Sunderland 1-0 Stoke City: Johnson goal enough to down 10-man Potters (video)

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An early goal from Adam Johnson combined with Steve N’Zonzi’s second half dismissal saw Sunderland claim their third win in six league games, a run that’s vaulted the Black Cats out of the bottom three for the first time this season. After their 1-0 victory over Stoke City at the Stadium of Light, the team’s first home win in two months, Gus Poyet’s team sit 17th, the team’s fifth win of the season continuing its revival its new boss.

For Stoke, a spirited effort to equalize while reduced to 10 could not overshadow a match where the Potters were largely ineffective. Over the game’s first 30 minutes, Stoke were in danger of being played off the pitch, and while a surge in play around halftime gave the visitors reason for hope, N’Zonzi’s early second half sending off proved too much to overcome.

A dominant start for Sundland paid off in the 16th minute when a shot from Fabio Borini was left in front of goal by Potters goalkeeper Asmir Begovic. Unable to do more with a relatively easy shot, Begovic left Johnson an easy finish, with the Black Cats winger taking one touch before tapping the opener in off the inside of the right post.

The score continues a resurgence that’s put Johnson in the discussion for a spot on England’s World Cup squad. What Roy Hodgson has to say about that prospect remains to be heard, but with five goals in his last four appearances, Johnson has become the biggest individual beneficiary of Poyet’s arrival – the hottest winger in the Premier League.

The Black Cats maintained their unfettered control through the half hour mark, though even after Stoke started to muster an attacking threat, the Potters were unable to create their own chances on Vito Mannone. The closest they came to equalizing saw Mannone drop a cross after a collision with teammate John O’Shea, with the Black Cats keeper forced to make a sprawling save when Peter Crouch beat him to the loose ball.

After a brief Stoke surge coming out of the dressing rooms, Sunderland resumed their controlling ways, play that eventually saw Stoke reduced to 10 men. Having picked up a yellow card in the first half, defensive midfielder Steve N’Zonzi was dismissed after bringing down Jozy Altidore. After the Sunderland forward got inside N’Zonzi on a ball played over the Potters defense, the French midfielder elected to take the American down rather than let him go in for a potentially game-sealing goal.

Predictably, 10-man Stoke were no more effective than the 11-man Potters. Within moments of N’Zonzi’s dismissal, Begovic was called on to make a point blank stop on Altidore, with a cross flashed across the face of goal minutes later giving Sunderland another chance to double their lead. Though they remained within striking distance,, Stoke showed little sign of being able to pull back their hosts.

Things changed over the match’s last quarter hour, with Stoke generating a number of half-changes on Mannone. Their closest try came in the 83rd minute when a cross from the right found Ryan Shawcross in the middle of the area. Though the arcing header hit the top of the crossbar, it never had a chance to beat Mannone, who would finish the match with five saves.

The final numbers hint at a close match, with the teams nearly matching each other in shots, shots on goal, and possession. In reality, Sunderland controlled the match throughout the night, and while Stoke made a push to steal a draw late, Begovic’s early error ended up deciding the match.

LINEUPS

Sunderland: Vito Mannone, Phil Bardsley (Ondrej Celustka 45′), Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Marcos Alonso, Ki Sung-Yueng, Jack Colback, Sebastian Larsson, Adam Johnson (Craig Gardner 87′), Fabio Borini, Jozy Altidore (Steven Fletcher 67′)

Goals: Johnson (16′)

Stoke City: Asmir Begovic, Geoff Cameron, Ryan Shawcross, Marc Wilson, Erik Pieters, Peter Odemwingie (John Guidetti 90′), Steve N’Zonzi, Charlie Adam, Oussama Assaidi (Marko Arnautovic 72′), Peter Crouch (Jon Walters 65′)

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.

Report: Guardiola close to adding $43m Benfica goalkeeper

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Year Two of the Pep Guardiola era at Manchester City could feature another big goalkeeper purchase.

Claudio Bravo hasn’t panned out in sky blue, and Joe Hart doesn’t look likely to be coming back. Wily Caballero is getting the lion’s share of the minutes right now, playing every minute aside from a trio of FA Cup matches since February.

[ MORE: Podolski scores screamer in German finale ]

$43 million is the fee noted by Abola when it comes to the latest target for Guardiola, a neck-tattooed Brazilian by the name of Ederson.

The Benfica backstop, 23, has 20 clean sheets in 32 appearances this season. He signed a new six-year deal in late January, but money may talk here.