It is the fifth draw from eight games for O’Neill while Northern Ireland remain without a win since beating the Faroe Islands in August 2011. Danny Lafferty did have the ball in the net in the 18th minute but it was ruled out for pushing and the visitors were grateful to goalkeeper Alan Mannus for two very good saves to deny former Coventry striker Michael Mifsud. Michael O’Neill is still looking for his first win as Northern Ireland manager after they were held to a goalless draw by Malta in Wednesday night’s friendly at Ta’qali National Stadium. Press Association Northern Ireland were almost behind in the fifth minute when Andrew Cohen crossed for Andre Schembri, who should have scored but shot straight at Mannus from eight yards. Will Grigg fluffed his lines when his first big chance came along in the 17th minute, a heavy touch allowing keeper Andrew Hogg to block. Moments later Northern Ireland had the ball in the net when McAuley headed in a Chris Brunt corner but Bulgarian referee Nikolay Yordanov disallowed it for pushing. Mifsud was proving a handful for the visiting defence and his trickery created another opening for Schembri, whose drive beat Mannus but flew just past the angle of post and bar. Clayton Failla was the next to threaten Mannus’ goal with a fierce free-kick from 30 yards that was a yard over the bar. Wingers Niall McGinn and Shane Ferguson were having little joy down the flanks but in the 36th minute McGinn made progress down the right and Steven Davis crossed for Grigg to glance a header wide. O’Neill made one change at half-time, Craig Cathcart replacing Jonny Evans in the centre of defence. The Ta’qali has traditionally been a good venue for Northern Ireland, with 2005’s 1-1 draw between the sides the only one of six previous meetings they did not win. The visitors almost caught Malta cold as McGinn broke through in the middle but Hogg was off his line quickly to punch clear, while Aaron Hughes then did well to get to the byline on the right and pull the ball back but McGinn scuffed his shot. In the 56th minute Mannus was called into serious action for the first time when Mifsud unleashed a stinging shot from the right, the keeper palming it away. In the 63rd minute Inverness striker McKay was introduced, winning his first cap when he replaced Ferguson on the right, with Grigg remaining the lone striker. The visitors were pressing but in the 70th minute they were indebted to Mannus for an excellent stop to keep out Mifsud once again. Pat McCourt and Josh Magennis were introduced late on but there was no way through the Malta defence and the visitors had to settle for a disappointing draw.
Tries from Robbie Diack and Iain Henderson helped the Ulstermen record their first away win over Leinster since 1999, giving them a timely boost ahead of next week’s Heineken Cup quarter-final against Saracens. Ruan Pienaar added four penalties for Ulster, while Ian Madigan sent over six of his own for the hosts. Ulster got their RaboDirect PRO12 challenge back on the rails with a hard-earned 22-18 derby victory over Leinster at the RDS. Press Association
The daughter of Galileo won twice from five juvenile appearances, finishing off her campaign with a fine victory in the seven-furlong Group Three CL Weld Park Stakes at the Curragh in late September. She will step up to a mile and a quarter for the first time if she does return to action in this weekend’s Listed contest. Magical Dream is one of three possible runners for Aidan O’Brien in the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Salsabil Stakes at Navan on Sunday. Press Association O’Brien has also entered Half Moon and Just Pretending, both of whom were well held in solitary maiden starts last year. The in-form Jim Bolger could saddle Rehn’s Nest, winner of the Park Express Stakes at the Curragh last month, as well as impressive Gowran scorer We’ll Go Walking. Dermot Weld’s Salhooda and the Tommy Stack-trained Alive Alive Oh are other interesting contenders among 10 entries. The concluding Irish Stallion Farms EBF Race on the same card promises to be a fascinating affair. O’Brien has five possible runners, headed by Eye Of The Storm, a good third in last year’s Autumn Stakes at Newmarket. The Ballydoyle handler could also be represented by Leading Light, Magician, Nevis and Ruler Of The World. Bolger has Einsteins Folly and Sun On The Run in the mix, while Patrick Prendergast’s Canary Row and Galileo Rock from David Wachman’s yard are other notable possibles.
Stephane Sessegnon has attributed Sunderland’s timely improvement to team-work rather than his own efforts. The 28-year-old Benin international has returned to something like his best form since the arrival of new manager Paolo Di Canio, and reaped the rewards once again on Saturday, when six days after setting the Black Cats on the way to derby victory at Newcastle, he put high-flying Everton to the sword with the only goal of the game. Sessegnon’s overall contribution in the last few weeks has earned him rave reviews from the Italian, but he insists the credit must be shared, and he told the Sunderland Echo: “He (Di Canio) hasn’t said anything particularly special to me. Above all, his message has been about working as a team.” He added: “That’s what we have done in training and tried to do in the games, and you can see the results. “The defence was very solid against Everton and that has been the main thing the new manager has done differently. It’s all about working together and functioning together.” Sunderland’s transformation has been remarkable and a club which was deep in relegation trouble has now established a very different momentum heading into what could prove a crucial trip to Aston Villa next Monday evening. However, with confidence high at the Stadium of Light, Sessegnon and his team-mates are looking upwards rather than over their shoulders. The former Paris St Germain player said: “We have managed to get three points for two weeks in a row, so we are all very satisfied. “It was important to keep it going because our place in the table was still not the healthiest. We are in a position where every point we can take is good. “The win at Newcastle was important both for the three points and the confidence it gave us. If we keep playing this way in the final matches of the season, then we will finish the season well.” Press Association
Defender Gallas leaves White Hart Lane on a free transfer after three seasons since joining Spurs from north London rivals Arsenal, and midfielder Bentley, who spent time on loan in Russia with FK Rostov and at former side Blackburn last season, is another set to move on. Santa Cruz, 31, was loaned out to Malaga last season, where he played under Manuel Pellegrini, who is reported to be in line to take over at Manchester City. Ivory Coast defender Kolo Toure, meanwhile, will not feature in City’s future plans for their new manager and his move to Liverpool at the end of his contract was confirmed last month. Full-back Wayne Bridge is to join Reading. Schwarzer, who had been linked with a switch to Arsenal in the past, turned down the offer of a new deal at Fulham, and so will move on. Arsenal announced earlier this week that Andrey Arshavin, Denilson and Sebastien Squillaci would all be leaving this summer, which was confirmed on the Premier League list. Israel midfielder Yossi Benayoun and Portugal defender Paulo Ferreira have both been released by Chelsea. Long-throw specialist Rory Delap departs Stoke along with retiring ex-England striker Michael Owen, Jermaine Pennant, Matthew Upson and Dean Whitehead. Relegated Wigan, QPR and Reading, meanwhile, all announced the expected several free transfers as they prepare for life in the npower Championship. France international Malouda, 32, last played for Chelsea in their 2012 Champions League final victory over Bayern Munich, but has since been frozen out of the first-team picture and so saw out the remaining season of his £80,000-a-week contract training with the under-21s. Former club Lyon, who sold him to Chelsea for £13million in 2007, looks the most likely destination. Chelsea winger Florent Malouda, Tottenham duo William Gallas and David Bentley, Manchester City forward Roque Santa Cruz and Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer all featured on the Premier League free transfer list, which was released on Friday. Press Association
Press Association Neil Jenkins described his remarkable crop of British and Irish Lions goalkickers as “the best of the best”. “They are the best of the best. Kicking is a huge part of the game, we all acknowledge that, and Leigh has been a tremendous kicker now for the past two years for us (Wales). He has put a huge amount of work in and he is pretty special in what he does. Personally, he’s a joy to work with. “I’m really enjoying working with Owen and Jonny and Hoggy’s doing good work now. The standards of these boys are massive. Someone like Jonny, for example, his work ethic is ridiculous. That is why he’s achieved what he has. “Leigh is not too far away from that level. He works incredibly hard at his game. He probably doesn’t stay out there as long as Jonny, but he works incredibly hard. He’ll focus on perfecting every spot and won’t move on until he is happy.” With the Lions needing victory in Saturday’s second Test to wrap up a first series win since they beat South Africa 16 years ago, the battle of the boot is likely to play a major part. And with Jenkins predicting that Australia will throw everything at the Lions in their quest to keep the series alive, accuracy off the tee could effectively decide the contest. “It generally is goal-kicking that wins or loses Test matches,” he added. “It’s important to stand behind your kicker, watch closely at how he is shaping and how things are going. You saw a kick last Saturday when the tee moved a little and he (Halfpenny) pushed the ball to the right, but these boys recover quite quickly and move on to the next kick. “Leigh gets nervous now and again, gets on top of himself and needs to stand back. But for a lad of his age, he’s done fantastically well already and is maturing all the time. Overall, we are fortunate in the quality of kickers we have. All have come on at times and done their jobs. We’ve had the occasional miss, but that’s normal.” The quartet – Leigh Halfpenny, Owen Farrell, Jonathan Sexton and Stuart Hogg – have landed 55 out of 64 shots at goal between them on the tour of Australia. Wales star Halfpenny, the first-choice Test marksman, has a success-rate of 27 from 29, while England fly-half Farrell can reflect on an 18 from 19 return. Their accuracy is in stark contrast to that of Australia’s after James O’Connor and Kurtley Beale saw 14 points go begging during last Saturday’s first Test, which the Lions won 23-21. “We are lucky to have the kickers we have,” Lions kicking specialist and Wales’ record international points-scorer Jenkins said.
Fer and Olsson are two of a number of new arrivals at the club with manager Chris Hughton having been on a summer spending spree. Fer’s fellow Holland international Ricky van Wolfswinkel became the club’s record capture at £8.5million while England Under-21 winger Nathan Redmond was last week purchased from Birmingham and defender Javier Garrido has signed permanently after a loan from Lazio. Fer, 23, came through the youth ranks at Excelsior before he moved to Feyenoord, making his debut in December 2007 and establishing himself as a regular in the side the following season. He became an integral part of the squad, earning widespread praise, before his move in 2011 to FC Twente and after further impressing there he was on the brink of a switch to Everton in January this year. However, the transfer fell through after a knee problem arose during a medical and the clubs failed to agree on renegotiated terms. Fer represented Holland at all levels from under-17 before making his bow in the senior team in the August 2010 friendly against Ukraine. Fer then made his full senior debut against Turkey in a World Cup qualifier. Norwich have announced the signing of Holland midfielder Leroy Fer from FC Twente on a four-year deal. Fer’s arrival at Carrow Road for an undisclosed fee is the second new signing to be unveiled by the Canaries in three days following the capture of Sweden international Martin Olsson from Blackburn. The club’s official Twitter feed read: “City can confirm Dutch international midfielder Leroy Fer has joined from FC Twente on a 4-year deal, subject to international clearance.” Press Association
Press Association Aston Villa striker Darren Bent is on the verge of joining Fulham on loan with current boss Paul Lambert insisting the forward will leave his club on good terms. “He’s just away down to Fulham,” said the Villa boss. “I think it’s well-documented now that he’s down there having a medical and that’s the last I’ve heard.” Bent will leave Villa Park after an unhappy end to his career in claret and blue. Lambert briefly made the striker his captain last season before suddenly dropping him and leaving him on the fringes for much of the campaign. However, the Scot has re-emphasised his insistence that the decision was purely a footballing one, with the likes of Christian Benteke, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Andreas Weimann and Jordan Bowery more suited to the type of team he wanted to mould. “There’s never (been a spat),” he said. “Not one cross word. I don’t know where people get that from. There’s never been a cross word. That’s football.” Jol, meanwhile, had earlier issued a cautious response to the suggestion that Fulham had signed Bent. “I don’t know what’s happening. Darren’s probably doing his own thing. We’re not sure about it,” the Fulham boss said. “We don’t speculate on players and can only give an answer when a deal is finalised. We’ll see in the next day or two.” Lambert confirmed Bent was undergoing a medical at Fulham ahead of a season-long loan deal with a view to the Cottagers buying him permanently next summer. Crystal Palace had seemingly been on the verge of signing the 29-year-old until Eagles manager Ian Holloway announced on Thursday morning that Bent had chosen Craven Cottage over Selhurst Park. Fulham boss Martin Jol was reticent to comment in detail during his briefing, but Lambert confirmed a deal is close. Bent swapped Sunderland for Villa for £24million in 2011, but fell out of favour with Lambert last season following the emergence of Benteke. “We need quality up front and we’re trying to get someone in that position in the next week. We need some pace up front,” Jol said. Jol, who refused to comment on his interest in Tottenham midfielder Scott Parker, took a swipe at Holloway for stating that former England marksman Bent had agreed to join Fulham. “People were telling me on Wednesday that he was having a medical at Crystal Palace. That is changing every day,” Jol said. “I thought that he was going to Ian Holloway. It’s tough in the Premier League. “I’m not sure if other managers should say things like that, because we are not 100 per cent sure about any player and I have a few players on the list. “Maybe some geezer told him he was coming to us. Maybe he’s right, maybe not. We’ll see in the next day.” Fulham are hoping to strengthen their squad with the addition of a forward, midfielder and defender, but Jol has ruled out the prospect of new owner Shahid Khan loosening the purse strings. “The new owner wants us to go places and that’s our intention as well,” he said. “We don’t expect new owners to come in and spend a lot of money because you have to be self-sufficient. That’s what we’re trying to do. We won’t spend 10, 15, 20million pounds on players. “The new owner’s not interfering with anything. The only thing he said was try to create a nice sausage. “He knows that we like sausages here. As long as it’s a nice sausage he’ll be happy.”
White, 31, was singled out by Aston for his part in the Wolfhounds’ opening 32-14 defeat by Fiji, claiming he was the best player on the pitch “by a country mile”, and lavished praise on the former Kangaroo for defying an early head knock to lead their challenge in Saturday’s 42-0 loss to England, which effectively ended their hopes of qualification from the toughest group. “He went back on but it was probably tougher for him to come off in the first place,” Aston said. “He didn’t want to come off. We kept getting messages out to him and he said he was good. He’d have stayed out there if we had let him.” “That’s why I wanted to play in the last World Cup. Unfortunately I got ruled out late, so I was grateful I got the opportunity to be part of this one.” White is now set to face his fellow countrymen, including his Canberra team-mate Josh Papalii, as Ireland prepare for their final group game against Australia in Limerick on Saturday night. Aston’s men will need to pull off one of the biggest sporting shocks of all time if they are to topple the tournament favourites but captain Liam Finn insists his players will play with pride when they run out at Thomond Park. “That 20-minute purple patch by England killed the game off but you’ve seen 17 blokes out there have a dig,” Finn said. “They put plenty of pride in the shirt and that’s all we’ve asked for from day one. “We’ve got to do that again next week and, if we do that, we’ll walk away from the tournament happy with ourselves. “The most important thing is that we enjoyed the battle, even though we were on the wrong end of the score. We were still enjoying the game in the last minute so I couldn’t ask for any more.” Coach Mark Aston has publicly thanked Canberra Raiders prop Brett White for his bravery during Ireland’s difficult World Cup campaign. White, who qualifies through his Irish grandfather, was one of four NRL players recruited by Aston, who has been especially delighted by the contribution of the tough-tackling front rower. “He’s a champion,” Aston said. “He’s certainly come over here and set the tone for us. “The nice thing is that he’s mixing with the younger guys and giving them the experience he’s had. You don’t play at the level he’s played at for a lot of years and in Grand Finals and not be a real good bloke. “I know he’s helped (captain) Liam (Finn) really well. He just speaks sense and gets his point across. “There’s nobody more disappointed than him at the moment. He wants to win every single game. That will rub off. And over the years we’ll build the culture that we want in Ireland and hopefully take it on to another level.” White had put his hand up to play for Andy Kelly’s team in the 2008 World Cup but was ruled out by a foot injury. He went on to play for the Kangaroos in the 2009 Four Nations Series and was in the team that beat England 46-16 in the final at Elland Road but never gave up hope of representing Ireland in memory of his late grandfather, wh o went over to Australia in 1951 to work on the snow fields in the New South Wales mountain town of Jindabyne during the skiing season and settled there. “Growing up, I was very close to my grandfather,” White told Press Association Sport. “I had a really close relationship with him. Working on the farm with him as a kid taught me many valuable life lessons, the most important being the hard work ethic I learned from him. Press Association
“It’s a bit of a challenge with some of the withdrawals we’ve had but this is an opportunity for some of our players who are a bit untried at this level,” said O’Neill. “Credit to Ryan and to James, they jumped on a plane and arrived here late last night. That’s the level of commitment we’re looking for. “They’ll train but we have to be careful with them. It’s a good opportunity for them to stake a claim on a permanent basis.” Shane Ferguson is another major doubt for the match after he was unable to fly out with the squad due to illness. He may yet join the side but O’Neill is not counting on it. “Communications are ongoing but at the moment he is too ill to travel,” he said. O’Neill has been hit by several withdrawals for Friday’s friendly in Adana, with Gareth McAuley, Chris Brunt, Michael O’Connor and Jamie Ward all withdrawing from his initial 18-man squad. Uncapped New York Red Bulls midfielder Jonny Steele was first summoned to bolster numbers, while left-back McGivern and centre-half McPake both acted quickly in flying from Edinburgh to Istanbul and on to Adana on Tuesday evening. Press Association Northern Ireland manager Michael O’Neill has praised the commitment of Hibernian duo Ryan McGivern and James McPake after the pair answered a late call to join the squad in Turkey.