Relief for Martin Jol, after Fulham’s confidence-boosting win against Stoke

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LONDON — Going into Saturday’s game against Stoke, Fulham manager Martin Jol needed a big win to cast off the growing band of doubters after the Cottagers poor start to the season.

He didn’t get the convincing win he was hoping for, but it was a win that will breed confidence amongst his players before the upcoming international break.

“Unbelievable importance,” Jol said afterwards in the beautiful confides of Craven Cottage. “I can come up with all the stories and excuses and say that we’ve got a good spirit, that they’re behind each other and behind me. But if you don’t get the points, everyone is in a big depression. It gives you a relief, and gives you confidence again. I was happy because we got three points and that it what we needed.”

(MORE: Fulham 1-0 Stoke City – Bent’s late goal seals win for Cottagers)

The 1-0 victory saw Fulham under the cosh for most of the second half, as more pressure piled on Jol’s side as the homes fans became frustrated by a largely disjointed display. But in the 83rd minute Craven Cottage erupted as Darren Bent calmly slotted past Asmir Begovic to give Fulham a crucial 1-0 win. It was the West London sides first victory since the opening day of the season, and the relief on Jol’s face was clear for all to see.

The under-fire manager also revealed that game-winner Bent wouldn’t have come on if forward Dimitar Berbatov hadn’t been injured. So maybe after four late goals in a row thwarting Fulham in recent weeks, lady luck was finally smiling down on Jol’s side.

“I was very happy with Darren Bent to come on for Berbatov,” Jol laughed. “Because if Berbatov would have stayed fit I would have probably left him on the pitch. So I was very happy to have Bent on the bench, and he could have scored two.”

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Jol celebrates Darren Bent’s late winner, as Craven Cottage erupts.

But despite picking up a valuable three points, this win will only bide Jol some time. It was Fulham’s fist league victory at home since April, and their first in six Premier League outings this term since their opening day success away at Sunderland. With new owner Shadid Khan eerily silent behind the scenes, and many fans launching abuse at Jol following his sides last-gasp defeat at home to Cardiff last week, the pressure is still on.

And Jol knows it.

“You need results, and you need to be without pressure,” Jol said. ” Because any team under pressure will perform not as good as they’re capable of. We need to be better on the ball.”

However his side out-worked Stoke on Saturday, that doesn’t happen often, and dug in to get the result they desperately needed before the two week international break. Jol will breath a huge sigh of relief and the Dutchman hailed the importance of the victory, and the confidence it will give his players.

“We worked ever so hard, nobody could fault us for lack of application,” Jol said. “But we have to do better on the ball, we have to take control of the ball and dominate, especially teams like Stoke. But my boys showed they have an unbelievable mentality.”

Yet Stoke still troubled Fulham from set pieces, which is something Jol wants his side to work on.

“We were a bit lucky,” Jol said. “If you look at Stoke, Robert Huth had two clear header from set pieces and you work on that all week and it still happened. We have to do better, we conceded a lot of goals with set pieces. In hindsight everything is good, but not for me. We have to improve.”

(MORE: Mark Hughes fumes, as Stoke denied “two stonewall penalties” in Fulham loss)

Patjim Kasami was a constant thorn in Stoke’s side from the left wing position, running at Geoff Cameron all afternoon and providing plenty of promising moments for the Fulham faithful. And the 21-year-old winger played a big hand in the winning goal, with the Macedonian cutting in from the left and seeing his shot deflected into Bent’s path to score. Jol has been pleased with Kasami since his arrival in the summer.

“He is probably one of the fittest players in the league if you look at the stats,” Jol said. “I am very happy with him, but you can’t say it was an unbelievable pass for when we scored.”

Many fans and pundits were calling for Jol to be fired after Fulham lost 2-1 to Cardiff last week, coupled with giving up late goals to Newcastle and West Brom in recent weeks. But the former Tottenham Hotspur manager doesn’t feel any pressure.

This victory will make the next few weeks easier.

“Pressure is if you are vulnerable and if your life will change big-time, my life won’t change big-time,” Jol said. ” I will be in this job for the next years, and I want to be here with my players, because most of the players are here because of me. So I want to help them to get better and be there where we should be.”

Wasteful Poland snatches late 2-1 win at Montenegro

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Poland was in control for much of the game, but failed to finish in front of net until Borussia Dortmund full-back Lukasz Piszczek found the winner with eight minutes to go as the visitors increased their lead at the top of World Cup qualification Group E.

Robert Lewandowski put Poland in front five minutes before halftime with a brilliant free-kick that left Montenegran goalkeeper Mladen Blozovic completely baffled, but Montenegro looked sturdy at the back for much of the game and dangerous on the counter. They’d hit just past the hour mark as Stefan Mugosa headed in to level the score.

Lewandowski had a pair of massive chances in the second half, but couldn’t get either to go down as Blozovic was there to turn him away, and Montenegran defenders cleared off the line as well. Luckily for Poland, they had Piszczek who burst down the right to beat Aleksandar Sofranac, and he produced a stunning finish looped over the closing Blozovic from a tight angle, dinked off the far post, and into the back of the net.

That would do it for Montenegro who had little attacking ability outside of their countering abilities, and with Poland happy to ease out the clock, the hosts didn’t have enough.

The win pushes Poland six points clear at the top of Group E, a sizeable lead with five matches remaining. The battle for the second-place spot is tight, with Montenegro still in command on seven points, level with Denmark but ahead on goal differential. Armenia and Romania are even with six points each.

Netherlands manager Danny Blind fired after Bulgaria loss

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The Netherlands are in real trouble, and the manager has paid the price.

The Dutch national team has parted ways with Danny Blind the day after a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria left the Dutch fourth in their World Cup qualification group halfway through.

The move garnering all the headlines from Saturday’s loss was Blind’s decision to start 17-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt. The Ajax youth product, who has just two Eredivisie starts to his credit, made two crucial errors and yanked at halftime, but the damage had been done. Spas Delev scored twice in the opening 20 minutes for Bulgaria, and that was all the home side needed as the Dutch offered little in front of goal.

Blind was also criticized for not getting Memphis Depay on the field as they chased the game. The Netherlands held 74% possession, but could only manage 3 shots on target. Depay has been in good form since his January move to Lyon, with five goals in his 10 Ligue 1 appearances.

This decision was something Blind saw coming. He told national broadcaster NOS immediately after the Bulgaria loss, “I blame myself. It can’t go on like this. Things have to change.”

“I need to think about [my future]. I do not throw the towel in here. I’m incredibly disappointed, especially since I had a good feeling about this match. It makes sense that I put myself in front of the mirror.”

However, the problems for the Dutch go far deeper than Danny Blind. They missed out on Euro 2016 largely thanks to the failed 2nd tenure for Guus Hiddink. His assistant Blind took over, but the results have been equally as poor. The Netherlands sit fourth in UEFA World Cup qualification Group A, with losses to Bulgaria and France plus a draw with Sweden. It’s not over for them though, as they sit three points back of a second place spot with five matches to go, and three of those five at home.

With the Netherlands still yet to play their friendly against Italy this coming week, former goalkeeper Fred Grim takes over on an interim basis. Grim collected 101 caps for the Netherlands, and has served as the Netherlands U-21 manager for the last two years. Before that, he took charge of his first full managerial job as head man of Dutch 2nd-tier club Almere City.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.