Premier League Preview: Crystal Palace vs. Sunderland

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  • Both sides have scored only a single goal in their first two fixtures
  • Sunderland’s Steven Fletcher could make his 2013-14 debut after recovering from ankle ligament damage
  • Despite both teams playing in the Premier League for numerous seasons, this will be the first meeting of the pair in this competition

Sunderland head to Selhurst Park to take on Crystal Palace on Saturday (12:30 pm ET on NBC, watch online via NBC Sports Live Extra) as two sides struggling to score goals look to secure their first victory of the season.

Palace return home to South London after suffering their second loss in as many games after Stoke City scored twice in the second half to off-set Marouane Chamakh’s 31st minute opener. The Eagles looked as if they might be on their way to three points before two defensive break-downs in a matter of four minutes saw Charlie Adam and Ryan Shawcross beat Julian Speroni to his right post to hand the Potters their first win of the season.

Sunderland earned their first point of the season last week in a 1-1 draw at Southampton. The Black Cats came away from St. Mary’s Stadium feeling lucky after managing to hang on despite the Saints having 17 attempts on goal and dominating possession (66%/34%). Paulo Di Canio’s men found themselves with an early lead when Italian international Emanuele Giaccherini (pictured) found himself unmarked in the box to nod home Seb Larsson’s corner kick. Two minutes from time the Saints’ pressure paid off as Jose Fonte headed in James Ward-Prowse’s shaped set piece to share the spoils.

Saturday’s encounter will be the first time Palace and Sunderland meet in the Premier League. The last time the two sides met in a top-flight encounter was a March 1991 fixture that Sunderland won 2-1. The Black Cats and Eagles have faced off on 10 occasions since, with Sunderland winning five of them.

Sunderland remain a side still very much searching for their identity. Bringing in 11 new players from seven different countries presents stylistic issues as well as communicative ones. Few doubt that Di Canio has recruited solid talent in Giaccherini, Jozy Altidore, Cabral and Valentin Roberge but until the group develops a cohesive understanding of their qualities and adopts a style of play to compliment those traits, points may be hard to come by – even when facing inferior opposition. The return of striker Steven Fletcher, who has been out since last March with ankle ligament damage, could be just the thing to set things straight.

For Holloway, the issue comes down to a lack of talent. It’s something that the Palace boss bemoaned before the season, after the squad’s opening day loss to Spurs and following last week’s defeat at Stoke City. The club’s lack of resources and transfer market power appear to be what’s limiting Palace and with no buzz percolating at the moment, it doesn’t seem to be something that’s going to change before the window closes on September 2nd.

That’s not to say Holloway’s squad is completely absent of talent. Chamakh proved last week that he’s still up for scoring goals, Dwight Gayle is a forward with pace, desire and the ability to change games while the holding midfield combination of Mile Jedinak and Kagisho Dikgacoi has made life quite difficult on opposing players.

See which club might break into the win column this Saturday, at 12:30 am ET live on NBC and online via NBC Sports Live Extra.

What they’re saying

Palace manager Ian Holloway: “The team hasn’t played together before especially with players like Florian Marange coming in. It’s just important we stick together and work hard as a team. . . . We’re full of optimism and hope, but we’ve got to get some players over the line before Monday.”

Sunderland manager Paulo Di Canio: [On the return of striker Steven Fletcher] “Steven will join the rest of his team-mates on the trip and then I will decide if I will play him, but he will be with the group. . . . He is an important player and joined us in full training just 10 days ago. For 25 days we were abroad during the pre-season and he couldn’t go, so it’s obvious he needs to practice. With the fitness level and the belief he has he can stay with the group and maybe have a part in the game.”

Sunderland defender John O’Shea: “It’s going to be difficult; we’re fully aware that they’ve just come up from the Championship but they’ve played quite well in their two league games so far even though they’ve not got anything from them. . . . They’ve got a manager who wants to play football the right way. We saw [in the game] against against Stoke at some stages that they can mix it and go forward quickly, but they can also pass it through midfield. There’s lots to look forward to but lots to be wary of as well.”

Prediction

If this match were being played at the Stadium of Light there’s no question Sunderland would be taking all three points. But fans saw how difficult it was for Spurs to play in Selhurst Park in opening week and we shouldn’t be surprised if a similar atmosphere presents itself this time around. Sunderland are good enough to overcome the crowd and win this match but Palace have the ability to nip a point here, and I think they get it.

New York Red Bulls introduce space at RBA for autistic families

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images for New York Red Bulls
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HARRISON, N.J. (AP) The Red Bulls have announced plans for a permanent sensory-friendly space at their stadium for families impacted by autism.

Formerly executive offices, the space overlooking midfield is a calm area that is free from the crowds and the noise of Red Bull Arena during matches. Families can use it for free.

The team announced the new space on Saturday before the Red Bulls were set to host the Chicago Fire. It was Autism Awareness Night at the stadium.

“Families deserve to feel welcome and comfortable each time they step foot into Red Bull Arena, not just one night a year,” Red Bulls GM Marc de Grandpre said in a statement released by the club. “We hope all sports teams and entertainment venues are inspired to take similar action to provide comfort for families with loved ones on the autism spectrum.”

League Two game restarted in empty stadium after fans storm field

Photo credit: BBC Sport / Twitter: @BBCSport
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LONDON (AP) An English soccer game restarted in an empty stadium after a pitch invasion led to the crowd being told the fixture had been abandoned.

There were five minutes remaining in Leyton Orient’s fourth-tier game against Colchester on Saturday when a sit-down protest was staged on the pitch by Orient fans against Italian owner Francesco Becchetti.

It forced the referee to take the players off the field. The protests lasted for more than an hour before the crowd was told the game had been abandoned and the stadium eventually cleared. The teams came out and finished the game.

Leyton Orient lost 3-1 a week after its relegation from the English Football League was confirmed after 112 years.

“A decision was taken with the police to announce that the game had been abandoned as it was felt this would help clear the pitch, which proved correct,” the EFL said in a statement. “However, it was deemed appropriate that the game needed to be played to a conclusion in order to maintain the integrity of the competition.”

La Liga: Barcelona, Real Madrid hold serve in tight title race

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Super-duper Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of top 7 ]

Espanyol 0-3 Barcelona

Barcelona are doing all they can do — win — in their bid to usurp Real Madrid in the race for the title. While they entered the weekend — and still are — ahead of their El Clasico rivals based on head-to-head results this season, Los Blancos still have a game in hand which will surely decide whether Madrid claim their 33rd top-division title, or a 25th for Barca.

On Saturday, Luis Enrique’s side had more than just the title at stake — also at stake: the Derbi Barceloni, against fellow Catalan side Espanyol.

For 45 minutes, the home side held firm and refused to break, but once Luis Suarez put the Blaugrana ahead in the 50th minute, that was all she wrote. Ivan Rakitic doubled the advantage in the 76th minute, and Suarez completed the scoring 11 minutes later.

Real Madrid 2-1 Valencia

By the time the derby kicked off, Madrid had already applied the pressure and gone three points clear with a 2-1 victory that was a whole lot closer than the final score indicates.

Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring just before the half-hour mark, and Zinedine Zidane’s side was well on its way to victory. Ronaldo followed up his opening goal with a missed penalty kick 10 minutes into the second half, and Daniel Parejo pulled the visitors level with a sensational free kick just eight minutes before the end of regular time. Points looked sure to be dropped, and the door opened wider for Barca, but Marcelo was prepared to play the part of hero on the day, and the Brazilian left back bagged one of the season’s more improbable goals, a right-footed strike from the top of the box, in the 86th minute.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Las Palmas 0-5 Atletico Madrid
Real Sociedad 2-1 Granada

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Osasuna vs. Deportivo La Coruña — 6 a.m. ET
Real Betis vs. Alaves — 10:15 a.m. ET
Eibar vs. Leganes — 12:30 p.m. ET
Celta Vigo vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:45 p.m. ET

Monday’s La Liga schedule

Malaga vs. Sevilla — 3 p.m. ET

Championship Focus: It’s all about the playoff places now

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With Brighton & Hove Albion and Newcastle United having already clinched the Championship’s two automatic promotion places, all eyes turn to the four teams behind them still jockeying for playoff positioning…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s coverage of the Championship ]

3rd — Reading — 82 points, +2 GD
4th — Sheffield Wednesday — 81 points, +16 GD
5th — Huddersfield Town — 81 points, +1 GD
6th — Fulham — 77 points, +27 GD

First of all, the Championship remains the least sensible league in the world. Disagree? Just try to explain the above wildly varying points totals and the corresponding goal differentials. Go ahead, I’ll wait

As for the weekend’s results, Reading and Wednesday did themselves major favors in the race for third with victories over Wigan Athletic (1-0) and Ipswich Town (1-0), respectively, while Huddersfield, who entered the weekend in that top playoff place, played 67 minutes with a man advantage against Birmingham City, and lost 2-0. All three of Reading, Wednesday and Huddersfield have clinched their place in the promotion playoffs, which begin two weeks from Saturday, on May 13.

[ MORE: PL Sunday preview — North London derby, plus 6 of the top 7 play ]

Given Leeds United’s 3-3 draw with Norwich City, a win would have clinched the fourth and final playoff place for Fulham, but the Cottagers dropped a pair of points themselves in a 1-1 draw with Brentford at Craven Cottage. Still, Fulham are all but into the playoffs with a three-point lead on Leeds, and a goal differential that’s 13 goals better.