Tuesday, November 30, 2010

World Championships ready to go

The final two competitors for the Ladbrokes.com world darts championship were decided on Monday (November 29) when Alex Roy and Matt Padgett came through their qualifiers.

The duo will join 70 other players for the prestigious event, which takes place from December 16 to January 3 at London’s Alexandra Palace.

Roy defeated Wayne Mardle 5-1 in their pivotal game during Monday's PDPA Qualifier in Derby. His success means he will make his 13th successive appearance at the World Championship.

Speaking after his success, a delighted Roy said: "It took a while to sink in at first but I'm absolutely delighted. This is the first time I've had to come through the qualifiers for the World Championship and it was really tough.

"I've known Wayne for a lot of years and it's a shame one of us had to go out. He gave me a good game but my doubles were great."

Padgett will be making his debut at the World Darts Championship after beating Mark Cox 5-3 in their key clash. The 28-year-old bowling alley mechanic is ranked 127th on the PDC Order of Merit and he admitted to being stunned with his achievement.

"It's the greatest moment of my life. I'm thrilled to bits with this, completed overwhelmed," he said.

"I wasn't really expecting to do so well in the qualifier because I'm still fairly new to the circuit and gaining experience on the PDC ProTour, but I can't wait to get on stage now."

Roy beat Padgett 5-1 in the final of the PDPA Qualifier, meaning he will go straight into the first round of the competition at Ally Pally. Padgett, meanwhile, will enter at the preliminary round stage.

Both players will have their sights set on progressing as far as possible in the tournament, which is expected to be dominated by the likes of Phil Taylor, James Wade, Raymond van Barneveld and Simon Whitlock.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Your chance to play at Ally Pally

The Ladbrokes.com World Darts Championship is fast approaching but there is still time for you to register your interest in the lads cup championship event.

From December 16 until January 3, the cream of the darts world will descend on London’s Alexandra Palace to battle it out for the greatest prize in the sport. With Phil Taylor, James Wade, Simon Whitlock and Raymond van Barneveld all set to feature, the event promises to be a master class of top quality darts and you could be there, in the thick of the action, with a set of darts in your hand.

Many questions will be answered during the 18th World Darts Championship. Will Taylor extend his winning run to three successive years by clinching his 14th crown? Will Whitlock go one better than he did last year to win his first major title? Will van Barneveld emulate his 2007 success by winning the tournament for a second time? And will YOU win the inaugural lads cup championship trophy?

Between 19-23 December, Ladbrokes is giving 16 teams the chance to follow in the footsteps of their heroes and play on the world famous oche at Ally Pally. It is a simple knockout tournament in which you can experience the unique buzz and atmosphere that comes with a packed darts house. You will also get the opportunity to watch all your favourite players in action – as well as showing them a thing or two too!

The competition will also be broadcast live on Sky Sports so if you want to show the world what you can do, then head over to the Ladbrokes.com Ladscup microsite and get involved.

Friday, November 26, 2010

England v South Africa preview

England will know that they will have to be at the best when they tackle South Africa in their final autumn international at Twickenham on Saturday.
The Springboks will be chomping at the bit to show their 21-17 loss to Scotland was a mere blip against an England side that is gathering momentum with each passing week.

The reigning world champions have been less than impressive on their Great Britain and Ireland tour following narrow wins against both Ireland and Wales though they were still expected to overcome a determined Scotland outfit, who had lost 49-3 the previous week to New Zealand and who had not beaten the Springboks since 2002.
Their error count was unusually high at Murrayfield and they saw their hopes of a Grand Slam dashed as Dan Parks expertly punished them by kicking six penalties and a drop goal to guide Scotland to victory.

It could be argued that the world champions had let the off-field antics distract them from the task at hand.

At the beginning of the week, Bjorn Basson and Chiliboy Ralepelle were sent home for reportedly failing a drugs test, while Bryan Habana suffered a hand injury, which will also see him miss the clash with Martin Johnson’s men.

South Africa have not had much luck with injuries as John Smit, Jaque Fourie, Heinrich Brüssow, JP Pietersen, Gurthrö Steenkamp, Butch James, Ricky Januarie and Schalk Burger have all been missing with various ailments.

However, coach Peter de Villiers and several others have called for an immediate improvement from their defeat to the Scots and Johnson has shown he is taking the South African challenge seriously by naming the same starting XV that laid the foundations for England’s record 35-18 win over Australia a fortnight ago.

Lewis Moody, Mike Tindall, Tom Croft and Dan Cole all come back into the line-up after they were rested during the 26-13 victory over Samoa last week, while Matt Banahan replaces Delon Armitage on the substitutes bench in the only change from the triumph over the Wallabies.

England showed that they are an ever-improving side following the win over the South Sea Islanders.

Not many would have expected Johnson’s men to win three of their four autumn internationals, however, that is what they can achieve on Saturday and they are even favourites among some bookmakers to triumph.

A battling defeat to New Zealand preceded wins over Australia and Samoa but if England can overcome South Africa, it will be the clearest hint yet that they will fear no team in the 2011 Rugby World Cup.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Pietersen confident of handling spin

Kevin Pietersen has rejected the idea that he will struggle against the left-arm spinner Xavier Doherty in the upcoming Ashes series. The England batsman has often struggled in the past against left-arm spin bowling but he claims to have fixed any problems, telling BBC Sport “I don't have technical glitches, I've sorted them.” That’s that sorted then KP.

England and the cricket betting pundits backing the tourists will be hoping KP is right about sorting out his glitches, against the relatively modest threat from Bangladesh’s left-arm spinners, KP found his wicket consistently picked up by the spin attack. During his brief spell in South Africa before the squad flew out Down Under, Pietersen worked with his childhood coach Graeme Ford, focusing on adjusting the batsman’s failing technique, particularly against spin.

While Doherty does have the left arm spin going for him, his first class record is far from intimidating. The 27 year old has only taken three five wicket hauls in his first class career at an fairly poor average of 49. He did take 2-45 for Tasmania against New South Wales in the recent Sheffield Shield match and impressed on his international one-day debut against Sri Lanka, taking two wickets in his first over.

The inexperienced bowler will be under pressure from those analysing the cricket odds straight away after all the hooplah surrounding his inclusion at the expense of Nathan Hauritz. The best thing he can do is take wickets and none will be more treasured than that of Pietersen’s. If Doherty can unsettle England’s star batsman earlier in their duel, then it could set the tone for the rest of the series.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Could England's confidence backfire?

With Australia heavily favoured in the months leading up to the Ashes 2010 series, which gets underway later today in Brisbane, England were widely touted as the underdogs in the Ashes betting markets. However, as the days leading up to the action have come and gone, England have grown in confidence and the Aussies have slipped the other way, seemingly mired in instability and a lack of confidence emphasised by outrageous comments in certain elements of the hosts' media.

Now, support for the English is coming from all corners of the cricketing world, with Sir Ian Botham predicting live on English television that England should return home complete with the famous little urn they brought over with them. Botham's confidence in England appears to revolve around the near perfect preparation that the tourists have experienced, with the batsmen getting runs, the bowlers getting wickets, and a high standard of fielding being displayed in the crucial weeks leading up to the action.

Botham contrasted this momentum that England seem to have gathered to the confusion that seems to be disrupting the preparation of the Australians. However, before the England players get too carried away by such proclamations of support, they should take careful notice of Botham's assertion that the hosts will "come out fighting". For some teams, and the Aussies are no different, being written off, particularly by your own media and fans, provides the ideal motivation with which to prove doubters wrong.

If complacency creeps into the English game as the action in Brisbane gets underway and they start to believe their own hype, Botham and the other vocal English supporters could find themselves regretting such early confidence.

Paine’s pain

Australia’s reserve wicket keeper, Tim Paine, has been ruled out for between six and eight weeks following a broken finger inflicted during an exhibition match on Sunday night.

The player, who was part of the Australia ‘A’ side which was dismantled by England last week, damaged his right index finger after being hit by a 148 km/hour delivery from team-mate Dirk Nannes and will subsequently miss being involved in any Ashes betting odds.

It is the fourth broken finger Paine has suffered in the past two years, with the most recent in a One-Day International against India last October which ended his tour of the sub-continent early

This means that there will be even more pressure on first choice wicket keeper, Brad Haddin, who whilst excellent with the bat, has still not filled the enormous shoes left by Adam Gilchrist following his retirement. Not that this is any reflection on the New South Wales player – he has taken 110 catches and 2 stumpings at Test level – but more proof of just how talented his predecessor was.

Paine is heavily tipped by Ashes online betting pundits to become Haddin’s long-term replacement and his injury is another little distraction which captain Ricky Ponting and the under-fire board of selectors could have done without in this most important of preparatory weeks.

Graeme Manou is expected to be drafted in as Paine’s replacement – the same man who ironically made his debut by replacing Paine in India when he had again broken a finger – but since then, Manou has not added to that Test cap.

ATP World Tour Finals day three preview

Day three is the crucial one in Group B of the 2010 ATP World tour Finals singles. One player will but be guaranteed a place in the semi finals whilst another can pack their bags and get ready for their end of season break.

Roger Federer and Andy Murray won their opening matches against David Ferrer and Robin Soderling with such ease that the victor of the evening match between the latter two will not be confident of progress, but they will at least give themselves a shot at knocking out one of the group’s two favourites.

That will in all probability according to the tennis betting odds be Soderling. Both he and Ferrer were blown away in their openers, so not much can be read into their current form. Both made too many errors against quality opposition but the more aggressive Soderling, who holds an 8-4 head-to-head advantage over the Spaniard, has the power and aggression to keep Ferrer on the back foot.

The other clash is harder to call. Murray famously has a superior record in previous matches with Federer. Leading eight wins to five, including a heavy straight sets victory in their last meeting in the Shanghai Masters final.

Federer and Murray do not read too much into that history as they know the Swiss legend wins their most important encounters. Whilst this is not a Grand Slam showdown or even a knockout match – the loser will probably still reach the semi finals – they will be desperate to make a statement to the barclays atp betting odds ahead of next season.

Question marks regarding their prospects in 2011 hang over both men and victory in London will remind their critics that they will be major forces next year. Both have plenty to prove and it is Federer who should be backed to edge this one that should need a deciding set.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Strike team head to Brisbane

England’s front line bowling attack will miss their final warm-up match against Australia A, in a bid to acclimatise to conditions in Brisbane. Stuart Broad, James Anderson, Steven Finn and Graeme Swann will all travel north ahead of the rest of their team who will play in Hobart against Australia’s A side.

Those looking to place an Ashes bet will note that the bowlers have had enough practice time during the two previous warm-up games and the English management feel getting used to the different climate in Brisbane is more important then bowling more overs. Stuart Broad has backed the decision, saying “We've had two fantastic games as a bowling group together. Now it's all about preparation for that first Test match - and I see going up to Brisbane early as a great opportunity to get used to conditions.”

The absence of the first string will give the other bowlers in the squad a chance to impress and maybe put themselves in contention. Tim Brsenan, Chris Tremlett, Ajmal Shazad and Monty Panesar will all make their first appearances of the tour so far in Tasmania.

While the three quickies will probably expect to be carrying the drinks this series, the inexperience of Finn could hand one of them a chance should the youngster struggle. Fan’s favourite Monty, may have a chance of returning to the Test side if England choose to play two spinners at any point during the series. Monty’s chance could come in the Boxing Day Test at the SCG.

Those giving cricket betting tips note how the pitch at Sydney is renowned for its turn and the English management will be watching how Monty performs in the upcoming warm-up match. If the Monty of old turns up, jumping around like a beardy jack-in-the-box, then there could be a very good chance of him playing some part this winter.

If England can beat Australia’s A side by using their second string bowling attack, it will give the whole squad another massive confidence boost. It’s fair to say that this is probably the most confident an England side in Australia has been since they last won a series Down Under 24 years ago. Most see that confidence as being well placed so far, it will be up to the selected players to carry it on into the opening Test.

Are Spurs really two players away from title chasers?

Harry Redknapp thinks a few new changes to his Tottenham squad will put them in prime position to battle for the Premier League title.

The manager sees his side sitting six points off Premier League leaders Chelsea after a shock comeback win over North London rivals Arsenal at the weekend.

Redknapp said after that game he felt Spurs were now set to become title contenders in the near future, but most fans would be happy with a repeat of last season's Premier League top four finish.

They have struggled at times this season but still sit three points behind fourth-placed Man City - the team they pipped to the Champions League last season and the football betting suggests they could be on for a repeat.

Redknapp admitted he "genuinely" believes that Spurs are one of the leading contenders in the race for the top for and also the title, but will people looking to bet on Premier League winner consider them to be in with a real shout?

Regardless, if you consider they were a relegation-threatened side when he took over it shows how far Redknapp has dramatically taken them on during his time.

He has made some astute signings and now boasts a Spurs squad full of stars like Gareth Bale and Rafael van der Vaart that is the envy of a number of rival Premier League managers.

"I am looking to bring people in this January," Redknapp said.

"We need to tweak it to finish it off. There's one or two other bits we could do, without spending a fortune, that could make a difference to the team. We've a new training ground coming, the club's in good shape and we can go forward."

Redknapp recently stated he felt that despite all the problems Chelsea have had this season they are still favourites for the Premier League title.

Federer shows his class

Despite the most cynical of his critics suggesting publicly that Roger Federer is nothing but a spent force in the world of tennis, the man himself carries a vastly different belief and is currently aiming to show that he can triumph in this year's ATP World Tour Finals in London.

Despite the fact that Federer is now looking to add a fifth end of season trophy to his already bulging trophy cabinet, some have suggested that he is starting to head into tennis wilderness after only winning one Grand Slam this season (the Australian Open). However, with Federer making a ninth successive appearance at the end of season event, and clearly able to show that he still has both the fight and desire to add a Slam or two to his already impressive final total, it would take a brave man to suggest that he is at the end of what has been a truly successful career.

This becomes particularly obvious if you look at the credentials of his next opponent in the current event at the O2, Andy Murray, a man who despite all the promise and undoubted ability he has shown since his career began is yet to win a Grand Slam event.

If roles were reversed and Murray had ‘only’ won a single Grand Slam event this year, then we would surely be talking about how successful his season had been. It therefore is a little strange that people who regularly bet on tennis are discussing a 'disappointing' year for the Swiss legend.

It is perhaps a result of the player's stunning record and the high standards he has constantly set for himself that we are even acknowledging the fact that he may or may not be in a minor slump.

In fact, this alone is an accurate sign of the class that the player has displayed in what so far has been a glittering career and, should he triumph against Andy Murray, surely few would be prepared to place a tennis bet against him winning this year's ATP World Tour Finals.

Monday, November 22, 2010

2011 ATP predictions

Australian Open – Rafael Nadal

Melbourne was where Nadal proved he could win majors on hard courts as well as on clay and grass, claiming the Aussie title in 2009 and the world number one will certainly be the man to beat this time around. Roger Federer was at his peerless best last year and another classic final between the old rivals could be on the cards.

French Open - Rafael Nadal

It is virtually impossible to place a tennis online bet against Nadal at Roland Garros, notwithstanding his injury-induced shock defeat by Robin Soderling in 2009. The Swede proved that was no fluke by ousting Federer on the way to the final again this year, but it would be a major shock if anyone got near the king of clay next time around.

Wimbledon – Roger Federer

This could be Federer’s last hurrah at SW19. He was not himself in losing to Tomas Berdych in the last right this year and he will be keen to prove that was an aberration. Only Federer can trouble Nadal on grass and this is his best chance to prevent a Rafa clean sweep in the majors.

US Open – Rafael Nadal

Nadal completed the career Grand Slam at Flushing Meadows this year and was as dominant as he has ever been anywhere. His rivals had no answer to his power and variations, which proved he can be the very best on every surface.

Davis Cup – France

A lot of atp tour tennis betting pundits agree that the French have great strength in depth, with a wealth of top-50 talent led by Gael Monfils. Michael Llodra is a talented doubles player and the French team will be as hard to beat as they were in reaching the 2009 final.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

EPL 2010-11 : Manutd - Wigan Athletic goals

Manchester United 2-0 Wigan Athletic

1-0 - Evra

2-0 - Javier 'Chicharito' Hernandez

Friday, November 19, 2010

Is there more to come from the mighty Zenyatta?

Anyone who witnessed Zenyatta's brave attempt to extend her unbeaten winning sequence to 20 in the Breeders' Cup Classic at Churchill Downs couldn't fail to have been moved by the extraordinary scenes that accompanied her first narrow defeat at the hands of the high-class Blame in a race that will live long in the memory, writes Elliot Slater.

More than 72,000 racing fans packed the grandstands and watched the race under the floodlights in the semi-darkness, giving the whole event an almost surreal glow. Her defeat seemed a somewhat unfair way to sign out and retire to the paddocks, even though some would argue that her loss in such amazing circumstances, having made up 15 lengths from the far turn and been blocked in her run at least twice before failing to catch the winner, who had the run of the race, buy just a head, only makes her story that little bit more dramatic. It was certainly a thrilling race for anyone who enjoys horse racing betting and, apart from the first prize purse, the John Shireffs-trained mare lost nothing in defeat.

And now it appears that there is still a chance that America's most popular racehorse and iconic sporting figure might not after all be riding off into the sunset. The news that owners Gerry and Ann Moss are in no rush to pension off their superstar leaves open a window of hope for her legions of fans that Zenyatta might return next season to thrill the masses once more. I wonder what horse racing odds you'd get on her winning next year's Breeders' Cup?

Personally, I hope that she is allowed to accept her pension book and goes off to a happy and successful time at stud. Zenyatta has very little, if anything left to prove. She might not have consistently taken on the best around in the way that European superstar and three-time Breeders' Cup Mile winner Goldikova has, but she has rescued US racing from a spell of adverse publicity and falling attendances and done more than any other horse in recent times to put racing back on the US sporting map.

That surely is more than enough of a legacy for a great mare who should be retired sound and healthy to enjoy a long and happy retirement.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Blackpool look to push on

Blackpool seem to have adapted to life in the Premier League admirably, but they still find themselves just a couple of points clear of the relegation zone. Although this is far better than many expected when the Seasiders were promoted via the play-offs last season, they remain in a precarious position if they truly want to make their stay in the top tier of English football last longer than one season. The football odds still make them favourites to go down, but they've given themselves a fighting chance.

They have a number of things working in their favour of course. As well their mercurial manager, Ian Holloway, who is perhaps teaching his fellow managers a thing or two about squad rotation after wholesale changes to his line-up for the matches against Aston Villa and West Ham, games which resulted in a narrow 3-2 loss and a hard-earned point respectively, they have also learned the most important lesson of Premier League survival: don’t concede too many goals.

From their 13 games, they have conceded a total of 26 goals, a feat which seems poor on paper. However, when you take into account that they let in half of that total in just three games (against Chelsea, Arsenal and Man City), it starts to look far more respectable. After all, it doesn't matter if you lose by one or by six, they're both worth the same number of points at the end of the season and the Premier League tips reflect this.

And if defending is a team game, they also have a number of individuals to thank for their current league position. Marlon Harewood has contributed valuable goals. Charlie Adam will surely have attracted the eye of a number of established Premier League teams, and Matt Gilks, who was plying his trade in League Two for Shrewsbury just two years ago, has been a revelation and will be missed until he returns from his knee injury.

However, much hinges on their next game, at home against Wolves, if they are to push on from where they stand towards that 40 point mark, as it's a safe assumption that both teams will probably finish this season within spitting distance of one another. Forget the illuminations, this one's going to be far more exciting display.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Murtagh signs Aga Khan retainer

Johnny Murtagh has not been letting the grass grow under his feet since announcing his departure from Ballydoyle and the popular jockey has been snapped up by the Aga Khan to ride his horses in Ireland.

One of the world's leading owner/breeders, the Aga Khan retains a significant presence in horse racing Ireland with around 120 horses in the care of both John Oxx and Mick Halford. Murtagh, who enjoyed many outstanding successes when attached to Oxx's Currabeg yard for an 11-year period from 1992, seemed delighted to be going back to his roots. While working with Oxx he rode Sinndar to victories in the 2000 Epsom Derby, Irish Derby and Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. His return to the red and green jacket of the Aga Khan means that Fran Berry will be replaced as number one rider to the Aga Khan after just one year in the job, something that should interest people who follow Irish horse racing tips.

Christophe Lemaire remains a retained rider for the Aga Khan's powerful French-based string, an arrangement that appears to have delighted the owner who made it clear that he believes strongly in having top jockeys to ride in specific countries.

During his first spell with Oxx, Murtagh rode 17 Group 1 winners, as well as Sindarr partnering top class performers such as Alamshar, Enzeli and Ebadiyla, to high profile successes.

No replacement for Murtagh has yet been announced by Ballydoyle, who seem in no hurry to reach a decision as to who will step into one of the most coveted jobs in world racing and join a team that provided Murtagh with a staggering 39 Group 1 wins over the last three seasons.

Friday, November 12, 2010

England Can Expect Win Over Australia at Twickenham

England go into battle with Australia this Saturday at Twickenham in the belief that they can continue the improvements that were clearly evident in the defeat by the All Blacks last week.

Martin Johnson has worked tirelessly with his England team since taking the helm two and a half years ago but he has admitted that unless they learn to finish more clinically then any hopes they might harbour for the 2011 World Cup will be dashed.

Johnson of was referring to the try scored by centre, Shontayne Hape that was disallowed by the video ref with six minutes left and which, if converted, would have put England just 3 points behind at a time when the All Blacks had been reduced to 14 men. Johnson made the point that clinical finishing was a hallmark of the Southern Hemisphere game and was quite certain that had nape’s chance fallen to an All Black, they would have scored it.

The comments were not a personal attack on Hape, more an observation by Johnson of the difference in desire that exists between the Northern and Southern hemispheres. Nape overall had a very positive game and looks like he will make the centre position his own by the time the 6 Nations kicks off next year.

His center partner, Mike Tindall, one of the very best defensive centre’s in world rugby, will be a very important component of the team when they take on the Wallabies this week. He will undoubtedly have his work cut out by the hugely talented Australian three quarter line who are all match winners in their own right. The potentially devastating outside half, Quade Cooper, has the potential to open up any defence with either hand or foot, his trickery is well known, which is why Tindall, Toby Flood and back row, Lewis Moody will have to pay him special attention.

The last time the two teams met was ‘Down Under’ earlier this year when England levelled a two match test series with a very narrow 21-20 win. It was a win that also showed the all round improvements of the team, which has does much to enhance the team’s confidence.

The area where they should have a comprehensive advantage will bi the scrum, particularly in the front row, where England’s Andrew Sheridan on the loosehead side should wreak havoc on what appears to be a blundering Australian front three. The Australian scrum was wholly embarrassed against Wales in fact, but they showed enough ingenuity in the breakdown to still score three tries and put the game beyond a plucky Wales.

A very close game in prospect therefore, but one that if England heed the message of their boss, they should defy the rugby odds of 6/4 about the win, giving them a further confidence boost before their nest two autumn internationals against Samoa and the Springboks of South Africa.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Houllier adds personal touch

When Gerard Houllier brought on young Scotsman Barry Bannan instead of Stephen Ireland in the game against Fulham he showed the rest of the Aston Villa squad he won't pick players based on their reputation.

Houllier went on to cite a number of areas where Ireland needs to improve his game – he gives the ball away too easily and he doesn’t track back. It was a timely reminder to the players that the Frenchman has an entirely different footballing philosophy to Martin O'Neill.

O’Neill was a manager who insisted on playing fast, exciting football, but ultimately it wasn't good enough to break into the top four. The fact that he left the club just five days before the start of the season will have only heightened the sense of shock brought about by a sudden change of footballing thought. Granted, they had caretaker-manager Kevin MacDonald to slightly ease the transition, but there is a good reason clubs usually change managers at the end of a campaign rather than just before one starts.

Houllier is already introducing some of the key features of his tenure at Anfield to Villa Park. He is concentrating on keeping things tight at the back, getting the players to pass the ball out from the back and focussing on the players’ technical development. Sadly for him though, no one makes them Premier League tips for the top four.

He clearly has no time for individuals ploughing their own furrows rather than working as a unit, and his CV makes it hard to argue with his way of thinking - at Liverpool he won six trophies in six years, and in 2002 finished second in the Premier League with this approach. Villa would love such a return, whether they can achieve it remains to be seen.

Last night Villa secured three points and the Blackpool betting tips suggest their defeated opponents face a long, hard season.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

United star writes off City challenge

Patrice Evra claims winning the Premier League title is the most important thing to Manchester United and not beating arch-rivals Manchester City.

The two city rivals go head-to-head at Eastlands this week as both clubs look to close the gap on Premier League leaders Chelsea after the West London side slipped up at the weekend.

City have spent hundreds of millions of pounds on players in the last few years in the hope of making themselves a Premier League top four side and even going for the title, but Evra claims United do not take much notice of what is going on across Manchester.

He said a win in the derby will "not be so special" as City are not relevant in the Premier League title battle and United are only focussed on taking the trophy away from Chelsea. Anyone looking to bet on Premier League winner would have been impressed by the Red Devil's recent run of form.

"I can say it would be nice to beat Manchester City because it is a special game, it is the derby and everyone wants to win, but it is not the priority. The priority for us is to win the league," Evra added.

"When we start the league season we think about winning every game. We don't just need to win against Manchester City, we look to win the league, that's it."

The odds for Premier League winner seem to suggest Chelsea are the team to beat, so United will have to keep winning if they are to challenge.

City boss Roberto Mancini thinks the opposite to Evra and seems to truly believe that United are wary of his side's threat. He told Sky Sports Sir Alex Ferguson and his side know City are a "strong team" and do pose a threat to their Premier League title ambitions.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Swann can't carry hopes of a nation on his own

England's superstar Graeme Swann has fired a warning to England's Ashes 2010 team, stating that he's not capable of winning the Ashes this year in Australia all on his own. Swann has been the centre of attention out in Australia since the England team landed with the little urn they so badly want to keep hold of, with Shane Warne last week taking it upon himself to draw particular attention to the bowler, who has found himself up at number two in the world in the bowling charts following his impressive run of form.

Warne described the bowler as "key" to England's hopes of retaining the Ashes and also hinted that Swann may suffer the effects of arrogance if he starts to believe the hype surrounding him at the moment. Whilst Swann was probably secretly pleased to earn such recognition from one of the game's greats, with the bowler stating in the media that he doesn't want to "walk through an airport with an England cricket team and everyone recognises Kevin Pietersen, Jimmy Anderson, and Stuart Broad" but not him, he obviously doesn't feel entirely comfortable carrying the weight of a nation's expectations solely on his shoulders.

Swann is right in his assertion that England cannot rely solely upon one individual to carry their Ashes hopes this year, with runs the order of the day according to the bowler: "The most important thing is that we get big runs because we're going to play on four or five fantastic wickets".

England need every single cricketer to bring their A-game to the opening Ashes Test, including Alastair Cook, over whom doubts remain, and if that can happen they really do stand a decent chance of leaving Aussie soil complete with the urn they so badly want to keep hold of.

Flower urges calm over Cook

Alastair Cook has been given the dreaded vote of confidence by England coach Andy Flower after concerns increased surrounding the form of England's opening batsman. Cook's relative lack of form has been a cause of intense anxiety for many England fans in the build-up to the Ashes cricket series but Flower believes that there is no reason to worry, despite Cook scoring just five and nine in the warm-up win over Western Australia.

Flower revealed that he has no great concerns over the batsman, stating: "It's one game, two innings. I think he's going to do well". Cook's less than impressive overall record against Australia has also come under the spotlight in certain quarters since that performance, with the batsman averaging just 26.21 against them in a total of 10 Tests.

England kick off their crucial game against South Australia tomorrow and Cook may well view this as his last chance to make a mark on the England set-up before the opening Ashes Test later this month, especially in light of Flower's comments that the upcoming match at the Adelaide Oval will represent "vital preparation" for the England camp, who are desperate to upset the current Ashes betting odds.

If the 25-year-old fails to impress, England do, of course, have other options available to them and could decide to move up Jonathan Trott from number three or look to Ian Bell to move up from number six. Whilst not the end of the world, making such alterations so late in the game wouldn't be ideal for England as they seek to show the Aussies they have what it takes to keep hold of the little urn.

Broken leg forces Walsh out for three months

There can be few tougher sports than horse racing. Even at the highest level jockeys have to be prepared to take a fall at up to 35 mph as often as one ride in ten. On Saturday at Down Royal top jockey Ruby Walsh yet again learned how dangerous the game can be.

A day that had started off in perfect fashion for Paul Nicholls' stable jockey when he partnered the great Kauto Star to victory in a Grade 1 chase turned nasty when Walsh took a sickening fall from Corrick Bridge in the early stages of a 2m 6f handicap chase that left him with a double fracture of his right leg. He required immediate surgery and will be left to watch on from the sidelines for up to 12 weeks during a critical stage of the National Hunt season. No doubt all involved in Irish racing will be sympathetic towards the great jockey.

There has already been a frenzy of media activity with pundits puzzling over who will step in for the rides on the Nicholls superstars Kauto Star and Denman, as well as other high-class performers in the care of the Ditcheat handler. It has already been confirmed that Sam Thomas will get the leg up on Denman in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury at the end of the month, while the general opinion seems to be that Tony McCoy is odds-on to partner Kauto Star in his bid to land an astounding fifth successive King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. It will be interesting to see if the change in rider impacts on the betting tips for the race.

Walsh's absence will doubtless give a chance to other jockeys associated with Nicholls, such as Nick Scholfield and Harry Skelton to shine, but all will appreciate, that Walsh will number one for the champion trainer by the end of January.

Monday, November 8, 2010

It was not All Black for Plucky England at Twickenham

Ok it wasn’t a win, but there were plenty of positives for England to take out of the first 2010 autumn international against the top ranked New Zealand All Blacks at Twickenham last Saturday.

The final scoreline of 26-16 did not accurately reflect the entire match, in fact it was more of a reflection of the opening 20 minutes or so, when England conceded two match-losing and very unnecessary tries. From that moment it was always going to be an uphill struggle but in fairness to England they gave it a very good shot and scored a try of their own, through a well timed burst by hooker, Dylan Hartley, which no home team was able to do against New Zealand when they toured here last year.

The All Blacks of course arrived in Europe after a record breaking performance in the 2010 Tri Nations, which saw them become the first team to win that fierce tournament without losing a single game, home or away. It is true that they had lost an epic Bledisloe Cup match played in Hong Kong, a week before taking on England, but that was only Australia’s first win against them in the last eleven matches that they have met.

England cannot be accused therefore of taking on a team that were in poor form, however the All Blacks were certainly not at their absolute best and their pack were there to be taken, particularly in the scrum, where England enjoyed a big advantage. Tighthead prop, Dan Cole excelled, contributing enormously to England’s dominance and causing the New Zealand front row to capitulate, allowing England to launch a plucky second half fight back.

England in fact effectively won the last 60 minutes of the match by a score of 16 to 12 and had centre, Shontayne Nape scored what looked to be a great chance for a try late on and Toby Flood had kicked at his best then the score would have been far more convincing over the whole 80 minutes.

England manager, Martin Johnson will be pleased with the contributions made by Ben Foden at full back and his Saints team mate Chris Ashton, who showed in flashes in the second half that they have what it takes to run with some conviction at an extremely stubborn All Blacks defence.

England next take on Australia next Saturday in a game that they have a great chance of winning, mainly due to the ineptitude of the Australian front row, who once again were totally exposed by Wales but who failed to capitalise on their advantage. England’s front row is even bigger than that of Wales, and are arguably better front row technicians which gives them a massive advantage over the Wallabies.

This advantage should provide enough possession for the England backs to really attack the visitors and put them on the back foot from the outset. Australia of course are regarded by most as the best attacking team in the world right now, which they proved in their win over Wales, scoring three tries, two from breakdowns. However, they can only attack if they have the ball, so provided England can cut out the mistakes and deprive them of the ball, then they will have a great chance of beating the Wallabies for the second time this year.

Whilst these Autumn matches are little more than exhibitions, there is certainly no love lost between the rivals from the Northern and Southern Hemispheres and whilst England will have one eye on fine tuning ahead of the 6 Nations early next year, the ultimate aim will be to defy the rugby world cup odds next year when New Zealand themselves will host the tournament that England has won and been beaten finalists of on the last two occasions.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Big Spender set to show a decent profit

Saturday's listed Badger Ales Trophy Handicap Chase at Wincanton could well see the reappearance of Colin Tizzard's progressive young chaser Hey Big Spender, a horse who it could pay to follow during this National Hunt season, writes Elliot Slater.

With Tizzard's team seemingly in good heart at present it would come as no surprise were his imposing seven-year-old to run a big race on Saturday, but there will doubtless be plenty of other fish to fry along the route that will surely take the Rudimentary gelding back to the Cheltenham Festival for a crack at one of the big handicap chases.

Last year Hey Big Spender was a leading fancy for the Jewson Novices' Handicap Chase having arrived at Cheltenham on the back of a good course win and a very respectable second, as well as an impressive winning effort at Newbury earlier in the term. All seemed to be going to plan as the horse moved into second place approaching the 13th fence, only for Joe Tizzard's mount to make an uncharacteristic blunder and deposit his rider on the turf. Worse was to follow at Aintree three weeks later when Hey Big Spender fell for the only time in his career, when in contention at a relatively early stage of a Grade 2 event.

With another summer on his back and doubtless plenty of schooling to regain his confidence, there are good reasons for believing that Tizzard's charge could be a horse to follow this term, and he's one of my racing tips to win this weekend.

Whatever he does this weekend, I am sure Hey Big Spender will only improve for the outing and, on anticipated soft ground, he could represent better betting tips for the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury at the end of the month, for which he is currently a best-priced 25/1 shot.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Title looks in the bag now for Hanagan

This season’s race for the British Champion Flat Jockey’s title has been thoroughly absorbing and at the time of writing, (with only a few days to go until the end of the season), looks to be heading the way of Liverpool-born Paul Hanagan, an unconsidered outsider at the start of the term, but a jockey who has really come of age in 2010, writes Elliot Slater.

Hanagan’s epic dual for the title with the tremendously popular Richard Hughes has been very much in the balance for the last few days, but a double at Wolverhampton on Monday of the final week saw him go five winners clear, and with Hughes due to leave for America on Thursday evening to take the ride on Paco Boy in the Breeders’ Cup Mile on Saturday, it looks highly unlikely that Hanagan can be caught.

In becoming champion jockey, those looking at racing tips note that Hanagan will have bucked the trend in being the first northern based rider to triumph since the now-retired Kevin Darley achieved the feat in 2000. His association with Malton-based Richard Fahey has been tremendously successful, Fahey providing the lion’s share of Hanagan’s 186 winners, but there have been plenty of other northern and southern yards that have lent their support to the Scouser and kept the winners flowing throughout the term.

Hughes, stable jockey to his father-in-law Richard Hannon’s powerful yard, has ridden better than ever this term, belying his laid back attitude by giving it a real go over the last month. A seven-day suspension in October will surely be judged as the turning point for the Irishman who lost valuable ground on Hanagan at that critical stage.

The best thing of all about this year’s race for the title according to those assessing Irish racing tips has been the tremendous spirit in which the battle has been contested. If it was down simply to sportsmanship and gentlemanly behaviour, both riders would surely deserve to share the title.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A look at the Bradford Bulls

Bradford Bulls are used to breaking records for all the right reasons but the 2010 Super League certainly didn’t follow in that suit. After years of success in the top tier of British Rugby League, Bradford had a season of turmoil and couldn’t buy a win towards the end of the season. Steve McNamara was released to take charge of the England national team after losing eight straight games and the team didn’t perform throughout the season meaning they missed out on the super league play-offs for the first ever time.

After the Bulls’ worst ever season in the top flight, those over at rugbyboots.net were aware that changes had to be made to ensure the club improved on and off the pitch and the board soon got their act together and drew up some very ambitious and solid plans.

As Bradford prepare for the 2011 season they look to be in good shape as the new arrivals have benefitted not just the playing staff but the coaching staff too with the appointment of Mick Potter as head coach. Something of a coup after Potter guided St Helens to back-to-back grand finals.

Also after not having a strong enough squad to compete for the top eight last season, Potter made sure he used all his contacts to attract the very best players on the market to come and play for him at Odsal. He looks to have done that with ease and the squad is shaping up to be a strong group of players who have the talent and potential to make an impact on Super League’s elite next season.

Chev Walker looks set to reignite his career after a horrific leg break at Hull KR and Gareth Raynor looks set to revive his work in rugby after a spell in prison. Potter has also handed Championship player Shad Royston the chance to prove himself amongst the very best players in the country and Bryn Hargreaves joins the coach at Bradford from St Helens.

Bradford needs some big presence in the forward line and have added Olivier Elima from Catalans to their squad for the forthcoming campaign and given former Wigan winger Shaun Ainscough the chance to continue his impressive scoring record on the wing.

The best signing Potter has made since his arrival at Odsal is the addition of Matt Diskin who has joined from Yorkshire rivals Leeds Rhinos. Diskin is one of the best hookers in English rugby and was a loyal servant at Headingley but needed a fresh career move and there’s no better club to join if it’s a challenge a player wants.

The biggest disappointment for Potter is the loss of Steve Menzies who has despite his age shown a lot of commitment and desire when donning the Bulls jersey and was a big hit with the fans. The Bulls will also have to fill the void left by Matt Orford if they want to create chances after he showed a lack of loyalty and asked to be released from his contract.

The Bulls new signings may take time to gel and perform as a team but once they do click they are sure to be a handful for most sides and are sure to put the disappointment of 2010 behind them with a solid performance in 2011.

Is Graeme Swann the key to an England Ashes victory?

There are several cricketing plaudits who have tipped England to retain the Ashes in the latest series which starts later this month in Australia. However, most have added a caveat to their predictions by adding England will win provided Graeme Swann stays fit and bowls at his best down under.

It must have been very unnerving for them and for all English cricket fans for that matter therefore, when they learned that the brilliant off spinner had damaged a finger on his bowling hand during net practice at the weekend. The players and staff have been quick to confirm that the injury is not too serious and needed only minor strapping and that Swann was almost certain to play in the forthcoming warm up match against West Australia on Friday.

Swann is undoubtedly pivotal to England’s chances of bringing back the urn from Australia for the first time since 1987. Since making his Test debut against India in December 2008, the 31 year old has gone on to play in 24 test matches, taking 113 wickets for just 26.55 runs apiece, he is currently ranked as the best spin bowler in the world and the second best bowler in the world of any kind. He has become the real talisman of the England team over the last year or so.

He has taken five wickets in a test match nine times already, including twice against Pakistan in the recent 3-1 series victory in England. He also took a ten wicket haul earlier in the year against Bangladesh finishing with match figures of 10/217. His performances this year earned him the ECB cricketer of the year award.

In the 2009 Ashes series in England, Swann easily proved himself to be the best spinner of either side, taking 14 wickets at an average of 40, he also took seven Australian wickets in the recent five match ODI series also played in England, which the home team won by 3-2.

What makes Swann such a danger as well as a potential Ashes series winner is his ability to know when to attack. He appears to have discovered more ways to dismiss batsmen than other off-spinners, which he continues to prove time and time again. He has a phenomenal ability to bowl very quick off-spin without ever losing the spin on the ball, which only very few off-spin bowlers have managed to achieve; this quick ball has become a key weapon in his comprehensive armoury. He is also a great studier of batting technique and the Australian batsmen can be certain that he will have spent long hours looking for their weaknesses and that he will know when best to expose them.

Although Australia are odds on favourites to win the series, Swann is the favourite in both the England Top Bowler and the Series Top Bowler markets to take the most wickets. He is also a good looking bet to be the first England player to achieve a five wicket haul in the series.

It should also be noted that Swann, certainly at County level is regarded as a genuine all rounder who has proven himself as a good quality test batsman too. He averages over 25 with the bat currently, but against Australia in the 2009 series he averaged a very respectable 35.57 with a top score of 63 made in the fourth test. In fact Swann scored a total of 249 runs in that series which was only bettered by Andrew Strauss (474), Matt Prior (261) and Paul Collingwood (250).
It is easy therefore to see why so many plaudits are tipping Swann to be the Ashes series winner, it just needs the other England bowlers to be a trifle more gentle with him in the nets and avoid hitting those magic fingers, particularly on his bowling hand.

In the Ashes odds, Swann is the 5/4 favourite to be England's top bowler across the five tests and 7/2 favourite to out perform Australia's bowlers to be named top ahses series bowler and if he is to play as pivotal a role as many expect, then it may well just be worth a flutter!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rio Sulkies And Harness M0 Pacing Series Final, Albion Park, Saturday

Albion Park’s Queensland Pacing Championship is undoubtedly the highlight of the harness racing action on Saturday’s card, although a little taste of what could be to come is in the $30,000 Rio Sulkies And Harness M0 Pacing Series Final earlier on in the card.

A highly competitive field of 12 has assembled and many come into the race in very good form. This is as wide open as it can get, but there will be value to be found in the harness racing odds.

On the gate, Phillip Chappenden’s Jaccka Limon must have a great chance. The horse, who has just over a 25 percent strike rate, qualified for this with a brave second place in a fair time back on the 16th October. A win here since would have put him spot on for this final and he rates a decent win bet.

Caesar Supreme, trained and driven by Darrell Graham, is a horse to look out for and is another well drawn on the first line. He was runner-up in Heat 1 of this series earlier in the month and in all honesty will have to upgrade his performance from last time out when just scraping home under the two-minute barrier. However, the 4yo is a good, honest sort who never runs a bad race and is likely to be there or thereabouts at the end at decent odds.

On the second line, Natalie Rasmussen will be sat behind Mega Alexander, a 5yo from the stable of W F Dixon in pursuit of a four-timer. His form looks very solid and, despite being on the second line, he is drawn in 1 so it’s not all bad. The only worry with this gelding is that, despite impressive form figures, he can occasionally throw in the odd slow time and there will be little margin for error here.

John McCarthy’s George Dubya is another to be considered. He was only just behind Jaccka Limon in their heat and is one who keeps hitting the money.

A fiercely competitive heat, but we will take Jaccka Limon to win seeing as there are holes to be picked with a few of the others. He may well do the job but it won’t be by far.