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Sunderland 4-0 Cardiff: Black Cats lift themselves from the relegation zone with win (video)

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Gus Poyet’s Sunderland revival looks to be nearing completion.

With a massive 3-0 win over fellow relegation candidates Cardiff City, the home fans at the Stadium of Light have seen their team take control of its own destiny in the fight for Premier League survival.

Connor Wickham opened the scoring for the home side with a header just before the half-hour mark, with a controversial penalty and straight red just before halftime dooming Cardiff City.

Both sides started very cautiously, as nervy would be the best way to describe the opening half-hour.

In the first 25 minutes, the biggest highlight was a shot well wide by Don Cowie and a crunching tackle by Lee Cattermole (also, water is wet).

As the clock neared the half-hour mark, however, Sunderland took the best chance thus far and put it in the back of the net.  A corner bounced on its way to the far post, and Wickham was there to nudge Kevin Theophile-Catherine out of the way, getting a head to the ball and sending it back across the face of the goal.

Wickham’s header snuck over the head of Peter Wittingham covering the near post, and the ball nestled into the goal for a 1-0 lead.

Sunderland nearly went two-up less than 10 minutes later when Jack Colback looked to finish a quick break off a long ball but he slashed it just wide right.

It got chippy right before halftime, with Gary Medel, Jordan Mutch, and Santiago Vergini all receiving yellow cards in the final 10 minutes of the first half.

Just before the halftime whistle, a major mistake by Cardiff defender Juan Cala put Sunderland well and truly ahead.  He was dispossessed as the last man back by Connor Wickham, and he in turn held back Wickham, earning himself a red card.

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Connor Wickham left Cardiff City sprawled flat as a complete two-goal performance put Sunderland easily by the Bluebirds.

The sending off could not be disputed, but referee Phil Dowd also awarded a penalty for the foul despite a long attempt to play advantage.

Replays showed the foul took place well outside the box, but Fabio Borini was strong from the spot for a 2-0 lead on the stroke of halftime.

FIFA rules do state if a last-man foul continues into the box, which it appeared to do, then a penalty should be awarded.

In addition, Dowd waited a full eight seconds before blowing his whistle to end the attempt at playing advantage. Premier League rules state the referee can wait “a few seconds” before deciding to pull back advantage.

The second half was all Sunderland, with John O’Shea coming close to a third for Sunderland, as a brilliant ball from Johnson curled into the box for the defender but even a sublime first touch from O’Shea couldn’t keep it from Theophile-Catherine.

Cardiff offered little, and they were saved from conceding a third by David Marshall in the 72nd minute. The ball bounced around and fell to Colback on the left edge of the box, and he cut across to Borini who slid in for the finish, but Marshall was equal to the task.

The third did finally come in the 76th minute, as substitute Emmanuel Giaccherini put away a perfect through ball from Borini and Sunderland were officially out of the relegation zone.

Wickham picked up a second for his brace in exactly the same fashion as his first, beating Theophile-Catherine off a corner to head the ball into the back of the net.

Kenwyne Jones looked to head in a consolation prize for the visitors, but it went over, and it looks as if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s attempt to rescue Cardiff City from a host of off the field issues could be for naught.

Sunderland are now in 17th position, even on points with Norwich City but ahead on goal difference with a game in hand.  Cardiff are now bottom of the table with 30 points, joined by Norwich and also Fulham, who failed to keep pace with Sunderland by dropping a 2-goal lead to Hull City.

The relegation battle remains heated, with the four clubs just two full points apart, but Vincent Tan’s decision to sack Malky Mackay looks more and more calamitous as they continue to spiral out of control.

LINEUPS:

Sunderland – Mannone; Vergini, Alonso, O’Shea, Brown; Cattermole, Larsson (Giaccherini 73′), Colback (Bridcutt 84′), Johnson (Gardner 84′); Borini, Wickham.

Goals: Wickham 26′, 86′; Borini 45’+1 (pen); Giaccherini 76′

Cardiff City – Marshall; Theophile, Caulker, Cala, Fabio (Jones 64′); Cowie (Zaha 46′), Medel, Whittingham, Dæhli; Mutch, Campbell (Bellamy 74′).

Discipline: Cala (straight red) 45’+1

Premier League Preview: Sunderland vs. Manchester United

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  • United 6 points outside the top four
  • Sunderland winless in four
  • MUFC has one loss in 27 vs. SAFC (W20, D6, L1)

Manchester United’s uphill battle for a top-four finish continues on Saturday when the Red Devils travel to the Stadium of Light to face Sunderland (Watch live, 7:45 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

United won this fixture in September 3-0 behind goals from Memphis, Wayne Rooney, and Juan Mata.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Sunderland sit 19th on the table four points from safety as the time has come for Sam Allardyce‘s side to start getting results. Without a win in their last four matches, the Black Cats must turn things around if they want to stay up in the Premier League. Jermain Defoe scored last time out in a draw at Liverpool, and he’ll once again be tasked with finding the back of the net if Sunderland are to win.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League Picks for Week 26 ]

For Manchester United, the pressure is still on Louis Van Gaal as rumors and reports circle linking Jose Mourinho to the job. Fifth on the table and six points behind Manchester City, a top-four finish is slipping away from United if they don’t rattle off a few wins. A late goal at Chelsea last weekend cost the Red Devils all three points, but they’ll look at this matchup against Sunderland as a good opportunity to get a positive result.

What they’re saying

Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce: “Providing chances for Jermain Defoe is critical for us. But our first major problem is that we haven’t kept a clean sheet in nine matches. We need to start putting a zero against us in games and if we start doing that we’ll win more matches. If we win more matches, we’ll get out of trouble.”

United manager Louis van Gaal: “We had lost four matches in a row in December and you see us now. You can only say that we are mentally very strong and that we can cope with the pressure. That is not enough as we have to improve our results and consistency to win a lot of matches in a row. We have to minimize the gap to our competitors.”

Prediction

Sunderland need all the points they can get to try and stay up, but United always seem to cause the Black Cats problems. Jermain Defoe is kept off the board as Louis van Gaal takes the win. Sunderland 0-2 Manchester United.

Costa breaks nose, will be fit to play for “Zorro team” vs. Newcastle

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07:  Diego Costa of Chelsea reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on February 7, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
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Chelsea striker Diego Costa broke his nose in training after a clash of heads, but should be fit to play in Saturday’s match against Newcastle (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Costa has six goals in his past seven Premier League games as Chelsea are unbeaten in their last 11 in all competitions.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

Manager Guus Hiddink spoke about the injury in his press conference on Friday, saying Costa collided with an Academy player in training. Hiddink said he believes Costa will be ready to play this weekend for his “Zorro team” as Costa joins Gary Cahill, Nemanja Matic, and Cesar Azpilicueta as Chelsea players to wear a mask this season.

It was not a tough duel but he put his nose on the back of the head of one of the youngsters from the Academy that we like to participate in our training games. He was very unlucky.

They are putting a mask on Diego as well, we are the team with a lot of masks, a Zorro team, and he will come back do some light training this afternoon as he must experience how he is dealing with the form and the fitting of the mask.

Costa scored a stoppage-time equalizer against Manchester United last weekend as Chelsea continue to get results under Guus Hiddink. The Blues are up to 13th on the table, just three points outside the top half.

[ RELATED: Frank Lampard urges Chelsea to sign John Terry ]

Chelsea will look to extend their unbeaten run to 12 matches on Saturday against a Newcastle side that is just one point above the drop and in need of a result.

Messi named La Liga Player of the Month for first time in career

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 06:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Copa del Rey Round of 16 first leg match between FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol at Camp Nou on January 6, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Lionel Messi has won every individual award imaginable, but now he can add another trophy to his shelf.

For the first time in his career, Messi was named La Liga’s Player of the Month for January.

[ MORE: PL Power Rankings, Vol. VIII ]

It’s hard to believe, but somehow the Barcelona superstar had never won this honor before. Despite winning a record five Ballon D’or trophies as the best player in the world, this trophy had eluded Messi since its inception in 2013.

Messi scored six goals in six January matches as Barcelona sit atop the La Liga table, currently holding a three-point lead over Atletico Madrid.

Despite their dominance in La Liga, this is only the second time a Barcelona player has won this monthly award, as Neymar took home the honor in November of 2015.

USWNT-Mexico preview: Energized Yanks look to keep rolling toward Rio

FRISCO, TX - FEBRUARY 10:  Team USA poses for a photo before play against Costa Rica during 2016 CONCACAF Women's Olympic Qualifying at Toyota Stadium on February 10, 2016 in Frisco, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The United States women’s national team looks to keep rolling through CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying with a match with Mexico on Saturday.

Toyota Stadium in Frisco, Texas, is again the scene after the Yanks battered Costa Rica 5-0 on Wednesday.

[ MUST WATCH: Christen Press’ dazzling first touch, spin, goal ]

A win over Mexico would move the USWNT into the all-important semifinal, where a win would gain them entry into this Summer’s Olympic Games.

Mexico staged a blowout of its own on Wednesday, cruising past Puerto Rico 6-0 thanks in large part to a hat trick from Maribel Dominguez.

[ VIDEO: Alex Morgan caps off a 12-second, six-pass goal ]

Mexico has only beaten the USWNT twice in history, and only the 2010 Gold Cup semifinal is considered official.

In recent history, the USWNT beat up Mexico 5-1 last year, and thrice in 2014 by a combined score of 15-0. Expect very little to change with an energized, impressive U.S. side on Saturday.

[ SATURDAY: Watch USWNT vs Mexico live online on NBC Sports Live Extra ]