Aston Villa 4-3 West Bromwich Albion: Benteke conversion the difference after six-goal first half (video)

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Fireworks in the West Midlands produced one the season’s most exciting derby results, Aston Villa and West Bromwich Albion providing seven goals during one of the most open matches of the Premier League season. In a game where both sides eschewed maintain possession in favor of all-out attacks, a second half penalty conversion from Christian Benteke was the difference, with Villa claiming a 4-3 win over their rivals.

The victory vaults Villa into ninth place, the team up to 27 points on the season. West Brom, on the other hand, sit 15th, only three points from the drop while still looking for their first win under new manager Pepe Mel.

West Brom struck first in a spectacular fashion, with a long distance goal from captain Chris Brunt putting the Baggies in front with the match’s first shot. Set up by left back Liam Ridgewell, Brunt launched a half-volley from near 25 yards, beating goalkeeper Brad Guzan into the upper right part of goal. When Fabian Delph redirected a James Morrison cross past Guzan five minutes later, West Brom were up 2-0.

The Baggies’ hot start was cooled three minutes later, with Andreas Weimann bringing the home side back into the match. The Austrian attacker lobbed Ben Foster after Diego Lugano headed a long ball from Guzan back toward his own goal. Weimann, running behind the West Brom defense, nestled the ball into the back of the Baggies’ goal to bring Villa within one.

By the 25th minute, Villa were back on even footing, with Leandro Bacuna the beneficiary of a mildly bizarre goal. With the ball in the right side of the penalty area, Benteke tried to cut back onto his left foot only to lose the ball. Unfortunately for West Brom, the tackle played the ball to Matthew Lawton, whose overlapping run had taken him behind the defense. The right back’s ensuing cross found Bacuna at the far post, with his miss-hit shot arching over the recovering Foster and in, leaving the teams drawn, 2-2.

It wasn’t long before Villa claimed their first lead, with a touch of class from Delph making amends for his early own goal. After a long ball targeting Benteke was headed toward the left flank, the Villa midfielder’s deft left-footed touch put him wide of West Brom right back Steven Reid, giving him room just inside of the penalty area. From the left of goal, Delph put his shot against the bottom of the crossbar, giving Foster no chance to prevent the home team from claiming a 3-2 lead.

In the 43rd minute, however, the Baggies were back even. Moments after a strong read from Foster helped prevent Benteke from making it 4-2, West Brom were passing through Villa’s defense, with a ball from Victor Anichebe finding Morrison near the arc before the midfielder played through for Youssouf Mulumbu. The Baggies’ destroyer, bolting forward from his holding position, got behind the defense and finished inside Guzan’s right post, scoring the sixth goal of the half.

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Diego Lugano played a part in two Aston Villa goes and missed his chance to put West Brom up in the second half. (Photo source: Getty Images.)

Ten minutes into the second half, Diego Lugano was given a chance to restore West Brom’s lead, having gone unnoticed by Villa’s defense on a 55th minute restart. The Uruguayan international’s diving header failed to find it’s target, however, with Lugano pushing his shot wide from just outside the six yard box.

Lugano was made to rue that miss when his foul gave Aston Villa a 64th minute penalty. On a cross from Bacuna, the Baggies center half took down Benteke, with an arm wrapped around the attacker’s left giving Mark Clattenburg no room to overlook the infraction. With a slight hesitation before striking hitting his penalty, Benteke sent Foster right before converting into the left of goal, giving Villa their second lead of the night.

From there forward, the defenses began catching up with the attacks. Although the fanatic pace of the first half had waned, both sides continued to attack impetuously. Over the last half-hour, however, the defenses matches their opponents’ intensity, with only a few near-chances from West Brom hinting the shootout would continue.

Benteke’s goal, however, would be the final of the match, with the game’s final 45 minutes unable to match the fireworks of its first stanza. After the highest scoring first half of the season, one goal proved the difference in the second, with Villa earning a hard-fought win over one of their fiercest rivals.

LINEUPS

Aston Villa: Brad Guzan, Matthew Lawton (Grant Holt 65′), Ron Vlaar, Ciaran Clark, Ryan Bertrand, Ashley Westwood, Karim El Ahmadi (Yacouba Sylla 76′), Fabian Delph, Leandro Bacuna, Andreas Weimann (Nathan Baker 80′), Chrstian Benteke

Goals: Weimann (12′), Bacuna (24′), Delph (37′), Benteke (64′)

West Bromwich Albion: Ben Foster, Steven Reid (Saido Berahino 76′), Diego Lugano, Jonas Olsson, Liam Ridgewell, James Morrison, Claudio Yacob, Youssouf Mulumbu, Nicolas Anelka (Morgan Amalfitano 26′), Victor Anichebe (Matej Vydra 80′), Chris Brunt

Goals: Brunt (4′), Delph (o.g., 9′), Mulumbu (43′)

Watch Live: Watford v. Tottenham

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Watford host Tottenham Hotspur at Vicarage Road on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) as the Hornet aim to stay red hot and out of the relegation zone.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

New manager Nigel Pearson has won four of his first six games in charge of Watford, including the last three on the trot, and they have dragged themselves out of the bottom three for the first time this season.

As for Spurs and Jose Mourinho, he’d love form like that as they continue to struggled without the injured Harry Kane and have gone three games without a win in the Premier League. Tottenham are nine points off the top four heading into this game.

In team news Watford are unchanged from the win at Bournemouth.

Spurs start Erik Lamela, Giovani Lo Celso and Heung-Min Son in support of Lucas Moura, while Japhet Tanganga starts once again. New signing Gedson Fernandes is on the bench.

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Pearson: ‘I was semi-retired’ before Watford came calling

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Nigel Pearson had come to terms with the fact he would never again manage in the Premier League — or any league, perhaps — before Watford came calling out of sheer desperation last month.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s Lampard prepared to go without January signings ]

“I was semi-retired, more or less,” Pearson admitted on Friday. He had been out of work for nearly 10 months following an 18-month spell at Belgian side Leuven. That came on the heels of a disastrous five months at EFL Championship side Derby, where he compiled a win percentage of just 21.4 percent — quotes from the Guardian:

“I wouldn’t have been thinking it was possible, of course I wouldn’t. It really is a situation that’s come out of nothing. I was semi-retired, more or less.”

“I’ve been asked whether I was worried about getting a reputation as a ‘firefighter’ and it doesn’t bother me. If that’s how people want to look at it, fine. From my own perspective, coming into a situation like this, it’s just a good opportunity to work back in a league I didn’t think I’d be working in again. In terms of risk to my reputation or anything like that, I’m not bothered about those things. I wouldn’t have taken on the challenge if I didn’t think we had a realistic chance of succeeding.

“It’s just one of those situations where clearly there was a need for something different. So far it’s going OK. I’m pleased with how we’ve started to turn things around but I’m also experienced enough to know that it’s still going to be a tough job to maintain the standards we’ve set and push on again.”

Now at Watford, and back in the PL for the first time since 2015 (Leicester City), Pearson has guided the Hornets to four wins in his first seven games, including five straight without a defeat, and a 17th-place standing ahead of the weekend’s round of fixtures. When he took over, Watford sat 20th out of 20 teams with eight points from 15 games. Less than a month later, they sit a point outside the relegation zone with 22 to their name.

USWNT: Olympic qualifying roster minus five from World Cup team

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The United States’ roster for the upcoming CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament will look very similar to the one that won the Women’s World Cup in France, with notable exceptions.

Alex Morgan, Mallory Pugh, Allie Long, Morgan Brian and Tierna Davidson were on the title team but were left off the 20-player CONCACAF tournament roster announced Friday.

Morgan is expecting her first child with husband Servando Carrasco. Coach Vlatko Andonovski said that Davidson is still recovering from an ankle injury that sidelined her during January camp.

Pugh, a young forward who has shown promise, was one of the most surprising omissions. Andonovski said she has been invited to train with the team even though she didn’t make the roster.

“It was competitive and she did well,” Andonovski said. “But there were other players that I believe that performed better than Mal. Now, I just want to be clear that she is very good, very talented player and she performed well. She has a big future in front of her. So I’m really sure that if she keeps on developing going forward, she will be on this roster.”

The roster includes 18 players who were on the World Cup squad. Newcomers include midfielder Andi Sullivan and forward Lynn Williams.

Sullivan, a former standout at Stanford who plays for the Washington Spirit of the National Women’s Soccer League, has 13 appearances with the national team. Williams, who plays for reigning NWSL champion North Carolina, has made 21 appearances with the national team since 2016, scoring six goals.

Carli Lloyd, who will turn 38 before the Tokyo Games, is the oldest player on the roster. Lloyd scored three goals in the 2015 World Cup final against Japan, but last year in France started in just one game as she took on more of a reserve role.

Andonovski, who was named coach of the team last October after Jill Ellis stepped down, praised Lloyd’s work ethic and said that if she continues to play well, he sees “no reason for her not to be a starter.”

Andonovski said Megan Rapinoe, the Ballon d’Or winner who scored six goals in the World Cup, was also nursing minor injuries during January camp.

“In the end, the ones that I believe will give it the best chance to be successful, that will give us the best chance to win the games and qualify for the Olympics, are the ones that made the roster,” he said.

The United States opens qualifying on Jan. 28 in Houston with a match against Haiti. The top two finishers in the eight-team tournament’s two groups advance to the semifinals in Carson, California, on Feb. 7. The final is in Carson on Feb. 9.

Two berths in the Tokyo Games this summer are up for grabs. The United States has made the field for every Olympic tournament since women’s soccer was added to the Games in 1996 and has won four gold medals.

FULL USWNT ROSTER

Goalkeepers: Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars).

Defenders: Abby Dahlkemper (North Carolina Courage), Crystal Dunn (North Carolina Courage), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O’Hara (Utah Royals), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals), Emily Sonnett (Orlando Pride).

Midfielders: Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit), Samantha Mewis (North Carolina Courage), Andi Sullivan (Washington Spirit).

Forwards: Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns), Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue), Jessica McDonald (North Carolina Courage), Christen Press (Utah Royals), Megan Rapinoe (Reign), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage).

Bundesliga: Schalke spoils Gladbach’s chance to go top

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GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany (AP) Michael Gregoritsch scored one goal and set up another as Schalke dealt a blow to Borussia Monchengladbach’s Bundesliga title hopes in a 2-0 win on Friday.

In the Bundesliga’s first game of 2020 after the winter break, Gladbach’s defense was frequently overwhelmed by host Schalke’s rapid team moves, especially on the counterattack.

After a string of first-half saves by Gladbach goalkeeper Yann Sommer kept the score 0-0 at the break, Schalke scored twice early in the second half to secure the win.

Gregoritsch took the ball out to the left flank in the 48th minute, stretching the Gladbach defense and opening up space in the middle. He then passed for Suat Serdar to charge through the gap in Gladbach’s back line and score from the edge of the penalty area.

Ten minutes later it was Gregoritsch’s turn to score, finishing off a counterattack which ran almost the length of the field, with a lay-off pass from Benito Raman.

“We had trouble the whole game with Schalke’s movement. They put a lot of pressure on us and it was hard to play the ball out too. We gave them too much room,” Sommer said in televised comments. “We had chances in the first half when we could have scored a goal, but in general we were not good enough today.”

As well as his key role in attack, Gregoritsch also made a key intervention in defense, clearing Marcus Thuram’s header off the line in the 38th in what proved to be one of Gladbach’s best chances.

“When it works like this, it’s really great,” Gregoritsch said, crediting Schalke’s home crowd for the win. “We’re at home and we can hit the gas pedal a bit more with the 12th man here.”

Starting in goal for Schalke due to a suspension for first-choice Alexander Nubel, Markus Schubert made a good reaction stop to deny Gladbach’s Patrick Herrmann just before the break.

Gladbach stays two points behind leader Leipzig and can be overtaken by third-place Bayern Munich on Sunday if Bayern beats Hertha Berlin.

Gladbach was the surprise leader earlier in the season as its fans started to dream of a first German title since 1977, but it’s started to stall, having won just one of its last five games in all competitions.

Schalke moves up one place to fourth, overtaking its fierce rival Borussia Dortmund, which visits Augsburg on Saturday.