London Soccer Shorts…

Friday, February 21
Sky Bet Championship
Derby County v Fulham – Pride Park
Fulham head to Pride Park looking bounce back from last weekends hugely disappointing 3-0 home defeat at the hands of struggling Barnsley – a result which saw Hae Coach, Scott Parket, offer an apology to the Cottagers supporters.

“I am shocked, I am bitterly disappointed, I am gutted. I didn’t see it coming,” the former midfielder told BBC Sport.

“The fans who came here didn’t see it coming and I can only apologise for the performance today because it wasn’t what we have come to expect.
“But these things can sometimes happen and we need to reboot and learn from them. And the most important thing is to keep going, keep being strong characters in the changing room and don’t dwell.

“There are no excuses. We were beaten by a better side today, a side that had more intensity and we were second best really. We didn’t deserve anything out of the game.”

Fulham face a Derby side struggling for some consistency, despite boasting the talents of former England skipper, Wayne Rooney, in their ranks.

Saturday, February 22
Premier League
Chelsea v Tottenham Hotspur – Stamford Bridge
Mateo Kovacic was left frustrated following Chelsea’s midweek defeat against Manchester United, a result which has left the Blues just a single point above Saturday lunchtime visitors, Tottenham Hotspur.

“We played well in the beginning but it’s always the same against United – we play good, we create chances, we don’t score and then they score from one opportunity,” he told www.chelsefc.com

“We don’t have the three points and that’s the most important thing. It was a good game from us, we played well, like we have for more or less the whole season, but we made some silly mistakes and we lost the points.

“We are still a very young team and we need to improve a lot. Now we will see if we are a great team because we have some tough matches to fight for the fourth position and we need to show ourselves.”

Spurs head across the capital, their attacking options further damaged following the announcement that Heung-Min Son will be ruled out for a number of weeks with a fractured arm sustained during their victory at Aston Villa.

Stamford Bridge has never been a particularly happy hunting ground for the Lilywhites. Nevertheless, a victory against their bitter rivals will see them climb into the top-four.

Crystal Palace v Newcastle United – Selhurst Park
Both Palace and Newcastle will be hoping to reverse their recent fortunes at a sold-out Selhurst Park.

Palace hasn’t won any of their last eight matches in all competitions, a run which has seen them slip nervously towards the relegation zone.
Newcastle to have had their troubles of late, winning one of their last five – they sit one point and a place above Palace ahead of the game.

Sky Bet Championship
Brentford v Blackburn Rovers – Griffin Park
Brentford are four without defeat. However, back-to-back draws have slighted dented their hopes of an automatic promotion place.

The Bees face a Blackburn side back in the capital following a 2-0 victory over Charlton at the Valley last weekend. The Rovers recent form is decent – They sit on the cusp of the play-off places.

Speaking about the task his side faced Brentford boss, Thomas Frank, told www.brentfordfc.com: “ I think it’s a big challenge, they are the team ion-form in this division, according to the form table for the last six games.

“Besides that, they have lost three times in the last seventeen games which shows a lot about a team that is difficult to win against.

Charlton Athletic v Luton Town – The Valley
Lee Bowyer is keen to see his Charlton side bounce back following their defeat to Blackburn Rovers at the Valley.

“It was a disappointing day. Blackburn did a good professional performance, a job on us,” he told BBC Sport.

“We started well and were the better side for the first 10, 15 minutes, but then Blackburn got their first goal and after that, they were the better side and deserved their three points.

“The Championship is relentless and everyone has to earn their three points. Did my players work hard? Of course, they did.”

The ‘Addicks task will be that bit harder against a Luton side still in relegation trouble, but recently having won back-to-back league matches, carrying them within four points of the safety zone.

Nottingham Forest v Queen’s Park Rangers – The City Ground
Mark Warburton was delighted with his Queen’s Park Rangers side after they came from two goals down to see off struggling Stoke City at Loftus Road.

The result ended the R’s recent winless sequence and set them up nicely to face a Forest side that has won just one of their last four league matches.

“We were a lot more clinical than we have been in previous weeks,” Warburton told www.qpr.com.

“We missed some glorious chances before they scored and then missed some chances in the second half and that epitomised our form of late, but today we got the win.

“Today’s result was so important. We are still eight points away from the 50 points total which everyone sets as a maker and then we can push on from there.

“We now go to Nottingham Forest which is another tough venue but it’s really important to push on and claim the victory.”

Wigan Athletic v Millwall – DW Stadium
Gary Rowett waxed lyrical about his Millwall side after they impressively saw off play-off hopefuls, Preston North End, at Deepdale.

“I thought we played really well overall,” the Lions chief told BBC Sport.
“I was happy with the goal-scoring opportunities we created, and we worked really hard to limit Preston to very few chances to score.

“I know there were a few calls for offside against Hutchinson for his goal, but we have just watched it back and I do not think there is a case there.
“We have come through a very tough run of games in the last while and if we can keep this form going then I think we can stay within a shout of the play-offs at the end of the season.”

Host’s Wigan requires the points for vastly different reasons. The Latics are without a win in three and currently occupy a place ion the bottom three.

Sky Bet League One
AFC Wimbledon v Blackpool – Kingsmeadow Stadium
Glynn Hodges has demanded a positive response from his side following their five-goal midweek mauling at Oxford United.

The Dons chief apologised to the 380 travelling Wimbledon fans, telling www.afcwimbledon.co.uk: “Normally, we are thanking the fans, but tonight we are apologising to the fans as that wasn’t good enough. The fans were loud, the support was tremendous, and hopefully, we can change it around at the weekend.

“I’m really disappointed. We’ve let down the travelling fans, it was not a performance that we’ve seen coming. It’s an eye-opener, a wake-up call, and it tells us that you can’t rest on your laurels. We have to be at it in every game, which we know, and it wasn’t to be today.”

The Dons take on a Blackpool side floundering in the bottom half of the table having claimed just four points from thirty on offer – a run which saw boss, Simon Grayson, part company with the Seasiders.

Sky Bet League Two
Leyton Orient v Oldham Athletic – Breyer Group Stadium
Leyton Orient boss, Ross Embleton, will be hoping for an altogether smoother afternoon when his side faces inconsistent Oldham Athletic at the Breyer Group Stadium.

Embleton was unhappy with his side following their 2-1 defeat at Cheltenham Town last weekend and particularly facing the backlash of a particularly unhappy fan who had travelled west for the match

Talking to leytonorient.com, a philosophical Embleton admitted: “It’s a really tough one. I feel we were negative in the second half, as we didn’t create enough chances to get ourselves up the pitch, let alone chances on their goal.”

“We have to respect what we were up against and things [weather conditions] changed drastically in the second half. It’s tough to see another way we could have gone about it, really.”

Despite an early goal against one of League Two’s meanest defences, Embleton criticized his defenders: “After the first [Cheltenham] goal, I walk in very angry at half-time, because I didn’t think we defended well enough. We weren’t marking in the way we had discussed.”

“There might have been an element of fortune about their goal. But, we’ve just scored. There aren’t many times we’ve been gifted a goal and Conor [Wilkinson] deserved his goal. But, we’ve got to do better than that and give ourselves a platform.”

After a reported altercation with angry travelling supporters, Embleton revealed: “I had a long chat with just the one supporter. I understand some people don’t want me as manager of this football club. I’m okay with that. I’ve got broad shoulders. I’m getting used to criticism when we lose.”

“It’d be nice to have a pat on the back when we win. My only issue is that the guy was very aggressive. My only request, in the future, is can we communicate as human beings? However, we ended by shaking hands.”

Embleton added: “There has been an improvement. But, people have to remember we all came into a very difficult situation last summer. This was always going to be a most ridiculous season for all of us – with the new manager – Carl Fletcher – coming in. I was a part of that process.”

“I am now the permanent Leyton Orient head coach and I think my record has been okay. I am trying to focus on the here and now. Today’s match was a case of extreme circumstances. I’m very disappointed about the first-half, as though we were in the game.”

Embleton concluded: “My targets are that we end the season with a positive goal difference and give ourselves a positive end to the season, and to build the positivity in the Club.”

Sunday, February 23
Premier League
Manchester United v Watford – Old Trafford

Watford head to Old Trafford, keen to end a four-match winless run which has seen them slip deeper into the relegation dogfight.

The Hornets will take heart from a 2-0 success over Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men just before Christmas.

Speaking to www.watford.com ahead of the game, Argentine, Ignacio Pussetto, insisted the Hornets will climb away from trouble, explaining: “I think we are going to be in a much better position than we are right now at the end of the season. First, we have to find a way out of the situation we are in and find a way out as quickly as possible. We have to keep calm.”

Arsenal v Everton – Emirates Stadium
Arsenal followed up a resounding 4-0 Premier League victory over Newcastle United with an important Europa League Round of Thirty-Two first-leg success against Olympiacos, while notably recording their third-successive clean sheet.

Mikel Arteta was quick to praise his side for their collective efforts in that particular department, explaining: “We tell them they have to enjoy defending as well, it is a big part of the game and like tonight if you give simple balls way you better run back and get that ball back as quickly as possible.

“But they play with a big heart, I see a lot of big efforts that a team, instead of splitting it just joins together really quickly.”

The improving Gunner will now fancy their chances of extending their recent sequence. However, they face an Everton side, themselves on the up following a run of five without defeat in the league.

Monday, February 24
Liverpool v West Ham United – Anfield
New signing, Jarrod Bowen, did his best to take the pressure off him and his West Ham United teammates ahead of their daunting trip to Anfield.

The relegation-haunted Hammers face a Reds side relentlessly hunting down their first league title in thirty-years and who are unbeaten all season.

“There is a tough run of games but the pressure is not on us at Anfield as no-one expects us to get anything from the game, so we can use that to our advantage before going into the final run when we play a lot of teams in the bottom half and we expect to pick up points and get ourselves out of this position,” the former Hull City man told West Ham TV.

The Hammers are without a win in seven Premier League matches and occupy a place in the bottom three.

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Brian Jeeves

Email: [email protected]