Corry Evans

Dodgy PK call leads Swiss first leg win

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Opinion alert: An absolutely woeful decision from Romanian referee Ovidiu Hațegan has put Northern Ireland’s World Cup hopes in a bad place following a 1-0 loss at Windsor Park in Belfast.

[ MORE: N. Ireland reacts to PK ]

Xherdan Shaqiri had a chance to score just after the break, but a Ricardo Rodriguez penalty allowed the Swiss to take a lead moments later when Corry Evans leapt to block a shot and was adjudged to have it hit his arm. Personally, it looked a criminal call, but you be the judge.

Norn Iron manager Michael O’Neill would’ve been content to keep Switzerland off the board when it comes to away goals, but the result doesn’t change much for the Northern Irish; They’ll need to triumph in Basel for Sunday’s second leg.

Prindi’s Premier League Picks: West Ham to give Arsenal a battle

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Picking Premier League matches is hard work, especially on Boxing Day.

But with holiday season and the packed Premier League schedule there’s one thing fans can count on – upsets.

Lots and lots of upsets.

UPSET SPECIALS

Aston Villa v. Crystal Palace (Thu 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Villa Park)

Fans will be crashing the Live Extra site trying to watch this thriller!

Ok, maybe not. But that’s just because over the last three matches Villa have completely lost the plot.

It all started when they were beaten 0-2 at Fulham… As in second-to-last place Fulham. And not only that, Paul Lambert’s side kind of got worked that match. (Nothing against the Cottagers but even those fans freely admit their squad has hugely underperformed this year).

Then Villa went and got smoked 0-3 by Manchester United two weeks ago before crumbling 1-2 at the hands of Stoke City last weekend. Not good. And now, factor in that Benteke is out indefinitely with a knee injury and it’s as I said: Plot. Lost.

Aston Villa 0 Crystal Palace 1

Cardiff City v. Southampton (Thu 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Cardiff City Stadium)

A lot of people hate their bosses, which stinks. If you’re one of those people just remember – at least your boss isn’t Vincent Tan. Because that dude would be miserable to work for.

I feel for Mackay, I really do. I feel like he needs a hug. Or a beer. Preferably both, I suppose.

On Thursday, I think the fans at Cardiff City Stadium will give Mackay the symbolic equivalent of a hug and a beer – 90 minutes of madness. That stadium is already loud but on Boxing Day, I expect it to be through the roof. And I expect the Bluebirds to win.

Cardiff City 3 Southampton 2

Norwich City v. Fulham (Thu 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Carrow Road)

I fancy Fulham under Rene Meulensteen. They’ve had some tough opponents in Tottenham and Manchester City but beat Aston Villa and played well in the loss to Everton.

Plus now, the Deuce is back loose in West London. Game on.

Norwich City 0 Fulham 1

West Ham United v. Arsenal (Thu 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Upton Park)

That Chelsea match took a lot out of Arsenal, both physically and mentally. I hate to say it but I see West Ham coming into this match looking to replicate what the Blues did on Monday – defend deep and kick Arsenal all over the park.

Crazy things happen on Boxing Day.

West Ham United 1 Arsenal 0

Manchester City v. Liverpool (Thu 102:30pm ET on NBCSN; Etihad Stadium)

How tasty is this matchup?

City, at home, are the logical favorites. But what if Liverpool went into the Etihad and managed to be the first club this season to steal a point?

That would be incredible Suarez.

Manchester City 2 Liverpool 2

SQUEAKY-BUM TIME

Newcastle United v. Stoke City (Thu 10:00am ET on Live Extra; St James’ Park)

I’m comfortable writing the following sentence: Stoke City are actually a pretty good side this year.

Newcastle 2 Stoke City 2

Tottenham Hotspur v. West Bromwich Albion (Thu 10:00am ET on Live Extra; White Hart Lane)

Congrats to Tim Sherwood on his 18 month head coaching job at Spurs. Is there anyone on the planet who thinks this will actually work out?

Granted, it’ll be good for the players’ heads because Sherwood will free them from the needless algorithms that AVB put into their minds.

But I don’t see them finishing Top 4, and that’s what the chairman Daniel Levy wants. Top 4 and a big name manager.

After the World Cup, I expect Levy to hire Van Gaal. Sorry, Timmy.

Tottenham Hotspur 3 West Bromwich Albion 2

CAPTAIN OBVIOUS

Hull City v. Manchester United (Thu 7:45am ET on NBCSN; KC Stadium)

Hull City boasts a lot of ex-United players in their ranks (James Chester, Corry Evans, Paul McShane and Robbie Brady) but let’s not forget, they are ‘ex’ players for a reason – they’re not good enough.

Sounds a bit harsh but such is life. Fortunately for Hull, Steve Bruce has these boys playing with plenty of grit and bite.

Is it enough to throw United off their current form?

Please.

Hull City 1 Manchester United 2

Everton v. Sunderland (Thu 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Goodison Park)

Poor display for Everton last weekend but still showed the grit to beat Swansea. The game spoke volumes about the difference between the Toffees under Moyes v. under Martinez. Moyes would’ve secured the draw, Martinez pushed for the win. End of story.

Everton 3 Sunderland 1

Chelsea v. Swansea City (Thu 10:00am ET on Live Extra; Stamford Bridge)

The style that Mourinho’s side broke out against Arsenal on Monday was appalling. I refuse to believe that a squad with as much quality as Chelsea will continue to play in such a stubborn, uninspired manner.

Mourinho said it was a “tactic” specific to Arsenal (and Manchester United, earlier in the season). Either way, it was gross.

But not as gross as Gerhard Tremmel. Not sure I see Swansea winning (ever?) with him between the sticks.

Chelsea 4 Swansea City 1

Premier League Preview: Hull City v. Manchester United

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  • Hull have the best home defense in the Premier League this season (three goals conceded).
  • Manchester United have won 16 of the last 17 games they have played on December 26, with the defeat away Middlesbrough in 2002 the exception.
  • Hull’s only previous Premier League game on December 26 was a 5-1 defeat at Man City which saw then-manager Phil Brown conduct the half-time team talk on the pitch.

Boxing Day kicks-off at 7:00am ET this Thursday when Manchester United heads to the KC Stadium to take on Hull City (watch live on NBCSN and online via NBC Sports Live Extra).

For Hull, it’s a chance to continue their under-appreciated form of having lost only one of their last five Premier League matches, a 2-0 loss to Arsenal. Granted, the Tigers only took all three points once during that stretch but the three draws proves just how tough this side can be.

This is especially true at home where Hull has won four times, drawn once and lost three times. That ties them for the 7th best home form in the league.

United enter the match eighth in the table, their lowest position at Christmas in 24 years. They’ve improved of late, however, looking impressive in their last three in all competitions, comprehensively defeating Aston Villa 3-0, Stoke City 2-0 (League Cup) and West Ham 3-1.

Perhaps most impressive is that United’s improved form has arrived without any help from Robin van Persie, who has been sidelined with a hip/thigh injury. In his absence players like Danny Welbeck, Adnan Januzaj and the much-maligned Ashley Young have stepped up in a big way.

Most important for United is that they appear to have found their sense of identity under Moyes. They have a grittier, meaner look to them. They’re playing with chip on their shoulder, like they have something to prove. Which they do.

It makes for exciting times in the Premier League. And while they may be 8th in the table, United are just at eight points adrift of leaders, Liverpool. Without going so far as to say they are title contenders, that’s a margin that United could easily close over the next 21 matches.

If they are to make that move, taking care of smaller clubs like Hull is a necessity. They’ll have to do it without RVP, Michael Carrick (calf), Marouane Fellaini (wrist) and Nani (hamstring).

Hull have some injury concerns as well, with Robbie Brady (groin), Sone Aluko (calf) and Stephen Quinn (hamstring) all due to be out.

What They’re Saying

United winger Ashley Young: “It’s vitally important (to win) now we are going into this busy Christmas and new year period. Getting wins and points on the board is what we want to do. We’ve got nine points up for grabs between now and the new year and we want to keep building that momentum.”

Hull manager Steve Bruce (on Robbie Brady): “He’s had an injection into his groin which will take a couple of weeks to settle. We hope that does the trick. It’s been a frustrating time for him and us. We need our big players.”

Prediction

With a lot of ex-United players in their ranks (James Chester, Corry Evans, Paul McShane and Robbie Brady) I expect Hull to make life difficult on Moyes’ squad. But the Red Devils current form is too convincing for me – United should win this one by a goal.