West Brom 1-1 Everton: Missed opportunity for Roberto Martinez’s Toffees (video)

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Everton missed its chance to spend a few extra days in that enviable fourth spot of the Premier League table following a 1-1 draw Monday at West Brom, where the Pepe Mel era started with a semi-positive result.

Everton, without much pep but mostly in control, took a 1-0 lead at the Hawthorns on Kevin Mirallas’ goal before the break but gradually yielded initiative to the Baggies. Diego Lugano got the first goal in the Mel era – he took over the Midlands club just last week and was debuting Monday as West Brom manager – with a near post equalizer in the 76th minute.

West Brom will need better at home to stay well north of that relegation red line, but a draw with Everton isn’t a bad way to begin. Roberto Martinez’s side stood to have a week or so enjoying life in 4th place (and all that it implies), looking for an opportunity to leapfrog Liverpool and Tottenham with a good afternoon at the Hawthorns.

That “extra time” is because of an FA Cup weekend is ahead. But instead of seeing themselves in the fourth spot though the upcoming FA Cup spell – that 4th place would mean Champions League soccer for Martinez and Co., a high value target for a smaller club like Everton – they’ll remain in 6th, having lost ground in Round 22 to most of teams ahead in the table.

Despite playing at home, West Brom had little of the ball over the first 45 minutes, only bothering Tim Howard once as Everton’s U.S. international comfortably beat away a drive from 20 yards.

A couple other balls went scooting through Howard’s penalty area – mostly from gaps exposed along the flanks as Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines attempted to scoot forward for Everton – but surely not enough to please the new boss.

Everton held the ball enough but seemed to miss the playmaking of injured midfielder Ross Barkley, who is having such a great year under Martinez.

Newly shorn teammate Romelu Lukaku still can’t snap his troubling goalless stretch (the young Belgian hasn’t put one way for Everton since November) but did figure into the visitor’s goal. He was the target as Everton changed up a bit, going long and direct rather than keeping possession along the ground. Mirallas was rampaging into the penalty area as Lukaku was the target of a ball off Everton’s back line.

Two quality touches later, Mirallas’ goal this year was the first between these teams in more than two hours of soccer this season; they played to a scoreless draw back at Goodison Park early in the campaign.

West Brom increased the pressure gradually through the second half and it was Lugano finding the target. The Uruguayan got just a little bit of working room inside Everton defender Sylvain Distin and headed home James Morrison’s driven cross past Howard at the near post.

West Brom’s Nicolas Anelka – notorious of late for controversial quenelle celebration – was bright with ball at his feet but couldn’t find many chances near goal.

LINEUPS

West Brom: Foster, Reid, Lugano, Olsson, Ridgewell, Brunt, Morrison, Yacob, Gera (Mulumbu), Vydra (Anichebe 46), Anelka (Berahino 76).

Goal: Lugano 75

Everton: Howard, Baines, Jagielka, Distin, Coleman (Stones 79), Barry, McCarthy, Osman (Naismith 89), Oviedo (Mcgeady 80), Mirallas, Lukaku.

Goal: Mirallas 41

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.

Wenger called ref Dean “not honest,” “a disgrace” to earn ban

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LONDON (AP) Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger accused a referee of being “not honest” and called him “a disgrace” in a rant inside the match officials’ changing room that led to a three-match touchline ban for one of English soccer’s most experienced coaches.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

The English Football Association published Tuesday the written reasons behind its decision to ban Wenger for being abusive toward referee Mike Dean after Arsenal’s 1-1 draw at West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League on Dec. 31.

In his match report given to the FA, Dean said Wenger “was pointing aggressively at me saying, ‘You’re not honest’ on numerous occasions.” Dean then said Wenger said “you’ve done this to us many times before, you’re supposed to be professional, you’re a disgrace.”

[ MORE: Newcastle sale talks collapse — Staveley, not Ashley, out ]

Wenger had been incensed at Calum Chambers being penalized for a handball and West Brom converting the resulting penalty to equalize late in the game.

The FA said “there is simply no justification for this behavior” and considered a stadium ban for Wenger.

Wenger was also fined $54,200 for his conduct.

FA Cup: Leicester, West Ham survive replays to reach 4th round

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Two more Premier League sides reached the fourth round of the 2017-18 FA Cup on Tuesday, winning their respective replays and joining 10 other top-flight clubs already through to the next round…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town

Kelechi Iheanacho moved to Leicester from Manchester City for $33 million this summer and has, through his first half-season in the East Midlands, failed to live up to that price tag. In nine PL appearances, he is yet to score his first league goal. Tuesday, however, saw the 21-year-old Nigerian international put forth a bit production and performance more befitting a player of his promise and pedigree.

Manager Claude Puel picked a side consisting of first-team regulars and lesser-used squad players for the Foxes FA Cup third-round replay against League One side Fleetwood Town. It was Iheanacho, who started alongside/just behind target man Islam Slimani, who shown brightest with a pair of goals, in the 43rd and 77th minutes, to send Leicester into the fourth round. Iheanacho’s second, the one that put the game away for Leicester, was originally ruled out for offside, but was eventually after consultation of the video-assistant referee.

Leicester will travel to League One side Peterborough in the fourth round, on Sat. Jan. 27.

[ MORE: Newcastle sale talks collapse — Staveley, not Ashley, out ]

West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town

It took far longer than Hammers fans would have liked — or expected — but West Ham, over the course of 120 minutes, survived the Cupset bid of third-division Shrewsbury Town. With eight minutes remaining before Tuesday’s replay went to penalty kicks at the London Stadium, 21-year-old defender Reece Burke fired home from inside the box to break the scoreless deadlock.

West Ham will be away to the winner of the replay between Bournemouth and Wigan Athletic (Wednesday), on Sat. Jan. 27.

Elsewhere in FA Cup replay action

Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Wednesday’s FA Cup replay schedule

Chelsea vs. Norwich City — 2:45 p.m. ET
Swansea City vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers — 2:45 p.m. ET
Wigan Athletic vs. Bournemouth — 2:45 p.m. ET

Report: Newcastle sale talks between Ashley, Staveley collapse

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Talks between Mike Ashley and Amanda Staveley over the much-desired and -rumored sale of Newcastle United are off, according to a report from Sky Sports and various other UK news outlets.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Sky has quoted a source close to Ashley as having said: “Attempts to reach a deal (with Staveley) have proved to be exhaustive, frustrating and a complete waste of time.” (Full quote below)

Ashley, the club’s current and long-beleaguered owner, has been seeking a potential buyer since putting the club up for sale back in October. Staveley emerged as the front-runner (the only runner, perhaps) in the days following Ashley’s announcement, and reportedly tabled an offer of $335 million in early December before reportedly offering something closer to $400 million a couple weeks later.

Ashley selling the club — and doing so before the end of the January transfer window, which now appears nigh impossible — appeared to be one the few scenarios in which Rafa Benitez would remain the Magpies’ manager beyond the end of the current Premier League season (Newcastle currently sit 15th, just three points clear of relegation) after constant rumors of his discontent and lack of financial backing last summer.