Noble Endeavor finished strongly to pip Darwins Fox to the runner-up spot, while Pittoni finished last of the four on his first start in almost 1,000 days. Mullins, also successful with Mckinley and Twinlight, said: “It was straightforward and the conditions of the race suited. I thought the ground was probably still too good for him and Ruby said he felt it a bit. “We’ll motor on and the Hatton’s Grace (Fairyhouse, November 30) looks the obvious thing to do now. He’ll go three miles the first opportunity we get. Three miles on soft ground is what we want with him. “Hopefully he’ll improve a bit, but he is good fresh and is best early in the season.” Following his successes aboard Zaidpour and Twinlight, Walsh completed his own treble on the afternoon as he steered Tony Martin’s Gallant Oscar to success in the Ladbrokes On Course Ireland Handicap Hurdle. Rated almost 30lb lower over the smaller obstacles than over fences, Gallant Oscar had obvious claims and was heavily supported as the even-money favourite. Walsh played his cards late, delivering his mount to lead after the final flight, and he battled to victory by a length and three-quarters over Mallards In Flight. Martin said: “It’s great to start back with a win under his belt. We thought he had a good chance in the Irish National, but unfortunately he unseated. His form from Naas had been franked before that. He’ll improve a bit off that and go back over fences now.” Harvey Logan edged ahead in a thrilling climax to the St Johann Ski Resort Tirol Austria Handicap Hurdle. Zaidpour stamped his class on the Ladbrokes Ireland Lismullen Hurdle at Navan as part of a big-race treble for champion trainer Willie Mullins. A three-time Grade One winner but not always the most reliable of individuals, Zaidpour was an 8-13 favourite for his first start since finishing sixth in the French Champion Hurdle in June and Ruby Wa lsh kept things simple, allowing his mount to stride on at the head of affairs. He gradually increased the tempo with a ll four runners travelling strongly rounding the home turn, and Zaidpour began to assert between the final two flights before being ridden out after the last to take the two-and-a-half-mile Grade Two test by a comfortable two and a half lengths. Press Association Noel Meade’s five-year-old was the 6-4 favourite to follow up last month’s Naas victory and was ridden patiently by Niall Madden even though Miradane briefly looked to have flown as he left the back straight with a big lead. The gap was whittled away quickly in the straight and it eventually came down to a three-way fight between Harvey Logan, Luddsdenene and Mind The Pennies, and it was Meade’s charge who won the argument by three-quarters of a length. The trainer said: “That’s just about what he is. The handicapper put him up 8lb and that nearly put him out. He just got there and I couldn’t see him carrying much more. He needed to stay at the end and he did. He also needed a good jump at the last and got it. W e don’t have any fancy ideas with him.”
But that did not stop talk of tension between the pair, with Gerrard’s contract up at the end of the campaign and consistent criticism this term of his performances in a holding midfield role. The former England captain dismissed that notion via his Instagram account, posting an image of the pair laughing together during a training session, accompanied by an unequivocal message. It read: “Just to set the record straight media talk of a fall out between us 2 is NONSENSE ..have a nice Sunday ??#together#solid#ynwa”. Rodgers has spoken previously about easing Gerrard’s workload, particularly with the Reds having additional Champions League duties this season, but this was the first time this season the midfielder has not started a league match. He played the full game in midweek against Ludogorets and then 15 minutes against the Potters, after which Rodgers praised his impact from the bench. Press Association Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard has branded speculation of a rift with manager Brendan Rodgers “nonsense”. Gerrard was left out of the starting XI for his side’s 1-0 win over Stoke on Saturday, with the match falling on the 16th anniversary of his first-team debut. Rodgers, who sent the midfielder on as a second-half substitute, admitted afterwards he was not aware of the landmark, but described the 34-year-old as a “wonderful man”.
Everton manager Roberto Martinez does not view the approaching transfer window as a priority as he believes he has assembled a squad good enough to cope without further additions in the second half of the campaign. “We will always work hard to try to see what we can do but it is not a priority in this window,” he said. “The priority was to make sure the summer window was exactly what we wanted and we achieved that. “I am very pleased with the squad – it is strong and good in numbers – and I don’t expect any major changes in January. “I am delighted because I measure the day-to-day work, what we have in the squad and the potential that I can see for the second half of the season.” Martinez, however, is expecting his players to rise to the challenge of a packed festive programme and give the club the ideal platform in which to target the top four in the new year, before the demands of the Europa League kick in again in February. They travel to Southampton, one of their rivals for a place in the top six, on Saturday before facing Stoke, Newcastle and Hull in quick succession. “The games we have now in the league are very important for us. It is probably a very important period for us to see what we do in the second half of the season. “The European competition has been a success and we will take that over in February but now all the concentration goes into the league. The Spaniard admits the coming weeks will have a significant bearing on how their season turns out but he is backing the players he has at his disposal to get them through. With midfielders James McCarthy, Darron Gibson and Leon Osman all close to a return after injury, and defender John Stones and striker Arouna Kone approaching full fitness after long spells on the sidelines, Martinez believes he has enough resources at his disposal. Press Association “I do feel this period of 12 days will be significant to see what we do in the second half of the season. “The group is getting stronger physically, the mentality has gone to another level and the only thing we can be critical about is we haven’t got the points we should have in the league. “That is something we need to learn. Sometimes it is a good knack to have as a team that you don’t have to be perfect to get full points and the top teams do that and I don’t think we have done that. “We had to be perfect every time to get the three points. That is something we need to work on and understand how to do it, but I have been very excited about the second half of the season because I can see something special building in the dressing room.” Martinez received some good news on the injury front with forward Kevin Mirallas expected to be sidelined for a couple of weeks at worst. On Monday the Belgium international was carried off on a stretcher after a poor tackle by Jordon Mutch having previously scored in the 3-1 win over QPR. “We have great news as we were very worried after the game because it was an action where you feel the ankle is definitely damaged,” said Martinez. “The damage is the least it could be. It is an external ligament in his ankle and the way he is as a quick healer I don’t expect him to be out for too long. “I wouldn’t rule him out for any of the fixtures over the Christmas period.”
Press Association Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta believes the return of Sergio Aguero, Vincent Kompany and Edin Dzeko will give them a significant boost in what is an important month. Kompany, also out for a month, was also back in the squad as an unused substitute and while Dzeko did not make the bench he is not far away from a comeback. Aguero and Kompany are in contention to start at home to Arsenal next weekend and Zabaleta thinks the return of key players – especially with Yaya Toure at the African Nations Cup – is timely even though City have won 11 and drawn three of their last 14 matches. “They are really important players for the team,” said Zabaleta. “We need all the best players 100 per cent fit because this is a crucial moment for the team. “There are a lot of games coming up, with the Champions League as well. “Hopefully they can stay 100 per cent fit for the next games and we are looking forward to it.” Despite losing ground on Chelsea, the defender said what Jose Mourinho’s side did was not an issue for them. However, he admitted they had to still be in touch when the pair meet this month. “We know the race for the title is going to be very tough,” Zabaleta added. “Chelsea are in great form as well but every single game in the league is a final. “When you play away from home you don’t have any easy games and teams can drop points like we did today. “We stay positive. We have Arsenal next weekend and we have to go there and win that before we think about the Chelsea game. “We need to stay focused on what we are doing. We are playing well and that is what we need to win games. “It doesn’t matter what Chelsea are doing at the moment. We are 100 per cent focused on what we are doing. “There is a big game next week because then we have the FA Cup before the Chelsea game so it will be crucial to win at home to Arsenal because we have to go to Stamford Bridge with a big chance to win that game.” City struggled to break down a resilient Everton and despite creating a number of good first-half chances it was not until the 74th minute they found the breakthrough. It began with Zabaleta, who dispossessed Romelu Lukaku on the edge of the City penalty area which launched a counter-attack from which Fernandinho headed in David Silva’s deflected cross. However, the lead lasted just four minutes as Steven Naismith glanced home Leighton Baines’ free-kick for a deserved point. “Everton away is a very tough place to go but I think overall it was a great game, we created chances especially in the first half when we missed a few of them,” said Zabaleta. “It was a shame to concede the goal because we were very close to three points but when you cannot win it is important to get a point.” A 1-1 draw at Everton saw Chelsea move two points ahead at the top of the Barclays Premier League and with a trip to Stamford Bridge to come at the end of January they cannot afford any more slip-ups. However, amid the disappointment at Goodison Park the sight of top scorer Aguero coming off the bench for his first appearance since early December was a welcome one.
The 21-year-old is likely to prove a mainstay of Ireland’s Six Nations campaign now that his fitness doubt has been resolved. Connacht’s Kieran Marmion is at least one scrum-half fit to train this week, but Schmidt’s determination to have Reddan in action in Rome is clear given Ireland have tasked their medics with aiming to fast-track his return to fitness. Ireland will already be without British and Irish Lions fly-half Johnny Sexton for their Stadio Flaminio clash, with the Racing Metro man still completing a 12-week lay-off after four concussions in 12 months. Schmidt will not want to be without Sexton’s Lions half-back partner Murray, but should the Munster playmaker fail to recover from neck trouble he will certainly want to call on Reddan’s vast experience. Ireland chiefs remain hopeful Eoin Reddan will beat his medial knee ligament strain in time to face Italy in the Six Nations opener in Rome. Leinster number eight Jamie Heaslip is carrying a shoulder problem, and will not take part in contact work in Ireland training this week. “Eoin strained medial ligaments in his knee and is being rehabbed in an effort to be fit for the first game of the Six Nations,” read an Ireland statement. Head coach Joe Schmidt’s 46-man training squad convened at the Carton House base on Monday to start preparations for their Six Nations title defence in earnest. Munster lock Dave Foley was unable to throw himself into proceedings, as he suffered ligament damage to his wrist in the weekend’s 65-10 hammering of Sale Sharks. “Scans have confirmed ligament damage in Dave’s wrist and he will have a surgical consultation this week,” read the Ireland statement. “Conor (Murray) is scheduled to have further scans this week. “Jamie’s (Heaslip) shoulder continues to recover, he will be rested from contact this week.” Ireland confirmed that Connacht centre Robbie Henshaw is fit to train after ankle trouble, in one piece of news that will be a big boost to boss Schmidt. The Leinster scrum-half damaged his knee in Saturday’s 20-20 Champions Cup draw with Wasps, and now faces a race against time to be ready to take on Italy on Saturday, February 7. Munster scrum-half Conor Murray is “scheduled to have further scans this week” on the disc problem in his neck that also threatens to rule him out of Ireland’s opening Six Nations clash. Press Association
Chelsea boss Mourinho recently said some people were trying to influence referees’ decisions against his side via the media. Mourinho was this week fined £25,000 for his comments by the Football Association and Pellegrini, whose City side face Chelsea in a top-of-the-table clash on Saturday, does not believe such a campaign exists. The Chilean said: “I hope that in the Premier League they don’t have a campaign against anyone. I hope all is fair and the referee makes mistakes for all the teams exactly the same, that the FA make the fixtures in a fair way. “I think it is the best league in the world and I don’t think it has any strange things because (otherwise) you are not competing. “After that, if you won the title, it (would) not (be) an important title, because all is arranged.” Pellegrini was speaking at a press conference to preview City’s eagerly-anticipated trip to Stamford Bridge. The build-up to the game, which defending champions City go into trailing their title rivals by five points, has been dominated by controversy surrounding Chelsea striker Diego Costa. Costa will miss the game after being banned for three matches by the FA following a stamp on Liverpool’s Emre Can in the Capital One Cup semi-final in midweek. Pellegrini believes the ban will give Costa, who is renowned for his on-field aggression, an opportunity to change his ways. The former Malaga boss said: “He is a great player, a very important player. “He has his character, it is not an easy character, but I hope for him that (with) this punishment – and I am not trying to take advantage for the game tomorrow – it will be a good thing for him to change in the future because he doesn’t need to do it in that way because he is a very good player, a top player.” Pellegrini’s remarks did not receive an immediate response from Mourinho because the Portuguese did not hold his regular press conference on the eve of the match. That gave Pellegrini an opportunity to land some verbal blows on Mourinho but, as is usually the case, he was not interested in stoking their rivalry. “I don’t talk about Mourinho,” said Pellegrini, who often expresses indifference when asked about Chelsea’s former Real Madrid boss. Further questions were asked but Pellegrini, who has beaten Mourinho just twice in 12 games in either England or Spain, offered little that could create headlines. Earlier this season Mourinho mispronounced Pellegrini’s name as ‘Pellegrino’, but there was little response when the matter was brought up. He said: “I’m not going to help you with those things because they are not important for me. I don’t want to carry on in that way.” Asked why he did not comment on Mourinho, Pellegrini said: “This profession is so difficult for a manager – we have different styles. The way I do it is the best way for me, but it’s not the only way to do it. “Maybe you think you can take advantage but for me I don’t think it’s the normal way or the fair way.” Asked about Mourinho’s occasional offer to shake hands with opposing managers before full-time, Pellegrini said: “I won’t talk about what Mourinho might do. I will shake hands with him before the game. And after? Yes, probably.” But Pellegrini did admit he was wrong to compare Chelsea to Stoke earlier in the season after their 1-1 draw with the Londoners at the Etihad Stadium in September. Pellegrini expressed frustration by saying Chelsea were like a “small team trying to defend” and were “exactly the same team we played against Stoke”. Stoke had actually won at Eastlands after employing effective defensive tactics but Pellegrini now feels he was wrong to say what he did. He said: “It was a mistake to compare with Stoke. The style of every club it depends on how the manager wants to do it. Chelsea can play in the way they want and we are going to continue playing in the style I think is the best for this team.” Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini has dismissed Jose Mourinho’s claims there is “campaign” against Chelsea. Press Association
Point-to-point winner Total Recall was an 11-2 chance having finished third on his first start over hurdles before finishing fourth in a Thurles bumper and he found plenty for pressure to get the better of Oscar Knight by two and a half lengths. “He’s very tough. He needs a good gallop so Bryan went on – he stays forever,” said Hughes. “We bought him after he won his point-to-point. That was a good performance as they went a hell of a gallop and he quickened up after the last. “He doesn’t mind that ground and will have no problem stepping up in trip. “We’ll see how he is after that and then make a plan.” November Handicap hero Open Eagle could finish only third on his jumping debut in the Michael Fitzpatrick Memorial Maiden Hurdle at Punchestown as the Sandra Hughes-trained Total Recall claimed victory under Bryan Cooper. Open Eagle was unsurprisingly all the rage as the 8-13 favourite for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh, making his first appearance since sauntering clear in the Doncaster mud on the final day of the last year’s British Flat season. The six-year-old travelled well for most of the two-and-a-half-mile journey, but did not jump with great fluency and although he closed on the leaders in the straight, his effort eventually petered out. Press Association
“It’s one of the areas that would lend itself to technology. “The game has stopped and there’s time before we restart the game to have a look at something. That would provide the concrete evidence that would get the decision right. “We’ve been open-minded to things like the goal decision system which has made a great difference and a great benefit to referees in the Premier League. “We need to see what other technology can be used to get refereeing decisions more accurate. He added: “We need to test it in live football. Until we do that, we won’t know the impact on the game. “Technology can be helpful but we don’t want to destroy the fabric of the game, the fast-flowing spectacle we all love.” The Football Association has confirmed the defender will be banned instead of McAuley. Referee Neil Swarbrick sent McAuley off by mistake after Dawson had fouled Wilfried Bony in the Baggies’ 3-0 defeat to Manchester City on Saturday. Craig Dawson will serve a one-match ban after Gareth McAuley’s mistaken red card was transferred to his West Brom team-mate. Swarbrick apologised, via a statement from the Professional Game Match Officials Ltd, and the case of mistaken identity has been accepted by an Independent Regulatory Commission. An FA statement confirmed: “Following an Independent Regulatory Commission hearing today [Monday 23 March 2015], a claim of mistaken identity in relation to West Bromwich Albion’s Gareth McAuley was successful. “The player was dismissed during the game against Manchester City on Saturday [21 March 2015] for denying an obvious goal scoring opportunity. “The standard punishment of a one-match suspension has been transferred to Craig Dawson and will be served with immediate effect.” Dawson will miss Albion’s clash with QPR at The Hawthorns on April 4. The incident marked the second time in a matter of weeks that the wrong player has been sent off in a Premier League game, after Roger East dismissed Sunderland’s Wes Brown against Manchester United for an offence committed by fellow United old boy John O’Shea. PGMOL general manager Mike Riley has called for the introduction of video replays to assist officials in such cases. Riley told BBC Radio 5 Live: “The referee has got to make his decision based on what he thinks he’s seen. His instincts often lead him to trust his judgement. Press Association
“The owners have been very sporting,” said McCreery. “She seems in good form and the conditions won’t bother her. “I don’t particularly think she needs soft ground ground to be seen at her best, but she seems to handle it a lot better than others. “It could be very tacky by the weekend and we know she goes through it. “We don’t know that much about her sire as yet, but I’ve a few and they seem like milers to me. “She was staying on strongly the other day, though, and later in the season she might get a bit further than that. “We’ll see how she gets on this weekend and then take it from there.” David Wachman’s Legatissimo and Jim Bolger’s Lucida, first and second in the Guineas at Newmarket, were among the fillies taken out at the forfeit stage. Press Association The Fast Company filly has been second on both of her outings in Group Three company this season and, in an open year, connections felt it was worth taking the plunge. Having chased home Dermot Weld’s Stormfly over seven furlongs in April, she turned that form around but was beaten by Kissed By Angels a month later. A total of 21 fillies are still in contention, including Aidan O’Brien’s Kissed By Angels. O’Brien could also run Found, Outstanding, Qualify and Wedding Vow. Jessica Harrington has two strong candidates in Jack Naylor and Bocca Baciata while Jim Bolger has left in Pleascach, Mainicin and Steip Amach. Mick Channon’s Malabar ran well to finish fourth at Newmarket while Mick Halford’s Raydara was one of the best juveniles last season. Dermot Weld has a couple of interesting contenders in Joailliere and Stormfly. James Given’s pair of Pastoral Girl and Russian Punch and the Clive Brittain-trained Teosroyal are others still engaged. Willie McCreery feels Devonshire deserves her place in the line up after she was supplemented by Godolphin for Sunday’s Tattersalls Irish 1,000 Guineas at the Curragh.
Injuries cost him a regular place during the 2012/13 season and, after spending the past year on loan at Fiorentina, he is now ready to move on. Richards wrote on Instagram: “I just wanted to thank the Man City fans for the amazing support they’ve given me over the years. “I joined City when I was 14 and have been part of a brilliant period in the club’s history – winning our first league title in 44 years, winning the FA Cup, playing in the Champions League. “The club, the manager, the staff who work behind the scenes, the players, but most importantly the fans – everyone – will always have a special place in my heart. “City’s been like a family to me and I wish everyone the best of luck for next season and the coming years.” The 26-year-old defender is out of contract at the Etihad Stadium this summer and has been linked with Aston Villa. Richards joined City as a 14-year-old from Oldham and, after making his debut in 2005, went on to play key roles in the FA Cup and Premier League successes of 2011 and 2012. Press Association Micah Richards has spoken of his deep affection for Manchester City as his time at the club comes to an end.