Saturday, 12 May 2018

Clucking-mad Israel win marred by SuRie stage invader

ISRAEL won the Eurovision Song Contest for the fourth time in history on a night marred by a stage invasion during the British entry.

Netta Barzilai netted the Israeli victory in Lisbon with her gimmicky song Toy which bizarrely featured clucking chicken noises as part of its lyrics.

The competition was tight - and, thrillingly, it was not at all clear who had actually won until the final few seconds of voting.

For many British viewers, though, Netta's otherwise enjoyably quirky success was overshadowed by a shock stage invasion during the performance of United Kingdom entrant SuRie.

Nothing particularly unusual had happened at the Altice Arena until SuRie - appearing ninth in the running order - launched into the second chorus of her song, Storm.

Then, out of nowhere, a rather unkempt man assailed the Essex singer, stole her microphone and shouted some totally unintelligible diatribe.

It was later transcribed as: "Nazis of the UK media, we demand freedom. War is not peace".

The culprit - a London-based Greek national called Konstantin Bouki - goes by the name of DrACactivism on social media. He has previously interrupted The Voice and the National Television Awards.

Far from advancing his cause, though, the actions of this tiresome attention-seeker only serve to alienate himself from the popular support which he presumably craves.

For SuRie, the whole experience must have been absolutely petrifying. For all she knew, the idiot could well have been carrying a knife.

Considering that, she remained amazingly calm on stage, clapping to the beat before immediately picking the lyrics back up once she had a microphone back in her hands.

Nevertheless, her Eurovision experience had been irredeemably tarnished.

In fairness, European Broadcasting Union (EBU) officials offered SuRie the chance to perform again at the end of the running order. Having recovered so well, though, the 29-year-old was perhaps sensible to decline.

The show must go on, after all - and, before long, it was time to tot up the tallies.

Sadly, SuRie finished in 23rd place with 23 points from the jury voting which was announced first and based upon a Jury Rehersal held on Friday evening.

In the public vote, meanwhile, she fared only a little better, placing 20th with 25 points.

Consequently, her overall points total (48) left her in 24th place out of 26, ahead only of Finland's former X Factor contestant Saara Aalto (46) and rock-bottom hosts Portugal (39).

Elsewhere, Norway (144) and Ireland (136) will also be disappointed by their mid-table finishing positions. 

Norwegian representative Alexander Rybak - a former winner in 2009 with Fairytale - was hugely underwhelming this time around and made little impact.

By contrast, the Irish - in a first Grand Final since 2013 - qualified having caused quite a stir in China with its entry Together by Ryan O'Shaughnessy.

Indeed, Ireland was edited out of the Chinese broadcast of the first semi-final on Mango TV because of its representation of a homosexual couple by its on-stage dancers.

As a result of the censorship, the EBU terminated its partnership with the Chinese broadcaster, a decision which pleased O'Shaughnessy himself.

Back to the results - and it was Austria (271) who emerged as the front-runner following the verdict of the jury ahead of Sweden (253) and Israel (212). Cyprus (183) took fifth place behind Germany (204).

However, it was all change when the public vote was announced. Leading nation Austria (71) could only manage 13th place, Germany (136) was sixth - while Eurovision stalwart Sweden (21) surprisingly finished way down in 23rd.

As such, it became a straight contest between two eastern Mediterranean countries - Israel and Cyprus.

Clumsily, it became apparent that Cyprus had come second overall after picking up 253 points in the public vote.

And so, Israel - with 317 votes - could celebrate a momentous victory on the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Middle East state.

Next year then, the Contest will most likely be held in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv - but the stage invasion in Lisbon surely means an unprecedented amount of security will be required whichever city is chosen.

After all, it is not as if Israel keeps a low profile on the international stage.

Of course, in likeable winner Netta, there was a little random joy on Saturday in these troubled political times.

At the same time, though, her victory has left the Eurovision apparatchiks with the sort of headache which will take more than a few painkillers to remove.


02CyprusFuego (Fire)Eleni Foureira436
03AustriaNobody But YouCesár Sampson342
04GermanyYou'll Let Me Walk AloneMichael Schulte340
05ItalyNon mi avete fatto niente
(You haven't done anything to me)
Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro308
06Czech RepublicLie to MeMikolas Josef281
07SwedenDance You OffBenjamin Ingrosso274
08EstoniaLa forza (The Force)Elina Nechayeva245
09DenmarkHigher GroundRasmussen226
10MoldovaMy Lucky DayDoReDoS209
11AlbaniaMall (Yearning)Eugent Bushpepa184
12LithuaniaWhen We're OldIeva Zasimauskaitė181
13FranceMercyMadame Monsieur173
15NorwayThat's How You Write a SongAlexander Rybak144
16IrelandTogetherRyan O'Shaughnessy136
17UkraineUnder the LadderMélovin 130
18NetherlandsOutlaw in 'EmWaylon121
19SerbiaNova deca (New Generation)Sanja Ilić & Balkanika113
20AustraliaWe Got LoveJessica Mauboy99
21HungaryViszlát nyár (Goodbye, summer)AWS93
22SloveniaHvala, ne! (No, Thanks)Lea Sirk64
23SpainTu canción (Your Song)Amaia & Alfred61
24United KingdomStormSuRie48
25FinlandMonstersSaara Aalto46
26PortugalO Jardim (The Garden)Cláudia Pascoal39

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Family man Williams turns back the clock

(5) John Higgins 16-18 Mark Williams (7)
Session one (3-5)
23-75, 15-65, 35-72, (55) 60-70, (119) 120-4, 0-133 (95), (52) 98-0, (59) 82-21
Session two (4-5)
46-81 (72), (51) 75-31, (127) 127-8, 12-76, (56) 85-9, (117) 123-15, 0-123 (118), 35-64 (64), 43-80
Session three (3-5)
5-98 (61), 19-73 (56), 0-126 (69, 56), 7-63 (52), (67) 92-29, (72) 76-65 (65), (80) 80-0, 43-80
Session four (6-3)
(131) 131-1, (67) 68-58 (58), (82) 82-47, 91-0, (62) 67-47, 0-74, 14-104 (100), (65) 65-63 (63), 0-71 (69)

MARK WILLIAMS won an incredible third world snooker title - 15 years after his last Crucible triumph - as he beat fellow veteran John Higgins 18-16.

The final was notable for the fact that Welsh Potting Machine and the Wizard From Wishaw both turned professional in the same year - back in 1992.

Yet remarkably, a quarter of a century on, here they both were in the world snooker final, producing the closest contest - in terms of scoreline - since Shaun Murphy beat Matthew Stevens in 2005.

In truth, Williams would have kicked himself if he had not taken the best-of-35 encounter.

After all, the 43-year-old from Ebbw Vale won the first four frames on Sunday afternoon, and was never behind at any stage of the two-day final.

However, far from being one-sided, this was a classy affair throughout from two experienced players - and, in all, there were six centuries with four of them coming from the defeated Higgins.

The 42-year-old Scotsman stroked his first ton home in the fifth frame of the match to get on the board in his seventh final.

But Williams responded with a run of 95 - and, though Higgins then took the last two frames of the first session, he was generally held at arm's length throughout the first three periods of play.

In fairness, Higgins did make it 7-7 on Sunday evening after compiling two centuries in four frames either side of the mid-session interval.

Once again, though, Williams quickly found an answer with a 118 - and his first ton of the match prompted him then to take the last two frames on Sunday as well.

Parity for Higgins had gone in a flash as Williams took a 10-7 overnight lead into Bank Holiday Monday.

In the third session on Monday afternoon, matters only improved further for Williams as again he took the first four frames of the day to increase his lead to a seemingly impregnable 14-7.

Higgins subsequently stopped the rot by winning three of the next four - but the truth was that his Welsh opponent had dominated proceedings in each of the first three sessions.

Trailing 15-10 heading into Monday evening, the four-time champion knew he was going to have to produce something special.

Higgins, of course, obliged. A 131, two fine clearances when under scoreboard pressure, and a shut-out all contributed to an incredible 99% pot success rate in the four frames up to the mid-session interval.

Then, in the 30th frame, Higgins drew level for the first time since the middle of session two with a break of 62 in yet another comeback frame.

Effectively, the final had become a best-of-five. Higgins held all of the momentum but there cannot be anyone who is more relaxed on the snooker circuit than Williams.

Unsurprisingly, he did not panic - even if he took two bites at the cherry to take frame 31. It was almost as if he knew it was going to be this tough.

Nevertheless, the Welshman made it look easy in frame 32 as his 12th century of the tournament - an exact 100 - took him within a frame of the title.

In the next frame, Williams indeed was one ball away - but, after a missed pink, Higgins made yet another nerveless comeback clearance.

Williams, though, was ultimately not to be denied, as he kept Higgins off the table with a match-winning break of 69.

The 2000 and 2003 champion celebrated his third world title by conducting a naked press conference, fulfilling a promise he had made before the championship in the event of victory.

"This was one of the most enjoyable matches and it was always going to be tough against John," he said, while attempting to cover his modesty.

"The occasion was brilliant and the crowd got involved too. It was an emotional experience that I did not think I was going to get again. Twice is brilliant but three times is unbelievable."

Williams then celebrated with an all-nighter before eventually falling asleep on the couch.

But, despite his merry high jinks, the Welshman is a down-to-earth, family man who is appreciated among the professional snooker ranks at large.

Throughout the tournament, his middle son of three, Kian, has accompanied him in his interviews, probably not quite realising what he was witnessing.

Indeed, none of the Welshman's three sons - Connor, Kian or Joel - were alive when he previously won the world title.

But, even if Williams never wins on the baize again, his sons will have now seen something truly historic.

For, no one ever has won a world snooker title after a 15-year gap until Williams this year. His victory is an incredible achievement.

Best of 19 frames

(1) Mark Selby4-10Joe Perry

(16) Mark Allen10-5Liam Highfield

(9) Kyren Wilson10-3Matthew Stevens

(8) Shaun Murphy9-10Jamie Jones

(5) John Higgins10-7Thepchaiya Un-Nooh

(12) Stuart Bingham7-10Jack Lisowski

(13) Luca Brecel6-10Ricky Walden

(4) Judd Trump10-9Chris Wakelin

(3) Ding Junhui10-3Xiao Guodong

(14) Anthony McGill10-8Ryan Day

(11) Marco Fu5-10Lyu Haotian

(6) Barry Hawkins10-7Stuart Carrington

(7) Mark Williams10-5Jimmy Robertson

(10) Neil Robertson5-10Robert Milkins

(15) Ali Carter10-8Graeme Dott

(2) Ronnie O'Sullivan10-7Stephen Maguire

Best of 25 frames

Joe Perry8-12Mark Allen (16)

(9) Kyren Wilson13-5Jamie Jones

(5) John Higgins13-1Jack Lisowski

Ricky Walden9-13Judd Trump (4)

(3) Ding Junhui13-4Anthony McGill (14)

Lyu Haotian10-13Barry Hawkins (6)

(7) Mark Williams13-7Robert Milkins

(15) Ali Carter13-9Ronnie O'Sullivan (2)

Best of 25 frames

(16) Mark Allen6-13Kyren Wilson (9)

(5) John Higgins13-12Judd Trump (4)

(3) Ding Junhui5-13Barry Hawkins (6)

(7) Mark Williams13-8Ali Carter (15)

Best of 33 frames

(9) Kyren Wilson13-17John Higgins (5)

(6) Barry Hawkins15-17Mark Williams (7)

12Mark Williams140, 135, 118, 114, 113, 113, 110, 103, 102, 101, 100, 100
11John Higgins146, 136, 134, 131, 127, 119, 117, 104, 101, 100, 100
9Barry Hawkins133, 132, 129, 129, 128, 124, 117, 113, 103
7Kyren Wilson140, 126, 125, 124, 121, 106, 105
5Ding Junhui126, 124, 113, 102, 102
5Judd Trump103, 103, 101, 100, 100
4Lyu Haotian127, 125, 122, 100
4Ali Carter126, 115, 108, 106
4Ronnie O'Sullivan121, 118, 110, 105
3Shaun Murphy137, 102, 101
3Joe Perry120, 109, 103
2Ryan Day145, 141
2Mark Allen133, 122
2Jack Lisowski128, 105
2Jamie Jones124, 114
2Ricky Walden122, 105
2Thepchaiya Un-Nooh121, 112
2Marco Fu120, 102
1Chris Wakelin141
1Stuart Bingham123
1Stephen Maguire101
HIGH BREAK John Higgins (146) v Jack Lisowski, R2

Friday, 4 May 2018

Labour left limited as Tories hold ground

Labour74-2350+77  35%
Liberal Democrats9+4536+7516%
Residents' Association--46-2-
No Overall Control21-2---

LABOUR struggled to make much headway on a mixed night for the two major parties in the English local elections held on Thursday.

Jeremy Corbyn's party gained a net total of 77 seats and took control of three more councils - but also lost control of three local authorities and failed to get near to taking many of its targets.

The Conservatives - as a governing party - had some unexpectedly bright results, taking Redditch directly from Labour as well as Barnet, Basildon, and Peterborough from no overall control.

However, the Tories lost control of Plymouth directly to Labour and lost three councils directly to the Liberal Democrats - including Kingston upon Thames and Richmond upon Thames in London.

Labour's own anticpated London surge never really materialised - there were gains in Wandsworth and four seats changed hands in Westminster.

But, in Hillingdon and in Barnet, Labour actually lost ground to the Conservatives - and, in Barnet, where there is a significant Jewish population, it was enough for the Tories to take control.

Prime Minister Theresa May thus emerged relatively unscathed in what was her first electoral test since her botched attempt to increase her majority in last year's early general election.

It did not seem to matter that, in the intervening 12 months, there have been no fewer than four major ministerial resignations with the most recent of them occurring less than a week ago.

Amber Rudd's decision to step down as Home Secretary over the Windrush scandal was not a surprise.

Indeed, it became inevitable once she had admitted to “inadvertently” misleading Parliament over the existence of deportation targets.

Out of all the resignations from this ramshackle government, however, the departure of Ms Rudd will have hit Mrs May hardest.

After all, many of the problems at the Home Office are historic in their nature and date back to when the current PM was Home Secretary herself.

Meanwhile, the Brexit negotiations continue to be a mess. As it stands, Britain is still no closer to knowing what relationship it will have with the customs union or indeed what will happen with the border in Ireland.

Time is running short. There are now just 328 days until Britain formally leaves the European Union on 29 March 2019 - although even this does not appear as black-and-white as it seems.

One thing which can be said for certain as a result of these elections - UKIP, having already achieved its aim of removing Britain from the EU, is now finished as a political force.

Four years ago, when the vast majority of these seats were last contested, UKIP was riding high and in fact took the most votes in the European elections held on the same day.

On Thursday, however, the Eurosceptic party took only three seats - including two in Derby - but it also lost 123 councillors, a year after having lost 145.

In a remarkable interview, the near-wipeout led Paul Oakley, the general secretary of UKIP, to liken the party to the Black Death, a pandemic which claimed millions of lives in the 14th century.

And there certainly can be no more definitive end than that.

Of course, the Conservatives have been the main beneficiaries of the collapse in the UKIP vote - but this is effectively just the right-wing of the Tory party returning to the fold.

Indeed, neither major political party seems able to break outside of its comfort zone.

For instance, there are still no Conservative councillors in Newcastle upon Tyne, Manchester, Liverpool, or Sheffield.

And, within the capital, Labour now holds all the seats in the boroughs of Barking and Dagenham, Lewisham, and Newham, and all-but-one of the councillors in Islington.

Outside of the big cities, though, Labour continues to struggle to break through.

There was little progress, if any, in the likes of Dudley, Swindon, Carlisle, or Walsall - and Mr Corbyn admitted he was "disappointed at any places where we lost a bit of ground".

But, if anything, Mrs May should be more worried. For, even with the support of the voters returning from UKIP, the Conservatives' lack of appeal in London and the big cities appears to leave them without a clear path to a majority.

It was quite appropriate that, after all the votes were counted, the national projected share of the vote calculated both parties to be sat on 35%.

Yes, these elections were the definition of political stalemate.
Results in full
Labour Conservatives Liberal Democrats No overall control
Barking and DagenhamBarnetBexley
GreenwichHackneyHammersmith and Fulham
Kensington and ChelseaKingston upon ThamesLambeth
RedbridgeRichmond upon ThamesSouthwark
SuttonTower HamletsWaltham Forest
Note: Bolded areas show party has gained control

BarnsleyBirminghamBlackburn with Darwen
HartlepoolKingston upon HullKirklees
ManchesterMilton KeynesNewcastle upon Tyne
North East LincolnshireNorth TynesideOldham
ReadingRochdaleSt Helens
SouthamptonSouthend-on-SeaSouth Tyneside
Note: Bolded areas show party has gained control

AdurAmber ValleyBasildon
Basingstoke and DeaneBrentwoodBroxbourne
BurnleyCambridgeCannock Chase
CarlisleCastle PointCheltenham
EastleighElmbridgeEpping Forest
Great YarmouthHarlowHarrogate
LincolnMaidstoneMole Valley
Newcastle-under-LymeNorth HertfordshireNorwich
Nuneaton and BedworthOxfordPendle
PrestonRedditchReigate and Banstead
RunnymedeRushmoorSt Albans
South CambridgeshireSouth LakelandStevenage
TamworthTandridgeThree Rivers
Tunbridge WellsWatfordWelwyn Hatfield
West LancashireWest OxfordshireWinchester
Wyre Forest

Note: Bolded areas show party has gained control

South YorkshireTower HamletsWatford

Monday, 30 April 2018

Slick Man City net century of goals

Premier LeaguePWDLFAGDPts
CManchester City35303210226+7693
2Manchester United3524566727+4077
4Tottenham Hotspur3420866631+3568
All final day fixtures begin at 3pm on Sunday 13th May

CHAMPIONS Manchester City equalled the Premier League record for goals scored in a season as they racked up their 30th win of an outstanding campaign.

The Blues won 4-1 against struggling West Ham United at the London Stadium yesterday to bring up their century of strikes with three games still left to play.

Pep Guardiola's men had already been crowned champions a week earlier when cross-town rivals Manchester United lost 1-0 at home against bottom-of-the-table West Bromwich Albion.

It was hardly a glorious way for Man City to win their third Premier League and fifth English title overall.

Indeed, the best chance of unsurpassable glory came and went at the start of April when Man City unfathomably blew a dominant 2-0 half time lead to lose 3-2 to Jose Mourinho's Red Devils.

Man City also went out of the Champions League to Liverpool in the same week - but, since then, they have recovered their scoring touch and their sheer weight of goals makes them the most clear-cut title winners in many years.

Man United - who are in the FA Cup Final against Chelsea - look set to take the runners-up spot following Marouane Fellaini's stoppage time winner against Arsenal yesterday.

But the final two Champions League places are undecided as of yet.

Liverpool, in third place on 72 points, are in pole position for one of them having remained unbeaten at Anfield all season.

The Reds' 0-0 home draw against Stoke City suggested they may have other things on their mind, though.

After all, Jurgen Klopp's side - having beaten Man City in their all-English quarter final - travel to Roma in the semi finals this week with another three-goal lead to defend. An eighth European Cup final is theirs for the taking.

Of course, trophies have once again eluded Tottenham Hotspur this season - and fourth-placed Spurs must now be careful of being caught in the final Champions League place by a resurgent Chelsea.

Antonio Conte's displaced champions have won their last three games and belatedly look a threat - following their highly disappointing defence of the title.

At least Spurs can console themselves that they are guaranteed to finish above north London rivals Arsenal for a second year in a row.

Indeed, it came as no surprise when Arsene Wenger - amid growing discontent at the Gunners' away form - announced his intention to quit his post in the summer after a stunning 22 years at the club.

Defeat at Old Trafford was the Londoners' sixth away reverse in a row - and Arsenal are, in fact, the only club in the English league to fail to pick up a point on the road in 2018.

Yet, remarkably, Wenger's reign could still end in glorious fashion with victory in the Europa Cup final - and qualification for Champions League.

First, though, Arsenal will need to get past Atletico Madrid in the semi finals by repairing the damage of a disappointing 1-1 draw in the first leg at the Emirates. It looks to be a tough ask.

Meanwhile, at Turf Moor, European nights also look set to be on the menu for the first time since 1967 as Burnley pretty much sealed seventh place with a 0-0 draw at home to Brighton & Hove Albion.

The point keeps the Clarets six points clear of Everton - and the Lancastrians' superior goal difference makes it highly unlikely that the eighth-placed Toffees can catch Sean Dyche's men.

The point is also likely to keep Brighton in the top flight ahead of their tough run-in as West Ham, Huddersfield Town, and Swansea City currently lie in more danger just above the drop zone.

West Ham, in 15th on 35 points, are just three clear of Southampton in 18th after consecutive 4-1 defeats have left them with the leakiest defensive record in the division.

Meanwhile, Huddersfield - also on 35 points - have won just three times in 2018 as they aim to stay up in their first top-flight season since 1971-72.

Unfortunately for David Wagner's Terriers, they face Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal in their last three games - and so there does not appear to be much opportunity for the west Yorkshire club to top up their points total.

By contrast, Carlos Carvalhal's Swansea can be more hopeful - despite them sitting 17th after a run of just one win in eight.

After all, the Swans' remaining fixtures include home games against the two sides - Southampton and Stoke - who are immediately below them.

Naturally, those matches will be looked upon as big opportunities by the Saints and the Potters as well.

But Stoke know that, to get out of trouble, they will need at least four points - and probably all six - from their last two games because of their dreadful goal difference.

For West Brom, rock bottom since the end of January, the scenario is even simpler - only six points will do.

Even then the Baggies are reliant on a silly number of results somehow working in their favour - and all of this comes in spite of a decent late run under caretaker manager Darren Moore.

Two wins and two draws - including a victory at Old Trafford - have sent eight points to the Hawthorns since the start of April.

Unfortunately, the upsurge has also left fans wondering just what might have been if one-man managerial disaster Alan Pardew had been jettisoned sooner.

14Brighton & Hove Albion35813143247-1537
15West Ham United35811164367-2435
16Huddersfield Town3598182756-2935
17Swansea City3589182752-2533
19Stoke City36612183265-3330
20West Bromwich Albion36513183054-2628

CWolverhampton Wanderers4530968236+4699
2Cardiff City45278106939+3089
4Aston Villa452411107241+3183
6Derby County451915116647+1972
7Preston North End451816115545+1070
All final day fixtures begin at 12.30pm on Sunday 6th May

WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS turned on the style last Saturday as they beat struggling Bolton Wanderers 4-0 to seal the Championship title.

The Old Gold had already been promoted a week earlier when third-placed Fulham failed to beat Brentford.

And their only remaining aim now is to see whether they can top the 100 points mark in their final match against already-relegated Sunderland.

For Cardiff City and Fulham, however, the last day on Sunday promises to be a far more tension-filled affair.

The Cottagers have produced an extraordinary unbeaten run of 23 games to put behind their customary early season slumbers and rise from 17th in November to third place.

By contrast, the Bluebirds started brilliantly, winning their opening five games and losing just three times prior to the weekend before Christmas.

Since then, the pressure on Neil Warnock's unfancied side has told at times - but three wins out of the last four have kept the Welsh club's noses in front ahead of the final day.

Cardiff face Reading at home while Fulham travel to Birmingham City - and notably both of the promotion candidates' opponents have their own concerns at the other end of the table.

Aston Villa, in fourth, and Middlesbrough, in fifth, have already confirmed their places in the playoffs - but that will come as a disappointment in some ways for Villa considering their run of seven successive wins in the New Year.

Inconsistency either side of that sequence has prevented Steve Bruce's side from mounting a more serious challenge on the automatic promotion places, and a similar failure to string results together could also cost Boro.

At least, Villa and Boro already know that they have extra fixtures to fulfill.

Derby County remain on tenterhooks, as usual, ahead of their final game at home to Barnsley - for defeat could let in Preston North End if the Lilywhites win at home against Burton Albion.

Once again, both of these contenders' opponents have their own issues to sort out in an almighty scramble to avoid the two remaining relegation places.

Reading and Birmingham appear to be in easily the best positions as both effectively need just a point due to Burton's horrendous goal difference.

Unfortunately for them, though, they play the two automatic promotion contenders Cardiff and Fulham respectively.

Instead, Barnsley are first in line to be caught - the Tykes are currently outside the bottom three only on goal difference and, as mentioned, face playoff chasing Derby on the last day.

Not that it will be any easier for Burton away at Preston - though at least the Brewers can point to an extraordinary turnaround in recent form.

Three wins on the spin - including two against rivals Sunderland and Bolton - have provided genuine hope of this Championship odyssey earning a third chapter.

For Bolton, however, hope is receding fast. Defeat at Burton was the Trotters' sixth in their last seven matches and their poor goal difference means only a win against Nottingham Forest will be good enough.

Whatever happens on Sunday, one thing is certain - Sunderland are down and finishing rock bottom, having become only the third team in history to finish bottom of the top two tiers in successive seasons.

Of course, the Black Cats have been in the third tier before - for one season in 1987-88.

But, despite a backdrop of dwindling attendance, this has been an unexpected demise for many at a club whose players remain on Premier League wages.

The Mackems indeed only have themselves to blame having previously thrown bad money after worse in an attempt to stay on the top flight gravy train. They even resorted to playing a known child sex offender in their desperation to stay up.

Yesterday, former Wales boss Chris Coleman was the latest manager to depart from the pit of misery on Wearside with his reputation tarnished.

Coleman's departure came as American owner Ellis Short finally sold the club to Eastleigh chairman Stewart Donald.

And, indeed, it could well be that this ailing club has finally bottomed out.

Debt-free, Sunderland will be hoping to start afresh under new ownership and with a new manager and a more committed set of players. One thing for sure, though, is that it is a long way back. 

20Birmingham City45127263567-3243
22Burton Albion451011243779-4241
23Bolton Wanderers45913233672-3640

PWigan Athletic45281168829+5995
PBlackburn Rovers45271268039+4193
3Shrewsbury Town45251286038+2287
4Rotherham United45237157253+1976
5Charlton Athletic452011145850+871
6Scunthorpe United441816106249+1370
7Plymouth Argyle441911145652+468
All final day fixtures begin at 5.30pm on Saturday 5th May

WIGAN ATHLETIC and Blackburn Rovers will battle it out for the League One title with both clubs having already sealed an immediate return to the Championship.

The Latics won promotion on 21 April after their 4-0 thumping of Fleetwood Town made it a remarkable fifth end-of-season change of division in the last six years.

Meanwhile, Rovers' return to the second tier was confirmed three days later in a 1-0 midweek win at Doncaster Rovers.

At the weekend, both clubs surprisingly failed to win. Wigan may have felt they had messed up by only taking a point at home to AFC Wimbledon - but Blackburn suffered just their sixth defeat of the season at playoff chasers Charlton Athletic.

Wigan, now with a two-point advantage and better goal difference, travel to Doncaster on the final day effectively in need of just a single point for the title.

Blackburn, however, should take advantage of any slip ups at home to mid-table Oxford United.

Of course, for much of the season, there was a three-horse race at the top of the division - but inconsistent form since March has left long-time leaders Shrewsbury Town out of the running.

Nevetherless, this has still been an excellent campaign for the Shropshire club - and they could yet reach the second tier for the first time since 1989 through the playoffs.

Fourth-placed Rotherham United have also already confirmed their place in the top six, something which represents a decent recovery by Paul Warne's men following their own tough relegation last year.

However, the last two playoff places remain up for grabs. Charlton - currently in fifth - did their chances the world of good with that win over Blackburn and the Addicks probably need just a point at Rochdale to be sure.

After all, Lee Bowyer's men can only benefit from the fact that their two closest rivals Scunthorpe United and Plymouth Argyle actually face each other in a vital clash on Tuesday.

At the bottom, Bury have long been consigned to their fate, becoming the team in the top four divisions to go down after their 3-2 home defeat by Northampton Town on 14 April.

The Cobblers followed up that result with an impressive victory against Plymouth - but defeat on Saturday at Walsall has left them three points adrift heading into the final day.

Northampton have the worst defence and by far the worst goal difference in the division - and therefore only hold a technical chance of retaining League One status.

But not even that applies to controversial Buckinghamshire side Milton Keynes Dons who return to the basement league for the first time in 10 years following a sixth successive defeat.

Effectively then, there is just one more place left to be decided - and Rochdale, who have now used up a series of games in hand, suffered a highly damaging defeat on Saturday at Oxford to drop into the bottom four.

The Dale replaced Oldham Athletic in the relegation places after the Latics secured a 0-0 draw against Doncaster.

Oldham, looking to secure a 22nd consecutive season at the third level of English football, travel to Northampton on the final day - and, while Rochdale are at home, their task against in-form Charlton appears much tougher.

AFC Wimbledon and Walsall are not yet mathematically safe - but both could secure their League One status on Tuesday in their games in hand against Bradford City and Doncaster respectively.

As such, it seems certain that the real scramble to survive will be between the two Greater Manchester clubs below them.

19AFC Wimbledon441312194556-1151
20Oldham Athletic451116185673-1749
22Northampton Town451210234175-4346
RMilton Keynes Dons451012234269-2742

CAccrington Stanley45296107643+3393
PLuton Town45251289446+4887
PWycombe Wanderers452312107860+1881
4Exeter City45238146354+977
5Notts County452113117148+2376
6Coventry City45228156447+1774
7Lincoln City452014116347+1674
8Mansfield Town451817106651+1571
All final day fixtures begin at 3pm on Saturday 5 May

ACCRINGTON STANLEY achieved their first ever promotion to the third tier of English football - and sealed the League Two title on Saturday with a 1-0 win over playoff contenders Lincoln City.

Stanley - once derided in a 1980s milk advert - only returned to the Football League in 2006 following the collapse of the original league club in the 1960s.

But every club deserves a day in the sun - and the Lancastrians certainly got theirs when Jordan Clark scrambled the winner in front of a record 4,753 fans at the Crown Ground.

Free-scoring Luton Town also comfortably gained promotion, scoring four or more goals on no fewer than seven occasions across the season.

The Hatters had to settle for three on Saturday against Forest Green Rovers but that was still enough to secure the runners-up spot, as all of automatic promotion places were decided ahead of the final day.

Wycombe Wanderers took the third spot as their 2-1 win over relegated Chesterfield and a shock defeat for Exeter City at Stevenage combined to leave the Chairboys four points clear.

Exeter remain in fourth place - and guaranteed of a playoff place - as Notts County also suffered an unexpected defeat at Grimsby Town, a result which secured the Mariners' League Two status.

And so it was left to the biggest club in the division - Coventry City - to produce the performance of the day with a 6-1 thumping of Cheltenham Town.

The Sky Blues' biggest win of the season increased the prospect of the club finishing in the top six of a division for the first time since 1969-70 and notably pushed their goal difference past their playoff rivals.

Lincoln are currently in the lowest playoff spot, level on points with Coventry, as the Imps aim for a second successive promotion having already tasted Wembley success this season in the EFL Trophy Final.

Mansfield Town are the only other club in contention - and the Stags need to beat Crawley and hope either Lincoln or Coventry lose home games against Yeovil or Morecambe respectively.

Interestingly, the Coventry-Morecambe match is also a massive match for the Shrimps following their awful 1-0 defeat at home to Barnet.

Jim Bentley's men started the day five points clear - and could have killed off the Bees' hopes even with just a draw.

But Alex Nicholls's late winner was enough to push Martin Allen's side to within two points of safety.

Furthermore, Barnet's last fixtures comes against rock-bottom Chesterfield who have fallen out of the Football League for the first time since 1921 amid a sequence of four successive defeats.

The Spireites may have a game in hand against mid-table Newport County on Tuesday but the fate of the Midlands' club - a second successive relegation - has already been sealed.


National LeaguePWDLFAGDPts
CMacclesfield Town46271186746+2192
2Tranmere Rovers462410127846+3282
3Sutton United462310136753+1479
4Boreham Wood462015116447+1775
5Aldershot Town462015116452+1275
6Ebbsfleet United461917106450+1474
7AFC Fylde462013138256+2773
8Dover Athletic462013136244+1873

MACCLESFIELD TOWN returned to the Football League after an absence of six seasons following a 2-0 win away at Eastleigh on 21 April.

The Silkmen had been top of the division since December - and, though Aldershot Town closed to within a point of them in January, the Cheshire club lost just once after that to pull away again.

Wirral club Tranmere Rovers finished in second place - and, along with Sutton United, have qualified automatically for a home playoff semi final.

Before then, though, there will be two one-legged qualifiers between the teams who finished between fourth and seventh.

Boreham Wood host AFC Fylde while Aldershot take on Ebbsfleet United - with Dover Athletic having just missed out in eighth place.

The Whites' final day win over Woking was rendered irrelevant as Fylde played out a 0-0 draw at Wrexham.

However, it would have been harsh on the divisional top scorers Fylde if they had missed out on these revamped playoffs - especially as it is the Coasters' first season at this level.

Ultimately then, the result at the Dover-Woking meant far more to the latter as they were relegated following a six-year stay in the non league top division.

Meanwhile, the fate of Guiseley, fan-owned Chester, and Torquay United had all already been determined in advance of the final day.

Salford City - champions of the National League North - and Havant & Waterlooville - champions of the National League South - are two of teams promoted to replace them.

The other two places will again be decided by playoffs in the respective North and South divisions.

RTorquay United461012244573-2842
RChester FC46813254279-3737
RGuiseley46712274489-45 33

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Yarnold shines brightest in record British haul



117-FebLizzy YARNOLDSkeletonWomen's event


116-FebDominic PARSONSSkeletonMen's event
217-FebIsabel ATKINFreestyle skiingWomen's slopestyle
317-FebLaura DEASSkeletonWomen's event
424-FebBilly MORGANSnowboardingMen's big air

SKELETON racer Lizzy Yarnold became the first ever British athlete to retain a Winter Olympics title in a truly historic Games for Team GB overall.

Yarnold clocked a track record of 51.46 in the fourth and final run to jump from third place into a commanding lead ahead of Janine Flock of Austria and Jacqueline Loelling of Germany.

Flock, under pressure, then floundered on her final run, and she found herself knocked off the podium by consistent Welsh Olympic debutant Laura Deas.

And so, what had begun as a promising morning for Team GB had turned into a seriously momentous occasion for British winter sport.

It was, in fact, easily its best day ever - a Winter Olympics version of Super Saturday.

For, not only did Team GB have its first ever two-time Winter Olympic champion, it could also celebrate a double appearance on the same podium for the first time ever at a Winter Games.

Moreover, Izzy Atkin had won an earlier bronze in the women's freestyle skiing slopestyle, and so 17 February was the first time that Britain had won three Winter Games medals on the same day.

Aged just 19, Atkin was the youngest member of the 59-strong British squad which set off for South Korea.

But, as we also saw from the freestyle skiers and snowboarders of several other countries, her teenage years were no barrier to success.

Instead, it probably assisted her, and she certainly displayed an awesome youthful fearlessness in her last run on which she made her medal-winning score of 84.60.

By then, of course, Britain was already on the board through yet another skeleton medal.

For the first time, though, the winner was male as Dominic Parsons picked up a deserved bronze with his own brilliant demonstration of consistency. In three of his four runs, including the vital last run, 30-year-old Londoner Parsons placed in third.

Sadly, in the curling, the same consistency was lacking, however - as both men and women's teams came away empty-handed.

The inexperienced men's team - under young skip Kyle Smith - was especially skittish, winning five and losing four of their round robin games to be forced into a playoff against Switzerland.

In the playoff, Smith and his men were ultimately outclassed, as the Swiss took a five in the ninth end for a 9-5 victory.

The women - under bronze medal-winning skip Eve Muirhead - fared somewhat better, winning six of their nine group games to qualify for a semi final against Sweden.

However, what had been a tight match against the Swedes turned decisively against Muirhead's rink in the seventh end when she gave up a three despite having the hammer.

Eventually, Team GB lost 10-5 and, for the second Olympics in a row, had been consigned to the bronze final.

That match - against Japan - was an even closer tussle, and in fact went down to the last stone of the final end.

Trailing by one but with the hammer, Muirhead had the chance to make a two to win the match and a medal.

But a single Japanese stone jammed and stuck steadfastly to the button in the centre of the house.

The risky shot was exactly the sort of moment which encapsulates an Olympic campaign - and perhaps, this time, it was just never meant to be.

Clearly, it was not meant to be for short track speed skater Elise Christie either.

For, rather than providing redemption as suggested in my preview blog, Pyeongchang ultimately added to the pain and disappointment she suffered in Sochi four years ago.

Christie herself was not entirely blameless - it does not take a speed skating expert to see that she left herself with far too much to do heading into the last corner in the 1500m semi finals.

But, having already crashed to the ice during the final of the 500m, her tangle of skates with China's Li Jinyu led to an even more painful exit on a stretcher.

Considering that, it was heartening to see Christie still make an attempt at her best event - the 1000m - despite not being fully fit.

Again, though, it all ended in tears after she was penalised in her heat, although the judges' decision on that occasion looked extremely harsh.

Christie subsequently had to contend with some mean-spirited criticism of her performances, much of which was hardly constructive.

But, for a sport in Pyeongchang far more deserving of censure, look no further than the British bobsleigh teams.

Despite suggesting they had two sleds capable of reaching the podium, both British four-man teams completely failed to deliver, finishing way down the field in 17th and 18th.

Earlier, the two-man sled finished 12th - and so the crowdfunded two-woman bob of Mica McNeill and Mica Moore placed highest of all the Team GB entrants, despite them having had their funding cut entirely.

The collective failure in bobsleigh left it uncertain whether Britain could win a record fifth medal at these Games after all.

But, on cue, snowboarder Billy Morgan stepped up and took bronze on his final run with a score of 85.50.

Morgan once again encapsulated the risk-taking required at the Olympics by going for glory with his final jump.

Thankfully, he judged it just right and landed a front-side 1440 triple with mute and tail-grab, something which he had never successfully done in competition before.

Britain - at last - could celebrate a historic fifth medal, and its total of nine in the last two Games is as many as in the nine Winter Olympics before that.

"These athletes can rightly return home very proud of what they accomplished here in South Korea," said Britain's chef de mission Mike Hay.

"To leave Pyeongchang with five medals - our best ever Games in that respect - and a host of fourth-place finishes and top 10s across the sports shows that winter sport in the United Kingdom is going in the right direction," he added.

Away from Team GB, this was an even more glorious Games for Norway who topped the medal table for the first time since 2002 with a record haul of 39 medals, including 14 gold.

Cross-country skier Marit Bjørgen contributed five of those 39 medals, including two gold, as she finished on the podium in each of her five events to become the most decorated Winter Olympian ever.

Nevertheless, the Norwegians have attributed their overall success to their genuine team camaraderie which is reinforced by tacos on a Friday night and a strict “no idiots” rule.

Germany also won 14 gold medals to take second place - and, along with third-placed Canada, won medals across nine different disciplines.

The breadth of their success allowed the Canadians, in particular, to cover for their shock failure to win curling medals of any sort in both the men's and women's events.

Canada also surprisingly struggled in the ice hockey - failing to take gold in either the men's or women's tournaments for the first time since the 1998 Games in Nagano, Japan.

Instead, the Olympic Athletes from Russia won the men's final, 4-3 in overtime against surprise package Germany. In the women's final, United States beat Canada on penalty shots.

That victory will provide some consolation to the Americans who finished down in fourth in the medal table for the second successive Winter Games.

Indeed, their overall total of 23 medals this time means Pyeongchang 2018 is their weakest performance at the Winter Olympics for 20 years. There were, however, first ever golds in cross-country skiing and in the men's curling.

Elsewhere, snowboarder Shaun White recovered from his disappointment of four years ago in Sochi to deliver gold - while Lindsey Vonn closed off her Olympic career with a bronze in the downhill.

It is perhaps appropriate that Vonn has chosen these Games to be her last. Pyeongchang 2018 has been particularly notable for the way the torch has passed onto a completely new generation of winners.

Snowboarder Chloe Kim took gold in the women’s halfpipe at the age of just 17 - and then there is compatriot and fellow snowboarder Red Gerard who is two months younger than Kim.

Right at the start of the Games, Gerard became the first Winter Olympics medallist to have been born in the 2000s with gold in the men's slopestyle competition.

But it is not just the Americans who are discovering new talent.

New Zealand had only won one Winter Olympics medal before these Games but has now tripled its overall tally to three, thanks to two teenagers.

The Kiwis' two bronze medals were won by Zoi Sadowski-Synnott in the women's snowboarding big air and by Nico Porteous in the men's ski halfpipe.

Porteous, at 16 years 91 days, and Sadowski-Synnott, at 16 years 353 days, thus became the New Zealanders' two youngest ever Olympic medallists in one fell swoop.

Finally, in figure skating, there was a major shock as 15-year-old Alina Zagitova capped her meteoric ascent with an Olympic title in the women's singles.

Zagitova beat compatriot Evgenia Medvedeva to win one of only two gold medals for the Olympic Athletes from Russia team which, regretfully, otherwise remained mired in doping controversy.

Personally, my moment of the 2018 Winter Olympics came courtesy of Ester Ledecká who will now be forever remembered as the skiing snowboarder.

Ledecká, as expected, was victorious at the weekend on her snowboard in the parallel giant slalom.

A week earlier, however, the 22-year-old Czech also won gold in an alpine skiing event, the Super-G, to the total astonishment of everyone including visibly herself.

Incredibly, Ledecká finished 0.01 seconds ahead of the defending Olympic champion Anna Veith, who had already been proclaimed the winner by many media outlets.

And, following her victory in the snowboarding, she became the first ever woman to win gold in two different disciplines at the same Winter Olympics.

Ledecká, more than any other athlete in Pyeongchang, therefore summed up the true glory of all Olympic Games.

Yes, as a magical event in which anything can happen, the Olympics are - and will always be - something which no other sporting competition can match.

MEDAL TABLE Final standings
1Norway (NOR)14141139
2Germany (GER)1410731
3Canada (CAN)1181029
4United States (USA)98623
5Netherlands (NED)86620
6Sweden (SWE)76114
7South Korea (KOR)58417
8Switzerland (SUI)56415
9France (FRA)54615
10Austria (AUT)53614
11Japan (JPN)45413
12Italy (ITA)32510
13Athletes from Russia (OAR)26917
14Czech Republic (CZE)2237
15Belarus (BLR)2103
16China (CHN)1629
17Slovakia (SVK)1203
18Finland (FIN)1146
19Great Britain & NI (GBR)1045
20Poland (POL)1012
21Hungary (HUN)1001
21Ukraine (UKR)1001
23Australia (AUS)0213
24Slovenia (SLO)0112
25Belgium (BEL)0101
26New Zealand (NZL)0022
26Spain (ESP)0022
28Kazakhstan (KAZ)0011
28Latvia (LAT)0011
28Liechtenstein (LIE)0011