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

Netherlands manager Danny Blind fired after Bulgaria loss

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The Netherlands are in real trouble, and the manager has paid the price.

The Dutch national team has parted ways with Danny Blind the day after a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria left the Dutch fourth in their World Cup qualification group halfway through.

The move garnering all the headlines from Saturday’s loss was Blind’s decision to start 17-year-old defender Matthijs de Ligt. The Ajax youth product, who has just two Eredivisie starts to his credit, made two crucial errors and yanked at halftime, but the damage had been done. Spas Delev scored twice in the opening 20 minutes for Bulgaria, and that was all the home side needed as the Dutch offered little in front of goal.

Blind was also criticized for not getting Memphis Depay on the field as they chased the game. The Netherlands held 74% possession, but could only manage 3 shots on target. Depay has been in good form since his January move to Lyon, with five goals in his 10 Ligue 1 appearances.

This decision was something Blind saw coming. He told national broadcaster NOS immediately after the Bulgaria loss, “I blame myself. It can’t go on like this. Things have to change.”

“I need to think about [my future]. I do not throw the towel in here. I’m incredibly disappointed, especially since I had a good feeling about this match. It makes sense that I put myself in front of the mirror.”

However, the problems for the Dutch go far deeper than Danny Blind. They missed out on Euro 2016 largely thanks to the failed 2nd tenure for Guus Hiddink. His assistant Blind took over, but the results have been equally as poor. The Netherlands sit fourth in UEFA World Cup qualification Group A, with losses to Bulgaria and France plus a draw with Sweden. It’s not over for them though, as they sit three points back of a second place spot with five matches to go, and three of those five at home.

With the Netherlands still yet to play their friendly against Italy this coming week, former goalkeeper Fred Grim takes over on an interim basis. Grim collected 101 caps for the Netherlands, and has served as the Netherlands U-21 manager for the last two years. Before that, he took charge of his first full managerial job as head man of Dutch 2nd-tier club Almere City.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.

VIDEO: Gerrard’s juggle and finish leads Liverpool legends past Real Madrid

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Scoring at Anfield doesn’t get old, especially when your name is Steven Gerrard.

The English midfielder was playing in a friendly match between Liverpool and Real Madrid “legends” on Sunday, when he delivered this tasty goal (and assists to Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, and John Aldridge).

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Gerrard redirects a cross over a lunging defender and into a place where he can lash a goal home to put the Reds up 4-0. He dedicated his Man of the Match performance to club legend Ronnie Moran, who died earlier this week.

Real’s comeback came up just short in a 4-3 final, with Fernando Morientes, Ruben de la Red, and Edwin Congo scoring for the visitors.

On a Sunday waiting for the international matches to begin, Gerrard supplies a nice highlight for the rest of us (Extended highlights free on Liverpool’s site).