The six-year-old, who was runner-up to Vautour in the Champion Novice Hurdle at the Punchestown Festival in May, made a winning debut over fences at Down Royal three weeks ago. “Apache Stronghold worked well this morning and all going well he’ll go for the Drinmore Novice Chase,” said the trainer. Meade has the Bar One Racing Royal Bond Novice Hurdle on the same card in mind for Rich Coast after last month’s Tipperary winner had to miss an engagement recently. “Rich Coast missed the For Auction with a bit of heat in one of his joints. The plan now is to go for the Royal Bond with him,” he said. Noel Meade reports Apache Stronghold to be on course for the Bar One Racing Drinmore Novice Chase at Fairyhouse on Sunday week. Press Association
Sunderland boss Gus Poyet has hailed the “unmissable” talents of Steven Gerrard ahead of the Black Cats’ home clash with Liverpool on Saturday. West Ham, Arsenal and Tottenham stand between Liverpool and Southampton in fourth but Rodgers remains confident they can get there. “It’s going to be tough but I am looking forward to the challenge,” he said. “We have a great spirit at the moment and footballing ideas are returning to our game and will push very hard in the second half of the season to bring success here. “The players are improving and we can see how seven points may seem a lot but it certainly can be whittled away. “You just have to consistently win games and perform well and that is our idea.” Gerrard will be making potentially his final appearance as a player in the north east when he steps out at the Stadium of Light for the lunchtime kick-off – and he will do so with the glowing endorsement of Poyet. Poyet said: “If I was a football fan I would want to be at the stadium because I would not want to miss the chance to watch Steven Gerrard live for maybe the last time in the north east. “He is worth buying a ticket for because there are not many like him and he is going to be missed. He is different and it is great to get the opportunity to watch him live.” Poyet has told his players they must start turning their recent glut of draws into wins if they are to put breathing space between themselves and the bottom three in the new year. Last weekend’s FA Cup third-round win over Leeds provided signs of a turning point with Dutchman Patrick van Aanholt returning from injury to grab the only goal of the game. Poyet said: “We had a difficult month against lots of top teams and although I don’t think we did fantastic we did okay. “Now we go into the second part (of the season) knowing we need to win more games and we need to be more clinical at home. Everything starts against Liverpool and the challenge is clear.” Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers will not have any of his injured players back. Midfielders Adam Lallana (thigh) and Joe Allen (knee), defenders Glen Johnson (thigh) and Jon Flanagan (knee) and goalkeeper Brad Jones (thigh) all remain sidelined. Striker Daniel Sturridge is back in the country but still a fortnight away from a long-awaited return from a thigh problem while defender Kolo Toure is on African Cup of Nations duty with Ivory Coast. Press Association
Kompany was dropped to the bench along with Pablo Zabaleta and Edin Dzeko, while Samir Nasri and Fernandinho missed out on the squad completely as City beat the Foxes 2-0 at the Etihad Stadium. Central defender Kompany had come in for particularly heavy criticism after City’s damaging losses to Barcelona and Liverpool in the past week and Pellegrini decided to act with the season threatening to unravel. “Maybe Leicester is at the bottom but if you see their results – they drew 2-2 against Liverpool and against Everton and were very unlucky not to draw against Arsenal.” City created a number of chances but were denied on several occasions by veteran goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer. Yet they still lacked their usual spark and Leicester were aggrieved to have been denied penalties on three occasions while Riyad Mahrez hit the post. Asked if his side should have had penalties, Foxes boss Nigel Pearson said: “Yes. Simple answer. Three throughout the game – (Andrej) Kramaric in both halves, the second one you could probably say was a bit more marginal but there was contact. The third one on the line is in the box.” Pearson would not get drawn into criticising referee Robert Madley, who also frustrated Leicester with some of his decisions in an FA Cup tie in January. He said: “I am not talking about them (referees), sorry. Not tonight. You can talk about them and ask the relevant authorities. I don’t think there is any point me talking about the referee. Same one we had against Tottenham.” The result left Leicester bottom of the table but Pearson has no doubts about the spirit in his squad. He said: “They are a resilient group so we will have to get on with it. We can’t do anything about it. It is up to the authorities. Our players give everything they have got and they have done again tonight. “There are lots of positive and we have to take them into the remaining games. There is no point dwelling on negative aspects of situations that we have no control of.” Press Association Asked to explain his selections, Pellegrini said: “For the same reason Pablo Zabaleta, Vincent Kompany, Fernandinho, Samir Nasri, Edin Dzeko – that were playing normally – I think it was important to refresh the team mentally and physically after two difficult games. “We have the squad we want so it was a good moment to refresh the team.” Pellegrini added that Kompany, normally an inspirational presence in the side but in poor form of late, took the decision “very well, without any problems”. City, trailing Chelsea by five points in the Barclays Premier League having played a game more, were not at their fluent best against the Foxes. But they got back to winning ways with goals late in each half from David Silva and substitute James Milner. After a difficult few days, in which Pellegrini’s future has been the subject of speculation, the result was a relief. Pellegrini said: “I think always when you don’t have the result you need the next game is very difficult. That is why the most important thing was to win the three points. “We dominated the game and had a good possession of the ball. Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini felt he needed to “refresh the team” and leave out captain Vincent Kompany for his side’s much-needed win against Leicester.
Manchester City’s exit to Barcelona on Wednesday night meant there was no English representation in the Champions League quarter-finals after Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool all fell by the wayside at various points. That has prompted many to start questioning has gone wrong but Hodgson said it was just part of football. “They won’t want that to happen but, unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that if you want your four places, you have got to get the points to keep your status high,” he added. Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger was in almost total agreement with Hodgson. “I think that the quality of the Premier League is very high and the physical demands are extreme,” he said. “But I am not in the mood today to analyse too much what was wrong for English football. “I don’t think there is a lot wrong, we just have to now focus on our next targets.” Other managers have also had their say with QPR boss Chris Ramsey confident the Premier League’s stock is still high. “Not making it to the last eight is a blip for this country because over the past few years we have got to the latter stages, but now and again this happens,” he said. “I still think this is the best league in the world and where everyone wants to really come and play. “I think the state of the game at the moment is healthy.” Newcastle head coach John Carver, who is currently having to manage an extensive injury list, believes the physical pressures on players may have had an influence. “We have such a demanding league and when we go into the European games we get found out because of the demand of the Premier League,” he said. “Those demands aren’t the same in the Italian and Spanish leagues.” Crystal Palace – and former Magpies – boss Alan Pardew agreed. “The schedule is tough in the Premier League and the quality in the division makes it tough for the top teams,” he said. “Our top teams have lacked the cohesion of past years with the exception maybe of Chelsea – the PSG game could have gone either way. “All three teams (who reached the knockout stage) gave a good account of themselves but all three are out and that will concern them.” An extended run in Europe gives English players more experience of facing top-quality opponents, and Hodgson admits it would be a concern should those opportunities be diminished by continued failure in the Champions League. “It is important, I think everyone can see that,” he said. “I was really pleased to see (Danny) Welbeck starting against Monaco and I thought he played very well in the game. “It’s great for me when I see our players doing that and, of course, I’d like it to happen as often as possible, but also I have sympathy for the managers because the margins are so small. “Two of the teams went out on away goals, so that shows how close we are. B ut this season it’s finished and I’m hoping that next September our teams will be strong again and come March, with France (Euro 2016) coming up, our teams will go through from the last 16 and our players will have some important quarter-finals and semi-finals to play.” “I don’t think it’s endemic in any way that we’ve had teams going out. It is just one of those things,” he said. “Manchester City came up against a top-class Barcelona, Arsenal were fantastic in their second game against Monaco but weren’t able to turn around a first-leg performance they weren’t happy with. “Chelsea and PSG were unbelievably close in the two games – nobody would have complained should Chelsea have gone through instead of PSG. “This is a fact of life, these things happen sometimes. There will be other times when all of our teams get through and we’ll be saying ‘We were a bit lucky because the opponents were just as good’. “It’s a very high standard of football. I feel sorry for the club mangers going into these games because it seems we underestimate the quality of the teams in some of these other leagues. There’s no God-given right. “The fact the Premier League is a great league and we do have great teams and do have great players doesn’t necessarily give you the right to win matches against other teams from other countries. “Unfortunately, this particular year, we’ve experienced that once again to our cost.” Hodgson did admit, however, that it was a trend which could not be allowed to be repeated too often for fear of the Premier League losing one of their four Champions League places. England manager Roy Hodgson does not believe Premier League clubs’ failure in Europe this season is symptomatic of a wider malaise. Press Association
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho believes Arsenal are ready to challenge for the Barclays Premier League crown this season. Press Association Arsene Wenger has delivered three Premier League titles since replacing Bruce Rioch as manager in 1996, but the Gunners have finished no higher than third in each of the last 10 seasons as the Frenchman often shunned big-money signings in favour of developing young talent. Arsenal finished 13 points behind Chelsea last season as the Blues won the Premier League at a canter, but Mourinho believes the arrival in recent years of the likes of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy for more than £100million means the Gunners are ready to challenge for league honours. “If you add up the amounts clubs have spent in the last three or four years I think maybe you will find a surprise,” Mourinho, who allowed goalkeeper Petr Cech to join Arsenal in an £11million deal last month, said in the Guardian. “If you put Ozil plus Alexis Sanchez, plus Chambers, plus Debuchy, you will find a surprise. “It’s a fantastic squad with good players, fantastic goalkeeper, they are more than ready to be a title contenders.” Speaking on Chelsea’s pre-season tour of America, Mourinho also claimed that Eden Hazard had a better season last time out than Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. Hazard won individual and team honours at the end of a stellar campaign – most notably the Premier League title and the PFA Player of the Year. And, according to his manager, his performance level was higher than that of Ballon D’or winner Ronaldo. In a number of national newspapers, he said: “Eden is coming with a big status now and was voted in the top 10 players in Europe last year. In my opinion he should be in the top three, not the top 10. I think he’s the best player in our country. He’s alongside Messi and Ronaldo, depending on the season they have. “But they have to win some titles, no? Football without titles is nothing. Last season Eden was above Ronaldo, in spite of the fact that Ronaldo was fantastic and scored an incredible number of goals. “I don’t like players of managers to win individual trophies without the team. In my personal view, every football player in the world has to put the team first, but he has no titles.” Chelsea begin their title defence at home against Swansea on the opening day of the new Premier League season on Saturday, August 8.
German stayer Walzertakt is unlikely to take up an engagement in the Palmerstown House Estate Irish St Leger on September 13. The six-year-old son of Montjeu emerged as a surprise contender for the Group One at the Curragh after he defeated the well-regarded Bathyrhon by a short head in the Prix Maurice de Nieuil at Longchamp in July. But trainer Jean-Pierre Carvalho would now rather prepare him for the Group Two Prix Kergorlay at Deauville later this month, with the Prix du Cadran on Arc weekend at Longchamp a conditional goal. Press Association He said: “There is a race at Deauville in August and I think that is where we will go with Walzertakt, instead of travelling to Ireland. “I want to end up running him in the Prix du Cadran so I think it will make a little more sense to stay in France. “It is only an idea, but that is what I prefer at the moment.”
City’s £49million summer signing from Liverpool is poised to make his home debut as the champions visit the Etihad Stadium in the Barclays Premier League on Sunday. Sterling spurned a good chance to score in City’s first game of the season, Monday’s 3-0 win at West Brom, but Pellegrini has no doubt his quality will soon show. Press Association He said: “I think that he will be a very dangerous player. Maybe we were criticised for the amount we paid for him but I am sure he will demonstrate during the year, especially against the big teams, why he was valued so much.” Sterling excelled as Liverpool ran City close in the battle for the title in 2014. He flourished alongside the influential Luis Suarez and Pellegrini thinks City’s creative players will similarly bring the best out of the 20-year-old. He said: “It is always important for young players to play with good players who can improve them, the same way he did with Luis Suarez or (Steven) Gerrard for Liverpool. “Here he will play David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure, with players that will make him improve in a lot of ways. Young players always learn from important players. It is very important for them to play with him. “I think last year he scored 11 in all competitions. I am sure this season he will improve.” Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini has backed record signing Raheem Sterling to deliver against the likes of Chelsea.
“His immediate future and his future at the weekend is that he will be involved with our game against Arsenal,” the Welshman said. “Jon’s not the only player that’s gone through a similar situation during the transfer window. Once the window closes you have to refocus and get on with the job in hand. “Jon’s a very, very good professional. He’ll get his head down. He’s had a couple of weeks away with the international squad, did really well and scored a goal so it shows his focus was total for his international team. It will be similar for Stoke City; I’m absolutely certain of that. “The transfer window is not easy for players, for managers, for football clubs. It is a distraction. Once the distraction is out of the way then you focus on what’s important which is playing football.” Hughes is keen to keep Walters but the length of contract offered to the forward is believed to be a bone of contention. His current deal expires at the end of the current campaign and while he could conceivably walk away then, Hughes is hopeful he is not in the midst of his final season for the club. “I’ve said that until I’m blue in the face – yes, we want Jon to stay,” Hughes added. “There’s a club view in terms of the length of the contract but, from a football point of view, what’s important to me is that we keep Jon here if we can. Press Association “If we can’t come to any agreement contract-wise then at the end of the year he’s out of contract and I’m sure he’ll have lots of options. But I’d like to think we’d still be in the mix to keep him here even at the end of his contract. It’s our intention that we want to keep him here.” Many of the Potters’ squad returned to training on Thursday following the international break but neither Mame Diouf or Marko Arnautovic were involved. Both are doubtful for the Gunners clash with respective hamstring and ankle injuries, while full-back Glen Johnson is also nursing a slight groin problem. Hughes is already without suspended duo Charlie Adam and Ibrahim Afellay after they were dismissed in the home loss to West Brom. The 31-year-old was the subject of two bids from Barclays Premier League rivals Norwich, both of which were rejected, and the Potters managed to hold on to the forward despite reports he had handed in a transfer request. Walters was left out of the squad against West Brom at the end of last month as speculation over a move intensified, yet Hughes is ready to call upon him again for the trip to Arsenal this weekend and can see no issue with the Republic of Ireland international’s mental state now he has to remain with Stoke. Stoke boss Mark Hughes is confident Jonathan Walters’ professionalism will shine through now the transfer window has closed with him still at the Britannia Stadium.
Press Association Martinez played alongside and managed Monk at Swansea. And the Spaniard said on Thursday ahead Saturday’s league clash between Everton and the Swans at the Liberty Stadium: “I’m a big admirer of what Garry Monk has done. “I don’t see another manager who has had such a big influence over the last three seasons – taking different roles, having to stabilise the team, giving them direction, and avoiding relegation. “He then had a full season and achieved their best-ever finish in the Premier League, and is now following that with a really strong start to this season with different personnel – for me, it has been a very, very impressive job he has done. “The team play with a strong philosophy, but they are very flexible and always competitive. “I think in the last game they played at home they deserved to beat Manchester United and that speaks volumes about where Swansea are and where they can go. You feel under Garry there are many good things ahead.” Asked if he still spoke to Monk much, Martinez added: “No, because unfortunately a manager’s life is very busy. “But I have incredible affection and respect for him. Whenever I see him it feels like you’ve never been out of touch.” Monk took charge at the Welsh outfit in February 2014 after Michael Laudrup’s departure and three months later was handed a three-year deal with Barclays Premier League survival having been secured. In 2014-15 the club then achieved their highest-ever finish in the division of eighth – which led to another new contract for Monk – and they are currently in the same spot this term having made a decent start to the campaign, including a 2-1 win over Manchester United. Everton boss Roberto Martinez feels no manager has had as big an influence on their club in recent times as his Swansea counterpart Garry Monk. Meanwhile, Martinez – whose side are seventh – has reported positive news on the fitness of Seamus Coleman and Muhamed Besic. Defender Coleman and midfielder Besic came off in Saturday’s impressive 3-1 home victory over Chelsea due to hamstring problems, but Martinez said: “Both are reacting really well to treatment. I wouldn’t rule any of the two out for the next game.” Defender Bryan Oviedo (knee) is expected to be ready to make his return in Tuesday’s Capital One Cup game at Reading, while it remains to be seen exactly when midfielder Darron Gibson’s first-team comeback arrives after he featured for the Under-21s on Monday as he stepped up his recovery from a foot problem. That match, a 1-1 draw with Sunderland, saw Uruguayan forward Leandro Rodriguez score for a second successive under-21s fixture following his move from River Plate Montevideo last month. And asked on Thursday about the prospect of the 22-year-old featuring for the Everton first-team, Martinez said: ”I’ve been very impressed with him and I don’t expect him to be too far away from being in contention.”
Joe Schmidt has backed Luke Fitzgerald to challenge Robbie Henshaw for Ireland’s inside centre starting berth. Press Association Head coach Schmidt hailed Leinster’s utility back Fitzgerald for slotting seamlessly into Ireland’s 12 shirt for the 50-7 rout of Canada. Ireland eased past Canada in Cardiff to take early control of Pool D on Saturday, with Schmidt afterwards tipping Fitzgerald to compete for a regular midfield role. Schmidt’s decision to select Fitzgerald out of position at 12 ahead of a natural inside centre raised eyebrows then, but Ireland’s Kiwi boss insists he needs to use all his resources over the World Cup’s pool stages. “I thought Luke did really well at 12, his distribution to give Dave Kearney space for his try was great,” said Schmidt. “Defensively he was sound and his ball-carrying is a strength. “He punched a half-gap off a scrum and that put them under pressure straight away. “He stays alive really well in the defensive line, he’s got good alertness, communicates really well and slotted in well.” Canada captain Jamie Cudmore’s cheap yellow card gifted Ireland total control at the Millennium Stadium, and Schmidt’s men refused to release their choke-hold for the duration. Sean O’Brien, Iain Henderson, Johnny Sexton and Dave Kearney crossed to secure the try bonus point in just 35 minutes, before Sean Cronin, Rob Kearney and Jared Payne completed the rout. Ireland captain Paul O’Connell was sin-binned for an unwitting but ultimately cynical offside, both teams’ totems slipping off the disciplinary tightrope though remarkably without a punch in sight. Fly-half Sexton hit back to top form after lacklustre showings in warm-up defeats to Wales and England, passing 500 Test points against Canada and drawing high praise from Schmidt. “He’ll reflect on the game and the first wide pass he made which looped into touch,” said Schmidt. “It was the perfect opportunity, it was the right decision but he didn’t quite affect it accurately enough. “So, he’ll probably chastise himself for that in amongst about 30 other really positive involvements. “That’s the way he’s driven and I think that’s the way he drives the team which is a real bonus as well. “I felt we built our way into the game pretty well. I think we showed a fair bit of respect for Canada. I think Canada showed why they deserved that respect. They’re a very combative side. “For us to build our way into the game and successfully put a few phases together effectively to build that scoreboard pressure on them as well was satisfying.” Henshaw missed Ireland’s World Cup opener with hamstring trouble but could recover in time for next Sunday’s Romania clash, though Darren Cave may slot in at 12 as Schmidt rotates his squad. “Darren Cave plays 12 or 13 and that’s a real advantage for us,” said Schmidt. “But we always intended giving Luke a chance at 12, because he’s played 13 and 11 in the build-up, and we wanted to build our versatility. “Darren’s pretty likely to have an involvement next week, and that will allow us to mix and match a little bit as we have done through the build-up period. “But at the same time we know we’ve got to get results and we’ve got to go after them right from the start. “We need to have people that we can put out there who can do the job, and we have confidence in our full squad of 31. “With Luke, Keith Earls, with Darren Cave and Robbie, and Jared Payne and then also Ian Madigan at 12, there is a bit of scope for flexibility and an ability to maybe change up the way we’re playing the game depending on who we’re using.” Cave was a surprise inclusion in Ireland’s final World Cup squad, the Ulsterman selected ahead of a third scrum-half in Schmidt’s calculated risk.