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.”

UCL wrap: Napoli, Celtic win big; Nwakaeme volleys beauty (video)

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A day after three of five road sides felt good with their work in first legs of the UEFA Champions League playoff round, it was the hosts time to celebrate good results.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s UCL first legs ]

Home sides in Italy, Scotland, Greece, and Israel posted wins. Spanish side Sevilla did manage a road win.

Napoli 2-0 Nice

Chances and even possession was at a premium for the visitors, and Napoli found its breakthrough from one of the more overlooked gems in the world. Dries Mertens scored in the first half, his sixth career UCL goal, and Jorginho converted a second half penalty to give Napoli a foot in the group stage.

Adding insult was a pair of red cards in the 80th minute, the first to Vincent Koziello for a dangerous tackle (it was a harsh call) and Alassane Plea was given a second yellow for protesting the sending off.

Mertens’ goal was smooth as silk:

Celtic 5-0 Astana

A pair of Scott Sinclair goals joined an Astana own goal as the Bhoys went a long way towards avoiding the tight tie that made the last round tricky.

Olympiacos 2-1 Rijeka

Heber gave the visitors a halftime lead in the 42nd minute, but Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe equalized in the 66th minute to minimize the damage for Olympiacos, who would go on to win.

Istanbul Basaksehir 1-2 Sevilla

Remember Eljero Elia? The Dutchman’s on his eighth club and third since leaving Southampton after just a half season, but he’s given his Turkish side hope against mighty Sevilla after Sergio Escudero gave the Spanish side an early lead and Wissam Ben Yedder nabbed the winner.

Hapoel Be’er Sheva 2-1 Maribor

Goals from Anthony Nwakaeme and Shir Tzedek boosted the Israeli hosts to a come-from-behind win.

In the case of the former, it was a beauty:

Brighton breaks transfer record (again) with Izquierdo (video)

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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Brighton and Hove Albion have broken its transfer record.

A week after setting a new club standard with the signing of Davy Propper from PSV Eindhoven, the Gulls have signed electric Colombian attacker Jose Izquierdo from Club Brugge for over $15 million.

[ MORE: Matuidi medical at Juve ]

Izquierdo averaged a goal every other match for Brugge last season and broke through to the Colombian national team with two caps this summer, scoring in a friendly against Cameroon.

With Propper and Izquierdo, manager Chris Hughton has two more playmakers who can better set the table for a strike corps that has been questioned at the Premier League level.

Brighton lost to Man City 2-0 on Saturday and next faces Leicester City at King Power Stadium.

Matuidi having a medical at Juventus ahead of move from PSG

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Blaise Matuidi was having a medical at Juventus on Wednesday ahead of a potential move to the Serie A club.

Juventus said that Matuidi arrived at Turin airport in the afternoon and was undergoing tests.

Juventus will reportedly pay PSG 20 million euros ($23 million) plus bonuses for the 30-year-old Matuidi, who had a year left on his contract with the French club.

[ MORE: Wenger issues updates on Alexis, Ox, Wilshere ]

PSG, which is also trying to balance the books after buying Neymar for 222 million euros, could not afford to lose Matuidi on a free transfer.

Matuidi played nearly 300 games for PSG in all competitions after joining from Saint-Etienne in 2011.

After a difficult first season, he quickly became an integral part of the team for successive managers, Carlo Ancelotti and Laurent Blanc.

He flourished from a largely defensive midfielder to a robust, tireless runner with an eye for goal and an enormous work-rate.

Overcoming some technical deficiencies in his game, Matuidi gradually earned himself a place in the France lineup and became a key player at the 2014 World Cup and last year’s European Championship.

At the beginning of last season, after Blanc was fired and replaced by Unai Emery, he expressed a desire to leave PSG and already wanted to join Juventus. But the club blocked his move, considering him too important to leave, and he stayed for another season.

Altogether, Matuidi has scored 33 goals for PSG in 295 appearances, becoming a well-respected player among fans and teammates alike, often taking a public stance when others would not and when tensions arose within the club.

In all, Matuidi has won four league titles, three French Cups and four League Cups with PSG.

This story has been corrected to show that Neymar’s fee was 222 million euros, not 220 million euros.

Furious Cristiano Ronaldo responds to five-game ban

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Cristiano Ronaldo has hit out at the Spanish soccer federation after his five game ban for pushing a referee in the back was upheld.

Ronaldo, 32, pushed the ref after he was shown a second yellow card in Real Madrid’s 3-1 win in the first leg of the Spanish Super Cup at Barcelona on Sunday.

It capped an eventful El Clasico for Ronaldo who arrived in the second half as a sub, then scored a stunner to put Real 2-1 up.

He received his first yellow for taking off his shirt and holding it up to the Nou Camp crowd to mock Lionel Messi for doing the same in a goal celebration in April at the Santiago Bernabeu. Ronaldo then received a second yellow for going down in the box under a challenge.

In an Instagram post the Real Madrid forward had the following to say about the decision which sees him banned for the second leg ag the Bernabeu on Wednesday as well as Real’s next four games.

“It seems to me exaggerated and ridiculous, this is called persecution.”