Sunderland 1-0 Manchester City: Bardsley goal, staunch defending earn Poyet another Sunderland win

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With Newcastle having downed Tottenham earlier today, title-hopefuls Manchester City suffered a setback of their own as Phil Bardsley and Sunderland downed the Citizens at the Stadium of Light on Sunday.

Bardsley scored after a major defensive mistake from the City back line, and the home defense did its job after as City’s red-hot partnership of Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo produced nothing significant in front of goal.

Like Spurs earlier, Manchester City wasted a host of shots – 23 of them to be exact – and Manuel Pellegrini’s bunch will be ruing their lack of creativity, not something said often this season.

The game began as a harsh, physical midfield battle with City bringing little width as they lumped all their midfielders relatively centrally.

Very little took place at the Stadium of Light until a goal lit up the home crowd in the 21st minute.  Phil Bardsley locked himself onto a ball from Wes Brown, and after a defensive mix-up he clinically finished past Pantilimon for a surprising home lead.

Martin Demichelis and James Milner collided in an attempt to mark Bardsley, and it freed the defender to slot past the massive Romanian keeper.

The goal sprung the game wide open, as both teams pressed for more.  Sergio Aguero flew a header wide in the 32nd minute which he’ll wish he had back, as Alvaro Negredo’s cross came beautifully across the face of goal to Aguero at the back post.

Adam Johnson, causing City all kinds of problems down both wings, nearly won a penalty battling with Milner on the left flank but referee Mike Dean said no as both players were battling for an advantage.

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The animated figure of Gus Poyet on the sidelines has energized Sunderland in recent weeks.

The match also featured some crunching tackles, with Javi Garcia earning a yellow card midway into the first half for his efforts.  Sebastian Larsson nearly found himself into the book or worse, but somehow Mike Dean let him off the hook for a horrible challenge on Garcia that got no ball and all shin.

That challenge left Garcia substituted off at halftime for the attacking-minded Jesus Navas, and he helped build some attacking presence.  The game, however, slipped back into the early first-half form of a midfield battle.

Ki Seung-Young had a chance from long-distance in the 58th minute but his slicing effort was always going wide.

Following that Manchester City began to assert their second-half dominance on the ball, but like Spurs earlier in the day could not produce a dangerous final ball.  Sunderland’s defense remained very rigid and maintained its shape, and City never got seriously in past the back four until late searching for an equalizer.

Finally, in the final 10 minutes, the sense of urgency set in for Manchester City still down the early goal.  Substitute Edin Dzeko and Alexander Kolarov had some serious attempts on Vito Mannone’s goal, but Dzeko hit wide and Kolarov put the ball into the side netting.

Sunderland put every single player back behind the ball as City threw everything forward, but there was absolutely no space between the Black Cats players.

It’s a statement win for Sunderland, who remain in 19th position but are now in sight of the exit from the relegation zone, where three weeks ago they were in dire straits.  Manager Gus Poyet has come in and picked up two wins where Paolo Di Canio couldn’t get one.

GOALS:

Sunderland – Bardsley 21′

LINEUPS:

Sunderland – Mannone; Celustka, Bardsley, Brown, O’Shea; Ki, Larsson, Colback, Johnson (Borini, 87′), Giaccherini (Gardner, 72′); Fletcher (Altidore, 77′).

Manchester City – Pantilimon; Richards (Zabaleta, 71′), Demichelis, Lescott, Kolarov; Milner, Toure, Garcia (Navas, 45′), Nasri; Aguero, Negredo (Dzeko, 71′).

Malta captain mutes goal celebration after journalist slain

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Malta captain Andre Schembri says the car bomb slaying of a Maltese investigative journalist prompted him not to exult after scoring an historic goal.

Schembri’s temporary equalizer for Cypriot club Apollon in a 3-1 loss to Italian side Atalanta in the Europa League on Thursday made him the first Maltese player to score in proper European competition – excluding qualifying.

[ PL PREVIEW: Saints vs. West Brom ]

But instead of pumping his fist or leaping in joy over the achievement, Schembri hung his head as teammates mobbed him.

Schembri wrote on Facebook on Friday, “Celebrating my goal didn’t feel right after what happened in Malta this week.”

Malta has been stunned since Monday by the slaying of Daphne Caruana Galizia, an anti-corruption reporter whose targets included Malta’s leading politicians.

“When they killed Daphne I wasn’t able to sleep for three nights,” Schembri told the ANSA news agency. “Malta is Europe, it’s not the third world. We need to be united when faced with grief like this, to say that we’re better than all of this.

“I love my country and with that goal it came naturally to me to think about a reporter’s freedom and the life of a mother of three children.”

Premier League Preview: Southampton vs. West Bromwich Albion

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  • West Bromwich Albion hope to choose from goalkeepers Ben Foster (back) and Boaz Myhill (hamstring) for the trip to St Mary’s. Hal Robson-Kanu (strain), James Morrison (calf) and Oliver Burke (hamstring) will all be absent for the Baggies.
  • Southampton are again without Jeremy Pied but have no other injury concerns.
  • Of all teams to have met in at least seven different Premier League campaigns, Southampton v West Brom has the lowest goals-per-match ratio in the competition (21 in 14 matches, 1.5 per match). 
  • Dusan Tadic has been directly involved in a goal in each of his last three PL appearances against the Baggies (one goal, two assists).

Two mid-table sides meet up in the south of England as Southampton hosts West Bromwich Albion at 13:20 p.m. Saturday afternoon. (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Both teams are struggling for form heading into the match. West Brom is winless in its last seven games while Southampton has just one win in its last five, coughing up a chance to defeat Newcastle a week ago.

It’s a big boost for Southampton though that Manolo Gabbiadini is back on the scoresheet after scoring twice against Newcastle. It was Gabbiadini’s first goal since the second week of the Premier League season.

At the other end, West Brom have a worry with both of its top two goalkeepers, Ben Forster and Boaz Myhill. recovering from injuries.

What they’re saying

Southampton manager Manuel Pellegrino on his team: “The reaction of the team was really good, but we have to start from the beginning with this spirit. Sometimes you have to be patient, because at the beginning teams have more energy, they are fresher and they can press you better. I think we feel comfortable with the ball. If we are precise with the ball and with our tempo, we can create more problems – it doesn’t matter who we are playing. We know that West Brom are really strong physically, and dangerous from set plays and on the counter-attack. That’s something we’ve been working on this week. Every single week we are learning from our last few games, and I feel that my players are better prepared.”

West Bromwich manager Tony Pulis on facing Southampton: “They’re a good footballing team. Pellegrino has come in with his own ideas and the way he wants to play. From watching them in a couple of games away from St Mary’s they seem a little more relaxed. They look a little more uptight at home. But I’m sure they’ll become the team everyone knows they can be.”

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Prediction

West Bromwich doesn’t look closer to stopping its slide down the table, especially on the road. Even with Jay Rodriguez returning to his former club, Southampton should find the offense to put Tony Pulis and West Brom away. Southampton 2-1 West Bromwich Albion

Watch Live: West Ham vs. Brighton and Hove Albion

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West Ham and Brighton kick off the weekend’s Premier League action at the London Stadium on Friday afternoon. (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN an online via NBCSports.com).

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Both teams have just eight points from eight games, and are looking to move up in the table with a win.

Manuel Lanzini makes his second consecutive start, playing behind Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez in West Ham’s 4-2-3-1 formation. On the other side, Tomer Hemed sits his final match of his three-match suspension, with Glen Murray playing atop the 4-4-1-1 Brighton formation.

LINEUPS

West Ham United: Hart; Zabaleta, Fonte, Reid, Masuaku; Kouate, Obiang; Antonio, Lanzini, Arnautovic; Chicharito Hernandez. Subs: Adrian, Cresswell, Ogbonna, Byram, Ayew, Noble, Fernandes

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan; Bong, Duffy, Dunk, Saltor; Izquierdo, Propper, Stephens, Knockaert; Gross; Murray. Subs: Krul, Goldson, Suttner, Schelotto, Molumby, March, Brown.

Report: FIFA considering updating international rules

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Under current FIFA rules, once a player plays a senior international competitive match, they’re cap-tied permanently to that nation. But that rule could be changing.

That’s according to a report from Reuters, which quotes CONCACAF president Victor Montagliani that FIFA could look into updating some of its nationality laws. Montagliani is the head of FIFA’s stakeholders committee.

“There are so many issues that have popped up over the years because the world is changing, immigration is changing,” Montagliani said. “There are nationality issues that pop up all over the world, in Africa, there are issues in Asia and CONCACAF, so its a good time to have a look at this and see if there are solutions, without hurting the integrity of the game.”

Changing the rules would have a big impact on nations with diverse populations or nationalities with large diasporas.

The report states the Cape Verdean FA requested relaxing the rule of cap-tying a player after playing a competitive game, if that player drops out of the player pool and likely wouldn’t be called up again. Cape Verde relies on a lot of Portugal-based and raised players with Cape Verdean heritage.

A relaxation of the rules could have an affect on U.S. Men’s National Team players as well. In theory, if Kenny Saief decided he wanted to play for Israel again, under a relaxation of the rules, and some sort of proof that a new USMNT coach wouldn’t call him up, Israel could potentially use him. In addition, players such as Cristian Roldan or Jesse Gonzalez could in theory be lost should they fall down the depth chart and other countries they’re eligible for.