Saturday, 14 May 2016

Eurovision finds its way back home

EUROVISION returns to its spiritual home tonight as the Globe Arena in Stockholm hosts the 61st Song Contest, starting at 8pm.

Winners for the first time in 1974 when ABBA launched their glittering careers with Waterloo, Sweden have tasted victory another five times since.

Only Ireland, with seven wins following their domination of the competition in the 1990s, can beat the Swedes' overall total of six.

But, whereas Sweden has sustained its success and enjoyed two triumphs in the 21st century, Ireland's last win was still back in 1996.

That is something that will not change this year either as, for Ireland, the 2016 Contest is already over.

Former Westlife member Nicky Byrne failed to negotiate his semi final on Thursday with his scratchy voice doing him few favours.

Yes - it was, sadly for him, a case of my lovely hoarse voice - and it did about as well as the fictional Father Ted entry My Lovely Horse.

As one of the Big Five contributors to the European Broadcast Union, the United Kingdom faces no such semi final worries and receives a bye to the final each year along with France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

Nevertheless, duo Joe & Jake - a 21-year-old from Ruthin in Wales and a 20-year-old from Stoke-on-Trent - must turn around a dismal recent record of British failures.

Still in third place on the all-time winners list with five victories, the United Kingdom has finished in the top 10 only once since 2002 when Jade Ewen finished fifth in 2009 with It's My Time.

Indeed, in the 14 years since the UK's last top-three place, we have had to endure the likes of Jemini, Scooch, Daz Sampson, Andy Abraham, and Josh Dubovie.

That hall of shame includes three last places including an infamous set of nul points for the woefully out-of-tune Jemini.

But, at least Joe & Jake's youthfulness should ensure an energetic performance on You're Not Alone - and that can only be an improvement on sending Bonnie Tyler at the age then of 61, or a 76-year-old Engelbert Humperdinck.

In short, it would be a major surprise if Joe & Jake pulled off a victory - but there is genuine hope of the young lads achieving a respectable position.

That, at least, would be a step in the right direction. For many countries, the dire performance of the UK in recent years has come as little surprise considering the standard of entrants.

Frankly, the Eurovision is still considered a bit of a joke in the UK and some would argue that this is right to be the case.

But, for Sweden especially, the Song Contest is a serious business, a part of their cultural milieu.

Every year, the most watched Swedish programme on television is Melodifestivalen, which is a bit like the X Factor, except the winner is selected to represent the country at Eurovision instead.

It certainly worked in 2012 when Loreen won with dance track Euphoria and again last year when Måns Zelmerlöw took top spot with Heroes.

Unsurprisingly, this year's entry, If I Were Sorry by Frans, has also been well-backed.

The overwhelming favourites, however, are Russia. In fact, the Sergey Lazarev - with You Are the Only One - is likely to start the night in the unusual position of actually being odds-on, and therefore holds little value for a bet at all.

Of course, we could all just sit back and enjoy the three hours of music on BBC One - and, for this year at least, remember the contribution which Terry Wogan made to the Contest.

Wogan died from cancer in January this year, aged 77, having been the UK commentator every year from 1980 to 2008.

His successor Graham Norton has continued the tradition of adding Irish wit to the often bizarre occurrences on stage - and, this year, after Sweden sing the ninth song of the night, Norton will pay tribute to Wogan and encourage everyone to raise a glass.

Sláinte, Terry - and good luck tonight to Joe & Jake.

Click on the links for the official Eurovision videos of each of the songs. Odds supplied by Ladbrokes, subject to change. See 

CountryArtist - SongOdds
01BelgiumLaura Tesoro - What's the Pressure40/1
02Czech RepublicGabriela Gunčíková - I Stand200/1
03NetherlandsDouwe Bob - Slow Down50/1
04AzerbaijanSamra - Miracle150/1
05HungaryFreddie - Pioneer200/1
06ItalyFrancesca Michielin - No Degree of Separation66/1
07IsraelHovi Star - Made of Stars80/1
08BulgariaPoli Genova - If Love Was a Crime100/1
09SwedenFrans - If I Were Sorry16/1
10GermanyJamie-Lee - Ghost250/1
11FranceAmir - J'ai cherché [I have searched]12/1
12PolandMichał Szpak - Color of Your Life100/1
13AustraliaDami Im - Sound of Silence3/1
14CyprusMinus One - Alter Ego150/1
15SerbiaSanja Vučić ZAA - Goodbye (Shelter)80/1
16LithuaniaDonny Montell - I've Been Waiting for This Night150/1
17CroatiaNina Kraljić - Lighthouse150/1
18RussiaSergey Lazarev - You Are the Only One4/6fav
19SpainBarei - Say Yay!100/1
20LatviaJusts - Heartbeat50/1
21UkraineJamala - 194415/2
22MaltaIra Losco - Walk on Water33/1
23GeorgiaNika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz - Midnight Gold250/1
24AustriaZoë - Loin d'ici [Far from here]66/1
25United KingdomJoe & Jake - You're Not Alone33/1
26ArmeniaIveta Mukuchyan - LoveWave 28/1

Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Season 2015/16: Leicester City - from 5000/1 to number one

Premier League

Full table as it standsWDLFAGDPts
CLeicester City221136434+3077
2Tottenham Hotspur191346728+3970
4Manchester City197106838+3064
5Manchester United17994331+1260
6West Ham United151466043+1759

LEICESTER CITY will celebrate their remarkable Premier League title triumph when they take on Everton at the King Power Stadium tonight.

The Foxes are seven points clear of Tottenham Hotspur so cannot be caught after Spurs dropped points in both of their last two games.

Leading 2-0 against Chelsea with just over half an hour to play, it looked as if the North London club would test Leicester's mettle by extending the title chase for another week.

But the Blues were always bound to raise their game for Spurs - and Gary Cahill pulled one back before Eden Hazard equalised with just seven minutes left on the clock.

Cue pandemonium in Leicester - the first English first-time champions since their East Midlands neighbours Nottingham Forest in 1978.

Tipped for relegation in some places at the start of the season, having survived late on last year, Claudio Ranieri's men defied odds of 5000/1 to achieve this fairytale title win.

But, in hindsight, those odds were terribly unfair on a team which the goal-scoring threat of Jamie Vardy, the creativity of Riyad Mahrez, and the steel of N'Golo Kante and Danny Drinkwater in midfield.

Early on in the season, Leicester struggled for clean sheets - but, as the campaign has worn on, the Foxes have tightened up.

Since Christmas, they have conceded just 10 league goals and a series of 1-0 wins in March and April ensured they have always kept their title rivals at arm's length.

As mentioned, Spurs have come closest to matching Leicester. Indeed, Mauricio Pochettino's men have scored more and conceded fewer goals than any other team in the division this season.

Harry Kane has another good year with 28 goals in all competitions and, though they have failed to land a first championship since 1961, Spurs could finish above Arsenal for the first time since 1995.

The Gunners were top on New Year's Day but their bid for a first title since 2004 suffered in a habitual springtime collapse in defeats away to Manchester United and at home to Swansea City.

Without the FA Cup to fall back on this season, Arsene Wenger's position at the Emirates has never looked more shaky.

Of course, Manuel Pellegrini's fate at Manchester City has already been determined with Pep Guardiola having been signed up to replace him.

The mid-season announcement of this end-of-season change has definitely affected Man City's form - and a limp defeat in the Champions League semi finals to Real Madrid leaves them only with a top-four finish to play for.

City rivals Man United are at the front of the chasing group, four points behind in fifth but with a game in hand next week having qualified for an FA Cup Final against Crystal Palace.

That game in hand is against West Ham United and it will be the last ever match at the Boleyn Ground before the Hammers take over the Olympic Stadium.

West Ham have seen off their old ground in some style, losing their opening two home games in August but not since.

Slaven Bilic's men currently sit in sixth, just a point behind Man United, and looking good for a European place.

Southampton, a further three points behind in seventh, have had another steady season under Ronald Koeman and cannot be discounted when considering the European spots either following successive 4-2 wins over Aston Villa and Man City.

Villa, of course, have endured a nightmare season with indiscipline occurring on and off the pitch from a squad of players not fit for purpose.

Currently on a sequence of 11 successive Premier League defeats - a run which began with a 6-0 home defeat to Europa League finalists Liverpool - the season's end cannot come quick enough for the second city's fallen giants.

Otherwise, the relegation battle looks set to go to the wire. Norwich City are now second bottom, two points adrift of 17th-placed Newcastle United, after a damaging run of three consecutive defeats.

Sunderland are third bottom and need to pull off another of their notorious late-season escapes. Currently sitting a point behind rivals Newcastle, the Black Cats still have a game-in-hand to play against Everton next week.

Newcastle only have two games left - away to Aston Villa and at home to Tottenham - but have gone unbeaten in four Premier League games for the first time since 2014.

Rafa Benitez certainly looks to have worked some magic with what previously looked like a demoralised squad under Steve McClaren.

But the fear remains on Tyneside that owner Mike Ashley may have ultimately left it too late.

16Crystal Palace109173646-1039
17Newcastle United89193964-2533
19Norwich City87203561-2631
RAston Villa37262772-4516


Full table as it standsWDLFAGDPts
3Brighton & Hove Alb 241657141+3088
4Hull City2311116434+3080
5Derby County211596642+2478
6Sheffield Wednesday191796543+2274
7Cardiff City1716125550+567

BURNLEY bounced back to the Premier League at the first time of asking as Sam Vokes' strike was enough to beat Queens Park Rangers at Turf Moor on Bank Holiday Monday.

The 1-0 win extended the Clarets' unbeaten run to 22 games - Sean Dyche's men last lost on Boxing Day - and, after a relatively slow start, they have shown the benefits of retaining a settled squad.

Middlesbrough and Brighton are just two points behind so either of them could feasibly still pip Burnley to the Championship.

Only one can go up, though - for, in a quirky twist of fate determined by the fixtures computer last year, they play each other on the final day in what has been billed as a £170m clash.

Boro hold the nominal advantage of playing at home and they also have a better goal difference so a fourth-successive league draw for the Teessiders would be enough.

Indeed, Aitor Karanka's men could perhaps have been promoted by now - but, despite still being unbeaten in nine, have lost their way somewhat. Will that pressure tell?

Certainly, Boro will not want to take on the playoffs again. Although last season's travails resulted in a first trip to the new Wembley, the final ended in a limp 2-0 defeat to Norwich City.

Brighton, by contrast, just about did enough to stay in the division last season, finishing down in 20th.

But, under the tutelage of former Newcastle United manager Chris Hughton, the Seagulls have soared this season - they are unbeaten in their last 13 matches, and have won their last four away.

The atmosphere at the Riverside Stadium promises to be tense - but, for the losers, the season will not be over.

Instead, they will have to lick their wounds and prepare for a playoff match against a buoyant Sheffield Wednesday.

The Owls have reached the Championship top six for the first time since relegation from the top flight in 2000, and confirmed their place with a dominant 3-0 win over nearest rivals Cardiff City last weekend.

The other playoff places are also already determined with Hull City and Derby County assured of taking each other on.

Both the Tigers and the Rams have led the division at one point in the campaign so, like the runner-up in the Middlesbrough-Brighton match, will be disappointed at having dropped into the playoffs.

But, at least for Hull and Derby, the playoffs have looked inevitable for some time after both suffered poor runs of form in the early part of the second half of the season.

Also already confirmed in the Championship are the relegation places.

Bolton Wanderers, who have failed to pay their staff on time at various points of the season, and Charlton Athletic - who have suffered under their uncaring Belgian owner - have both been relegated as a result of off-field issues.

For Milton Keynes Dons, it was a simply a step up too far. This was the Dons' first season in the second flight since they stole their way into the Football League in 2004 - and it showed.

Incidentally, Karl Robinson's men could end up playing AFC Wimbledon - the phoenix club which developed from the club MK replaced - if the latter are successful in the League Two playoffs.

RCharlton Athletic913234077-3740
RMilton Keynes Dons912243867-2939
RBolton Wanderers515254180-3930

League One

Full table as it standsWDLFAGDPts
PWigan Athletic241568141+4087
2Burton Albion259115737+2084
5Bradford City2211125340+1377
7Scunthorpe United2011145847+1171

WIGAN ATHLETIC reversed a couple of seasons of decline with promotion back to the Championship after a 4-0 win at Blackpool.

The Latics, who won the FA Cup in 2013 but were relegated from the Premier League in the same year, suffered a second demotion from the Championship last year.

But, after a slow start to this campaign, Gary Caldwell's men have lost just once since mid-December and they are almost assured of the divisional title given their goal difference advantage over Burton Albion.

For Burton, just being in promotion contention is a remarkable achievement in itself.

Back in 2002, the Brewers won the Northern Premier League title at level six of the English football league pyramid, beginning a journey which could take them to Villa Park next season.

Indeed, just avoiding defeat against Doncaster Rovers will be enough to finish ahead of Walsall who would compete in the playoffs along side Millwall, Bradford City and another team.

The identity of that final team will also be decided on the last day with Barnsley currently in sixth but facing an away game at Wigan.

Scunthorpe United, level on points with the Tykes and only with a slightly inferior goal difference, will look to take advantage of any slip-up in their match away at Sheffield United.

Meanwhile, Gillingham - in poor form at the worst time - could still feasibly make it into the top six but they would need a win at home to Millwall and hope the two other results go their way.

At the bottom, Crewe Alexandra and Colchester United are already down having both looked a long way short this season - while Doncaster are effectively down as they need an unlikely goal difference swing in their favour.

The last relegation place will be taken by Fleetwood Town or, shamefully, their bigger Fylde coast neighbours Blackpool.

The Tangerines were in the Premier League as recently as 2011 and only went down after a last-day defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford.

But, since then, the Tangerine dream has turned into a nightmare. Chairman Karl Oyston has bled the club dry of funds - and only victory against Peterborough United will give Blackpool any hope of staying up.

Even then, a draw for Fleetwood - at home to relegated Crewe - would surely be enough, considering their goal difference advantage.

20Fleetwood Town1115195056-648
22Doncaster Rovers1112224864-1645
RColchester United913235697-4140
RCrewe Alexandra713254681-3534

League Two

Full table as it standsWDLFAGDPts
CNorthampton Town281258045+3596
2Accrington Stanley241297448+2684
3Oxford United231488141+4083
4Bristol Rovers257137545+3082
6Plymouth Argyle239136746+2178
7AFC Wimbledon2012136350+1372
8Cambridge United1813146655+1167

NORTHAMPTON TOWN were the first English team in professional football to secure promotion, doing so all the way back on 9 April after a 2-2 draw against Bristol Rovers.

A week later, a goalless draw at Exeter City secured the League Two title - and, since then, the Cobblers have extended their impressive unbeaten run to 23 matches. In fact, they have lost just once since October.

Nevertheless, the rest of the promotion race is still very much alive. Three teams - Accrington Stanley, Oxford United and Bristol Rovers - are bidding for the two remaining automatic places.

Stanley currently sit second going into their final game at home to Stevenage - and victory there would ensure a first promotion for the Lancastrians since they regained their place back in the Football League in 2006.

Otherwise, it is Oxford who also start the day in a promotion place, one point behind Accrington but one point ahead of Rovers. The Us, the top scorers in League Two, host Wycombe Wanderers on the final day.

Rovers are also at home and will be expected to take advantage of any slip-ups from the others against relegated Dagenham & Redbridge.

The team that does not make it will at least have a playoff place to fall back upon - with Portsmouth, Plymouth Argyle and AFC Wimbledon already assured of their top-seven slots.

The bottom of the table has also been decided in advance of the final day. The aforementioned Dagenham depart the Football League after nine seasons, one of which was spent in League One.

Finally, York City were relegated a fortnight ago and lose their Football League status for the second time in 12 years.

The Daggers and the Minstermen must look to Cheltenham Town for inspiration next season. The Robins secured a rare immediate return from the National League after beating Halifax 2-0 on 16 April.

That win pushed them clear of local rivals Forest Green Rovers with whom they engaged in a promotion tussle lasting most of the season.

Forest Green still have a chance of winning a place in the Football League for the first time through the playoffs, and they hold a 1-0 lead over Dover Athletic heading into the home leg.

Braintree Town - another team looking to gain Football League status for the first time - lead Grimsby Town by the same score in the other semi final.

22Newport County 1013224363-2043
RDagenham & Redbridge810274579-3434
RYork City712265086-3633

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Election 2016: the full results


1st pref
2nd pref
Sadiq KHAN Labour1,148,71644.2%1,310,14356.9%
Zac GOLDSMITH Conservative909,75535.0%994,61443.2%
Sian BERRY Green150,6735.8%

Caroline PIDGEON Liberal Democrats120,0054.6%

Peter WHITTLE UKIP94,3733.6%


Labour9 (+1)39.9% (-1.2%)3 (-1)12
Conservative5 (-1)28.9% (-3.1%)3 (-)8
7.9% (-0.6%)2 (-)2
6.5% (+2.0%)2 (+2)2
Liberal Democrats
6.3% (-0.5%)1 (-1)1

Barnet & Camden - Brent & Harrow - City & East - Ealing & Hillingdon - Enfield & Haringey - Greenwich & Lewisham - Lambeth & Southwark - Merton & Wandsworth - North East
Bexley & Bromley - Croydon & Sutton - Havering & Redbridge - South West - West Central
+ + + + + + + + + + +

SUMMARYVote %Councils
LabourVote %57(-1)1,280(-24)
ConservativeVote %34(-)753(-35)
Liberal DemocratsVote %4(+1)341(+39)
OtherVote %0(-)180(+20)
No overall control

After 118 of 124 councils declared

Knowsley - Rotherham - Sheffield - Warrington
Barnsley - Birmingham - Blackburn with Darwen - Bolton - Bradford - Bury - Coventry - Derby - Gateshead - Halton - Hartlepool - Kingston upon Hull - Leeds - Liverpool - Manchester - Newcastle upon Tyne - North Tyneside - Oldham - Reading - Rochdale - St Helens - Salford - Sandwell - Sefton - Slough - South Tyneside - Southampton - Sunderland - Tameside - Wakefield - Wigan - Wirral - Wolverhampton
Solihull - Swindon - Trafford - Wokingham
Calderdale - Dudley - Kirklees - Milton Keynes - North East Lincolnshire - Plymouth - Portsmouth - Southend-on-Sea - Stockport - Thurrock - Walsall

Exeter - Lincoln
Cherwell - Elmbridge - Gloucester - Rochford - Welwyn Hatfield - Winchester - Woking
Colchester - Stroud
Hastings - Nuneaton and Bedworth - Oxford
Adur - Fareham - Gosport
Burnley - Cambridge - Cannock Chase - Carlisle - Chorley - Crawley - Harlow - Hyndburn - Ipswich - Norwich - Preston - Redditch - Rossendale - Stevenage - West Lancashire
Amber Valley - Basingstoke and Deane - Brentwood - Broxbourne - Castle Point - Craven - Daventry - Epping Forest - Harrogate - Hart - Havant - Huntingdonshire - Mole Valley - North Hertfordshire - Reigate and Banstead - Rugby - Runnymede - Rushmoor - St Albans - South Cambridgeshire - Stratford-on-Avon - Tamworth - Tandridge - Tunbridge Wells - West Oxfordshire - Worthing - Wyre Forest
Eastleigh - South Lakeland
Basildon - Great Yarmouth - Maidstone - Newcastle-under-Lyme - Pendle - Three Rivers - Weymouth and Portland - Worcester


BristolGeorge Ferguson (Ind)tbc
LiverpoolJoe Anderson (Labour)Joe Anderson (Labour)
SalfordIan Stewart (Labour)Paul Dennett (Labour)

Chris ELMORE Labour12,38352.6% (-0.3%)
Glenda DAVIES UKIP3,80816.2% (+1.2%)
Tim THOMAS Plaid Cymru3,68315.7% (+5.6%)
Alex WILLIAMS Conservative2,95612.6% (-3.3%)
Janet Ellard Liberal Democrats7023.0% (-)
Total votes: 23,532 Turnout: 43% Majority: 8,575

LAB hold
Gill FURNISS Labour14,08762.5% (+5.9%)
Steven WINSTONE UKIP4,49720.0% (-2.1%)
Shaffaq MOHAMMED Lib Dems1,3856.1% (+1.6%)
Spencer PITFIELD Conservative1,2675.6% (-5.4%)
Christine Gilligan KUBO Green9384.2% (-0.1%)
Others4071.7% (+1.7%)
Total votes: tbc Turnout: tbc Majority: tbc

Scottish National Party46.5%59 (+6)41.7%4 (-12)63
Conservative22.0%7 (+4)22.9%24 (+12)31
Labour22.6%3 (-12)19.1%21 (-1)24
Green0.6%06.6%6 (+4)6
Liberal Democrats7.8%4 (+2)5.2%1 (-2)5
Others1.5%04.5%0 (-1)0
All 129 seats declared. SNP short of a majority.

CENTRAL + + + + + + +
Airdree and Shotts - Coatbridge and Chryston - Cumbernauld and Kilsyth - East Kilbride - Falkirk East - Falkirk West - Hamilton, Larkhall and Stonehouse - Motherwell and Wishaw - Uddingston and Bellshill
GLASGOW + + + + + + +
Anniesland - Cathcart - Kelvin - Maryhill and Springburn - Pollok - Provan - Rutherglen - Shettleston - Southside
Argyll and Bute - Caithness, Sutherland and Ross - Na h-Eileanan an Iar - Inverness and Nairn - Moray - Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch
Orkney - Shetland Islands
LOTHIAN + + + + + + +
Almond Valley - Edinburgh Eastern - Edinburgh Northern and Leith - Edinburgh Pentlands - Linlithgow - Midlothian North and Musselburgh
Edinburgh Southern
Edinburgh Central
Edinburgh Western
MID-SCOTLAND/FIFE + + + + + + +
Cowdenbeath - Dunfermline - Kirkcaldy - Mid Fife and Glenrothes - Perthshire North - Perthshire South and Kinross-shire - Stirling
North East Fife 
NORTH EAST + + + + + + +
Aberdeen Central - Aberdeen Donside - Angus North and Mearns - Angus South - Aberdeen South and North Kincardine - Aberdeenshire EastBanffshire and Buchan Coast - Dundee City East - Dundee City West
Aberdeenshire West
SOUTH + + + + + + +
Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley - Clydesdale - Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley - Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale
East Lothian
Ayr - Dumfriesshire - Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire - Galloway and West Dumfries
WEST + + + + + + +
Clydebank and Milngavie - Cunninghame North - Cunninghame South - Greenock and Inverclyde - Paisley - Renfrewshire North and West - Renfrewshire South - Strathkelvin and Bearsden
Eastwood  -

Labour34.7%27 (-1)31.5%229
Conservative21.1%618.8%5 (-3)11
Plaid Cymru20.5%6 (+1)20.8%612
UKIP12.5%013.0%7 (+7)7
Liberal Democrats7.7%16.5%0 (-4)1

MID-WEST + + + +
Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire - Montgomeryshire - Preseli Pembrokeshire
Carmarthen East and Dinefwr - Ceredigion - Dwyfor Meirionnydd
Brecon and Radnorshire
NORTH + + + +
Alyn and Deeside - Clwyd South - Delyn - Vale of Clwyd - Wrexham
Aberconwy - Clwyd West
Arfon - Ynys Mon
Cardiff Central - Cardiff North - Cardiff South and Penarth - Cardiff West - Cynon Valley - Pontypridd - Vale of Glamorgan
SOUTH EAST + + + +
Blaenau Gwent - Caerphilly - Islwyn - Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney - Newport East - Newport West - Torfaen
SOUTH WEST + + + +
Aberavon - Bridgend - Gower - Neath - Ogmore - Swansea East - Swansea West

pref %
Democratic Unionists202,56729.2%38
Sinn Féin166,78524.0%29
Social Democratic and Labour83,36412.0%14
Ulster Unionist87,30212.6%13

North Antrim + + + + + +
East Antrim + + + + + +
South Antrim + + + + + +
Belfast North + + + + + +
Belfast West + + + + + +
Belfast South + + + + + +
Belfast East + + + + + +
North Down + + + + + +
Strangford + + + + + +
Lagan Valley + + + + + +
Upper Bann + + + + + +
South Down + + + + + +
Newry & Armagh + + + + + +
Fermanagh & South Tyrone + + + + + +
West Tyrone + + + + + +
Mid Ulster + + + + + +
East Londonderry + + + + + +
Foyle + + + + + + 

Total votes: tbc Turnout: tbc Majority: tbc

Bedfordshire - Cambridgeshire - Cumbria - Devon and Cornwall - Dyfed-Powys - Essex - Hampshire - Hertfordshire - Kent - Lincolnshire - Norfolk - North Yorkshire - Northamptonshire - Staffordshire - Suffolk - Surrey - Sussex - Thames Valley - Warwickshire - West Mercia - Wiltshire
Cheshire - Cleveland - Derbyshire - Durham - Humberside - Lancashire - Leicestershire - Merseyside - Northumbria - Nottinghamshire - South Yorkshire - South Wales - West Midlands - West Yorkshire
Avon and Somerset - Dorset - Gloucestershire - Gwent - North Wales

Sunday, 1 May 2016

World Snooker final: Selby seals second Crucible title

 Ding JUNHUI 14-18 Mark SELBY (2)

Session one (2-6): 8-125 (91), 68-70 (DJ 52), 43-101 (76), 0-124 (120), 0-100 (70), 38-77, 68-47, 107-14
Session two (5-4): 22-73, 92-30 (76), 103-1 (103), 93-49 (89), 1-71, 86-0 (86), 82-52 (55), 25-86, 27-67
Session three (4-4): 121–7 (89), 61–56, 11–126 (126), 103–0 (103), 43–75 (52), 9-118 (68), 69-1 (52), 11-75 (55)
Session four (3-4): 0-103 (57), 60-67 (DJ 60), 87-0 (73), 108-0 (70), 103-0 (103), 11–59, 0-74 (74)

WORLD number one Mark Selby sealed a second world title after defeating Chinese opponent Ding Junhui 18-14 at the Crucible in Sheffield.

Selby, known as the Jester from Leicester, made a 74 break in the 32nd frame to take victory at the relatively early time of 10.08pm.

Earlier on in the final, Selby had taken a commanding 6-0 lead - something which came as a surprise as he had endured a tough semi final, including a Crucible record 76-minute frame, against Marco Fu.

Understandably, though, the hitherto fluent Ding was nervous in his first world final appearance and almost shed tears of relief when he finally got on the board after Selby had missed a blue in the seventh frame.

Ding also won the eighth and last frame of the first session to set up what appeared to be a fascinating Sunday evening.

Indeed, the suspense and tension only grew as the 29-year-old Chinese player took three of the first four frames, and four of the first six, to reduce his arrears further to 8-6.

At this stage, Selby - despite having held the lead from the start - was playing well within himself but, in what was to become a theme of the match, the 32-year-old came back and regained control of the match.

The 15th frame became an epic, lasting more than an hour. More than just that though, at least three-quarters of the time was spent with Selby chasing two snookers.

Of course, Selby was quite accustomed to long frames after his record tussle on the previous day against Fu - and, in all, he laid 13 snookers.

And, while Ding prevailed to drag the score back to 8-7, the frame knocked the Chinese Dragon out of his rhythm, and Selby subsequently took the last two frames to lead by three overnight.

Again neither of those were classics and, in another long frame, the 17th and last of the night, Selby wasted two easy chances to end the session by potting the green.

In a role reversal, Ding had put Selby through the wringer, laying nine snookers - but the Jester, his eyes red raw with tiredness by the end, still escaped with a handsome lead.

Ominously, the bank holiday Monday afternoon session threatened to be more of the same slow grind as, despite a promising 89 from Ding in the first frame of the day, the balls then went awkward in the second.

Ding again took it, surprisingly outlasting Selby in a 50-minute ordeal by winning on the final black - the gap was back down to one at 10-9.

Selby, though, knocked in what would be the highest break of the match with a run of 126 to a restore a two-frame advantage.

But then, incredibly, Ding responded with his own century of 103 and the mid-session interval had come sooner than anyone had imagined.

The latter part of the third session, though, went to Selby as he again wrestled control of the match by taking three of the last four frames to lead 14-11.

With only four more frames required for victory, it was no surprise to see Selby start the evening quickly and he took the first two frames to extend his advantage to 16-11.

Nevertheless, the 27th frame really should have fallen to Ding after his break of 60. Selby's 33 clearance, however, meant he had only once previously been in a stronger position in the match, and that was at 6-0 up.

At this stage, there was a genuine concern that Ding might wilt - instead, though, he came out fighting valiantly and breaks of 73, 103, and 70 put the final back in the balance.

Incidentally, the 103 break took the number of centuries at the 2016 World Championship up to 86, level with the Crucible record set last year.

But, unlike this fine tournament as a whole, this final never seemed destined to be a true classic.

Clinical Selby made sure of that, winning a 51-minute frame to go 17-14 up before a carefully-constructed 74 break put the matter beyond doubt.

Just as Leicester City were winning the Premier League, courtesy of Tottenham Hotspur drawing against Chelsea, the Jester from Leicester was making his own big impact on the world of sport.

"It is fantastic," he said afterwards. "It was very special to win it two years ago, but I felt under a lot more pressure now than I did two years ago.

"It was a tough final and, with the amount of pressure Ding is under from China alone, to play like that - I can't imagine how he could do that."

Yes - as much as this final was for Selby and his position as a multiple snooker world champion, it was also a massive deal for Ding and the country of China.

Ding was the first Asian in a world snooker final and his appearance came in the context of him having badly lost his way before this year's tournament.

His surprising fall to 17th in the rankings meant he was forced to qualify for the Crucible for only the second time in his professional career.

And, though he commendably knuckled down and won his three qualifying matches with ease, his record in Sheffield - one semi final in nine attempts - was unpromising to say the least.

However, in a first round victory over Martin Gould and a 13-10 triumph over Judd Trump - which sounds more dominant than it was - Ding had played himself into form.

The Jiangsu potter then beat two-time winner Mark Williams in the quarter finals 13-3 with a session to spare and, remarkably, ended up as favourite for his semi final against fellow qualifier, 45-year-old Alan McManus.

Five centuries in the opening nine frames threatened to blow the Scotsman away and, though McManus came back, an audacious attempt at a 147 in the 20th frame - which only failed on the 15th black - showed Ding was always going to have too much.

In much the same way in the Final, Selby capitalised on his status as favourite and his early dominance ultimately proved vital in him joining a pantheon of greats.

Since 1969, only Stephen Hendry (7), Steve Davis (6), Ray Reardon (6), Ronnie O'Sullivan (5), John Higgins (4), John Spencer (3), Alex Higgins (2), and Mark Williams (2) have won more than one world crown.

And, indeed, in an annus mirabilis for sport in the city of Leicester, it seemed destined Selby would add himself to the list.

Best of 19 frames

(1) Stuart Bingham9-10Ali Carter

(16) Stephen Maguire7-10Alan McManus

(9) Ricky Walden10-8Robbie Williams

(8) John Higgins10-3Ryan Day

(5) Judd Trump10-8Liang Wenbo

(12) Martin Gould8-10Ding Junhui

(13) Mark Williams10-4Graeme Dott

(4) Neil Robertson6-10Michael Holt

(3) Shaun Murphy8-10Anthony McGill

(14) Marco Fu10-2Peter Ebdon

(11) Barry Hawkins10-5Zhang Anda

(6) Ronnie O'Sullivan10-7David Gilbert

(7) Mark Allen10-3Mitchell Mann

(10) Joe Perry9-10Kyren Wilson

(15) Michael White7-10Sam Baird

(2) Mark Selby10-6Robert Milkins

Best of 25 frames

Ali Carter11-13Alan McManus

(9) Ricky Walden8-13John Higgins (8)

(5) Judd Trump10-13Ding Junhui

(13) Mark Williams13-8Michael Holt

Anthony McGill9-13Marco Fu (14)

(11) Barry Hawkins13-12Ronnie O'Sullivan (6)

(7) Mark Allen9-13Kyren Wilson

Sam Baird11-13Mark Selby (2)

Best of 25 frames

Alan McManus13-11John Higgins (8)

Ding Junhui13-3Mark Williams (13)

(14) Marco Fu13-11Barry Hawkins (11)

Kyren Wilson8-13Mark Selby (2)

Best of 33 frames

Alan McManus11-17Ding Junhui

(14) Marco Fu15-17Mark Selby (2)

CENTURIES (86) - joint record with 2015
143 Kyren Wilson
141 Barry Hawkins
140 Michael Holt
139 Ronnie O'Sullivan
138 Marco Fu, Ding Junhui
136 Marco Fu, Alan McManus
135 Marco Fu
134 Mark Selby
133 Mark Selby
132 Mark Selby, Ding Junhui
131 Ding Junhui
130 Kyren Wilson
129 Kyren Wilson
128 Alan McManus, Ding Junhui
126 Mark Selby
125 David Gilbert, Alan McManus, Mark Selby
124 Ronnie O'Sullivan
123 Ding Junhui
122 Mark Allen
121 John Higgins
120 Mark Selby
119 Anthony McGill, Alan McManus
118 Ronnie O'Sullivan
117 Anthony McGill, Liang Wenbo
115 Michael Holt, Mark Selby
114 Alan McManus, Marco Fu
113 Stuart Bingham, Ding Junhui
112 Ding Junhui
111 Marco Fu, Martin Gould
110 Ding Junhui
109 Shaun Murphy, Michael Holt, Ding Junhui
108 Sam Baird, Marco Fu
107 Liang Wenbo, Neil Robertson, John Higgins, Alan McManus
106 Judd Trump (2)
105 Shaun Murphy, John Higgins (2)
104 Mark Allen, Robbie Williams
103 Sam Baird, Ali Carter, Ronnie O'Sullivan, Kyren Wilson, Mark Allen (2), Ding Junhui (3)
102 Ali Carter, Mark Williams, Michael White, Marco Fu, Barry Hawkins, Ricky Walden
101 Ronnie O'Sullivan, Neil Robertson, Mark Selby (2), John Higgins
100 John Higgins, Ding Junhui (3), Sam Baird, Ali Carter, Marco Fu (2)

Sunday, 17 April 2016

World Snooker Championships: The O'Sullivan paradox

RONNIE O'SULLIVAN begins his bid for a sixth world title against qualifier David Gilbert at the Crucible in Sheffield today.

The Rocket - previously champion in 2001, 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2013 - is an overwhelming favourite, not only in his first round match but for the tournament as a whole.

In fact, O'Sullivan is generally as short as 7/4 with most bookmakers - and, undoubtedly, he remains the biggest draw in the sport.

Paradoxically, though, his continued dominance is not particularly healthy for snooker as a whole.

A post-Ronnie era has yet to emerge even though O'Sullivan is now aged 40 - and, while this has much to do with his own fitness from his regimented healthy lifestyle, even the Rocket has expressed some frustration with the competition.

In 2013, O'Sullivan won his fifth world title, defeating Barry Hawkins 18-12 - despite having spent a whole year outside of the game.

Afterwards, he said: "The standard's great. Look at the way Barry (Hawkins) played in the final. But what you are lacking is someone who adds a bit of pizazz.

"I think every sport needs someone like Alex Higgins or Eric Cantona, it's about the characters.

"They're all nice guys and all good boys, but it needs someone to get in there. Some of them are trying to do it but it's just not natural. You need someone like me who just comes out and does my thing."

Earlier this year, at the Masters at Alexandra Palace, Hawkins was on the end of another beating by O'Sullivan who delivered a 10-1 thrashing in the Final.

Speaking as part of a generation which includes fellow former world champions John Higgins and Mark Williams, O'Sullivan said: "We have kept our level high and are waiting for someone young, or two or three, to come through and take it away from us – but it doesn’t seem to be happening."

Perhaps that is a little unfair on the likes of world number one, 2014 champion Mark Selby, or 2010 champion Neil Robertson.

But even fans of the Jester from Leicester would have to agree that he often grinds his way through games, a style which led to O'Sullivan labelling him as "The Torturer".

Meanwhile, Robertson himself is no spring chicken at 34 years old - and another one-time emerging force in the sport, Ding Junhui, has so badly lost his way that he was forced to qualify for the tournament this year.

Instead, the most likely heir to the title of fans' favourite remains Judd Trump, the 26-year-old who was runner-up to John Higgins in 2011.

However, a searing lack of consistency blights the Bristolian's game - though, last year, he was unfortunate in losing to Stuart Bingham in the deciding frame of a classic Crucible semi final.

Bingham, of course, went on to win the title - beating Shaun Murphy 18-15 in the Final - but already it has been assured that there will no repeat of that outcome this year.

The Crucible Curse - which determines that no first-time champion has ever successfully defended their crown at the venue - struck again on the opening day as Ali Carter won a decider.

Carter - a two-times runner-up - was always going to be a tough opening opponent for Bingham - and, while the latter has been a gracious and gentlemanly world champion, the result is not actually that big a shock.

For Bingham, as lovely a bloke as he seems to be, was hardly a big name champion.

Indeed, the only time that snooker has made it onto the back pages of the newspapers this year was when O'Sullivan controversially decided against making a 147 at the Welsh Open in February.

This was nothing new for O'Sullivan who had previously almost turned down a maximum at the World Open in Glasgow in 2010 before being convinced by referee Jan Verhaas on that occasion to complete the break.

But there was nothing which could convince O'Sullivan in Cardiff this year - and, while his unusual 146 break earned snooker some rare backpage headlines, it was not exactly the finest moment for the sport.

World Snooker chairman Barry Hearn recognised that and described O'Sullivan's action as "unacceptable" and "disrespectful".

However, Hearn is well aware that, although there is no single player bigger than the game itself, the Rocket comes close to holding that status.

Not that this necessarily means the bookmakers will be right. The World Championship at the Crucible is a 17-day event, a psychological marathon which tests every sinew in a survival of the fittest.

Therefore, it would be no surprise if a battler and a grinder like O'Sullivan's torturer Selby prevailed again.

Whatever happens, though, the action at the Crucible usually makes for epic viewing with coverage provided by the BBC and Eurosport throughout.

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Grand National: Teenage kicks Rule The World

TEENAGE jockey David Mullins landed in dreamland after he rode the aptly-named Rule The World to victory in the 169th renewal of the Grand National at a sodden Aintree racecourse.

Mullins powered home in the final straight of his maiden National to finish six lengths clear of joint favourite The Last Samurai and 100/1 shot Vics Canvas.

For trainer Mouse Morris too, this was an emotional triumph over the hurdles. Morris's son Christopher - nicknamed Tiffer - died last year aged just 30 of suspected carbon monoxide poisoning in Argentina.

And while victory on Merseyside cannot bring his son back, Morris immediately turned his thoughts towards him, saying: “Tiffer was looking down on me today. He helped me there."

For 19-year-old Mullins, a nephew of champion trainer Willie, this was an incredible start to his Grand National career.

But, for others in the starting field of 39, this was a very short race indeed. That was certainly true for Hadrian's Approach who unseated his rider at the first, while First Lieutenant and the fancied Holywell fell at the second.

At the front, Aachen took up the early lead from The Romford Pele, Double Ross and last year's runner-up Saint Are.

Meanwhile, Many Clouds - aiming to become the first back-to-back winner of the National since Red Rum in the 1970s - took up a good early position.

The Romford Pele then unseated his rider at the Canal Turn - but Aachen, Double Ross and Saint Are continued to lead the race as they headed back towards the grandstands.

A loose horse caused some bother at the Chair where On His Own and Sir Des Champs both fell.

Nonetheless, a large part of the field remained in with a chance of the big prize as they crossed the Melling Road to begin the second circuit.

They included still, of course, the history-chasing Many Clouds and his history-chasing jockey Leighton Aspell - and, as they jumped the 19th, they hit the front once more.

Excitement built as they retained their lead heading over Foinavon, around the Canal Turn and onto Valentine's.

But it was still too early to be rewriting the history books - and, at the 26th fence of 30, Many Clouds duly made a terrible error which completely took the wind out of his sails.

Thereafter, he and Aspell understandly went backwards - and, instead, it was the other joint favourite The Last Samurai who took the lead ahead of Morning Assembly and Vics Canvas.

As Morning Assembly faded just as quickly, Rule The World finally moved into a threatening position, taking the last fence in third behind The Last Samurai and Vics Canvas.

It was clear as they rounded the Elbow that this had indeed turned into a three-horse race - and, ultimately, it was Mullins who had timed his mount's ride to perfection.

Steaming past the other two contenders, nine-year-old Rule The World completed what was remarkably his first ever win over fences.

And it all means Mullins wakes up this morning knowing life will never be quite the same again.

Aintree, 5.15pm (Channel 4). Going: Soft, heavy in places. 39 ran.
1stRULE THE WORLDDavid Mullins33-1 (6 lengths)
2ndThe Last SamuraiDavid Bass8-1JF
3rdVics CanvasRobert Dunne100-1
4thGilgamboa Robbie Power28-1
5thGoonyella Jonathan Burke12-1

Other finishers

6th Ucello Conti (25/1), 7th Vieux Lion Rouge (66/1), 8th Morning Assembly (16/1), 9th Shutthefrontdoor (12/1), 10th Unioniste (28/1), 11th Le Reve (50/1), 12th Buywise (33/1), 13th Pendra (50/1), 14th Triolo d'Alene (50/1), 15th Just A Par (40/1), 16th Many Clouds (8/1JF)

Failed to finish (pulled up unless stated)
1st Hadrian's Approach (unseated rider)
2nd First Lieutenant (fell), Holywell (fell)
8th (Canal Turn) The Romford Pele (unseated)
12th Rocky Creek
14th Silviniaco Conti
15th (The Chair) On His Own (fell), Sir Des Champs (fell)
18th Gallant Oscar (unseated)
19th Ballynagour (unseated)
21st Soll, The Druid's Nephew, Home Farm, Black Thunder
22nd (Becher's Brook) Katenko (fell), Boston Bob, Aachen, Onenightinvienna (unseated)
24th (Canal Turn) Wonderful Charm
26th Double Ross
27th Kruzhlinin
29th Ballycasey (unseated)
30th Saint Are