The ecstasy of Fulham's late win over Stoke was almost too much for manager Martin jol to handle...

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.”

source: Getty Images
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.”

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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