Chris Martin

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Group F gets messy as Slovakia and Scotland grab wins

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England is in control at the top of Group F, but below them things are beginning to get complicated.

Despite the absence of Marek Hamsik due to a last-minute injury, Slovakia defeated Malta 3-1. They took the lead just 97 seconds in as Vladimir Weiss put the visitors in front with a beautiful curling strike from outside the box. Malta struck back through domestic striker Jean Paul Farrugia in the 14th minute, but that was all Malta could muster.

Slovakia would go ahead just before halftime as FC Copenhagen midfielder Jan Gregus put them in front in the 41st minute. The speculative shot from Gregus came from a great distance out, and as it skipped across the ground, it appeared Malta goalkeeper Andrew Hogg saw it late, as his dive was poor and it skipped off his hands and in.

Both teams ended with 10 men on the field, as Farrugia was sent off with 16 minutes to go for a second yellow, and Adam Nemec saw the same fate in injury time, but before he was sent off, Nemec was there to kill the game off in the 84th minute.

That put Slovakia up to nine points, and it moved them into second place thanks to late drama in Glasgow. Chris Martin gave Scotland all three points with an 88th minute strike as the home side won 1-0 over Slovenia, who dropped from second to third with the loss. The Fulham striker got a beautiful feed through the back line from Stuart Armstrong, and while his shot wasn’t terribly accurate, it was enough to win the game as Slovenia goalkeeper Matus Kozacik gave it a poor effort.

The win for Scotland pulls them above Lithuania and into fourth, a point back of Slovenia in third.

Watford, Hull City the latest Premier League clubs dumped from FA Cup

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Coming into Sunday, three Premier League sides had already been eliminated from the FA Cup in the fourth round. That number nearly doubled in two matches on Sunday.

Both Watford and Hull City crashed out of the FA Cup on Sunday, losing to Championship clubs in deflating fashion.

Watford was dropped first, undone by a goal from Millwall leading scorer Steve Morison in the 85th minute in a 1-0 defeat. Watford had a rough afternoon, first denied what seemed a clear penalty as Brice Dja Djedje went down in the box before halftime, but Martin Atkinson waved away the protests from coach Walter Mazzarri. They also saw goalkeeper Costel Pantillimon stretchered off before the break with what seemed like a painful injury to his lower leg.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: Other Sunday FA Cup fixtures ]

In the other early match, Fulham ran Hull City ragged, dropping them 4-1 with striker Chris Martin starting and scoring despite plenty of confusion surrounding his contract situation. The Whites have been one of the best sides in the Championship this season, but have struggled with poor finishing. That wasn’t a problem today, with Martin scoring alongside former Hull forward Sone Aluko, Stefan Johansen, and young Ryan Sessegnon. The game had some drama late as well when Fulham goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli saved two straight penalties by Abel Hernandez despite a second penalty being given for a foul directly after the first save. Here’s video of both from the stands:

The defeat for Hull comes just days after breaking Manchester United’s 17-match unbeaten streak, but still crashing out of the EFL Cup semifinals on aggregate.

The results see the pair of second-tier clubs into the last 16, and drops the two Premier League sides out, totalling 12 Premier League clubs that have been eliminated from the competition, with Leicester City yet to play its Fourth Round replay against Derby County. Manchester United is also still to play, set to host Wigan Athletic at Old Trafford with kickoff at 11:00 a.m. ET.

Championship Focus: Who may be headed for Premier League promotion?

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The fixtures are evening out, and the promotion picture is coming into focus for Premier League hopefuls in the Championship.

The first and second placed clubs will join England’s top flight, while sides three through six will contest the promotion playoffs.

[ MORE: Previewing the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 second legs ]

The desperation is just as real for clubs to join the big money Premier League as it is for PL clubs to avoid relegation, and here’s what’s cooking down in the second tier with about a dozen matches to play.

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Top of the Pops 

Four sides are within four points of the top of the table. It’s not impossible that fifth-place Derby County could make up the 7 points between itself and automatic promotion, but let’s focus on the four.

BLACKBURN, ENGLAND - MARCH 01: Jordan Rhodes of Middlesbrough and Jason Steele of Blackburn Rovers shake hands after the Sky Bet Championship match between Blackburn Rovers and Middlesbrough at Ewood Park on March 1, 2016 in Blackburn, United Kingdom. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

Burnley (68 points): Last year’s one-and-done Clarets have had an incredibly impressive run under Sean Dyche, who simply must be considered for any job in England (if he even wants to leave Turf Moor). The Clarets are unbeaten in 12 matches, and have allowed just one goal in their last six matches, but they’ve also played one more game than the second and third placed teams. Andre Gray (above) has proven an impressive buy, with 21 goals.

Middlesbrough (67 points): Boro has allowed a league-best 20 goals (tied with Hull). That’s good because their big buy Jordan Rhodes has just a goal and assist in 7 matches since coming over from Blackburn.

Hull City (64 points): Steve Bruce‘s stingy side had been very good but is struggling with schedule congestion. Abel Hernandez is thriving in the England’s second tier, with 16 goals tied for second in the league.

Brighton and Hove Albion (64 points): Tomer Hemed is the club’s leading scorer, with 11, and Chris Hughton‘s club surged into the Top Four thanks to a 21-game unbeaten streak (not currently active).

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In the mixThe race for the final two playoff spots looks down to Derby — with a five-point lead on sixth place — and four other teams.

 during the Sky Bet Championship match between Brentford and Derby County at Griffin Park on February 20, 2016 in Brentford, United Kingdom.
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Derby County (60 points): Chris Martin has 12 goals and 8 assists in an outstanding campaign for the Rams. Tom Ince is second in goals with eight.

Sheffield Wednesday (55 points): The second-highest scoring club in the Championship, with Fernando Forestieri and ex-Celtic and Norwich striker Gary Hooper leading the way.

Cardiff City (55 points): Could Vincent Tan own a Premier League club again after this season? The Bluebirds have points in five of their last six.

Birmingham City (54 points): Cooled a slide with wins in two of three. U.S. back Jonathan Spector is on the team.

Ipswich Town (54 points): Winners of two in-a-row after halting a three-match losing skid.

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.

Capital One Cup recap: Depth on display for Manchester City, Tottenham; Kevin Ball wins Sunderland debut

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Midfielder Fernandinho was the only holdover for Manuel Pellegrini. André Villas-Boas returned three. For Manchester City and Tottenham, though, it didn’t matter, with each team using Tuesday’s League Cup action to display the frightening amount of depth they’ve accrued over the summer.

Spurs’ may have been the more impressive result, coming against fellow Premier League competition, but despite the fact it took over 45 minutes to finally break through, Tottenham cruised past Aston Villa, 4-0. Jermain Defoe scored in stoppage time of each half while Paulinho (49th minute) and Nacir Chadli (85th) provided the filling as the likes of Brad Friedel, Vlad Chiriches, Ezekiel Fryers, and Harry Kane got starts at Villa Park.

At the Etihad, recently-relegated Wigan Athletic were given a harsh reminder of Premier League life in a 5-0 loss to Manchester City. Edin Dzeko opened the scoring in the 33rd minute for the Sky Blues, who also got a second half brace from Stevan Jovetic and goals off the bench from Yaya Touré and Jesús Navas. Goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon, defenders Micah Richards and Dedryk Boyata, and midfielder Marcos Lopes were all in Pellegrini’s starting XI.

It’s common for teams to rotate their squads for early League Cup matches, but the talent City and Spurs were able to field while making wholesale chances was staggering. The Citizens still had the likes of Jovetic, Dzeko, Javi Garcia, James Milner, and Joleon Lescott in their XIs. Villas-Boas had Defoe, Sandro, Lewis Holtby and Erik Lamela in his team. Given the clubs’ prodigious summer spending (and selling, in the case of Spurs), a certain amount of depth is to be expected, but when you compare today’s selections with those Arsenal, Manchester United, or Liverpool would field when making mass changes, Tottenham and City’s depth looks particularly strong.

Today, that depth helped them to League Cup routes, but over the course of the season, that depth may prove decisive in league. After their Manchester Derby win, City may have already re-established themselves as title favorites, but having so many options means they’re less likely to suffer prolonged injury or form-related slumps. There’ll be fewer chances for teams to snatch that favorite’s label, just as there’ll be less room for Arsenal slips if they hope to hold off Spurs.

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Emanuele Giaccherini (left) scored the second goal of his Sunderland career on Tuesday, his first half opener proving the game-winnger against Peterborough United. (Photo: Getty Images.)

SUNDERLAND TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS POST-DI CANIO

Two days ago, Sunderland dismissed Paolo Di Canio. Now they have their first win of the season, though in all fairness, they would have likely defeated Peterborough United with the controversial Italian on the sidelines. Today’s 2-0 win was more a function of their opposition than a sign the Black Cats have turned it around.

But interim coach Kevin Ball did make a couple of noteworthy changes. Lee Cattermole got his first start of the season. Instead of going with two strikers, Jozy Altidore was alone in his return to the lineup. The team ditched the 4-2-4 for a more conventional 4-2-3-1 formation. Carlos Cuellar was also back in the team as the Black Cats adopted a much more conventional approach.

Those changes saw them up after 31 minutes when Emanuele Giaccherini scored his second goal in a Sunderland shirt. When Valentin Roberge doubled the lead in the second half, the Black Cats were assured of seeing off their third-tier opposition.

Now comes the hard part: Visits from Liverpool and Manchester United, after which the team will likely have a new boss. Whether that’s Gus Poyet, Roberto Di Matteo, or somebody else, the important thing is Sunderland’s moved on. Today’s win starts to put the Di Canio days behind them.

OTHER RESULTS

  • West Ham United 3-2 Cardiff City: Ricardo Vaz Te’s 87th winner sees off the Bluebirds.
  • Burnley 2-1 Nottingham Forest: Daniel Ings scores twice to sent the Clarets through.
  • Southampton 2-0 Bristol City: Gaston Ramirez’s 14th minute goal ends up being the game-winner.
  • Swindon Town 0-2 Chelsea: Fernando Torres, Ramires help Blues to second-straight win.
  • Watford 2-3 Norwich City: Canaries need extra time, two Gary Hooper goals to reverse a 2-0 deficit.
  • Hull City 1-0 Huddersfield Town: Nick Proschwitz’s 59th winner helps Steve Bruce avoid the upset.
  • Leicester City 2-1 Derby County:  Antony Knockaert and Daniel Drinkwater turn around Chris Martin’s 42nd minute opener.
  • Fulham 2-1 Everton: Dimitar Berbatov and Darren Bent hand Roberto Martinez his first Everton loss.