Preston North End v Blackpool - Capital One Cup First Round

Ugly scenes as Preston steward trampled by horse. The FA must act now

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Last night in the first round of the Capital One Cup local rivals Preston and Blackpool battled it out, literally, at Deepdale.

The atmosphere was bubbling throughout the contest and when Preston’s Tom Clarke scored a late winner, pandemonium broke loose.

League One side Preston celebrated the cup win against Championship team Blackpool like they’d won the competition. There’s nothing wrong with that, that’s what it’s all about. Passion, glory, rivalry.

But at the final whistle, things got ugly very quickly.

Hundreds of Preston fans streamed onto the pitch to taunt Blackpool’s 4,000 traveling supporters congregated at one end of the stadium. Then the police tried to intervene as more of the 17,000 plus fans tried to get onto the field of play.

That’s when one unlucky safety steward found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. A fan he was trying to move off the pitch pushed him and he fell. The steward was then trampled on by a huge police horse and was hospitalized with shoulder and chest injuries.

While all this was going on, players of both Blackpool and Preston were trying desperately to get back to the the tunnel and the locker rooms.

Blackpool’s manager, former Liverpool, Manchester United, Inter Milan and England midfielder Paul Ince, was not happy at all.

It’s an absolute joke. Who knows what could happen? It’s going to take someone to get stabbed or something else to happen before we’re going to listen. I wonder if there are enough stewards there. You see enough situations in football where fans are hitting a player. We sit down at these management meetings and talk about these respect campaigns, but what about getting enough stewards to control people? Who are the stewards anyway? Are they Preston fans? If they are they shouldn’t be stewards. They just let people run on the pitch. It’s not just Preston – it’s football in general. We need to knuckle down because you can’t have fans running on the pitch. I don’t care whether they win, lose or draw.

Ince has got a point, the man is clearly talking sense. In the American sporting arena we often see fans of college basketball rush the court if their team has completed a huge upset win.

But in English soccer this has become a huge problem over the past few years. In a Yorkshire derby last season, a Leeds United fan ran on the pitch and punched Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Chris Kirkland in the face. And plenty more instances like this happen in the lower leagues, week in, week out.

source: Getty ImagesLast weekend fans of beleaguered club Coventry City walked on the pitch and headed to the bench, protesting about the clubs perilous financial situation. The list goes on and on.

Will the soccer authorities do something about it before it’s too late? At many grounds fans sit extremely close to all the action, and with no safety fences or real obstacles to get onto the pitch, anyone can do it. This is no an indictment on English society, but there’s a definite knife culture within the country. What if one individual takes it upon themselves, like Ince said, to stab or harm a player? There’s no protection for that.

I’m not quite sure what the answer to this is. More policing is probably the best method against these kinds of outbreaks. You don’t want to take anything away from the experience, passion and excitement at soccer grounds. But the players must be safe.

Fans running onto the pitch, in a jovial mood or not, has to stop. Now.

UEFA Champions League final preview — Madrid’s finest Real or Atleti?

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 27:  Diego Simeone head coach of Atletico Madrid looks on during an Atletico de Madrid training session on the eve of the UEFA Champions League Final against Real Madrid at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 27, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final isn’t quite the unstoppable force against the immovable object — Real’s defense is good and Atleti has plenty of attacking intent — but it’s fair if you’re expecting the Madrid Derby final to be Diego Simeone’s diligent defenders attempting to counter Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid’s potent attack.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed ]

Simeone’s built his name on tight teamwork, and La Liga teams broke Atleti down a mere 18 times in 38 matches this season. Before you crow about the weakness of Spain’s top flight from top to bottom, Real only managed a single goal against Atleti in a 1-1 draw that came at the Vicente Calderon. Atleti triumphed 1-0 at the Bernabeu to take four of six points from their derby mates.

But this is the big one, and a rematch of the late thriller we saw in the 2014 final. That’s when Diego Godin’s 36th minute goal came within seconds of being the difference, only for Sergio Ramos to net in stoppage time and Real to score three goals in extra time for a 4-1 win.

[ MORE: Torres ready for “game of my life” ]

Ronaldo will be fine to go, which is obviously bad news for Atleti. While his goal at the end of the 2014 final was just chiseled-ab window dressing, he has scored in both of his UCL finals (He scored for Manchester United in the 26th minute of their 2008 defeat of Chelsea).

(Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)

The beauty of Atleti’s defense is how well it springs into the attack, with Godin and Filipe Luis both capable of providing offense.

But really, with respect to Gabi and Antoine Griezmann… that defense! Atleti allowed three goals in the group stage, and just seven across its 12 UCL matches.

How will Simeone aim to stop Real this time around? Will it be banks of four or five, with Torres and Griezmann waiting to strike on a fleet-footed counter? That could serve their disciplined unit well, but something tells me Simeone has something special cooked up for this much-anticipated rematch, and manager is a distinct edge for Atleti against a still-learning Zinedine Zidane.

As an aside, Griezmann has been fantastic, scoring 32 times this year with seven coming in the UCL. Torres is second in scoring, with 12.

Championship playoff preview: Sheffield Wednesday vs. Hull City

DERBY, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 14:  Eldin Jakupovic of Hull City celebrates as Andrew Robertson of Hull City scores their third goal during the Sky Bet Championship Play Off semi final first leg match between Derby County and Hull City at the iPro Stadium on May 14, 2016 in Derby, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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One is hoping to rejoin the Premier League at the first time of asking, while the other to see its first top flight action since 2000 with a win in Saturday’s promotion playoff final at Wembley Stadium.

Hull City did not make the top flight from its inception in 1904 until winning the playoffs in 2008. Since, the Tigers have spent a pair of 2-season stints in the Premier League.

Sheffield Wednesday, for its part, spent nine seasons in the top tier from 1991-2000, but fell as low as League One in the 21st century before a run to the playoffs this season.

[ MORE: Three battles that could determine UCL final ]

Hull’s stingy defense allowed 35 goals this season, tied for the second-best mark in the league, while scoring the fourth-most goals (69). The Tigers finished in fourth place to Wednesday’s sixth, and the sides drew 0-0 at Hull and 1-1 in the reverse fixture.

Uruguayan striker Abel Hernandez was far and away Hull’s most deadly scorer, notching 21 goals in the Championship this season, while Sam Clucas paced the club with 8 assists.

Wednesday’s scoring was paced by former Watford attacker Fernando Forestieri’s 15 goals. Veteran Gary Hooper added 13 for the Owls, who got a team-best eight assists from Ross Wallace.

It’s the “richest game in sports”, and kicks off at Noon ET Saturday.

Sturridge injured again, Rashford set for England debut

England v Norway - International Friendly
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GATESHEAD, England (AP) England striker Daniel Sturridge has picked up another injury, potentially affecting his chances of being selected for the European Championship.

England manager Roy Hodgson says Sturridge has a calf injury that has prevented him from training and is a doubt to play in the warmup match against Australia on Friday. Hodgson has until Tuesday to finalize his 23-man squad for the tournament in France.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed | Speaks more ]

Sturridge has been beset by injury problems in recent years.

His latest injury increases the possibility of 18-year-old Manchester United striker Marcus Rashford‘s fairytale season being extended to include Euro 2016.

Hodgson said Thursday that Rashford will make his debut against Australia in Sunderland – as a starter if Sturridge isn’t fit. Rashford only made his United debut in February.

Ex-Leicester boss Pearson hired by Derby County

Nigel Pearson, Leicester City FC
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Nigel Pearson lives.

The combustible former manager of Southampton, Hull City and Leicester City will now lead Derby County in the hopes of Premier League promotion.

Derby has been on the edge of promotion to the Premier League for several seasons, but neither Steve McClaren and Darren Wassall could do the trick.

[ MORE: Mourinho confirmed | Speaks more ]

Enter Pearson, 52, who has been hired on a three-year deal. It’s his first stop since a roller coaster ride saw him guide Leicester into the Premier League, only to be fired in the aftermath of some players being involved in a racist sex tape incident on a tour of Thailand.

This was after a bizarre season that saw him put his hands on an opposing player’s throat, call a journalist an ostrich, and ultimately save Leicester from the drop.

From Derby County’s site:

“I am honoured to be named as the Manager of Derby County, which is one of the biggest clubs in the country, a club in excellent shape and one with strong ambitions. It is firmly focused on achieving Premier League football.

“I will give absolutely everything I have to this role and do all I can to bring exciting, entertaining and winning football which our supporters can be proud of.”

At the very least, the Rams will be interesting to watch next season.