Crystal Palace 3-1 Sunderland: Eagles record first victory of the season (Video)

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Crystal Palace finally secured their first Premier League win, 3-1 over Sunderland, but they sure made it as difficult as possible. The home side had secured the lead by the time ten minutes were up, then spent the next hour sending speculative shots in the general direction of Keiren Westwood’s goal. It would take an equalizer from the Black Cats, a red card, and a penalty conversion before the Eagles looked confident in their victory — and even then, the players managed to look nervous of it being ripped away. Fortunately for Palace, they managed a third in added time, finally putting the game to rest.

Palace scored the opener in rather amusing fashion. The home side’s corner connected with…no one, really. Or possibly everyone. The ball bounced around, ricocheting off seemingly everyone inside the area, before bouncing off Daniel Gabbidon and into the back of the net.

Perhaps Crystal Palace sensed that Sunderland would eventually get an equalizer — they certainly gave it a shot in the first half — and so attempted to find a second goal. Jason Puncheon, Dwight Gayle and Kagisho Dikgacoi all gave it their best shot, but the attempts never really threatened Westwood. For the Black Cats, Connor Wickham and Emanuele Giaccherini both made decent attempts.

But those attempts by the visitors rather petered out in the second half. Perhaps Paolo Di Canio didn’t have a plan B, expecting Palace’s defense to be simple to get around. Whatever it was, the home side were the ones that kept up a constant attack, while Sunderland looked bereft of options.

So it was all the more surprising when the Black Cats equalized in the 65th minute. After a neat one-two, Jack Colback took the ball up the left side, pulling back to lob it into the middle of the area. Steven Fletcher was there with the perfect header, and it seemed Sunderland had, at least, rescued a point from the match.

But barely ten minutes later, it all fell apart for the visitors. Sunderland captain John O’Shea charged in to stop Gayle, sliding in and tripping up the Palace attacker just inside the area. The referee immediately blew the whistle for the penalty, then dug around to find the red card for O’Shea. Gayle stepped up to take it himself, easily bypassing Westwood with his right-footed shot.

At that point, Sunderland just gave up, allowing Palace more time and space to press for a third goal. It was no surprise when it came, two minutes into the four minutes of added time. Substitute Stuart O’Keefe, on for Marouane Chamakh, got the final goal, a solo effort that curled past a dejected Westwood.

Lineups

Crystal Palace: Speroni, Ward, Gabbidon, Delaney, Moxey, Dikgacoi, Jedinak, Campana (Williams 54), Puncheon, Gayle (Wilbraham 83); Chamakh (O’Keefe 83)

Subs not used: Phillips, Alexander, Ramage, Dobbie

Sunderland: Westwood, Celustka, Colback, O’Shea, Diakite, Larsson, Vaughan, Johnson, Giaccherini (Mavrias 61), Dong-won (Fletcher 45), Wickham

Subs not used: Cabral, Cuéllar, Moberg-Karlsson, Roberge, Mannone

Timbers sign Peruvian winger Andy Polo from Liga MX’s Morelia

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) The Portland Timbers have acquired winger Andy Polo on loan from Liga MX club Monarcas Morelia for the upcoming season.

The 23-year-old native of Peru played in 25 matches last year for Morelia and made six starts with two goals.

He’s also World Cup-bound, having appeared in Peru’s two-legged playoff against New Zealand in November. Peru won 2-0 on aggregate. Overall, he’s appeared with the Peruvian national team 15 times since his senior debut in 2016.

“Andy is a versatile, young player who will add another element to our attack, and we believe that he has further upside to his development,” Timbers coach Giovanni Savarese said in a statement.

The Timbers used targeted allocation money and have a purchase option. Polo’s arrival is pending a physical and receipt of a visa.

He will occupy an international roster spot.

Can Man United still sign Sanchez without Mkhitaryan swap?

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The answer to the (first) titled question is, undoubtedly, yes.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

The latter question — the “will they?” — remains a relative unknown at this point, but if reports out of the UK are to be believed, Manchester United are just as likely to send $40 million (or so) Arsenal’s way in exchange for Alexis Sanchez, should Henrikh Mkhitaryan refuse the move by declining any contract offers from the Gunners.

[ MORE: Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies ]

The thinking, at least for the last few days since Man United somewhat unexpectedly entered the Sanchez sweepstakes, was that swapping the Armenian for the Chilean was the obvious — and, perhaps only — way forward. Call it special circumstances or an obvious audible, but that’s not necessarily the case — from the Guardian:

“It is understood that if Mkhitaryan does not leave Mourinho believes that, given the club’s robust finances, [Man United executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward could still sanction a move for a player who would potentially vastly improve United.”

By the time Sanchez is signed, sealed and delivered, United will have also paid Sanchez and his agent, Fernando Felicevich, massive signing-on fees that could total another $30 million. No matter the order in which the Sanchez-Mkhitaryan saga plays out, United will come out ahead with a superior player at a massively discounted price — should Sanchez ultimately move to Old Trafford, of course.

Conte bewildered VAR not used in Chelsea PK controversies

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If the FA, English football’s governing body, is insistent upon testing video-assistant refereeing (VAR) as they have done in recent FA Cup and League Cup fixtures, Antonio Conte believes they should darn well use it.

[ MORE: Wednesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Tuesday | Friday ]

Following his Chelsea side’s penalty-shootout victory over Norwich City in an FA Cup third-round replay on Wednesday, Conte was equal parts frustrated and confused by the fact that video-referee Mike Jones failed to prompt referee Graham Scott to consult the on-trial system on multiple occasions.

Most notably, Chelsea’s 92nd-minute (extra-time) penalty shout following Timm Klose‘s tackle on Willian. Scott, instead, booked the Brazilian for diving — one of three cards, all shown to Chelsea players, for simulation on the night — and that was that.

“If you watch the replay you see very clearly it is a penalty,” said Conte after the game — quotes from the BBC:

“I think that there was a penalty but not on [Alvaro] Morata — on Willian.

“With Willian, the referee heard what the other referee watched and decided to continue to play. If we want to try to use this new system, it is important for the referee to wait, especially in this incident that is not so clear.

“And then when the referee that is watching had a doubt, he has to call the referee to watch and he can make a decision. The referee on the pitch has to make the decision, not one off the pitch.

“We can improve it for sure but we need to try to take the best solution. The final decision is for the ref on the pitch. Otherwise, why is there this ref?

“The mistake wasn’t of the ref on the pitch but the person watching. When you see this, you have to call the referee.”

VAR was used in another third-round replay, on Tuesday, and helped to correctly rule Leicester City striker Kelechi Iheanacho as being in an onside position when he scored his side’s second goal. While offside/onside calls are much clearer, cut-and-dry decisions to make — and with the aid of a natural stoppage in play — clearly much work lies ahead with regard to the process of determining whether the referee has made a “clear and obvious error,” which remains the threshold for using VAR, in instances of fouls/diving.

Copa QF: Messi misses PK, Barca’s 29-game unbeaten run ends

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MADRID (AP) — Lionel Messi missed a penalty and Barcelona conceded late as its 29-match unbeaten streak ended in a 1-0 loss to city rival Espanyol in the first leg of their Copa del Rey quarterfinal on Wednesday.

Messi failed from the spot in the 62nd minute, his shot brilliantly saved by goalkeeper Diego Lopez.

Youngster Oscar Melendo netted the winner for the hosts in the 88th with his first goal as a professional.

“I have no words, I was looking forward to this first goal,” said the 20-year-old Melendo, who had come on as a substitute in the second half.

It was Espanyol’s first win against Barcelona at its RCDE Stadium.

The second leg of the Catalan derby is next week at Camp Nou.

Barcelona hadn’t lost since a 2-0 defeat by Real Madrid in the second leg of the Spanish Super Cup on Aug. 16. It had won 23 of its last 29 matches in all competitions.

“We knew we would lose one day,” Barcelona midfielder Sergio Busquets said. “The positive thing is that in a week we have a chance to rebound and advance.”

Messi had his chance from the spot after Sergi Roberto was fouled by Esteban Granero, but his low shot into the right corner was stopped as Diego Lopez dived to his left to tip the ball away.

It was a rare miss for Messi, who is having a stellar season and is the Spanish league’s top scorer with 17 goals.

“The penalty save gave us the boost that we needed,” Melendo said. “We were playing too defensively.”

Melendo netted the winner with a low shot from the middle of the area after a well-timed pass by Marc Navarro.

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde did not use all of the team’s regular starters, leaving players such as Luis Suarez on the bench.

The match was interrupted for a few minutes in the 76th after Barcelona goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen was hit by an object thrown by fans behind his goal.

Barcelona midfielder Paulinho was replaced in the second half because of a foot injury.