Brighton & Hove Albion v Derby County - Sky Bet Championship Play Off Semi Final: First Leg

Advantage Derby County as Rams aim for Premier League return

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After the first leg of their English Championship semifinal playoff at Brighton, American owned Derby County have one foot in the Playoff final at Wembley on May 24.

Dubbed “the richest game in soccer” the winner of the Championship Playoff final will seal the third and final promotion spot to the Premier League for next season.

Derby beat Brighton and Hove Albion 2-1 at The Amex on Tuesday night as they now head back to Pride Park with a one-goal advantage to their name and knowing they only need to avoid defeat in their semifinal second leg to set up a date with destiny. Derby were last in the PL back in 2007-08, after winning the playoff final, as that ill-fated campaign saw the Rams finish bottom as they only won once all season and accumulated just 11 points from 38 games.

Managed by former England boss Steve McLaren, Derby finished the season strongly with six wins from their last seven games in the Championship which sealed third place in the regular season. In stark contrast Brighton weren’t even in the playoffs heading into the final minute of the final day but a dramatic late goal got Oscar Garcia’s men to this point.

Brighton were in the ascendancy early on and inside 20 minutes they were 1-0 up as Jesse Lingard, on loan from Manchester United, got a second bite of the cherry inside the box and lashed an effort past Lee Grant in goal for Derby. Brighton continued to pour forward but Derby managed to gather themselves and drew level after 30 minutes.

Left back Craig Forsyth marauded forward and got the ball in the box but was scythed down by Matthew Upson as Derby were awarded a penalty that leading scorer Chris Martin coolly dispatched. On the stroke of half time Derby went ahead as Martin latched onto Johnny Russell’s lay off and crashed an effort off the bar that hit Brighton ‘keeper Tomasz Kuszczak on the back and went in for a bizarre own goal. The former Manchester United ‘keeper could do nothing about it, as the home fans were stunned by Derby’s comeback.

In the second half the Rams threatened on the odd occasion but Brighton did all the pressing yet just couldn’t find a way past an inspired Grant. Leonardo Ulloa’s shot was tipped onto the bar by Grant who made a string of fine saves late on to preserve Derby’s 2-1 lead heading into Sunday’s second leg in the Midlands.

If you love some Championship playoff action, the two sides who were relegated from the PL last season square off at the DW Stadium on Wednesday in their other semifinal as Wigan Athletic host Queens Park Rangers. We will have the latest news from that tie, right here on ProSoccerTalk.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.