Initiall however, luck was not on their side. Shortly after Kasami drove crisply but straight at Norwich goalkeeper John Ruddy, Hooper let fly from around 26 yards. The low shot would have been easily saved by Stockdale, but the ball struck the outstretched foot of Aaron Hughes before arcing over and beyond the Fulham goalkeeper and into the net. It was Hooper's fourth goal in as many consecutive games at Carrow Road.

Fulham came back well. Kasami saw his low left foot shot from an angle beat Ruddy but roll a foot wide of the goalkeeper's left-hand post, and Adel Taarabt's clever chip with the outside of his right foot was closer than many in the ground realised, but the visitors should have gone further behind when an appalling exchange of passes between Hughes and Amorebieta across their own 18 yard line ended with the ball at the feet of Hooper. With only Stockdale to beat, the former Celtic and Scunthorpe United striker could not hit the target.

Nor could Duff a few minutes later, when Kasami's inviting low cross appeared to require only a solid connection, but the equaliser was not long delayed. Moments after Ruddy's attempted clearance had rebounded back into his goal off what referee Jon Moss decided had been Scott Parker's raised hand, a Norwich defensive wall set up to keep out Kasami's free-kick disintegrated as it jumped, allowing a far from venomous left-footed shot to pass through and beat Ruddy as he dived to his left. Michael Turner was particularly at fault.

It took a fine clearing header by Sascha Riether on his own line to prevent Leroy Fer putting City back ahead from a Robert Snodgrass corner early in the second half, and with Ruddy having to be alert to save Taarabt's clever cushioned volley soon afterwards, the game was not lacking for incident.

Both managers made attacking changes, though Meulensteen's decision to remove Taarabt for Ashkan Dejegah did not increase his side's creative options. Even so, Steve Sidwell missed an outstanding chance when Sebastian Bassong blocked his shot from no more than seven yards, and then Ruddy rode his luck after failing to hold a cross and in the ensuing scramble Rodallega poked the loose ball against his chest almost on the goal-line.

Just when the game looked to be heading for a draw, Parker picked up a half-cleared corner and from around 22 yards, drove across and past Ruddy.

Richard Rae
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Everton 0-1 Sunderland | Premier League match report

Guardian Sport - Thu, 12/26/2013 - 12:05

Pictures: our pick of the best images from Boxing Day's matches

Sunderland received an unexpected assist in their bid for Premier League survival as Everton pressed the self-destruct button on their unbeaten home league run in 2013. A calamitous error from Leon Osman resulted in a red card for Tim Howard after 23 minutes and a winner from the penalty spot for Ki Sung-yueng. While the Everton goalkeeper walked, Sunderland's Vito Mannone excelled to preserve a crucial three points for Gus Poyet's team.

Everton made a sluggish, laboured opening with the only bursts of energy and invention coming from Bryan Oviedo at left-back. The one rotational change that Roberto Martínez did make, Leon Osman for the in-form Ross Barkley, was to have damaging consequences.

The tone was almost set in the second minute when Phil Jagielka under-cooked a header back to Howard and the goalkeeper was required to win a sliding tackle against Steven Fletcher. One routine save from Jack Colback aside, and that following a rare loose pass from Gareth Barry, the United States international had nothing else to do until his and Everton's afternoon turned sour when he was sold short once again.

It was a moment that will haunt Osman, that cost Everton their unbeaten league record at home this year and will give Sunderland renewed belief that they can become only the second team in Premier League history to avoid the drop having been bottom on Christmas Day. The Everton midfielder was true to Martínez's instructions – and its inherent risks - in building from the back when he ran from the halfway line to show for a goal-kick from Howard.

Osman received it, then lost it with a poor first touch that gifted possession to Ki on the edge of the penalty area. The South Korean rounded Howard but was clipped by the Everton keeper for a clear red card and the penalty that followed. The reactions of Osman and Howard were telling, and both their afternoons were over as the midfielder gave way to the substitute keeper, Joel Robles. Ki, scorer of Sunderland's Capital One Cup quarter-final winner against Chelsea, kept his composure to beat Robles convincingly from the penalty spot.

Martínez immediately switched to a 4-3-2 with Kevin Mirallas joining Romelu Lukaku in attack, before he disappeared down the tunnel for an apparent toilet break for four minutes to leave Everton with nine men. A fifth booking of the season for Barry means they will be without both the influential midfielder and their first-choice keeper for Southampton's visit on Sunday.

The jolt did nothing for the quality of Everton's performance until Barkley was introduced for the second half and Sunderland, lively throughout on the break, almost doubled their lead when Ondrej Celustka tested Robles with an angled drive. Everton's keeper spilled the initial shot but made a superb reaction save to deny Sebastian Larsson on the rebound.

Modibo Diakité, part of a Sunderland defence missing the injured John O'Shea and the suspended Wes Brown, squandered a clear opening at the start of the second half and Fletcher went close with a back-post header from Lee Cattermole's inviting cross. But there was greater urgency from Everton's 10 men after the interval and Barkley's willingness to shoot on sight brought an added threat.

Vito Mannone produced a fine save to keep out Jagielka's header from an Oviedo corner and an even better stop when the Costa Rica defender cut inside and sent a rising shot towards the top corner from 20 yards. When Barkley attempted to reproduce the free-kick expertise that defeated Swansea City on Sunday, the Sunderland keeper thwarted Everton yet again with his finger tips. He was finally beaten by Nikica Jelavic's diving header from the resulting corner, but the on-loan Liverpool striker Fabio Borini was on the line to clear.

Everton's valiant response almost conjured an equaliser in the final seconds but Lukaku failed to connect with a header in front of an open goal.

Andy Hunter
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Nicky Henderson dreading Sprinter Sacre running in Desert Orchid Chase

Guardian Sport - Thu, 12/26/2013 - 12:03

• Trainer fears brilliant chaser may be vulnerable on Friday
• My Tent Or Yours win Christmas Hurdle at Kempton

Nicky Henderson said on Thursday that he is "absolutely dreading" the return to action of Sprinter Sacre in Friday's Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton, and that he believes his outstanding chaser is "vulnerable" as he defends an unbeaten record over fences in the Grade Two contest.

Sprinter Sacre will start at long odds-on to beat four rivals including Sire De Grugy, the recent winner of the Grade One Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown Park. According to Timeform ratings, he has 28lb in hand of Sire De Grugy, and is at least 35lb superior to his remaining opponents.

The ground at Kempton will be testing with overnight rain expected on going which was already described as soft, and heavy on one of the bends. Sprinter Sacre remains an intended runner in the race, however, and his presence at Kempton is likely to add significantly to the attendance on the second and final day of Kempton's Winter Festival meeting.

"I'm absolutely dreading it," Henderson said on Thursday. "You're on a hiding to nothing, Sire De Grugy is a very good horse, and you've got the best two two-mile chasers in England coming out tomorrow and taking each other on.

"If ever he's vulnerable, this will be it. We're responsible for this great, great horse [and] for two pins I would not run him tomorrow. But if he was an ordinary horse, nobody would be asking all these questions. As best I can, I'm committing to running him.

"He's been in soft ground before. They've opened the ground up today and it's going to rain tonight [but] it would nearly have to be off not to run. If you don't need to run, then it's a case of why bother, but I need to run him now to help him [get to the Clarence House Chase at Ascot in January]."

Henderson returned from the first day of the Winter Festival meeting with a Grade One success after My Tent Or Yours emerged from a duel with The New One as the half-length winner of the Christmas Hurdle with the remainder of the field nearly a distance behind.

After a tactical race through the first mile, Sam Twiston-Davies decided to seize the initiative on The New One on the final turn and though Tony McCoy tracked his move on My Tent Or Yours, The New One was still in front when he made a bad mistake at the final flight.

That left My Tent Or Yours with a narrow lead which he defended to the line, but the issue of which of the pair is the better horse no closer to a conclusion. They head the Champion Hurdle market at a top price of 7-2, with the Irish-trained Our Conor and Hurricane Fly, who are due to line up against each other at Leopardstown on Sunday, next in the list at 5-1 and 6-1 respectively.

"That was the best of the English," Henderson said. "Now it's all on the other side. You've got Our Conor, who's a horse I'm very frightened of, Hurricane Fly and Jezki.

"He doesn't need to run [before Cheltenham] but I suspect it's probably a good thing to run. I think he'd go in there horribly fresh if he didn't have a run in between, and when he is fresh, he is keen.

"I was impressed that the two of them came away like they did, as the third and fourth are not exactly mugs."

Martin Keighley's Annacotty lined up for the Grade One Kauto Star Novice Chase – formerly the Feltham – with just one victory to his name in five starts over fences, but he was also wearing blinkers for the first time and found significant improvement to win by 10 lengths at 12-1.

Whether the headgear will prove as effective next time remains to be seen, but there was no apparent fluke about Annacotty's defeat of four rivals, including the 8-13 favourite Just A Par. Ian Popham set a good pace up front and one by one his opponents came under pressure while Annacotty maintained the gallop, with a mistake at the second-last the only blemish on an otherwise excellent round of jumping.

Annacotty is a 25-1 chance for the RSA Chase at Cheltenham in March, while Just A Par, previously 12-1 for same race, is out to 33-1 with Hills.

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Newcastle United 5-1 Stoke City | Premier League match report

Guardian Sport - Thu, 12/26/2013 - 12:00

Pictures: our pick of the best images from Boxing Day's matches

Midway through the first half Yohan Cabaye tugged his gloves off and hurled them towards the touchline. It seemed symbolic of the France midfielder's struggles as he and his Newcastle team-mates became increasingly en-snared by Stoke City's clever tactical trap.

Shortly afterwards Mark Hughes's side were ahead but then some of the luck which deserted Alan Pardew for much of the middle part of 2013 returned. Stoke's Glenn Whelan was sent off for a very silly second yellow card, Hughes found himself banished from the dug-out for protesting – and duly lobbed his managerial anorak over the dug-out roof in disgust – and then Marc Wilson also saw red after conceding a penalty. From then on there was only one team in it as Newcastle reinforced their unlikely Champions League challenge.

Hughes surprised a few people by starting Stephen Ireland on the bench but Charlie Adam eagerly accepted the mantle of Stoke's creator-in-chief. Deployed in an attacking central midfield role just behind Peter Crouch, Adam excelled, providing Newcastle with quite a few frights courtesy of both his incisive through passes and well timed late runs into the box.

Pardew's side were finding Hughes's team obdurate opponents and Cabaye's removal of those gloves appeared suitably emblematic. Cabaye began at the heart of an attacking trio also featuring the recalled Hatem Ben Arfa and Yoan Gouffran behind Loic Remy in a 4-2-3-1 configuration but that attacking quartet rarely got behind Stoke's defence.

Hughes's team are passing and moving increasingly fluidly but the transition from Tony Pulis's old regime is enough of an evolution for a few old habits to linger on.

Whenever Newcastle looked like gaining any sort of momentum it was noticeable that Stoke had no compunction about indulging in a little time wasting. Thomas Sorensen - preferred to Jack Butland in goal as the understudy to Asmir Begovic who is nursing a broken finger - was particularly adept at delaying goal kicks while Ousama Assaida annoyed everyone of black and white persausion by taking an inordinate amount of time to re-tie a boot lace on the pitch.

He clearly made a good job of it though because a couple of minutes later Assaidi shot Stoke into the lead. After cutting inside from the left and dodging Mathieu Debuchy his right footed shot from the edge of the area curved exquisitely into the top corner.

Hughes's smile was not destined to be linger. When his side were reduced to 10men following Whelan's sending off for a second bookable offence – a stupid tackle on Cabaye in the wake a poor challenge on Moussa Sissoko minutes earlier – Stoke's manager debated the issue with Martin Atkinson, the referee. Clearly unhappy with what he heard Atkinson, promptly banished Hughes to the stand, leaving the Welshman to part with his anorak before making his way down the tunnel.

It got worse for the visitors. They swiftly conceded a penalty when Marc Wilson brought Remy down in the penalty area. Out came the red card, off went Wilson and up to the spot stepped Remy. He struck the kick poorly thought and Sorensen saved fairly comfortably.

No sooner had Atkinson waved away Stoke's own appeals for a penalty against Mike Williamson, than their nine men conceded an equaliser. It came spiced with more than a touch of fortune for Pardew. Ben Arfa played Remy in cleverly but the striker's shot required two deflections before bouncing into the back of the net via Sorensen's foot.

Pardew felt the time was right to switch to a 4-4-2 formation designed to exacerbate Stoke's plight and Shola Ameobi duly replaced Vurnon Anita after the interval.

Stoke quickly conceded a rather soft goal when Yoan Gouffran shot assuredly into the bottom corner after Sorensen failed to properly deal with a Ben Arfa cross despatched, incidentally, after the the ball looked to have momentarily gone out of play.

Earlier anxieties now forgotten, St James' Park reverberated to the Blaydon Races. A third Newcastle goal was en route and it arrived thanks to another cross. This time it came from Davide Santon and was headed home at the far post by Remy following Sissoko's flick on.

Ben Arfa sashayed past four Stoke defenders only to see his eventual shot rebound off the junction of post and bar. It was the second time he had hit the woodwork but it was not the sort of day when such near misses counted as, by now, Newcastle were really coasting.

Cabaye scored their fourth, sidefooting beyond Sorensen at the conclusion of a slick one touch passing home move. Erik Pieters's penalty area foul on Ben Arfa prefaced number five, substitute Papiss Cisse ending a lenghty goal drought by persauding Remy to abandon the chance of completing a hat-trick and allowing him to take the kick. Small wonder Cisse sank to his knees and offered a prayer of thanks after converting it.

Louise Taylor
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Horse racing tips: Friday 27 December

Guardian Sport - Thu, 12/26/2013 - 11:48

Waywood Princess at Wetherby is the best bet of the day

Kempton 1.00 Vicenzio Mio 1.30 Grandouet 2.00 Scholastica 2.30 Sprinter Sacre 3.05 Valoroso 3.40 Three Kingdoms

Leicester 12.35 Baile Anrai 1.10 Stow 1.40 Tafika 2.10 Mosspark 2.45 Sixty Something 3.15 Headly's Bridge

Wetherby 12.15 Flementime 12.45 Retrieve (nb) 1.15 Many Clouds 1.45 Pearl Castle 2.15 King Of The Wolds 2.50 Jack Albert 3.25 Waywood Princess (nap)

Southwell 12.25 Pushkin Museum 12.55 Touch The Clouds 1.25 Angelo Poliziano 1.55 Slope 2.30 Kung Hei Fat Choy 3.00 Mataajir 3.35 Goldmadchen

Wolverhampton 3.55 Ivestar 4.25 Slewtoo 4.55 Lucky Mark 5.25 Jaeger Train 5.55 Market Storm 6.25 Suehail 6.55 India's Song 7.25 Storey Hill

Tony Paley
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Best portraits of 2013 – in pictures

Guardian Sport - Thu, 12/26/2013 - 11:10

From artists to activists and politicians to personalities, a selection of the best portraits taken by Guardian photographers this year

Mee-Lai StoneParis Lees

Ashes 2013-14: Kevin Pietersen hangs on for England with Australia in control

Guardian Sport - Thu, 12/26/2013 - 11:01

• England batsman plays with discipline for unbeaten 67
• He passes Geoffrey Boycott's tally of Test runs

Melbourne Cricket Ground was packed to the rafters. From the front rows to the nose-bleed gods, 91,092 people turned up, beating the old official record of 90,800 when West Indies were here in 1961, the difference now probably the number of England support staff.

They witnessed a day of attrition in which England finally thrust off their Adelaide disease where, philanthropists to a man, they donated their wickets. Instead they tried to sell them dearly, while Australia throttled the life out of the innings with disciplined bowling, largely directed outside off stump and dutifully flagged through with disregard.

For hour after hour it became a game of who blinked first. As always there is a balance to be drawn between attack and defence but England's batting has been under the hammer all series while the cricket world is full of have-a-go-yer-mug heroes who are the first to criticise when wickets are thrown away with apparent abandon. There are no complaints from this quarter.

By the close, though, it was Australia once more who held the upper hand, the second new ball making inroads into the lower order. England reached 226 for six, with everyone but Ben Stokes of the top six – removed by Mitchell Johnson's third delivery with the second new ball – batting for an hour or more. But only Kevin Pietersen, in a display of great self-denial, went on to reach a half century. He remained unbeaten on 67, having batted for five minutes more than four hours, passing Geoffrey Boycott's England Test career tally of 8,114 runs, although in fewer matches and just possibly from fewer deliveries as well. Pietersen has batted more entertainingly but never with such obvious application.

Whether Michael Clarke's decision to bowl first on winning the toss for the fourth time was a good one only the fullness of time will tell: it is rarely a good idea to make such judgments until both sides have batted. Certainly the decision was out of character because, ever since Ricky Ponting's disastrous insertion of England at Edgbaston in 2005, Australia have put the opposition in on only three previous occasions, one of which was against New Zealand in Hobart two years ago when they lost.

Once they had got some early first-hour over-zealous profligacy out of the way and adjusted their lengths and lines accordingly, the Australian attack, led by the redoubtable Ryan Harris, were first class. One day Harris will bowl a half-volley but hell will freeze over first. Later in the day, as the noise in the stadium crescendoed and the adrenaline flowed, Johnson bowled like the wind.

It was by no means a flawless performance from Australia. Catches were missed: one at third slip by Steve Smith, a diving effort, to reprieve Michael Carberry when he had made two of his 38 runs; and a second when Pietersen had only six, and, hooking Harris, was caught on the long-leg boundary by Nathan Coulter-Nile, fielding as substitute for the temporarily injured Shane Watson, who then, for some unknown reason (he had plenty of room) stumbled over the boundary rope instead.

A third came when Pietersen, on 41 now, pulled Harris from the front foot and George Bailey failed to hold on to a stinging catch at midwicket.

Without Pietersen, England would be hanging on by their fingernails. In fact this was probably a good toss for England to lose, for although advice from local sages was to bat first, the cloudiness, warmth and humidity of the morning, as well as Australian's dominance with the ball, persuaded Clarke otherwise: Alastair Cook says he would have batted. Certainly there was nothing like the orthodox swing that might have been anticipated, but there was some movement off the seam. Nathan Lyon was brought on as early as the 10th over, one of three bowling changes made by Clarke in the opening 13 overs, and immediately found some first-day dampish-pitch turn and bounce.

Cook and Carberry gave England a bright start, cutting and driving well, with 44 runs coming in the first hour. At which point Australia regrouped and began to turn the screw. Cook, looking more comfortable than at any time, pushed away from his body and was caught at second slip off Peter Siddle to end a 48-run opening stand. Carberry had been rendered virtually strokeless by the dual determination of the bowlers to fire outside offstump and his own to ignore the deliveries. But he can be attacked from round the wicket, making his judgment less certain and, on 38, Watson angled one in from there and clipped his offstump when he offered no stroke.

Together Carberry and Joe Root had doubled the score, although it was the heaviest of going for the Yorkshire player. When Root was then caught at the wicket off Harris an hour or so after lunch, England were 106 for three and in trouble.

The debate about Ian Bell's place in the batting order will rumble on, but he and Pietersen added 67 for the fourth wicket. Pietersen had taken 13 balls to get off the mark, which he did by pulling Siddle firmly to midwicket, one of only three scoring shots in the first hour of his innings. But he was playing straight once more, eschewing the fancy trademark flicks to the onside and avoiding the baited traps. He lost Bell for 27 when Harris returned for another spell half an hour before the second new ball, and Stokes shortly after it had been taken, although not before the young allrounder had belted Lyon's final over with the old ball successively for four and six.

Jonny Bairstow soon followed. As expected, he had replaced Matt Prior after a run of 60 successive Tests, just five short of Alan Knott's record for an England wicketkeeper. This was not an ideal time to be returning to the side, with Johnson and the new ball, and, having top edged him fortuitously for six, over the head of the keeper, Bairstow was nowhere near in line as Johnson ripped one through the gate and pegged back his offstump.

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Sport picture of the day: Ruby Walsh, head down to win

Guardian Sport - Thu, 12/26/2013 - 10:54

After a brief Christmas hiatus, we return. In this picture jockey Ruby Walsh's head is down, urging Clondaw Court on to a win at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival

Silviniaco Conti wins King George VI

Guardian Sport - Thu, 12/26/2013 - 10:39

• The 7-2 shot is the eighth winner for trainer
• Winner new favourite for Cheltenham Gold Cup

Silviniaco Conti, trained by Paul Nicholls and ridden by Noel Fehily, won the William Hill King George VI Chase at odds of 7-2 Kempton on Boxing Day and is the new favourite for the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Cue Card made the running, jumping superbly and leading all the way until the second-last fence after which he weakened extremely badly, allowing Silviniaco Conti to run past him and stay on well to win by three and a half lengths with stablemate Al Ferof a further 11 lengths back in third.

Nicholls was delighted with the winner, who he said was "heavy" for his first outing when he finished third behind Cue Card in the Betfair Chase at Haydock. The victorious handler was clearly relishing running his winner in the Gold Cup, for which he is just 7-2 with Paddy Power, when he said afterwards: "All [Silviniaco Conti] does is stay. Better ground and a bit farther will suit him."

He added: "That's brilliant. I knew if I had him at his best at Haydock he wouldn't win today. Sometimes you win these races with a horse like him, that if you'd have got to the bottom of him at Haydock he wouldn't have won today.

"It was heavy that day, the run brought him on enormously and I knew he'd stay. I said to Noel to make plenty of use of him. Kempton is not an ideal track for him a he jumps a bit out to the left, but he stays forever.

"Today was his target - last year the targets were the Charlie Hall and the Betfair. This year was a bit different, to come here and then go for the Gold Cup.

"You have to be a true stayer to win round here and though Cue Card won round Haydock it was different ground. He had a soft lead and I didn't want that to happen today. It's great to win this race with something different. I thought we had a great chance in last season's Gold Cup, but it didn't happen."

Nicholls was recording his eighth triumph in the King George, having won the race five times with Kauto Star and twice with See More Business.

Fehily said: "I was slow over three out and I thought Joe [Tizzard on Cue Card] had got away from me, but this horse is as tough as nails and he's a very good horse. This is a different track [to Haydock] and I knew my horse would be fitter today.

"Paul [Nicholls] has done a great job - he told me all week he'd improved from Haydock and he has. It was brilliant. I've not ridden a Gold Cup winner, but I hope he's a Gold Cup horse. This is unbelievable."

Tony Paley
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The five games (and a fight) of NBAmas

Guardian Sport - Thu, 12/26/2013 - 10:16

Festive fisticuffs, terrible t-shirts, one-sided games, and Swaggy P tries to save Christmas

Welcome to a special post-holiday edition of "Five Things" where we break down the real reason that December 25th is a holiday: NBAmas. Every Christmas, the NBA gives basketball fans five marquee games, or at least that's what the league attempts to do. While Wednesday's match-ups looked good on paper before the seasons started, many of the major market teams have struggled this year thanks to injuries, questionable coaching and just plain awful play. Unfortunately the NBA doesn't have a return policy (it would have been nice to exchange Bulls/Nets with a Pacers/Trail Blazers game). If it weren't for the Los Angeles Clippers/Golden State Warriors game at the very end, this season's games would be notable for the league's questionable outfit decisions, two ridiculous LeBron James dunks and whatever the heck this was:

Chicago Bulls 95-78 Brooklyn Nets

The good news for the Brooklyn Nets was that most of America was busy with Christmas related activities while the Chicago Bulls were demolishing them on route to a 95-78 victory. Again, before the league drew up the schedule no one could have predicted that both teams would have lost their best players. Derrick Rose's return to Chicago was depressingly brief while the Nets will be without Brook Lopez, out indefinitely with a broken foot, a serious blow to the Nets chances at making the postseason even when factoring in the awfulness of the Atlantic Division.

So instead of the possible playoff match-up it seemed like before the season, the Bulls and Nets looked like they were just the day's terrible, terrible opening act. It's never a good sign with most of the online chatter around a game had more to do with the players' outfits than anything remotely basketball related. While these were supposed to give the games more of a Christmas-y feel, it instead looked like some of the nation's best athletes had decided to play in pajamas on network TV. It all seemed like a basketball version of that "Christmas Jammies" viral video, which may be the only thing more painful to watch than a Nets game.

And wow was this a painful one to watch, at least the New York Knicks have been discovering new and entertaining ways to lose ballgames, the Nets have just been depressing to watch throughout the year, a mix of overpaid role players and Hall of Famers at the very end of their careers. Sometimes one image really does say it all.

After the game was over, Kevin Garnett called out his entire team for not having identity. It's an understandable criticism, but the problem doesn't seem to be that they don't have a identity, the sad thing is that this might actually be their identity.

Christmas Movie Equivalent
: "Santa Clause 3", a depressing disappointing film filled with past-their-prime actors slumming for paychecks.

Oklahoma City Thunder 123-94 New York Knicks

This one wasn't even fair. The Oklahoma City Thunder beat the New York Knicks 123-94, and even that final score makes it sound closer than it actually was. Knicks fans could point to the fact that their team was dealing with serious injury issues as they were playing without (takes deep breath) Carmelo Anthony, Pablo Prigioni, Metta World Peace and Raymond Felton. With those guys the Knicks might have conceivably lost by only 19 points rather than 29. How strapped were the Knicks on Wednesday? At one point Chris "Nepotism Run Amuck" Smith made an on-court appearance.

(If there was any silver linings here for Knicks fans – there weren't but play along here – it was that the game didn't have any moments quite as bad as Andrea Bargnani's "what was he thinking" missed three-pointer in their game against the Milwaukee Bucks earlier this week.)

Blaming all of this on the Knicks, however, does a disservice to Oklahoma City who have quietly been playing the best basketball in the league for the last few weeks. In this game alone, Russell Westbrook had a triple-double by the third quarter, while also helping the Madison Square Garden custodians mop up after a spill (no Jason Kidd was not involved this time). Kevin Durant chipped in with 29 points, Serge Ibaka scored 24 while both Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb both scored in the double-digits. (Oh and Derek Fisher, indestructible as a cockroach, became the oldest player to appear in a NBA Christmas game.)

That last development must be the most encouraging sign for Thunder fans, especially those who have been rightfully skeptical about last year's James Harden trade. Supposedly one of the reasons that Thunder felt like they could move on from Harden, currently flourishing in Houston, was that they felt that they had young, affordable players who could make up for a decent amount of the offense they lost by shipping off their former Sixth Man. While no one can predict exactly how players like Jackson and Lamb will play in the near future, the trade at least looks less like the unmitigated disaster it felt like last season.

Also, there's a certain amount of poetic justice in watching an athlete named Reggie Jackson utterly demolish a dysfunctional New York team.

Christmas Movie Equivalent: "Santa Claus Conquers the Martians". J.R. Smith is Droppo.

Miami Heat 101-95 Los Angeles Lakers

Alternate headline: "How Swaggy P Saved Christmas"

This was supposed to be the best game of the day, a clash of the titans between the Miami Heat's LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Byrant, but, once gain, injuries scuttled that plan. Only a few games after returning from an Achilles injury, Bryant suffered a fractured left knee which will once again put him on the sidelines. With this in mind, their 101-95 loss to the defending champion Miami Heat could be counted as something of a moral victory.

It was also the first game of the day that felt like you were watching an actual game and not watching someone playing a basketball video game in "practice mode". A competitive game all throughout, the Bryant-less Lakers had some chances to win it, the player of the game was, somehow, growing cult hero Nick "Swaggy P" Young who led all Lakers players in points in 20 and generally played with his eccentric, reckless abandon. Now this doesn't always translate into "being good at basketball", but it did on Christmas day.

Unfortunately for them they were facing a Miami Heat team that have so much confidence that LeBron James is starting to treat this season as if it were one long dunk contest. Just a few days after LeBron James's towering dunk on the Atlantic Hawks' Paul Millsap, he came up with two more ridiculous dunks on Wednesday, another "holy hell" dunk which he then followed up with a glorious alley-oop towards the end of the half.

One viewer had a vested interest in watching LeBron impose his will on the game: Indiana Pacers center Roy Hibbert, and his growing reputation as a "LeBron Stopper" actually livetweeted the game's first quarter for ESPN's NBA Twitter account which didn't quite make up for the fact that the Pacers, one of the best teams in the NBA all season, had the day off, but was entertaining enough.

Christmas Movie Equivalent: "Scrooged". Bill Murray's riffs are the comedic equivalents of LeBron James's dunks.

Houston Rockets 111-98 San Antonio Spurs

In the battle of the hearts and minds of Texas, the Houston Rockets were able to defeat the San Antonio Spurs 111-98. It was a victory that told us a lot more about the Rockets than it did the Spurs. If we know anything about Spurs coach Gregg Popovich it's that he, like many NBA fans truthfully, sees the regular season as more of a means to an end. It's all just a prelude for the postseason, so a loss like this won't rattle him or his team too much. For a Houston Rockets team still trying to incorporate Dwight Howard into the mix, not always an easy thing, Wednesday's win was a stepping stone on their way to being respected as a legitimate NBA Finals contender.

It also could have gone a lot worst for the Spurs. After the game's first quarter the Rockets were on pace to score 160 points in the game. This forced the Spurs to have to play catch-up, which they did, they had cut the Houston lead down to two points at the end of the first half, but they didn't have the lead at any point during the game.

The game's biggest factor was James Harden, still dealing with an ankle injury, whose status was up in the air as late as Christmas morning. Harden contributed 28 points, six rebounds, six assists and two blocks, all of which made him probably the player of the day, especially considering he was playing hurt while other franchise players had to sit out. It was a solid game, unless you're a Spurs fan, but one which probably be eclipsed by what happened at the end of the next game.

Christmas Movie Equivalent: "It's A Wonderful Life", because it's almost as old as Tim Duncan.

Los Angeles Clippers 103-105 Golden State Warriors

It's hard not to call the final game of the night the main event, because it practically relegated the other four games into undercard status, not to mention the fact that it involved quite a bit of fighting. While the 105-103 game should be remembered for being a close, tense one, the animosity between these two teams grew in the second half, and boiled over completely as soon as the game ended.

I guess the good thing here is that nobody can deny that the Clippers and Warriors actually really do have a serious rivalry, something which will add to the drama whenever these two teams meet again (please let this happen in the playoffs). Any time you see Brian Scalabrine jumping into a melee as if were still a player, you know that there's something bubbling underneath. While there's nothing wrong at all with a bit of fighting in sports, incidents like the game-ending confrontation, not to mention the in-game quarrels between LA's Blake Griffin and Golden State's Draymond Green, just seem more childish than anything else.

It's a shame that this fighting between the two teams will largely overshadow the game itself, where it felt like the Clippers and Warriors were exchanging the lead every three possessions or so. In a game decided by two points, Golden State's Steph Curry made a shot that had no business going in and LA's Chris Paul somehow missed a gimme layup. The game should have ended on Klay Thompson's dramatic shot bock against Chris Paul not with junior high school lunchroom-caliber fights like this.

Christmas Movie Equivalent: "Home Alone" except without the subtlety and grace.

Happy holidays!

NBA standingsHunter Felt
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Hull City 2-3 Manchester United

Guardian Sport - Thu, 12/26/2013 - 09:50

• Pictures: the best images from Boxing Day's matches

This was a slugfest that was an apt way to start the Boxing Day programme.

James Chester goes down as the unfortunate author of a tale in which he scored twice, with the second goal put past his own keeper to give his former club all three points. The defender played only once for Manchester United – as a substitute back in 2009 – but after opening proceedings for Hull City, produced the unwanted bookend by heading past Steve Harper, who replaced Allan McGregor at half-time, for the 66th-minute winner.

Chester might have completed an odd hat-trick at the death when, during Hull's late rally, he blasted a shot at David de Gea but the Spaniard blocked his effort.

For the champions to fall 2-0 behind after 13 minutes had been a late Christmas present for Hull and the way to kill any festive cheer still being felt by United.

David Moyes's side, who were without Phil Jones – sidelined for a fortnight because of a knee injury – struggled for any kind of foothold during a breathless opening that featured Chester's strike and the second from David Meyler. The latter's may go down as an own goal to Jonny Evans but either way the defender will not want to see a repeat.

It was his weak clearance from Meyler's initial shot that was returned to the midfielder. This time the Hull No7 hit the attempt on target and Evans stuck a toe on the ball to steer beyond a wrong-footed De Gea. Chester's finish also derived from questionable defending. A Tom Huddlestone corner was aimed at Alex Bruce, who climbed above the stationary Patrice Evra and the header was smashed home from the right-back.

All of this meant United were two behind against the Premier League's meanest home defence. Steve Bruce's band had allowed only three all term – but this was about to change.

For this, Moyes could thank the blessing in disguise that derived from Rafael Da Silva hobbling off on 18 minutes. Antonio Valencia dropped into the right-back's berth and on came Adnan Januzaj. Moyes's introduction of the youngster to first-team proceedings has arguably been the best move of the Scot's nascent career at the club and a minute later Januzaj once more illustrated why.

The 18-year-old sped down United's right and drew a foul from Maynor Figueroa from which his side would pull a goal back. This occurred when the so far out-of-sorts Wayne Rooney placed the free-kick perfectly on Chris Smalling's head and he beat McGregor to clinch a first league goal of the season.

This warm-up act from Rooney was followed by a scintillating main event. When the ball came to Rooney from a Danny Welbeck chest-down, the Liverpudlian creamed a blistering 25-yard volley past the hapless McGregor.

At the break each manager might have asked their teams to tighten up their rearguards while maintaining the flowing, attacking stuff. If so, United were the first to adhere to the instruction when slick interplay from Rooney and Januzaj threatened to give the visitors the lead.

Hull's response came when Danny Graham fed Yannkick Sagbo and he warmed De Gea's fingers with a 20-yard attempt that went for a corner. Here, again, United's vulnerability under a high ball was spied as Huddlestone's corner was met by Curtis Davies, who left the unimpressive Smalling behind, and the defender's header flashed wide.

The same result came from a Huddlestone effort though this time an Evra deflection was required. Now, Hull suffered a dose of bad luck when Bruce saw a header crash back off the bar from the ensuing corner.

Javier Hernández, on for a Darren Fletcher making his first start for a year, spurned the chance to play in Welbeck who was clear. But Chester's second – and unwanted – goal of the game was about to send United home happy though the sight of Valencia being sent off following a second yellow card after a clash with Huddlestone will not please Moyes.

Jamie Jackson
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