Villa maintain unbeaten start

first_imgAston Villa’s unbeaten start to the Barclays Premier League season continued as goals from Gabriel Agbonlahor and Andreas Weimann put away Hull at Villa Park. Villa had the look of a crisis club towards the end of the 2013-14 campaign, with manager Paul Lambert under intense pressure, owner Randy Lerner trying to sell the club and internal discord rife, but seven points from a possible nine paints a rosier picture this time around. Villa had to settle for a 2-1 victory but should really have enjoyed a more handsome scoreline, dominating first-half proceedings completely with neat finishes from Agbonlahor and Weimann sandwiched by shots against the woodwork from Fabian Delph and Ashley Westwood. Hull were abject in those 45 minutes, arguably as bad as they have been since their return to the top flight, but tightened up after the interval and found a lifeline when Nikica Jelavic’s 72nd-minute header was turned home by Villa full-back Aly Cissokho. Both sides had been responding to midweek setbacks, Paul Lambert’s side beaten by Leyton Orient in the Capital One Cup and the Tigers ousted from the Europa League on away goals. Each made seven changes from those games and there was little doubt about which side settled quicker. Villa’s dominance began almost immediately, with just 90 seconds gone, when Delph latched on to Weimann’s pass and lashed an angled shot against the outside of the near post. That energetic start appeared to catch the visitors cold and they regressed immediately to some uncharacteristic long balls. Lambert’s side attacked with more forethought, Delph, Weimann and Agbonlahor looking to use their pace against a Hull defence including debutant Michael Dawson. The opener arrived shortly before the quarter-hour mark, Jelavic mis-controlling a pass back into his own half to set up a Villa break. Within seconds the ball was in the net, Charles N’Zogbia finding Weimann, whose deft touch gave Agbonlahor just enough room to turn and shoot low past Allan McGregor from 10 yards. A second almost followed within two minutes, Curtis Davies gifting possession to Agbonlahor, who fizzed a cross into the six-yard box where Dawson made a hurried clearance. Hull briefly threatened a response around the half-hour mark, Tom Huddlestone’s free-kick deflected wide by Weimann before Mark Clattenburg waved away penalty appeals for a Westwood handball. Villa soon regained control, though, aided by some dreadful resistance. They doubled their lead in the 36th minute when Dawson’s loose ball was won by Delph, spread wide to Kieran Richardson and finished in two succinct touches by Weimann. It was a moment to forget for the Hull debutant but another clinical reaction by Villa’s forward line. It might easily have been three before half-time, Agbonlahor denied by McGregor’s feet and Westwood curling a free-kick against the upright with McGregor nowhere. Hull captain Davies did not emerge for the second half, replaced by Liam Rosenior to force a change of shape to four at the back. Ten minutes later, and with no sign of a change in momentum, Steve Bruce made his second change. This time Tom Ince, nearly anonymous in his attempts to link midfield and attack, gave way for Robbie Brady, fresh from two goals against Lokeren on Thursday. Lambert’s first change came soon after, Carlos Sanchez on for N’Zogbia, and if the substitutions were contributing to an increasingly disjointed feeling then it hardly mattered to the side with a two-goal cushion. That almost increased to three when McGregor slipped fielding Dawson’s back pass, but the ball did not fall for the harrying Weimann. Then, against all expectations, Hull instigated a tense finale by grabbing a lifeline 18 minutes from time. The lively Brady was involved, his drifting free-kick headed goalwards by Jelavic only for Cissokho to wrong-foot his own goalkeeper with a huge deflection. In an instant the game had a new spark, Delph bringing the home fans back to their feet with a fine run and shot before Jake Livermore took aim at the other end. His 25-yard strike was destined for the top corner but Brad Guzan made his first save of the match a crucial one. Both sides had chances in injury-time, Darren Bent dragging wide from a good position and Sone Aluko firing directly at Guzan with the visitors’ final chance. Press Associationlast_img read more

THE NORTH-WEST 10K – A BYSTANDER’S VIEW!

first_imgby LUCY COSTELLOThe gathering is heard before it is seen; in the distance, the sound of the commentator can be discerned, rising over the chatter of the crowds of runners, joggers and walkers, which are making their way down to the Letterkenny Community Centre for the annual North-West 10km race. The weather is average: dry but dull, but the grey sky provides a wonderful contrast with the explosion of colours that gathers in front of the Community Centre. The crowd is mostly lime green, due to the official race t-shirt, but the mass of athletes is peppered bright blue, crimson-red, black and fluorescent yellow. The pure excitement of the event is also in marked contrast to the surly sky; the atmosphere is electric. ‘8 minutes to go!’ So comes the shout from the commentator. Warm-ups are already in full swing: dozens of legs are poised, stretching, against windowsills and walls, several begin star-jumping in the middle of the car park, and a few of the serious athletes are already running up and down the course, impala-like muscles flexing. Many have already begun to gather near the starting line, and as the ushers and commentator urge them on, a steady stream strides down, looking for all the world like a parade of athleticism. The starting line is bustling with the athletes. Runners, joggers and walkers of all ages and ability levels form a massive crowd behind the line, a shifting crowd that buzzes with anticipation. The front of the crowd, traditionally where the elite runners gather, showcases some of the finest athletic talent in the county, and indeed, beyond. It is a collage of running shorts, race numbers, white socks, and fluorescent Asics trainers. Many jog slowly on the spot to warm up, and the front of the crowd is a mass of dancing legs: legs, in some cases, so muscular they appear to be carved from marble. The atmosphere of the procession is as loud as an orchestra, but silence nevertheless descends rapidly as the athletes make ready. There is something mystical about the period just before a race begins. The silence. The anticipation. The boundless potential energy, which has the ability to be deafening in the midst of the quiet. This energy is straining at the seams of the silence. The athletes step forward towards the starting line, and the photographers and reporters dash forward, snap photos, and retreat quickly in the face of the crowd, which this year, numbers far more than 3,000. The athletes and spectators hold their unanimous breath as the final seconds approach. The hands of the elite runners hover above their personal timers, waiting. The energy bursts through as the whistle screams, punching through the silence. Timers are activated, muscles unclench, feet push off. The mass of muscle rushes forward, undulating in streams of blue, yellow, red and green. Thousands rush past in mere minutes, and the rubbery footfalls and snatched breaths create a human symphony over the screaming of the whistle. As the crowd progresses, it slows, and the whistle’s scream is rounded off as the last of the walkers stride beneath the starting banner, which looks naked and insignificant now. All the energy it held back like a dam has been unleashed: the North-West 10k has begun.The sheer numbers, and diversity of athletes that the event has attracted this year is stupendous. The area’s athletic clubs are out in force. Streams of colour thunder along the course: Finn Valley’s royal blue, Lifford’s crimson red, Letterkenny’s black and Foyle Valley’s deep purple, amongst many others. Hundreds of lime-green athletes dash past in the official race t-shirt. Fit for Life participants dash past. Dozens of men and women walk and run with prams, the babies and toddlers bouncing along, oblivious to the excitement. Two young women are dressed in army camouflage and miniskirts, wearing their race numbers on garters. A playing card strolls along. Even Spiderman makes an appearance. The variety of the athletes is matched by the medley of shouting and encouragement that punctures the air above their heads: ‘C’mon Catherine!’ ‘You can do it Nigel!’ ‘Go Amy, you can do this!’ ‘Hon ya boy ya!’ I’m even addressed directly: ‘Not running today, Lucy?’ Dozens of familiar faces flash past, showcasing just how many are participating in this race. Despite their diversity, one thing unites them: the atmosphere. Laughter and chatter are snatched from the athlete’s mouths as they dash past, and greetings and smiles are tossed between the runners and the crowd. The community spirit is palpable, and contagious. As the race progresses, the evidence of the athlete’s progress is obvious: hundreds upon hundreds of plastic white cups, handed out by volunteers, lie abandoned on the road, looking for all the world like wedding confetti. For the serious athletes at the front, the mood is undoubtedly different. The determination and focus of the elites seems to precede them along the way. The spectators gather on either side of the metal railings as the first runners approach. A white silence descends, before being smashed, suddenly, by a streak of purple: Foyle Valley’s Keith Shields , who sprints over the finish line with a stupendous time of 32.15 minutes. Foyle Valley nets a double victory with the arrival of Scott Rankin, who joins Shields on the other side of the finish line with a time of 33.11 minutes. Cranford AC, Inishowen AC, and Finn Valley AC then punch through in rapid succession. Children are perched on the shoulders of their parents, dogs poke their heads out through the railings, the spectators cheer and shout encouragement as the elites sprint past. The runners increase in numbers, blurring into a medley of grunts, heavy footfalls, and straining muscles, aching to get over the finish line. ‘Watch out for Mammy now.’ Children clap and cheer as their parents and older siblings dash past. A runner’s white rosary beads trail behind his neck. Those who have finished proceed to enjoy a bottle of water and a banana by the Community Centre, leading the commentator to announce: ‘Bet you that banana tastes good!’ The runners keep coming, piling into the Community Centre’s car park until it once again resembles the scene prior to the race. Tired muscles are stretched and relaxed, sweat is wiped from foreheads, hands are shaken and backs are slapped in mutual pride. Some eight hundred runners manage to cross the line before the one hour mark- a new record. The elation is palpable. As the runners finish up, and the walkers begin to stride past the finish line, the atmosphere winds down, yet the ‘runner’s high’ is strong enough to be tasted; I crave that feeling. As a bystander, looking over the events of the North-West 10k is an eye-opening experience. I have had the valuable experience of being the bystander in an event such as this; an event which has shown the strength of the athletic community in Donegal and beyond. THE NORTH-WEST 10K – A BYSTANDER’S VIEW! was last modified: May 5th, 2013 by StephenShare this:Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)Click to share on Telegram (Opens in new window)Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)Click to share on Skype (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Tags:North West 10klast_img read more