The Northern Ireland goalkeeper, 37, has been a key figure in his side’s perfect start to Euro 2016 qualifying, conceding just one goal to date in three successive victories. Friday night’s clash in Romania offers the chance to extend the country’s best ever start to a campaign and hopes are high that a first appearance on the big stage since the 1986 World Cup could become a reality. Press Association And for Carroll, who played with one of the greatest players never to grace the finals of an international competition, that represents a huge incentive. “To qualify for a major tournament would be a dream come true for me,” said the Notts County stopper. “I look at the likes of Ryan Giggs, who was one of the best players in the world and never played in a major tournament. “It would be nice when I retire and I look back on my career in 20 or 30 years time to reflect on playing at the Euro finals. “It would be great to say I played in a major tournament. That’s every footballer’s dream. “I don’t want to look too far ahead, but it’s fair to say it’s a big motivation for me. I’d love to reach the finals with Northern Ireland. The only way you can achieve that is to continue picking up points in the group. That’s our aim on Friday night. Take points in every game and you’re a little bit closer.” Carroll is enjoying every moment of his Northern Ireland career now, having previously slipped into exile due to personal problems and previous manager Nigel Worthington’s indifference towards him. Roy Carroll admits it would be a dream to go one better than former Manchester United team-mate Ryan Giggs by appearing in a major international tournament. An ideal scenario could now see him celebrate a half-century of caps at France 2016, but he is not doing those sums just yet. “I haven’t allowed myself to dream that I’d win my 50th cap in France,” he said. “Three or four years ago I never thought I’d be back playing for Northern Ireland. That’s how desperate things were for me outside football,” he said. “For me to be back just playing for Northern Ireland is fantastic. Michael O’Neill and the coaching staff gave me great belief to come back into the squad and I’m loving it. “They have shown great belief in me and I want to give them 100 per cent back. The supporters too. They travel all over the world to support us and I want to give them 100 per cent.”
“There’s young Callum Robinson who’s come back after doing really well at Preston so I’ve made the decision for that to happen. “We just play a different way. Darren came to me a month ago saying he wanted the chance to play more games (and go on loan), which I agreed to do.” Benteke sits out Saturday’s trip to Burnley in the final match of his three-game ban for violent conduct against Tottenham. Villa have scored just six goals all season, with forwards Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andi Weimann sharing three apiece. However, Lambert this week packed Bent off to Sky Bet Championship outfit Brighton despite fans clamouring for the proven goalscorer to be given a chance. The Villa boss has always refused to criticise Bent ever since the former Tottenham man fell out of favour during the 2012-13 season, but insists he has his reasons for overlooking the 30-year-old. Asked if Bent’s career as a top-flight forward is over, the Scot said: “No, listen, I don’t know. “Darren wanted to go out on loan about a month ago but with Christian Benteke being suspended we had to keep him here. “It gets Darren’s career going again and that’s why I loaned him to Fulham last year, to try to get him going. But Darren wanted to go himself as well. “Christian is coming back after Saturday and I think Gabby Agbonlahor and Andi Weimann will find their feet again in terms of goalscoring. “Charles N’Zogbia is playing pretty decently and Joe Cole is nearly fully fit. So there are certainly goals within the team, we just need to find the solutions to win games.” Lambert admits Bent’s style of forward play simply does not fit into his own ethos. He said: “I play a certain type of football and in a certain way and Gabby has been playing well up there himself, Andi can do it as well, Christian is coming back so there are three guys there that are in front of him. Paul Lambert has defended his decision to send striker Darren Bent out on loan despite Aston Villa’s toothless attack leaving them as the Barclays Premier League’s lowest scorers. Press Association
Press Association “The memory of his performances in Europe stand out especially. On behalf of all Evertonians, we wish him well for the next chapter in his career.” It was reported last week that Eto’o had already agreed a contract with the Serie A side, accepting a 40 per cent pay cut, but the deal stalled, with Sampdoria complaining about a lack of clarity in their dealings with Everton. On Saturday, the Genoa club published a picture of the four-time African Footballer of the Year in their colours and Everton confirmed on Tuesday that Eto’o had returned to Italy. The Toffees said he had signed a two-and-a-half-year deal but Eto’o and Sampdoria then revealed he had in fact put pen to paper on a contract until June 2018. Eto’o spent two years with Inter Milan between 2009 and 2011 before moving on to Anzhi Makhachkala and then Chelsea. Following his release by the Blues at the end of last season, Eto’o opted to stay in the Premier League and declared on his arrival at Goodison Park: “I am here for two years and hope to be here for a lot more.” Eto’o scored in his first game for Everton against Chelsea and also netted against Krasnodar in the Europa League as well as scoring a brace in a 3-1 victory over Burnley. But he was in and out of the side as Martinez’s team struggled for form and made his last appearance as a substitute in the 1-1 FA Cup draw with West Ham on January 6. The 33-year-old former Cameroon striker joined the Toffees on a free transfer in August and leaves after scoring four goals in 20 appearances. Everton boss Roberto Martinez told the club website: “We thank Samuel for his efforts and for bringing his know-how to the team and to (Everton’s training ground) Finch Farm, where he passed on some of his terrific experience to all of the young players in particular. Eto’o wrote a leaving note to Everton and their fans on his Instagram page. It read: “Dear Toffees, I’ve been blessed to spend these past few months with you. “To my pleasure, I have discovered here a crowd of warm, passionate, affectionate and supportive fans… It’s time for me to leave, but wherever I go, I will bring with me all the memories we’ve built together. “A special “Thank You” to the Everton staff who helped me settle down and of course to our manager Roberto, who made all of that possible. “It was an honour to be part of your army. You will always be in my heart.” Sampdoria were looking to strengthen their forward line after selling top scorer Manolo Gabbiadini to Napoli earlier this month. The Genoa outfit, coached by Sinisa Mihajlovic, are fifth in Serie A, level on 34 points with fourth-placed Lazio and two points adrift of Napoli. Samuel Eto’o has completed his move from Everton to Sampdoria.
“It’s started a real thirst to be in that environment again,” Martinez added. “For our younger players, it is the first time they’ve been in Europe and the way we succeeded in many of those games, going away into different countries and being able to perform has been very important. “I do feel that the players in the squad, myself, my staff and the football club as a whole will want more of it. It gives you a real desire to push ourselves to become a winning team and have that more often. “We’re all disappointed from the result last night but to reach the quarter-finals of this competition is something we last did 30 years ago, that shows you the size of the achievement.” The Toffees were the country’s last hope on the continent before a 5-2 loss to Dynamo Kiev in Europe on Thursday night meant they followed Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City in crashing out at the last 16 stage. It meant that there were no English teams in Friday’s draw for either the Champions League or Europa League quarter-finals for the first time since 1995, sparking a countrywide debate about the state of the domestic game. Press Association However, Martinez believes it is the competitive nature of the Premier League, coupled with a lack of a winter break, which is hampering clubs when they face fresher, less-tested teams in European competitions. “I think there are aspects there that make it very, very difficult for an English club to have success in Europe,” the Spaniard said. “If you look at the top leagues in Europe most of those have got a little break in the winter. I’m not saying that’s the difference but it can make a big difference in a squad that is playing domestically two cup competitions, when others are playing one cup competition. “We need to understand that our league is the best in world football. And when I say the best it’s because if you are at 70 per cent in a game, you’re going to lose it. That’s how competitive it is. It doesn’t matter about position in the table and I don’t think the other leagues have that. “The top teams that are normally involved in Europe can cruise through games and that makes it a lot easier to plan a group of fixtures in a two-to-three-week period. That is a big difference and that affects English clubs. “It’s not by coincidence. Some of the clubs in the Champions League have been unfortunate, there have been small margins but those small margins could easily be the demands that you face domestically. It’s something that clearly hasn’t been working in our favour.” Martinez’s men were ruthlessly eliminated in Kiev by a display of clinical attacking finishing as the hosts exposed their visitors’ defensive frailties. But while the manner of their exit was disappointing to Martinez, he took plenty of heart from a campaign which saw them beat Wolfsburg home and away and take four points off Lille in the group stage. Everton manager Roberto Martinez insists it is no major surprise that English clubs have struggled in Europe this season because of the domestic demands of the Barclays Premier League.
Press Association The Foxes are only in the Barclays Premier League relegation zone on goal difference after their deserved 2-0 win over Swansea. Leonardo Ulloa and Andy King struck to clinch a third straight win for the Foxes – the first time they have won three in a row in the top flight for 15 years. A three-goal victory would have seen them escape the drop zone but they climbed off the foot of the table and are level on points with 17th-placed Hull. Pearson said: “We’ve given ourselves a more realistic chance, we have six games left, four at home and we have to perform well in those games to retain our status. “The danger is people get carried away. We are still in a difficult situation and we have to make sure our fate remains in our own hands as long as possible. “The Premier League is a really big ask, mentally and physically, and we have performed well for the most part, we’ve had to to win three games on the trot. Ultimately the performance warranted the result.” Ulloa, who was initially named on the bench, was a late replacement for David Nugent after the former England striker injured his calf in the warm-up. It was his first league strike since Boxing Day and Pearson praised the 10-goal forward after his swift impact. He added: “The situation we’re in demands everyone is switched on and tuned in to what we’re trying to do. The players have to put to one side their own personal world for the good of the group. “Leo has had a really good season for us, I’d like him to score goals but as long as he achieves what we set out to achieve I’m not too bothered. “We can’t afford for players to pace themselves, we need them playing flat out.” Swansea were poor and rarely looked like recovering from Ulloa’s 15th-minute opener aside from a brief period after the break. Nelson Oliveira was denied by Kasper Schmeichel and Jonjo Shelvey tested the keeper but defeat kept them eighth after Lukasz Fabianski spilled Esteban Cambiasso’s free-kick for King to score in the final minute. Boss Garry Monk felt Oliveira was too honest when he stayed on his feet after a challenge from Robert Huth before being thwarted by Schmeichel. “The defender made a rash challenge and had he gone down it would have been a penalty and a red card which would have changed the game,” he said. “He stayed on his feet but I’m more disappointed we didn’t finish the chance. It would have changed the atmosphere but credit to Leicester, they fought hard.” Swansea are aiming to set a record points total in the Premier League by beating their current total of 47 but Monk felt his men were out-battled as they struggled to match Leicester’s intensity. He said: “I felt the first half was where we really lost the game, especially in the first 20 minutes. “We probably got outfought. We explained to the players that first 20 minutes was always going to be crucial. “The players’ effort and commitment is fantastic but we weren’t quite at our best. This one defeat won’t define our season.” Boss Nigel Pearson insisted Leicester will remain grounded despite moving off the bottom for the first time since November.
“They have made progress since the start of the season, and will show that next season,” said Wenger. “It looks like they have improved quality-wise from the start to now.” United have already recruited Holland international Memphis Depay from PSV Eindhoven and have been linked with big-money moves for the likes of Gareth Bale and Harry Kane. Wenger would not be surprised to see plenty of summer transfer activity at Old Trafford. “It looks to me like they are on the market because every player I am offered, I am told Man United are on the case as well,” he said. “It looks like they are very active and you expect them to come back with some strong buys, but they already have a very strong squad. If you look at their squad, it’s top quality already.” Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has no doubts Manchester United will come back stronger next season, but is confident his squad can also match all of their Barclays Premier League rivals. Press Association The Gunners head to Old Trafford on Sunday two points ahead of United and out to cement automatic qualification for the Champions League group stages. Finishing third would, statistically at least, represent an improvement for Arsenal, who hold a game in hand, and could retain the FA Cup if they beat Aston Villa at Wembley on May 30. Wenger, though, knows full well none of the title hopefuls can afford to stand still as they look to sustain a much-improved effort to reel in runaway champions Chelsea in 2015/2016. “We feel we have made progress, but we have a good opportunity to show that on Sunday because in every game that is questioned,” said Wenger, whose side were beaten 1-0 at home by Swansea on Monday night – a first league defeat since February 7. “That is what is at stake until the end of the season, to show that we can be stronger next year. “We made 79 points last year, that was quite a good total, but it was not enough to finish in the top three. “Only one thing shows you have made progress and that is the continuity in your performances, and that you have a good level of cohesion. “Since January we have produced consistent performances and we have also been very strong away from home, and again on Sunday we have an opportunity to show that we have made progress.” Following a slow start under new manager Lois van Gaal, United have clawed their way back into the top four as they bid to return to the Champions League, which could need a play-off in August. Wenger is in no doubt United will soon be a force to be reckoned with again as they target a first trophy since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure.
However, the ban retrospectively handed down to Costa has not gone down so well with Wenger’s Chelsea counterpart Jose Mourinho. The Spain international was given a three-match ban for violent conduct and Mourinho appeared to turn his anger on the Arsenal boss. “I don’t want to touch the theme and everything that surrounds this situation because I want to be on the bench,” he said on Friday. “I don’t comment and I tell you why: some managers can speak about the referee before the game and after the game and some others cannot. I am in the list of the ones that cannot. “An imaginary list, but clearly.” Mourinho repeatedly declined to name the individual he believes to be the exception – “just one out of 20,” he added – but appeared to be referring to Wenger, who pushed him in the Stamford Bridge technical area in October 2014. “You know,” he said. “”He can speak about the referees before the game, can speak about the referees after the game, can push people in the technical area, can cry in the morning, can cry in the afternoon, nothing happens. “Can be not achieved, keep the job, still the king. It’s a privilege.” Chelsea are awaiting the reasoned decision from the FA on Costa’s suspension. Gabriel has accepted a charge of improper conduct following the fall-out from his clash with Costa and will serve a one-match ban at Leicester this weekend. The separate charge relates to his conduct after being shown the red card by referee Dean. “Following an Independent Regulatory Commission hearing, Arsenal defender Gabriel will serve a one-match suspension with immediate effect after he admitted an FA charge of improper conduct,” a statement from the FA read. “The charge relates to Gabriel’s behaviour following his dismissal in or around the 45th minute of the game against Chelsea on Saturday [19 September 2015]. “The player, who requested a personal hearing, was also fined £10,000 and warned as to his future conduct.” The news is a blow to Arsenal ahead of the trip to in-form Leicester, but one manager Arsene Wenger admitted at the pre-match press conference he expected. “He was sorry for what happened and very disappointed, but he is a fighter and his attitude in training the whole week was completely focused and motivated,” the Gunners boss said. “If there is no punishment we are a bit lucky, if there is a punishment I have to take it.” The 24-year-old made headlines last weekend after clashing with Diego Costa and picking up a red card for kicking out at the Chelsea forward in the Gunners’ ill-tempered 2-0 defeat. The FA announced on Tuesday it had accepted Arsenal’s challenge to referee Mike Dean’s decision and withdrawn the three-match suspension, but the Brazilian defender has not escaped all punishment. Press Association Arsenal defender Gabriel has been handed a one-match ban by the Football Association after accepting a charge of improper conduct.
“I have no issue with anyone but Rodgers,” Ward told the Daily Mail. “He had a massive job with massive funds. How did he do? Good coach, but as a manager I didn’t like certain things about how he dealt with Raheem. “Fifty per cent of the players would probably tell you Brendan is not a good manager, but he is a good coach. “Raheem could’ve stayed, he should be at Liverpool. I think for me it was like he was being told to be a good boy and sign a contract. “In December I spoke to Liverpool and said we’ll sign a contract if there is a buy-out clause – those clauses are now common practice. They said no to that. “Then there were remarks. In press conferences, Brendan told everyone Raheem would sign – why do that? “I knew, Brendan knew and Liverpool knew there was an issue. Right now he probably should be a Liverpool player, but he’s not and he’s in a great place at City.” Sterling appears to be a natural fit at top-of-the-table City, scoring five goals so far, including a hat-trick against Bournemouth on Saturday. The winger left Anfield in the summer to join Manchester City and the smooth transition he has made belies the acrimonious nature of his departure from the club he joined as a 15-year-old. Aidy Ward, Sterling’s agent, has pinned the blame for the breakdown of their relationship with Liverpool at the door of former boss Brendan Rodgers. On the same day, Jurgen Klopp made his debut as Liverpool boss following Rodgers’ sacking a fortnight earlier. Ward is a big fan of the German and expresses a certain regret that Sterling did not get to play under him. He said: “The new Liverpool manager probably would have been a great fit for Raheem – passionate, disciplined in the right way, new ideas, not afraid of trying new things. He’ll do great at Liverpool. “He’s going to get the best out of those players. It could have been a dream come true.” Raheem Sterling should still be a Liverpool player, according to his agent. Press Association
Antonio Valencia will be out for at least three months with a foot injury, Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal has revealed. Valencia suffered the injury to his left foot in the 0-0 draw against Manchester City last month. Valencia underwent surgery last week and Van Gaal confirmed the Ecuadorian would not be back until the end of February at the earliest. Press Association The United manager told MUTV: “Valencia is longer term and very long. “It is not within three months or something. It is a very heavy injury.” The 30-year-old utility man has only started two league games for United this season, but his absence will still be felt by Van Gaal. The United manager only has one specialist right-back in his squad – Matteo Darmian, who signed from Torino in the summer. Phil Jones and Ashley Young have also deputised in the position when Darmian and Valencia have been unavailable this season. As well as Valencia, Van Gaal has another five players out for Saturday’s trip to Watford. Wayne Rooney (illness), Anthony Martial (foot), Marouane Fellaini (calf), Luke Shaw (leg) and Michael Carrick (ankle) are unavailable while James Wilson is short of match fitness so cannot play for 90 minutes.
Deeney’s first-half penalty means he has scored in four consecutive matches, while Ighalo wrapped up a 2-0 win in injury time with his ninth Barclays Premier League goal of the season. Between them, Ighalo, who snubbed a lucrative move to China in the summer and signed a five-year deal, and Deeney have scored 14 of Watford’s 17 league goals this season. “I love my strikers and I love the team we have,” Flores said after seeing his side move up to an impressive ninth in the league. “We have passion, we have ambition and we have soul. I have an amazing feeling with these players and they are loving the Premier League. “They are playing well and they are doing the best they have inside. Deeney feels passion for this team and Ighalo took a very good decision months ago when he had the opportunity to go and he stayed here.” On a cold and blustery afternoon at Vicarage Road, Watford avenged last season’s 3-0 defeats home and away to Norwich in the Championship. With 30 minutes gone, Etienne Capoue dispossessed Alex Tettey, who was dithering on the ball, and in his attempts to make amends for his error, the returning Norwich skipper then hauled Ighalo down. Referee Mike Dean had no hesitation in pointing to the spot and Deeney sent Declan Rudd – chosen by Norwich boss Alex Neil to start ahead of John Ruddy – the wrong way. Ighalo was a constant thorn in Norwich’s side and got the goal his impressive display warranted, shrugging off the attentions of Sebastien Bassong to slip the ball under Rudd in stoppage time. “It was a difficult victory for us because Norwich started the match well,” Flores added. “We needed to stop that so we tried to create a very good balance between offensive and defensive, and step-by-step, little-by-little we started to play a little bit better.” Norwich, 16th in the table, now have just one victory in their last 10 league matches, with frustrated manager Neil ruing Tettey’s error and critical of Robbie Brady, who had two chances to haul the visitors level in the second half. “The game itself was not great,” Neil said. “The conditions did not help and, to be honest, there was nothing in the game until we made an error at the back and we cost ourselves a penalty. “There was not a great deal of football played and as we tried to push for the goal in the second half Robbie Brady had two decent opportunities. “One fell on to his left foot to have a shot on goal and he screwed it wide, and with the second one he could not get on the ball properly. His first touch was poor and it ran through to the goalkeeper.” Quique Sanchez Flores revealed his love for Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney after Watford’s impressive strike duo netted in the defeat of Norwich. Press Association