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Archives for October 2012

Clattenburg claim takes game into uncharted territory

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Phil McNulty | 08:13 UK time, Monday, 29 October 2012

For an hour Stamford Bridge staged a football match to savour. Chelsea and Manchester United spent this time laying out every exhibit to illustrate their potential to be Premier League champions.

The scenery was suddenly, uncomfortably, shifted. It was moved into relatively uncharted territory where a referee is at the centre of allegations that he used "inappropriate language" to two players - and part of Chelsea's complaint is that he used racial language.

How sad that football is once more second on the agenda. This was a game that was on its way to being celebrated but instead concluded in a toxic cloud of controversy, recriminations and accusations involving referee Mark Clattenburg.

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Manchester City's European woes continue

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Phil McNulty | 08:28 UK time, Thursday, 25 October 2012

Manchester City's supply of miracles probably ran out on the day they scored twice in stoppage time to win the Premier League. Roberto Mancini should not expect another to save them in the Champions League.

The City manager accepts this is what they need to prevent the torch-bearers for the self-styled "best league in the world" from suffering the chastening experience of an exit at the group stage for the second successive season.

Manchester United failed to make the knockout phase last season and neighbours City are doing an even more convincing job of not making it this year.

Their 3-1 defeat by Ajax in Amsterdam leaves them with only one point from three games, a point most observers could reasonably put down to outrageous good fortune as they somehow got a draw against Borussia Dortmund after losing to Real Madrid in The Bernabeu.

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Eventful Braga game encapsulates Man Utd's season

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Phil McNulty | 07:22 UK time, Wednesday, 24 October 2012

At Old Trafford

Like bookends at either end of Sir Alex Ferguson's evening, Manchester United's manager drove away from Old Trafford to ponder two pressing problems.

Finding the solution to one created by the outstanding Javier Hernandez will be a pleasure and will be considered in the days before Sunday's meeting with Premier League leaders Chelsea at Stamford Bridge - the other may prove more painful before Ferguson uncovers the answer.

United's 3-2 win against SC Braga in the Champions League was their season in microcosm. The night started with the shambolic defending that has scarred their campaign, and ended with another rescue act performed by the rich attacking resources Ferguson has assembled.

One end of United's team posed questions the other end was asked to answer. Once more they - and more specifically the returning and rejuvenated "Little Pea" - did so.

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Taylor's taunts fail to spark Sunderland

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Phil McNulty | 22:25 UK time, Sunday, 21 October 2012

At The Stadium of Light

Steven Taylor's provocative pre-match declaration that no Sunderland player would make Newcastle United's starting line-up should have been the spark to light a fire under Martin O'Neill's side.

This Tyne-Wear derby did not require any stoking of the flames for what is traditionally a spiteful affair - but Taylor was on hand with a few ill-chosen words just in case.

No manager has ever won a match armed with a set of press cuttings but O'Neill admitted several of his players passed comment on what, tongue in cheek or not, was a message that demonstrated disrespect for Newcastle's fiercest rivals.

Sunderland's problem in a predictably feverish affair was that too many of their players spent too long assembling a compelling body evidence to support Taylor's case rather than throwing the words back in his face.

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Chelsea's revolution gathers pace in style

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Phil McNulty | 20:38 UK time, Saturday, 20 October 2012

At White Hart Lane

Chelsea did not exactly bury bad news with a very good day at Tottenham, but behind the many unwanted headlines there is much that deserves admiration as a revolution gathers pace.

Roberto di Matteo's side arrived at White Hart Lane as Premier League leaders but, as seemingly happens with monotonous regularity, this status was not top of the Chelsea agenda.

John Terry was absent at Spurs but his presence hung over the preamble like a toxic cloud. He was starting a four-game ban for racially abusing QPR's Anton Ferdinand as chairman Bruce Buck revealed the centre-back would keep the captaincy but had been hit with the heaviest club fine ever imposed on a Chelsea player.

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England flounder in Polish damp squib

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Phil McNulty | 20:43 UK time, Wednesday, 17 October 2012

In Warsaw

After the deluge came the damp squib. England grabbed gratefully at a point as they flew out of Warsaw but this was not a performance designed to make a 24-hour wait worthwhile.

England's visit to Warsaw has almost been plucked from the world of the surreal with Tuesday's World Cup qualifier postponed as a storm raged through an open roof in the National Stadium - then restaged using that expensive overhead protection as the sun beat down.

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Farce and ineptitude reign in Warsaw

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Phil McNulty | 06:34 UK time, Wednesday, 17 October 2012

In Warsaw

England's World Cup qualifier with Poland was already dead in the water with U2's "Beautiful Day" ringing out in a moment bursting with irony as rain danced off a surface that resembled a swamp.

The DJ inside Warsaw's £400m national stadium may have taken his big chance to show off a neat line in black humour as the city was hit by a deluge, but credit was in short supply elsewhere on a night that endured a slow, tortuous descent into farce.

Bob Marley then crooned "We'll Be Together With A Roof Right Over Our Heads" from his classic "Is This Love?" - the twist in this little tale being that the roof that provides a spectacular adornment to this arena was not over anyone's head.

When Italian referee Gianluca Rocchi finally put this game and those waiting to watch it out of their rain-soaked misery at 10.05pm local time, Warsaw was also awash with embarrassment and anger at what had unfolded.

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England eager to avoid a repeat of 1973

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Phil McNulty | 19:50 UK time, Monday, 15 October 2012

In Warsaw

England and Poland have World Cup history. It is a past that is revisited every time they meet and the next page will be written in Warsaw's spectacular National Stadium on Tuesday.

The history is both rich and poor in an England context - from the pain of Jan Domarski and Jan Tomaszewski at Wembley in 1973 to the pleasure of Gary Lineker's hat-trick in Monterrey in 1986.

Poland still recall memories of the draw at Wembley almost 40 years ago - a result which helped them qualify and prevented England reaching the World Cup - to evoke a spirit that has been a scarce commodity in recent years, exemplified by their failure to negotiate the group phase of Euro 2012 with the emotional weight of a nation behind them as co-hosts.

This is a Poland team in reduced circumstances, rated only 54th by Fifa's somewhat maverick ranking system compared to England's optimistic - make that unrealistic - fifth place.

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England negotiate San Marino mismatch

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Phil McNulty | 06:24 UK time, Saturday, 13 October 2012

At Wembley

England goalkeeper Joe Hart did not have many touches at Wembley but every one was cheered resoundingly. The rafters almost shook when he finally laid hands on the ball in stoppage time.

Roy Hodgson's side got the job done against San Marino, a 5-0 margin slightly better than the tiny republic's average defeat from a record of 108 losses in 113 games.

But was it a job England should have had to do?

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Rooney: 10 years with England but still unfulfilled

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Phil McNulty | 20:30 UK time, Thursday, 11 October 2012

Wayne Rooney moves towards his 10th England anniversary still searching for total fulfilment as an international away from his successes at Old Trafford with Manchester United.

If elite players are defined by their contributions to major tournaments, then England's most naturally gifted footballer has yet to fully secure his place in his country's gallery of greats.

Rooney is not alone in his frustration as England's success remains limited to the sunlit afternoon in July 1966 when the late Bobby Moore was carried shoulder-high holding the Jules Rimet trophy at Wembley after the World Cup final win against West Germany.

And yet for a stellar talent, who was given his first cap by Sven-Goran Eriksson at 17 years 111 days on 12 February 2003 in a 3-1 defeat by Australia at Upton Park, Rooney will know the next World Cup may be his last chance to make that indelible mark.

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Level-headed Baines flies under the radar

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Phil McNulty | 22:30 UK time, Saturday, 6 October 2012

As Ashley Cole faces disciplinary action after his Twitter abuse of the Football Association, Everton's Leighton Baines was busy presenting the acceptable face of England's left-back fraternity.

The 27-year-old Merseysider has lived his England career in the shadow of Chelsea's Cole as an able deputy to a defender of undisputed world-class, one whose enduring quality is amply illustrated by 98 international caps.

And Cole will claim the headlines once more in the build-up to England's World Cup qualifiers against San Marino and Poland following his ill-judged profanity aimed at the FA after an independent commission queried his evidence in the hearing which found team-mate John Terry guilty of racial abuse against QPR's Anton Ferdinand.

The notion of Baines taking to Twitter is unthinkable - the idea that he would use the platform to abuse the FA even more so. He is a thoughtful personality who prefers to get lost in the crowd away from the field of play, rather than attract attention and raise his deliberately low profile.

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Terry & Ferdinand incident rumbles on

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Phil McNulty | 16:44 UK time, Friday, 5 October 2012

The fall-out from John Terry's exchange with Anton Ferdinand during the west London derby between Chelsea and QPR almost a year ago continues to scatter itself around the Football Association.

England defender Ashley Cole's profanity - aimed at the FA via his Twitter feed after an independent regulatory panel stated there were discrepancies in his evidence in the report detailing why Terry was banned for racially abusing Ferdinand - caps a troubled time for manager Roy Hodgson.

Whatever personal injustices 31-year-old Cole felt were contained within the 63-page submission published on Friday morning, the abuse he aimed at the FA hours later was desperately ill-advised.

Cole effectively admitted as much as he deleted the tweet after 85 minutes before apologising "unreservedly" to the FA after his "heat of the moment" outburst - but much damage had been done as it had already been re-tweeted 20,000 times.

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