Aleksandar Tonev

Celtic midfielder Aleksandar Tonev faces seven-game ban over racism

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Celtic midfielder Aleksandar Tonev was accused of directing a racist remark at Shay Logan, an Englishman playing for Aberdeen in the Scottish Premiership, in a match Sep. 13, when two teams battled each other at Celtic Park, with the the Bulgarian making his debut.

Tonev, 24, is on a year-long loan at Celtic from BPL club Aston Villa, where he made 17 league appearances last season and score no goals.

The Scottish Football Association’s held a “disciplinary tribunal hearing at Hampden Park on Thursday”, according to The Guardian, and the group concluded that he was guilty of the supposed actions.

However, Tonev has rejected such allegations, and will appeal the decision.

Celtic released a statement in response:

“Racism has no place in football and as a club for all people, Celtic absolutely abhors racism of any kind.This was a very unfortunate case, but the club has accepted Aleksandar’s explanation that he did not say the words that were alleged to have been said and that he is not a racist.

“We are, therefore, very disappointed by the outcome today and can confirm that Aleksandar will be appealing this decision.”

Believing that racism is a very serious issue, former Celtic boss Neil Lennon, who left the club in May after four years as boss, shared his thoughts regarding the incident.

“I have spoken to him. He said it was not true and I believe him. Of course we don’t want racism at Celtic – that is the total opposite as what we want to be as a club. That is not acceptable.”

Racist incidents in Italy, Spain and England may be bound to occur, but it’s certainly a positive sign to see disciplinary action taken. Even though coaches typically back their players in incidents similar to this one, most managers around the soccer world have concluded that bigotry is unnecessary and unfounded.

Watch Live: Aston Villa vs. West Bromwich Albion (Lineups and Discussion)

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Yesterday’s Merseyside Derby received all the hype ahead of the Premier League’s 23rd round, but for the fans that will pack Villa Park in Birmingham this evening, no fixture may be more anticipated than West Bromwich Albion’s trip to Aston Villa. At 2:45 p.m. ET, the two clubs will renew one of the premier rivalries in the West Midlands, with their season’s second derby available to steam via NBC Sports Live Extra.

Last time out in league, Aston Villa gave one of the best performances of what’s been an inconsistent season. The same spark they showed to open the campaign with an upset at the Emirates was evident at Anfield, where they took a 2-0 lead on Liverpool. Though the Reds fought back, the 2-2 result gave Villa (or, at least their fans) new hope. The often uninspired play that’s evolved from Paul Lambert’s willingness to cede his opponents that ball was replaced by a potential to transcend another relegation battle.

Under new manager Pepe Mel, West Brom are hoping for the same. The Baggies currently sit in 15th, only four points above the drop. In their last six Premier League matches, the club’s claimed seven points, collecting four draws to go along with a win over Newcastle and a loss at Sunderland. Though management will be hoping for more as Mel settles into his job, that pace should be enough to avoid relegation.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE VIA NBC SPORTS LIVE EXTRA

But that pace may be forgotten should the Baggies fail to put in a strong performance at Villa Park, with a poor showing against a rival underscoring the transition period management’s elected to endure.

The real pressure, however, will be on the home side. In the middle of a roller coaster season, a loss at home to their rivals would send Aston Villa into another dip, blunting the progress they made at Anfield.

Lineups

Aston Villa: Brad Guzan, Matthew Lawton, Ron Vlaar, Ciaran Clark, Ryan Bertrand, Ashley Westwood, Karim El Ahmadi, Fabian Delph, Leandro Bacuna, Andreas Weimann, Chrstian Benteke

Subs: Jed Steer, Nathan Baker, Yacouba Sylla, Sami Helenius, Mark Albrighton, Grant Holt, Aleksandar Tonev

West Bromwich Albion: Ben Foster, Steven Reid, Diego Lugano, Jonas Olsson, Liam Ridgewell, James Morrison, Claudio Yacob, Youssouf Mulumbu, Nicolas Anelka, Victor Anichebe, Chris Brunt

Subs: Boaz Myhill, Billy Jones, Gareth McAuley, Graham Dorrans, Matej Vydra, Saido Berahino, Morgan Amalfitano

Watch Live: Aston Villa vs. Swansea (Lineups and Discuss)

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With just two wins at Villa Park this season, it’s crucial for Aston Villa to get all three points against Swansea on Saturday (10 a.m. ET; watch live online via NBC Sports Live Extra).

After four straight defeats, Villa fans are getting restless, and Paul Lambert is feeling the pressure. His side have the worst home record in all of the football league, and should the manager not be able to pull off a win against visiting Swansea, his job may be on the line.

It won’t be easy for Lambert, as injury to captain Ron Vlaar keeps his side weakened at the back, while Christian Benteke’s absence leaves the squad still searching for goals. Lambert is, oddly enough, turning to Aleksandar Tonev, who steps in for Marc Albrighton. Villa will be hoping Gabby Agbonlahor and Andi Weimann can combine for goals, with Libor Kozák also dropping to the bench.

Swansea, too, aren’t having the best time of it this season, with just one win in their last six, but the fact that they’re better on the road than at home won’t give Villa any reassurance. Perhaps it will help that Michu is still out injured, as is this season’s top scorer, Nathan Dyer.

Michael Landrup has rung the changes, making seven switches from the side that lost 1-0 to Chelsea last time out. It’s Wilfried Bony that starts up top, while Pablo Hernández and Jonathan De Guzmán set up on either side of Jonjo Shelvey.

Lineups

Aston Villa: Guzan, Lowton, Clark, Baker, Luna, Westwood, Bacuna, Weimann, Delph, Agbonlahor, Tonev

Subs: Steer, Helenius, Bowery, Sylla, El Ahmadi, Kozak, Albrighton

Swansea: Tremmel, Tiendalli, Williams, Chico, Davies, Canas, de Guzman, Shelvey, Hernandez, Lamah, Bony

Subs: Zabret, Rangel, Amat, Britton, Pozuelo, Routledge, Vazquez.

Paul Lambert: There’s no magic formula

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Before Aston Villa hosted Crystal Palace, Paul Lambert made it clear that his side needed to step up and stop their run of three straight defeats. The Villa manager said, “We have to win – it will be a cracking crowd there, Boxing Day and we have to go and win.”

But the hosts were beaten by a stoppage time goal by Dwight Gayle, a goal that lifted Palace up out of the relegation zone. A goal that also put Villa within three points of the drop, after four consecutive losses. It was a classic counter attack that brought down the hosts — one that Villa themselves had put on display to beat Manchester City earlier this season.

In this match, however, it was all about possession, and that tactic didn’t pay off. The Villa were unable to do much with the ball, often resorting to hoofed balls, with shots going high or wide more often than not. It was not enough, and the home side was booed off the pitch at the final whistle.More distressing, for fans of the club at least, is the fact that Lambert’s side seem totally out of ideas.

Christian Benteke, after going ten games without a goal, is now out with injury. Andi Weimann is showing barely a spark of the form that allowed him to light up the pitch last season. And the forwards Lambert brought in  as cover — Libor Kozák, Aleksandar Tonev and Jordan Bowery — aren’t cutting it. More strangely, Lambert is keeping bright youngster Nicklas Helenius on the bench.

But, when speaking after the loss, Lambert couldn’t pin down an exact reason for his side’s failure to win. When asked about their dismal home record, with just two wins in nine matches, the Villa manager simply said,”It isn’t good enough. The lack of goals is contributing to the not winning games. You have to turn it around. There’s no magic formula.”

Yet his opponent today seemed to have found such a formula. When asked about his side’s victory, Tony Pulis said “We’ve worked very, very hard on the shape of the team, on making sure that people are in certain positions at certain times and that everybody knows what they’re supposed to do.”

It seems simple enough. And that’s just how Palace looked: compact, organized, disciplined – and willing to punish if they found an opportunity to exploit a weakness. Crystal Palace have won four of their six matches since Pulis was appointed. The formula may not be magic, but it’s certainly effective.

When wrapping up his time with the press, Lambert said, “I have looked at the table. It’s as tight as anything for midway through to right down.” Perhaps, then, what his side needs most is the same sort of approach that Pulis has taken with Palace to lift them out of the drop zone. Because Villa are, in fact, fighting a relegation battle.

Aston Villa 0-0 Sunderland: Alas, no surprises (video)

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In a match between a side that just can’t seem to get results at home, and a team that’s struggling to lift themselves out of the bottom of the table, it’s really no surprise that Aston Villa and Sunderland produced a goalless draw. The point does lift Sunderland off the bottom, but they remain five points from safety, so it matters little to Gus Poyet’s side. As for the Villa, well, they’re finally midtable, but at what expense?

Aston Villa’s best chance in the first half came about ten minutes before the break. Karim El Ahmadi pulled the ball back for Ashley Westwood who laid off for Christian Benteke. However, the Belgian, who just hasn’t looked quite right since his injury layoff, side-footed his shot just a bit too high.

Sunderland got themselves into a flurry just before the halftime whistle, and Aston Villa were lucky to go into the break with the scoreline even. First, Craig Gardner had the ball in the back of the net, but it was correctly ruled out for offside, pleasing the Villa Park faithful to no end, for they love to hate the man who left their side for rivals Birmingham City. Next a header from John O’Shea bounced off Ciaran Clark’s arm, but the referee waved away penalty appeals. Finally, just before the break, Emanuele Giaccherini whiffed an absolute sitter from about six feet out, leaving the Villa players sighing in relief.

Nothing but the final whistle left any viewers of this match sighing in relief, however. By the 60th minute, the visitors had all but settled in for a point. Yes, Fabio Borini hit the post with about 25 minutes left to go, but for the most part, Sunderland had settled in to play for the draw. Villa’s only real chance came in the 83rd, when Aleksandar Tonev, on for about ten minutes, latched onto a ball from Antonio Luna to force Vito Mannone into a save. The players continued to run around for about ten more minutes, but when the match finished scoreless, no one seemed very surprised.

Aston Villa: Guzan, Bacuna, Vlaar, Clark, Luna, Delph, Westwood, El Ahmadi (Tonev 71), Agbonlahor, Benteke (Kozák 86), Weimann (Albrighton 71)

Subs not used: Steer, Baker, Lowton, Sylla

Sunderland: Mannone, Bardsley, Dossena (Celustka 84), Brown, O’Shea, Giaccherini, Larsson, Gardner (Colback 76), Ki, Borini (Johnson 76), Fletcher

Subs not used: Pickford, Roberge, Celustka, Cattermole, Altidore