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Southampton to Anfield in an hour: Incredible fan story emerges

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LIVERPOOL – Over 35 Southampton fans were still in Southampton just over an hour before their team kicked off at Anfield on Wednesday.

Around an hour later they were stood in the Anfield Road end watching their team in the huge EFL Cup semifinal second leg clash.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned

Southampton beat Liverpool 1-0 and sealed their spot in the EFL Cup final for just the second time in club history and a group of fans who feared they’d miss the landmark moment have an incredible story to tell.

UK airline Flybe have dubbed their incredible efforts on Wednesday as a “rescue operation” as a miraculous operation from their staff, and airport staff in Southampton and Liverpool, ensured that Saints fans and club officials witnessed one of the greatest nights in Saints’ history first-hand.

How did it all play out?

With a technical fault delaying the 3:20pm flight from Southampton to Manchester on Wednesday – Manchester Airport is the closest airport to Liverpool you can fly to from Southampton on a scheduled service – fans, Southampton’s Chief Executive Officer Gareth Rogers and club ambassador Kelvin Davis were all stranded over 235 miles from Anfield less than two hours before kick off.

[ MORE: Saints edge Liverpool to reach Wembley ]

Compounding their misery was the fact that several other flights had been delayed or canceled at Southampton Airport in previous days due to freezing fog, meaning other flights were fully-booked and plenty of aircraft were displaced due to cancellations.

A four and a half hour drive in rush hour meant they would have reached Liverpool around an hour or so after full time, as would the best available train journey.

That seemed to be it. Their hopes of making the game were over. Or so they thought…

As some fans left the airport in Southampton and gave up hope of making the game, a plane was miraculously made ready after being flown in from Edinburgh to fly the fans directly to Liverpool’s John Lennon Airport instead, an airport you can’t fly to on a scheduled service from Southampton. After a quick charter flight put on by Flybe the fans then landed before the scheduled arrival time of 7:40pm local time and a bus was arranged to pick them up at the airport and take them straight to Anfield, 10 miles away, for the game which kicked off at 8pm.

The mastermind of this mission was Flybe’s Chief Operating Officer Luke Farajallah as he and his staff noticed the unfolding situation via social media and frantically made all of the arrangements to first find a plane, then a crew and arrange priority clearance at Liverpool Airport for the aircraft to land.

After all of Farajallah’s work, the fans only missed the opening few minutes of the match and with their luggage alongside them they were celebrating a famous win in the away end by the end of normal time.

This journey was far from normal. But boy, was it worth it for the Saints fans.

Recalling the craziness after the famous win at Anfield, Saints fans in Liverpool told Pro Soccer Talk about the incredible effort from Flybe to get them to the game and were overwhelmed they made it to the match.

Some Liverpool fans were also on board and Liverpool supporter Katie Stockwell was grateful for the effort Flybe made, despite seeing her team lose.

“When it was announced our flight would not be taking off until 8pm and we would miss the game, one guy was so upset and had his head in his hands. We were pretty gutted and were told we could get our money back for the flight but then it was announced we were flying to Liverpool, somewhere they don’t usually fly to, so it was really good for the fans,” Stockwell said. “It was a really nice thing for Flybe to do and they didn’t have to do it but it was much appreciated by everyone. It was mostly Saints fans on the plane and bus but some Liverpool supporters to and everyone was in really good spirits heading to the game on the bus after all the drama. In the end it didn’t matter who you supported because we all got there to enjoy the game.”

Flybe released the following statement late on Wednesday to reveal exactly what happened behind-the-scenes.

“Flybe regrets that the flight was delayed due to a technical fault with the aircraft and the subsequent anxiety this caused the many Southampton football supporters relying on this service to travel to Liverpool for this evening’s key EFL Cup semi-final.

“We can however now confirm that a replacement aircraft has been flown to Southampton to fly the supporters direct to Liverpool where it will be given priority landing at the airport. Flybe has also organised a coach to meet the aircraft and transport the fans immediately to Anfield. The aircraft departed Southampton at 1840 and Flybe is taking all possible steps to ensure that the supporters reach the ground as quickly as possible.

“Flybe sincerely regrets the inconvenience and hopes that the alternative arrangements it has put in place will ensure that Southampton supporters can watch the majority of this important match.”

The fact that Saints ended up winning the game 1-0 and secured a 2-0 aggregate victory over Liverpool to reach the final at Wembley on Feb. 26 made all of this effort even more worthwhile.

For most Saints fans, their win at Anfield is one they’ll never forget. For the 35 who were whisked from Southampton to Anfield in the space of an hour by Flybe, this VIP trip made it even more memorable.

Well done to the airline, airports and individuals involved as they all came together to make a seemingly impossible journey possible.

FIFA bans Colombia midfielder Cardona 5 games for gesture

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ZURICH (AP) FIFA has banned Colombia midfielder Edwin Cardona for five matches for making a discriminatory gesture with his eyes toward a South Korean opponent.

FIFA will allow Cardona to serve the ban in friendly games, so he should be available for Colombia’s World Cup opener against Japan on June 19.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

Cardona has also been fined 20,000 Swiss francs ($20,150) because of the incident last month in a friendly in Seoul.

Cardona apologized at the time, saying he “didn’t mean to disrespect anyone, a country or a race, but if anyone felt offended, or interpreted it in that way, I am sorry.”

Spurs’ Alderweireld won’t return until February

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Spurs finally got a bit of good news this weekend with a blowout of Stoke City.

That was a followed by a tough draw against Juventus in the UEFA Champions League, and bad news on an old injury.

[ MORE: Benitez on NUFC struggles ]

Center back Toby Alderweireld is going to be gone into February, extending his time on the sidelines with a hamstring injury suffered Nov. 1 against Real Madrid.

Spurs were 6-2-2 in league when Alderweireld went down, and are just 2-2-2 since the injury. The Belgian has missed losses at Arsenal and Leicester, draws against Watford and West Brom, and wins over Crystal Palace and Stoke.

Tottenham did win both of its UCL matches since the injury.

Benitez: If we can’t add in January, work gets harder

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Newcastle United has swung from the top half of the table to the fringes of the drop zone, something that hasn’t caught Rafa Benitez off guard.

The veteran manager has not lost sight of his August transfer window shortcomings. He hasn’t dwelled on it in the media, but Benitez is also very cognizant that his team has lacked depth at striker, out wide, and at left back.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

To boot, most of his additions — Mikel Merino, Christian Atsu, Javi Manquillo — haven’t been loaded with experience.

“Some games we are the youngest team in the Premier League. We have to learn quickly. This team is working very hard. Little things we have to improve and we will be stronger.”

“We know our job. Everyone has an opinion. It’s not rocket science – we need players in some positions. If we can, fine, if not, we will have to work harder.”

Newcastle isn’t far away, but it’s woefully short at left back (to the point where it’s best options have been displaced center back Chancel Mbemba and right back Manquillo), and Benitez doesn’t trust Aleksandar Mitrovic up top with Joselu not firing (though Championship star scorer Dwight Gayle may be coming around).

Additions are still needed, and perhaps Benitez is marginally better off that Newcastle didn’t continue overachieving as it did early days.

Premier League Preview: Swansea City vs. Manchester City

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  • Man City leads all-time 22W-4D-7L
  • Swans winless in 11 vs. Man City
  • Last Swans win: 2012 at home

Manchester City can set the Premier League record for consecutive wins in a single season when it visits Swansea City at the Liberty Stadium on Wednesday (Watch live at 2:45 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Each side has scored in the last eight meetings between the two in all competitions, which is about the only bit of good news for Paul Clement‘s side outside of their weekend win over West Brom. Man City has dominated the series in recent memory, and really all time.

[ MORE: Pep on post-derby celebrations ]

And some good news for Man City, too: There won’t be any problem with what they do in their own changing room.

“Like any club, Manchester City are able to play music in their dressing room,” a Swansea City spokesman said following the fracas at the Manchester Derby.

Wilfried Bony will be fired up to face his former club, and he’s coming off a big goal to sink West Brom. He’s going to have a lot in the tank. From the Manchester Evening News:

“Every game I look forward to but it is special to play against your old team. Injuries had an impact on my time at City. When you come from a club where you play every game and then you are playing maybe once a month or two games a month it is completely different.”

Vincent Kompany is out for Man City.

What they’re saying

Swansea City back Alfie Mawson on slowing Man City“I’m very fortunate to test myself against the highest calibre of footballer there is. City are flying this season. They’ve got one of the best managers in the world. We’ve got to find a way to combat them. Every team is finding it hard and I’m sure it’s going to be a very tough game because of the quality and depth they have. We’ve got to be switched on for the entire game, as they’ll punish one lapse in concentration.”

Man City’s Kevin De Bruyne on the 11-point table lead“Lots of teams lost points this weekend so it is a big one for us [the win] just to put more pressure on the rest. We have to enjoy it and then focus again for Wednesday. It is a big gap. If we slip up we are still in the lead. We can’t be complacent. We need to do what we have all year. I prefer to be 11 points ahead than 11 points behind that’s for sure.”

Prediction

The run continues, as Paul Clement prioritizes Saturday’s trip to Everton and City cruises to a 3-0 win.