Can Tony Pulis save Crystal Palace?

Van Persie breaks drought as Man United top Stoke

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Is Geoff Cameron about to be playing second-level soccer? Stoke City’s relegation fears deepened today after a predictable 2-0 defeat to Manchester United.

When the United States international left the Houston Dynamo for England last August, he had reason to expect he was joining a club that would challenge for a place in the top half of the Premier League.

After promotion in 2008, the division’s most-physical, direct team had been a model of consistency, finishing comfortably in the middle of the standings each year. Just look at their total points in each of the past four seasons: 45, 47, 46, 45. Manager Tony Pulis has spent some decent money, too, lavishing $7.6 million last August to take playmaker Charlie Adam from Liverpool and going Texan again in January to prise Brek Shea from FC Dallas.

A solid roster, effective playing style, intimidating home crowd and ample Premier League experience: it was all set for Stoke to have a break-out year. Instead, they simply look broken.

Stoke’s form since January puts Pulis under intense scrutiny, with media talk suggesting his seven-year reign is under threat. They’ve collected only one point from their past seven matches and have won only once in the league since beating Liverpool 3-1 on December 26.

Among the 92 clubs in England’s top four divisions, only Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and David Moyes have stayed with their current employers longer than Pulis. But any manager would come under scrutiny with an ongoing run of 2-11-4 in all competitions. Stoke have the Premier League’s worst record since January and are only three points clear of the drop zone, having played two more fixtures than 18th-placed Wigan Athletic. Their grinding, aggressive tactics ought to mitigate against such a deep slump – but it looks like they’ve gone stale. It doesn’t help that key striker Peter Crouch is out-of-sorts with only five league goals, half his tally from 2011-12.

Cameron started at right back today but United prised open the defense after only four minutes, Michael Carrick poking in from a Van Persie corner. It was Carrick’s first league goal since January, 2012 – a woeful scoring rate for a midfielder of his talent.

Speaking of slumps, Van Persie had not found the net for his club since February 10 – an eternity given how prolific he has been in his first season at Old Trafford. But when defender Andy Wilkinson felled him midway through the second half, Van Persie stepped up to score the penalty. It was so windy that the ball initially rolled away from the penalty spot.

With Manchester City facing Chelsea in the FA Cup today, the win restored United’s Premier League lead to 15 points.

Stoke now face a trio of what look like season-defining games against fellow relegation-threatened sides: QPR, Norwich City and Sunderland. It shouldn’t be a fireable offense to lose to England’s best team – but try telling that to Sunderland’s ownership.

EURO 2016: Who’s headed to France?

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC - OCTOBER 10: Volkan Sen of Turkey in action during the UEFA EURO 2016 Group A Qualifier match between Czech Republic and Turkey at Letna Stadium on October 10, 2015 in Prague, Czech Republic. (Photo by Matej Divizna/Getty Images)
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The group stage of qualification is complete, as 20 teams have clinched a berth at EURO 2016, which kicks off next summer in France.

The top-two finishers in each group automatically qualified, as did the best third-place side out of all the groups (Turkey). France qualified automatically as the host nation.

[ MORE: EURO 2016 roundup ]

That leaves eight third-place teams to battle for the final four spots through a play-off. The draw for the matchups will take place on October 18, and those matches will be held from November 12-17 as a home-and-home play-off.

Group A

  1. Czech Republic
  2. Iceland
  3. Turkey (automatically qualified as best third-place side)

Group B

  1. Belgium
  2. Wales
  3. Bosnia and Herzegovina (qualified for play-off)

Group C

  1. Spain
  2. Slovakia
  3. Ukraine (qualified for play-off)

Group D

  1. Germany
  2. Poland
  3. Republic of Ireland (qualified for play-off)

Group E

  1. England
  2. Switzerland
  3. Slovenia (qualified for play-off)

Group F

  1. Northern Ireland
  2. Romania
  3. Hungary (qualified for play-off)

Group G

  1. Austria
  2. Russia
  3. Sweden (qualified for play-off)

Group H

  1. Italy
  2. Croatia
  3. Norway (qualified for play-off)

Group I

  1. Portugal
  2. Albania
  3. Denmark (qualified for play-off)

EURO 2016: Dutch disaster as Netherlands fail to qualify

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - OCTOBER 13:  Robin van Persie of the Netherlands (19) reacts during the UEFA EURO 2016 qualifying Group A match between the Netherlands and the Czech Republic at Amsterdam Arena on October 13, 2015 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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The group stage of qualifying for the 2016 European Championship has come to a close, and one of the top teams in the world will not be playing in France next summer.

Netherlands 2-3 Czech Republic

The Netherlands finished second at the 2010 World Cup and third at the 2014 World Cup, but have failed to qualify for EURO 2016. Playing in front of a home crowd in a must-win match against the Czech Republic, the Dutch got off to a dreadful start, falling behind 2-0 as manager Danny Blind was forced to make a substitution within the opening 40 minutes. The Czech Republic was sent to ten men before the break, but an own-goal from Robin Van Persie made it 3-0 as the Dutch couldn’t recover. A disastrous result for the Netherlands, as big changes will surely come from the top down.

[ RELATED: David de Gea fighting for starting goalkeeper position with Spain ]

Italy 2-1 Norway

Italy finishes atop Group H without a loss after defeating Norway 2-1 today. Norway took the lead through Norwich City’s Alexander Tettey, but late goals from Alessandro Florenzi and Southampton’s Graziano Pelle gave the Italians all three points.

Malta 0-1 Croatia

With Norway’s loss, Croatia jumped into second place in Group H and secured qualification to EURO 2016 with a 1-0 win away at Malta. Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic scored the game’s only goal, as Croatia advances despite having one point deducted due to inappropriate actions from their fans.

Elsewhere in EURO qualifying

Group A

Turkey 1-0 Iceland
Latvia 0-1 Kazakhstan

Group B

Belgium 3-1 Israel
Wales 2-0 Andorra
Cyprus 2-3 Bosnia and Herzegovina

Group H

Bulgaria 2-0 Azerbaijan