Fulham 1-0 Stoke City: Bent’s late strike seals win for Cottagers (video)

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The 1-0 win against Stoke at Craven Cottage on Saturday was their first since August 17 against Sunderland, and marked their first victory in six games.

But the home side looked anxious in possession throughout, however Bent’s late strike will ease some of the pressure on under-fire manager Martin Jol. Stoke battled hard, and took the game to the Cottagers after the interval but wasted several good chances.

In the end, Fulham made them pay.

With their first home success of the season, Fulham climb out of the relegation zone into 17th spot with seven points, while Stoke are in 16th.

Early on Fulham were composed as they looked to get Damien Duff in down the flanks. But as the half wore on, the home side grew more nervous as Stoke got going.

In the 9th minute there was a potential flash point right in front of the benches, as Pajtim Kasami needlessly flung his hand out at Stoke defender Erik Pieters off the ball. Contact was minimal, and Pieters overreacted, but Kasami was silly to lash out so petulantly.

In the 25th minute came a real turning point, as Johnathan Walters raced clear and Fulham’s Fernando Amorebieta pulled him back right on the edge of the box. The linesman gave the foul and a free kick, as Stoke’s players protested for a penalty, but the foul looked to have taken place just inside the box. A let off for the home side.

And just moments later, Stoke came so close to taking a 1-0 lead as Sascha Riether cleared a header off the line following an out swinging corner.

Both sides battled away for most of the first half, with several careless passes adding to the building tension in Craven Cottage.

source: Getty Images
Fulham and Stoke battled it out down by the River Thames.

However, right on half time Bryan Ruiz was caught in the box as he tried to wriggle free. The home fans cried for a penalty, but referee Roger East turned their protests away. It looked like Marc Wilson tripped the Costa Rican attacker, as the Cottagers finished the half strongly.

At half time Kieran Richardson replaced Brede Hangeland, as Jol tried to change things around for Fulham with Amorebieta switching to center back.

Throughout the game Fulham’s players were severely lacking in confidence, as they searched for their first win in six games. Steve Sidwell worked hard in the Cottagers engine room, but was lambasted on several occasions by the home fans for giving the ball away. Although Fulham’s Macedonian winger Kasami looked a threat throughout.

Mark Hughes’ Stoke side were resilient and ground down Fulham with some late tackles and determined running, but both sides were reduced to speculative efforts.

One of which came from U.S. international Geoff Cameron, as his right-footed shot from distance was arrowing towards the top corner before being deflected wide for a corner.

From that set piece Stoke captain Robert Huth rose highest unmarked, but put his header over the bar as David Stockdale was left flapping. And soon after Oussama Assaidi’s cross found Stephen Ireland who volleyed just wide in the 68th minute.

That mini barrage of chances for Stoke breathed new life into the Potters, and in a few minutes Riether first cleared Huth’s header off the line, again, before running the length of the pitch and forcing Asmir Begovic into a fine save at his near post.

And moments later the game-winning goal arrived, as Bent was Fulham’s hero. The second half sub saw the ball ricochet to him in the box after Kasami’s shot in the 83rd minute and the striker, on-loan from Aston Villa, coolly slotted home to send Craven Cottage wild.

LINEUPS

Fulham: Stockdale; Riether, Hangeland (Richardson 46), Senderos, Amorebieta; Duff, Karagounis (Boateng 60), Sidwell, Ruiz; Kasami; Berbatov (Bent 66).

Stoke City: Begovic; Cameron, Huth, Shawcross, Pieters; Wilson (Whelan 59), Nzonzi, Ireland; Walters (Crouch 83), Arnautovic, Etherington (Assaidi 63).

New York Red Bulls introduce space at RBA for autistic families

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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

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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.