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Sir Alex Ferguson retires: A secret that couldn’t be contained – the inside story of Manchester United boss’ exit



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Sir Alex Ferguson acknowledges the away fans after his final match in charge of Manchester United, away to West Brom
Sir Alex Ferguson acknowledges the away fans after his final match in charge of Manchester United, against West Brom at the Hawthorns

Monday 8 May 2023 marks 10 years since the seismic news of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement was confirmed by Manchester United.

The story broke in the media on the night before the official announcement, despite the extraordinary lengths United went to try and keep it secret.

A decade on, it could be argued the club still hasn’t recovered from Ferguson’s exit.

The Scot remains the most decorated manager in British football.

He won 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups, two Champions Leagues, a European Cup Winners’ Cup, a European Super Cup, an Intercontinental Cup and a Fifa Club World Cup during his time at Manchester United.


Add to that the three Scottish titles, four Scottish Cups, Scottish League Cup, European Cup Winners’ Cup and European Super Cup he won as manager of Aberdeen.

Now 81, in his autobiography ‘Alex Ferguson’, he detailed why he decided to quit after nearly 27 years in one of the game’s toughest and most high-profile jobs.

‘”I’m going to retire,” he told wife Cathy, around Christmas 2012.

‘”Why are you going to do that,” she replied.

“Cathy, who had lost her sister Bridget in the October and was struggling to come to terms with that bereavement, soon agreed it was the right course. Contractually, I was obliged to tell the club by 31 March if I was going to stand down that summer,” wrote Ferguson.


So set in motion the wheels for Ferguson’s departure. It was also the beginning of an attempt to keep one of the biggest stories of the Premier League era under wraps at perhaps its most-scrutinised club.

BBC Sport has spoken to a number of sources around United at that time for an insight into the process that ended with an amazing 5-5 draw in Ferguson’s last game as a manager at West Brom on 19 May.

The Real Madrid clue

Ferguson told United chief executive David Gill of his plans early in 2013.

Gill had initially called their meeting to tell Ferguson of his own departure.

Having worked closely with Ferguson for more than a decade, Gill wanted the manager to be among the first to know he intended to stand down the following summer, hoping a lack of club ties would improve his chances of taking a seat on Uefa’s powerful executive committee.


However, Gill was surprised to hear Ferguson reveal that the current season would also be his last at Old Trafford.

The news stayed secret for months.

Long after the 31 March deadline passed, only a select few, including United’s owners, the Glazer family, knew of Ferguson’s impending exit.

However, looking back, there was a giant clue.

On 5 March, United were knocked out of the Champions League in controversial fashion by Real Madrid. They had been ahead in the tie when United winger Nani was sent off. On the touchline, Ferguson was furious.


When the teams returned to the dressing room, Gill went to speak to Mike Phelan, Ferguson’s assistant.

Phelan had been Ferguson’s regular stand-in for post-match interviews with the BBC during the manager’s seven-year boycott of the broadcaster over a disputed documentary about his son Jason.

In addition, the only time the United manager conducted the separate post-match media conferences was after European games when it was a contractual requirement.

Despite the magnitude of the game and the unprecedented nature of the request in a European context, Gill told Phelan that he would have to take the place of an upset and angry Ferguson in front of the media. Ferguson said the same.

The feeling was Ferguson might say something he would regret.


Phelan told the media Ferguson was “distraught” and “in no fit state” to talk to them.

What Ferguson and Gill knew, but neither Phelan nor anyone in the media were aware of, was that the loss signalled the end of the manager’s final chance to lift the trophy he coveted the most once more.

His combination of rage and incredulity at the performance of Turkish referee Cuneyt Cakir was heightened by the knowledge there could be no chance of redemption. In Champions League terms, it was the end.

Putting a plan in place

It wasn’t until early April that the circle of trust was widened.

Even then, it extended to no-one other than those who, for operational reasons, had to know about Ferguson’s departure and, crucially, could be trusted.


A couple of weeks later, on 22 April, United secured the title when Robin van Persie scored a hat-trick in a 3-0 win against Aston Villa.

Van Persie had been recruited from Arsenal the previous summer, having received personal assurances from Ferguson that he had no plans to stand down.

But the Scot had changed his mind and that title success paved the way for a plan to be put in place.

It was not a given at that time United would arrange an open-top bus parade to celebrate winning the Premier League.

They famously didn’t have one after winning the Premier League and Champions League in 2008, nor the following season when they won the Premier League title and reached the Champions League final.


However, on the basis Manchester City had celebrated their own success 12 months earlier with a parade, nothing seemed too unusual in United saying they wanted one as well.

Those at the club with responsibility for marking key moments were told to push the boat out. It was, after all, they were told, a milestone 20th championship. Behind that push lay the knowledge it would also be marking Ferguson’s last.

Still, hardly anyone knew the reality. The announcement of Ferguson’s departure was set for the morning of Wednesday, 8 May.

On the Tuesday morning, a meeting was called for various staff members.

They were told to prepare for a big announcement, as big as it was possible to be, for the following morning. The tone of the conversation was to steer people towards believing it was transfer or sponsorship related.


But, at the end of the meeting, a lone voice stated firmly “the king is dead, long live the king”. Those present who were aware of Ferguson’s exit were stunned.

It hadn’t been spelt out but there could be no greater steer as to what was about to unfold.

As the meeting broke up, so the rumours spread, initially across United’s Carrington training ground, then out, to the annual golf day organised by former players at the exclusive Dunham Forest course in Cheshire.

Wayne Rooney and Tom Cleverley ride a buggy on a charity golf day at Dunham Forest Golf Club
Rumours began to spread among the Manchester United squad as they attended a charity golf day on the day before Ferguson confirmed his departure

As speculation swirled, staff in the know realised their secret was getting away from them.

Senior figures on the coaching staff received text messages informing them of the golf day gossip.

Key website workers were told to report to Old Trafford for 06:00 BST the following morning. Some, who got on well with the media, were bombarded with calls and eventually opted to switch their phones off.


The announcement

The stories of Ferguson’s impending departure appeared online later that evening. The Telegraph was first, but were followed almost immediately by the remainder of Fleet Street.

By the following morning, the reports were being carried by radio and TV outlets.

Ferguson was not happy. He wanted the information to come from him.

As the staff he worked closest with arrived for work, he asked to see them. He apologised for the manner in which the information had come out, but confirmed he was standing down. The meetings were brief, no longer than 10 minutes.

Preparations then continued for the final two games – against Swansea and West Brom – as though nothing had happened, even though almost all were blindsided.


In the preceding months, Ferguson had been part of numerous meetings to discuss that summer’s pre-season trip to Australia and the following campaign. He was in good health. Nothing hinted at the massive decision he had made.

Then Ferguson went to see his players. At the same time, the official announcement was being prepared for release.

The response of the players was typical of a group of younger men being addressed by an older one. There were a myriad of jokes about the lack of dressing-room dressing-downs in the future, of their relief Ferguson was finally going and predictions he would change his mind anyway and be back next season.

At Old Trafford the mood was more serious and more tense. The number of staff arriving early alerted security staff to a something significant in the offing. It merely reinforced what they were reading and hearing in the media.

Those responsible for publishing the information were taken to Box 30, or the ‘War Room’ as it is known internally, on the first tier of the East Stand. It is the most private hospitality box at the stadium. Most recently it was seen in promotional video Ferguson filmed with Wrexham co-owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney to publicise the clubs’ pre-season meeting in San Diego this July.


The actual detail of the press release was only finalised 10 minutes before it was due to go live.

The statement itself, containing lengthy quotes from Ferguson, Gill and co-chairmen Joel and Avram Glazer, was checked and re-checked to make sure it went out without error. All involved understood the scale of what would happen when the send button was pressed.

Sure enough, for a while, the United website couldn’t cope as the number of visitors brought it to a standstill.

Back in the canteen at Carrington, Ferguson, accompanied by son Jason, spoke to remaining staff. It was an emotional morning. He had to steady himself on a couple of occasions to get through. Little wonder, once his various addresses had been made, he felt the need to return home to Wilmslow to clear his head.

The final games

Four days later, Ferguson’s final programme notes were published. Unlike some managers, who don’t write or even read them, he always spent time thinking about the message he wanted to deliver.


“It is the right time,” he said.

“It was important to me to leave the organisation in the best possible shape and I believe I have done so.”

He paid tribute to his wife and family, his players and staff, club legend and friend Sir Bobby Charlton, Gill and the Glazer family.

He finished with this thank-you to the fans:

“It has been an honour and enormous privilege to have had the opportunity to lead your club and I have treasured my time as manager of Manchester United.”


Frank Sinatra’s ‘My Way’ and Nat King Cole’s ‘Unforgettable’ were played before kick-off.

Rio Ferdinand didn’t quite score the winner in ‘Fergie-time’ but the 87th minute was late enough to be a fitting end to Ferguson’s last game at Old Trafford.

He emerged, in the pouring rain, to take the acclaim of a packed stadium.

T-shirts commemorating St Alex Ferguson's reign at Old Trafford
Merchandise sellers around Old Trafford worked fast to produce commemorative t-shirts ahead of Ferguson’s final home game against Swansea

Typically, he took the microphone and declared he had “no script in his mind, I am just going to ramble on” before finding exactly the right words, across four minutes, including “you have been the most fantastic experience of my life” and “your job now is to stand by our new manager”. His grandchildren then accompanied him on a final lap of the stadium.

One week later, at West Brom, it really was the end.

The United players presented Ferguson with a 1941 Rolex watch, marking the year of his birth. They also gave him a book of photographs depicting his time at United. It included shots of his family, who were with him on that final momentous day at the Hawthorns.


He had a meal with his coaching staff on the night before the game, although given the level of uncertainty some of them were experiencing, the mood was reflective rather than celebratory.

Ferguson was said to be relaxed in the dressing room beforehand, but his behaviour was reasonably normal for a matchday.

A trade union shop steward in Glasgow’s shipyards before he moved into football, Ferguson’s final team talk concentrated on working-class values. He urged his players to show their personalities, play the Manchester United way and play to win.

He had a joke with fourth official Chris Foy when he made his way through the guard of honour formed by players of both sides. As usual, he sat between Phelan and first-team coach Rene Meulensteen on the bench.

There was the familiar sight of him chewing gum in frustration as Romelu Lukaku completed a hat-trick and West Brom fought back from 5-2 down to claim a draw. However, those close by noted the usual anger was missing.


At the final whistle, Ryan Giggs pushed Ferguson in front of the players to acknowledge the visiting fans. Paul Scholes was supposed to be with him as he prepared for his – second – retirement but, typically, the then media-shy midfielder was nowhere to be seen.

Back in the dressing room, Giggs reflected on the manner of the ridiculous result and, with the then-Everton manager already extensively linked as Ferguson’s successor, joked: “David Moyes has just resigned.”

Ferguson’s coaching team went for the usual post-match chat with West Brom boss and fellow Scot Steve Clarke, who in his programme notes for the game had said: “The scale and eloquence of the tributes that have come his way speak volumes for the scale of his contribution to the game.”

West Brom had taken the unprecedented step of including an astonishing 40-page tribute to Ferguson in their match programme. Later they sent on the official teamsheets, all signed.

The end of an era

Looking back, United were in the process of making a number of mistakes.


That night, half a dozen key staff met for a drink on the outskirts of Manchester to discuss what had happened and where United went from there. There were no big meetings planned to outline the future.

Ferguson, understandably, decided to step away completely to ensure his presence didn’t restrict Moyes as he took over the reins.

Incredibly, United did not buy Moyes out of the remainder of his Everton contract. It was 1 July – a month and a half after Ferguson’s final game – before he could begin work properly.

Moyes faced the media for the first time, alongside Nemanja Vidic in a news conference to promote the club’s pre-season tour a few days later. But he was already playing catch-up and never recovered the ground.

Within 12 months, in addition to Ferguson, Gill and Scholes, Phelan, Meulensteen, goalkeeping coach Eric Steele, Ferdinand, Vidic and full-back Patrice Evra had all left the club. Giggs retired. Within two years, respected youth team coach Paul McGuiness and academy director Brian McClair had gone as well.


It really was the end of an era. Nothing at Manchester United would ever be the same again.

David Moyes poses for photographs at his unveiling at Old Trafford
Ferguson’s successor David Moyes was sacked 10 months into a six-year contract at Old Trafford
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Scotland 0-6 England: Beth Mead says England are ‘devastated’ after missing out on the Nations League finals



Beth Mead said England are “devastated” while manager Sarina Wiegman said it “really hurts” after her side agonisingly missed out on a place in the Women’s Nations League finals on goal difference.

England’s game had finished when the Netherlands scored their decisive fourth goal in the 95th minute, ending the Lionesses’ Nations League campaign and also meaning Team GB will not be in the Paris 2024 Olympics football competition.

“We thought we’d got over the line but it wasn’t to be,” Mead told BBC Sport.

England needed to better the Netherlands’ result by three clear goals to reach the Nations League finals and keep Olympic hopes alive, as the nominated nation to qualify on behalf of Team GB.


In the end, both England and the Dutch finished on 12 points in Group A1, with the Netherlands advancing because of a superior goal difference of plus eight. England finished with plus seven.

“We’re devastated. We did everything we possibly could on the pitch,” said Mead.

“It’s a tough one. The girls have worked incredibly hard. We let ourselves down maybe earlier in the competition.”

Wiegman, who oversaw a 30-match unbeaten run when she first took charge of the Lionesses, said she was “proud” of the performance but “gutted” not to get over the line.

“We scored six goals, and we were so close. In the dying seconds the Netherlands scored a goal, you can’t control that,” she said.


‘I thought it was going to happen for us’

When Lucy Bronze’s header hit the back of the net in the 93rd minute at Hampden Park – England’s sixth goal – Wiegman said she thought her side had secured their progression to the finals and the noise from a pocket of fans inside the stadium echoed that feeling.

Alex Greenwood had opened the scoring before goals from Lauren James, Beth Mead and Fran Kirby put the finals in sight.

But the elation of Bronze’s sixth was quickly forgotten as the players gathered in a huddle at full-time and discovered the news that the Netherlands had scored a fourth to end Team GB’s Olympic dream.

“It was about two minutes I think but they took forever,” said Wiegman. “I did think actually that as they [Netherlands] had just scored the third goal, in extra time just as we scored, that wow, it’s going to happen for us. I really thought that.

“I actually don’t know what to say because I’m really proud of this performance but we’re not through and I’m very disappointed.”


‘Players are not robots’

Mistakes earlier in the campaign have ultimately proved costly for England with the 3-2 loss to Belgium in October giving them an uphill task for these December fixtures.

Another loss away to the Netherlands despite periods of dominance was also key and even just one more goal in their 3-2 win over the Dutch on Friday would have put qualification in England’s hands this week.

“This is part of football, it’s not easy to keep performing, we need a high level and sometimes it dropped,” said Wiegman.

“After the Belgium game we had a very good camp, because the result against Belgium was not related to how we trained as a team.”

But while the players will undoubtedly reflect on this campaign as a missed opportunity and feel disappointed to miss out on another chance to win a title, a hectic schedule in recent years means they may also be thankful for the rest.


“On the back of the World Cup going again, having injuries, being unlucky at moments and pushing ourselves,” said Wiegman.

“Hardly any rest and going again. We conceded in September, players were tired, some more injuries, but we were building and building.”

England won the Euros in 2022 before reaching a historic World Cup final this summer and fatigue and injuries have clearly been factors in what has ultimately been a difficult campaign.

“Of course it hurts because you want to be in major tournaments and we wanted to win the Nations League group but if you see the bigger picture, what we have done over the last say two and a half years,” said Wiegman.

England have also missed key players Mead, Kirby and Leah Williamson through serious injuries, with captain Millie Bright also missing the latter stages of the Nations League campaign through injury.


“You want to go to every major tournament so every player wants that,” said Wiegman.

“But in the bigger picture we have to look at the calendar and think that the players are not robots and they need some rest too, that’s very obvious.”

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Luton 3-4 Arsenal: Gunners ‘showing spirit’ with another late winner



Declan Rice celebrates his late winner for Arsenal against Luton
Declan Rice’s goal was the second time this season he has scored in the 90th minute

“Great teams find a way to win a game of football.”

Premier League leaders Arsenal were seconds away from leaving Kenilworth Road with a draw that would have given Liverpool the chance to move above them when they play Sheffield United on Wednesday.

Instead, Mikel Arteta’s side have gone five points clear – at least for 24 hours – as they continue to show the sort of fight needed to ensure they are in the title battle for longer than they were last season.

“That that could be an absolutely vital three points at the end of the season,” McCoist, commentating on the game for Amazon Prime, added.

Former Everton boss Roberto Martinez said: “It is a winning mentality. Luton were going to make it difficult but Arsenal found away.”


Gunners boss Arteta called it “a beautiful win”, adding: “Luton are so good at set pieces and they made us really fight for the game.”

Arsenal showing the right mentality?

Injuries and fatigue played a key role as Arsenal’s title challenge fell away last season as Manchester City were crowned champions, but the players’ mentality also came into question after they twice gave away two-goal leads in the crucial latter stages of the campaign.

This time, however, they are displaying a never-give-up attitude that has seen them score a number of late winners.

Rice’s goal against Luton was the second he has scored after the 90th minute, having also done so in the 3-1 win against Manchester United back in September.

The Gunners have taken nine points thanks to goals scored in the final five minutes of matches.


“It is another late winner and you have to admire and respect that because that is a team that doesn’t give up,” former Newcastle striker Alan Shearer said on Amazon Prime.

It was an assessment Arteta agreed with.

“The team showed spirit, quality, courage to go and go again,” he added. “We never gave up and tried to the end.

“Big credit to the team, the way they go every three days is remarkable.”

Raya errors remain a concern

David Raya lets Ross Barkley's shot go under him and into the goal
David Raya let Ross Barkley’s shot go under him to make it 3-2 to Luton

Despite the battling display, Arteta was understandably disappointed his side had to score four goals to get the three points.

“It’s something we have to improve, conceding three goals from home makes life difficult,” he said.


“Credit to the opponent, they did really well and cause problems to any team.”

No team has made more mistakes leading to goals than Arsenal this season (five) and their cause was not helped by an error-strewn display by goalkeeper David Raya.

Aaron Ramsdale played in all 38 of Arsenal’s Premier League games last season but was dropped early into this campaign as Arteta favoured Raya, who joined in the summer on loan from Brentford.

But Raya made two mistakes against Luton, failing to deal with a corner as Elijah Adebayo headed in and then allowing Ross Barkley’s shot to go under his legs.

“It is the obsession with having a footballing goalkeeper nowadays that the fundamentals are forgotten – shot stopping and coming to collect crosses and we saw them punished this evening,” Shearer added.


“It would’ve been far more difficult if his team hadn’t bailed him out but sometimes you need that. His team-mates have helped him out big time tonight.”

Martinez feels the scrutiny on which goalkeeper Arteta picks is now putting the player in question under additional pressure.

He added: “The goalkeeper is the only position you can’t have doubt. It’s a position you need to be full of confidence but now what we’re seeing is whoever’s in goal for Arsenal, they’re not feeling confident. They’re so fearful.”

But despite those defensive concerns, Arsenal’s fourth consecutive win in the Premier League puts the pressure back on their rivals at the top of the table.

However, Gunners legend Thierry Henry accepts it is still far too early to entertain title talk.


“They were behind the eight-ball tonight and managed to win the game… but we saw it last year,” he said. “They won at Aston Villa in the last minute and everyone said ‘it’s our year’.

“Let’s relax, it’s great and you can carry momentum. “It allows the team to believe they can do it. It allows the team to believe if they go down they can come back in a game. But it’s a long road.”

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Luton Town 3-4 Arsenal: Last-gasp Declan Rice goal snatches win for Gunners in seven-goal thriller



Declan Rice scores
Arsenal have won eight points from losing positions in the Premier League this season

Declan Rice’s last-gasp header snatched victory for Arsenal in a seven-goal thriller at Luton to move them five points clear at the top of the Premier League.

It was the conclusion to a compelling encounter in which the hosts twice fought back and threatened to win when Elijah Adebayo and Ross Barkley scored in an eight-minute period after the break, with Arsenal goalkeeper David Raya culpable for both goals.

However, the Hatters were denied a valuable point when Rice met Martin Odegaard’s cross in the seventh minute of stoppage time, 23 seconds after the six official minutes added on had expired.

Arsenal had dominated a largely uneventful opening to a game which sparked into life when Gabriel Martinelli steered Bukayo Saka’s pass into the bottom-left corner.

Gabriel Osho’s header from Alfie Doughty’s corner brought the hosts level shortly after, but when Gabriel Jesus nodded in Ben White’s cross from close range the Gunners looked to have regained control.


But in a chaotic period after the interval, the league’s best defence suddenly appeared flustered with Adebayo leaping above Raya to head in another Doughty delivery from a corner.

And with Luton in the ascendency, Barkley collected an Andros Townsend pass and beat White before driving a low left-foot shot under Raya.

The momentum swung back towards Mikel Arteta’s side when Kai Havertz prodded in from the impressive Jesus’ pass to equalise, but Luton looked to have held the visitors at bay until Rice’s dramatic intervention.

The result leaves Luton 17th, two points above the relegation zone. Liverpool, who sit five points adrift of Arsenal in the table will play their game in hand at Sheffield United on Wednesday (19:30 GMT).

More to follow.


Player of the match

Gabriel MartinelliGabriel Martinelli

Luton Town

  1. Squad number6Player nameBarkley

  2. Squad number45Player nameDoughty

  3. Squad number7Player nameOgbene

  4. Squad number19Player nameBrown

  5. Squad number2Player nameOsho

  6. Squad number30Player nameTownsend

  7. Squad number11Player nameAdebayo

  8. Squad number15Player nameMengi

  9. Squad number17Player nameMpanzu

  10. Squad number14Player nameChong

  11. Squad number12Player nameKaboré

  12. Squad number29Player nameBell

  13. Squad number24Player nameKaminski

  14. Squad number9Player nameMorris

  15. Squad number18Player nameClark

  16. Squad number26Player nameGiles



Formation 3-4-2-1

  • 24Kaminski
  • 15Mengi
  • 2Osho
  • 29Bell
  • 12Kaboré
  • 17MpanzuSubstituted forClarkat 88′minutes
  • 6BarkleyBooked at 44mins
  • 45DoughtySubstituted forGilesat 88′minutes
  • 30TownsendSubstituted forOgbeneat 62′minutes
  • 19BrownBooked at 33minsSubstituted forChongat 61′minutes
  • 11AdebayoSubstituted forMorrisat 61′minutes


  • 7Ogbene
  • 8Berry
  • 9Morris
  • 14Chong
  • 18Clark
  • 23Krul
  • 26Giles
  • 38Johnson
  • 43Nelson


Formation 4-3-3

  • 22Raya
  • 4White
  • 2Saliba
  • 6Gabriel
  • 15KiwiorSubstituted forZinchenkoat 64′minutes
  • 8Ødegaard
  • 41Rice
  • 29Havertz
  • 7Saka
  • 9Gabriel JesusBooked at 45mins
  • 11MartinelliSubstituted forTrossardat 64′minutes


  • 1Ramsdale
  • 14Nketiah
  • 17Cédric Soares
  • 19Trossard
  • 20Jorginho
  • 24Nelson
  • 25Elneny
  • 35Zinchenko
  • 76Walters

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Alfreton Town 0-0 Walsall: Non-league side earn FA Cup second-round replay after battling draw



Walsall's Liam Gordon controls the ball whilst under pressure from Alfreton Town's William Fewster
Walsall’s Liam Gordon comes under pressure from Alfreton Town’s William Fewster

Alfreton Town held League Two Walsall to a battling stalemate to earn an FA Cup second-round replay at Bescot Stadium next week.

The National League North part-timers are 38 league places below the Saddlers, but their direct approach and the prodigious long throw of midfielder Adam Lund made it an uncomfortable night at North Street for the Black Country side.

The non-league side survived a contentious early refereeing decision as Ryan Stirk’s inswinging corner eluded goalkeeper George Willis to find the top corner, only for official Sam Allison to rule out the ‘goal’ for what seemed to be minimal contact on Willis by Walsall striker Freddie Draper.

Walsall went into the game, rearranged after an icy pitch forced a postponement six minutes before kick-off on Saturday, having lost three of their past four to slip towards the League Two relegation zone, and they failed to make their superior fitness and full-time status count.

Alfreton themselves have hit a rocky patch in their season, with no wins in their past four matches, but with the majority of the bumper 3,000 crowd behind them they gave a good account of themselves.


Willis was in the thick of it again a few minutes after his disallowed goal let-off, this time with a superb save as Draper burst clear and shot across him, aiming for the far corner.

Billy Heath’s Reds, however, matched them blow for blow as Donervon Daniels hooked the ball to safety at the far post after another dangerous Lund throw, and then defender Shaun Brisley stole forward to get on the end of Dwayne Wiley’s cross only to send it straight at Walsall goalkeeper Jackson Smith.

Willis was the home side’s hero again when Stirk met David Okagbue’s cross, the goalkeeper saving at point-blank range before his defence smuggled the ball to safety.

Walsall were expected to make their full-time conditioning tell as the game wore on, but they were wasteful as Isaac Hutchinson landed their best chance in the garden of a house behind the Alfreton goal, Willis produced another fine save to deny the same player, and defender Priestly Farquharson looped a lazy shot wide of the post.

It was increasingly Lund’s booming long throws that looked most likely to break the deadlock, but with the Walsall defence standing firm, the only real chance fell to Harry Perritt at the far post, with Smith getting his body in the way of the Alfreton man’s shot.




Formation 4-3-1-2

  • 1Willis
  • 2Clackstone
  • 14Brisley
  • 6Wiley
  • 23NewallBooked at 85mins
  • 8Cantrill
  • 4Lund
  • 22Fewster
  • 12Perritt
  • 29TaylorSubstituted forDayat 66′minutes
  • 7ThewlisSubstituted forSalmonat 65′minutes


  • 5Digie
  • 9Day
  • 10Waldock
  • 11Salmon
  • 13Askew
  • 16Stacey
  • 17Oliver
  • 21Grewal-Pollard


Formation 4-4-1-1

  • 22Smith
  • 2Okagbue
  • 6Farquharson
  • 5DanielsBooked at 90mins
  • 3Gordon
  • 10KnowlesBooked at 85mins
  • 4McEntee
  • 25Stirk
  • 8Hutchinson
  • 26TierneySubstituted forEaringat 78′minutes
  • 15Draper


  • 9Matt
  • 11James-Taylor
  • 12Foulkes
  • 14Comley
  • 17Earing
  • 19Williams
  • 21Allen
  • 32Barrett
  • 42Griffiths

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Nations League: Lauren James curls in England’s third against Scotland



Lauren James puts England 3-0 up against Scotland with a stunning curled effort from the edge of the area in their crucial Nations League game at Hampden Park.

FOLLOW LIVE: Scotland v England – watch on BBC iPlayer, text updates and live clips

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Northern Ireland 1-6 Republic of Ireland: Katie McCabe stars as visitors end campaign unbeaten



Katie McCabe scores a goal
Katie McCabe scored the pick of the goals at Windsor Park

Katie McCabe scored a stunner as the Republic of Ireland made it six wins from six in the Nations League with a 6-1 victory over Northern Ireland at Windsor Park.

Lucy Quinn and Heather Payne hit a quickfire double in the first half.

Kyra Carusa netted 50 seconds after the restart before McCabe fired in a superb effort to make it four.

Louise Quinn and Caitlin Hayes scored from corners either side of Kerry Beattie’s 75th-minute consolation.

Hungary’s 4-0 win over Albania means Northern Ireland will face a relegation play-off against a League C team in February.


The Republic had already topped Group B1 and earned promotion to League A but end their campaign and the tenure of interim manager Eileen Gleeson in style.

After a historic first as the Republic of Ireland’s anthem, Amhran na bhFiann, was played at Windsor Park for the first time, the game had a derby feel with plenty of challenges coming in from both sides, albeit with little goalmouth action.

However it was Quinn, who scored the opening goal between the sides in the reverse fixture in Dublin, who broke the deadlock on 36 minutes when she cut inside Sarah McFadden and her strike deceived Maddy Harvey-Clifford as it curled into the net.

Quinn turned into provider when her back post cross found Everton full back Payne, who started the move and charged up field to fire into the roof of the net just two minutes later.

The Republic made the perfect start to the second half when Carusa got in front of McFadden to head in McCabe’s cross less than a minute after the restart.


Arsenal’s McCabe had the pick of the goals on 50 minutes as she cut inside and let fly on her weaker right foot, which flew into the top corner and left Maddy Harvey-Clifford with no chance.

Defender Quinn’s bullet header made it five as the Republic turned on the style but Beattie grabbed a consolation with 15 minutes to play as the half-time substitute diverted Rebecca Holloway’s effort into the net.

The Republic would have the final say when Caitlin Hayes slid home Megan Connolly’s corner with four minutes to play.

Clincial Republic

Lucy Quinn
Lucy Quinn, as she did in Dublin in the first match between the sides, opened the scoring midway through the first half

Before the goals, there was little to split the sides as Northern Ireland frustrated their higher-ranked opponents, who had already won promotion to League A and could only create half-chances.

Northern Ireland had efforts of their own through Holloway, whose looping effort dipped over, and Marissa Callaghan, who could not keep a first-time strike down from inside the area.

The Republic’s quickfire double all but ended the game, but the hosts were almost handed a lifeline when Republic goalkeeper Courtney Brosnan almost spilled Marissa Callaghan’s cross into her own goal.


Carusa’s goal 50 seconds after the restart and McCabe’s superb solo goal ended any Northern Irish hopes.

Ruesha Littlejohn curled a free-kick well over and Harvey-Clifford pushed Payne’s long-range effort over the bar and Quinn was on hand to head home from the resulting corner.

Holloway put in a goal-saving block to deny Carusa a second before Beattie touched home a consolation for the hosts, which was only the second goal the Republic conceded in their six matches.

Megan Connolly blazed over from inside the area and Lucy Quinn fired straight at Harvey-Clifford but the visitors got their sixth when Hayes netted.


Northern Ireland

Formation 4-3-3

  • 23Harvey-Clifford
  • 2McKennaSubstituted forVanceat 45′minutes
  • 4McFadden
  • 6Rafferty
  • 15HollowayBooked at 64mins
  • 16CaldwellSubstituted forMaxwellat 67′minutes
  • 7McCarronSubstituted forBellat 82′minutes
  • 8Callaghan
  • 17Hamilton
  • 9MagillSubstituted forBeattieat 45′minutes
  • 14Wade


  • 1Turner
  • 3Vance
  • 5Mason
  • 10Halliday
  • 11Maxwell
  • 12Norney
  • 13McLaren
  • 18Bell
  • 19Wilson
  • 20Andrews
  • 21Beattie
  • 22Magee

Republic of Ireland

Formation 3-4-1-2

  • 1Brosnan
  • 5Hayes
  • 4QuinnSubstituted forMustakiat 81′minutes
  • 6Connolly
  • 14PayneSubstituted forLarkinat 63′minutes
  • 17FinnSubstituted forAggat 85′minutes
  • 8LittlejohnSubstituted forStapletonat 63′minutes
  • 11McCabe
  • 10O’Sullivan
  • 15QuinnSubstituted forAtkinsonat 81′minutes
  • 18Carusa


  • 2Stapleton
  • 3Mustaki
  • 7Caldwell
  • 9McLaughlin
  • 12Toland
  • 13Nolan
  • 16Moloney
  • 19Larkin
  • 20Dolan
  • 21Agg
  • 22Atkinson
  • 23Whitehouse

Veronika Kovarova

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Trent Alexander-Arnold: Jurgen Klopp says England international will play ‘wherever it’s best’ for Liverpool



Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrating his late winner against Fulham
Trent Alexander-Arnold has scored two goals in his last three appearances for Liverpool

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp says Trent Alexander-Arnold will play “wherever it’s best for us” sfollowing his late winner from midfield against Fulham.

Alexander-Arnold started at right-back but pushed into midfield late on, sparking a debate about whether he could permanently play there.

But Klopp does not want to pin the England international to one position.

“We still have to make decisions on what is best for the team and Trent sees it exactly the same way,” he said.

“Trent can play midfield, we all knew that and he can play the role really well.


“If he wants to be good he has to be influential from all different areas because it makes us better.”

Alexander-Arnold’s attacking instincts have led to some criticism of his defensive attributes and questions over whether he would be more effective further forward.

He started both of England’s European qualifiers against North Macedonia and Malta in central midfield during the November international break.

The 25-year-old was back at full-back when Liverpool resumed Premier League action at champions Manchester City, but did score a late equaliser in the 1-1 draw at Etihad Stadium.

“Trent became one of the most successful players in the history of Liverpool. In the recent history, he became a Premier League player as a right-back so he will play wherever it’s best for us and that’s just how it is and Trent sees it exactly the same way,” added Klopp.


“I’m not stubborn and don’t want to play him midfield, not at all, but I am not part of the discussion. You [the media] can discuss it as much as you want but it will not have any influence.

“He wants to play and from my point of view he has to be influential and we have to make sure we help him with the positioning.

“If you want to be good he has to be influential from all different areas because it just makes us better if he plays a good game.”

Joel Matip getting treatment by a physio on his knee injury
Joel Matip was forced off after 67 minutes against Fulham and replaced by Ibrahima Konate

Meanwhile, defender Joel Matip could be set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines after Klopp said his knee injury “doesn’t look good”.

Matip was forced off during the second half of Sunday’s win against Fulham at Anfield.

“The scan is not done yet so we don’t know exactly but it is not great,” said Klopp, whose side travel to Sheffield United on Wednesday.


“I don’t know the exact timescale but it doesn’t look good. That is something we can say.

“I spoke to him and said: ‘Ah no, that is not good’. But how long [he will be injured for], we don’t know.”

Forward Diogo Jota and goalkeeper Alisson suffered muscle injuries during last month’s draw at Manchester City, though they are not expected to be out long-term.

The Merseyside club are also without full-back Andy Robertson as he recovers from shoulder surgery, while midfielders Thiago Alcantara and Stefan Bajcetic have yet to make an appearance this season because of hip and adductor injuries respectively.

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Sheffield United: Chris Wilder says relationship with Prince Abdullah ‘repaired a long time ago’



Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder during training
Chris Wilder took charge of training on Tuesday before his first game against Liverpool on Wednesday

Sheffield United manager Chris Wilder says his relationship with owner Prince Abdullah was “repaired a long time ago” after he replaced Paul Heckingbottom.

Wilder led the club from League One to ninth in the Premier League during his first spell, but left by mutual consent as they neared relegation in 2021.

They are bottom of the Premier League and four points from safety after losing 11 of their opening 14 games.

“I didn’t have to think about it,” said Wilder.

“People know what this club means to me, and the task now is to try and provide a boost to improve our current situation.


“My relationship with Prince Abdullah and the board was repaired a long time ago.

“After some time passed following my initial departure, we spoke, met in person and there was an amicable ending.

“There were certain things that I shouldn’t have been involved in, but things over time have been repaired and there is a reason Prince Abdullah wants me to come back to the football club.

“He feels I am the best man to do the job and I am delighted he thinks that. The biggest positive for me is that the relationship between him and myself is good.”

There had been issues between Wilder and Prince Abdullah behind the scenes, with the manager feeling not enough had been done to strengthen his squad.


Prince Abdullah told Talksport that Wilder was “the best guy on Planet Earth to take over the club right now”.

Heckingbottom, appointed on a permanent basis in November 2021, guided the club back to the top flight by finishing second in the Championship last season.

But after Saturday’s 5-0 defeat at fellow promoted side Burnley, and United’s drop to the bottom of the table, the 46-year-old has become the first Premier League manager to be sacked this season.

Heckingbottom’s scheduled news conference on Monday afternoon was cancelled amid morning reports that he had been sacked.

But the news had not been announced by the Blades as of Tuesday morning, with the finer details of his departure still being finalised.


It was not until Prince Abdullah’s appeared on Talksport that the change was confirmed, with an official statement following more than one hour later on the club’s website.

‘Sheffield United are getting me at my best’

Since leaving Bramall Lane, Wilder has had spells at Championship sides Middlesbrough and Watford.

He has also done some media work and now believes he is a better manager than when he left the Blades in March 2021.

“I am going to give it my all, I am more enthusiastic and determined than I have ever been, Sheffield United are getting me at my best as well,” he said.

“For me, this is a huge challenge personally, and I am rubbing my hands together to try and help the club get out of the position we are in. We are up against it, everyone in the world thinks we are done and dusted. We have always had that underdog tag, that mentality.


“I have come back to help the football club. I have been given a great opportunity to hopefully make a difference.

“It is going to be a long hard season, we know that, we are going to have some difficult moments and we are going to have to suffer. I am into the players and hopefully we can get a reaction.”

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Manchester City: Pep Guardiola says his side will win fourth straight Premier League title



Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola says his side are going to win a record fourth straight Premier League title this season.

City have slipped to third, three points off leaders Arsenal, after draws with Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham.

Guardiola’s side have conceded eight goals in those games and thrown away leads in each, but are still favourites with the bookmakers for the title.

“My feeling today is we’re going to win the Premier League,” said Guardiola.


“If we play at the levels that we showed against Liverpool and Tottenham, we’re going to win it again.

“People don’t believe it already after three draws but we feel we’re going to do it again, knowing that it is not easy because no team has done it yet [won four in a row].

“The difficulty is there and was last season but, if you ask me today what I’m feeling, we’re going to do it again.”

City matched Manchester United’s record of three straight Premier League titles when they won the Treble last season.

At one stage they were eight points behind Arsenal last season, but won the league by five points.


The previous season saw City edge Liverpool out by a point, coming from 2-0 down against Aston Villa on the final day to win the league by a single point.

They finished 12 points clear of Manchester United the season before.

‘We never use these situations’

Guardiola’s side were incensed in the closing stages of their 3-3 draw with Tottenham on Sunday when referee Simon Hooper blew for a free-kick after initially playing advantage for a foul on Erling Haaland.

Haaland got back to his feet and clipped the ball over the top, releasing Jack Grealish, but Hooper brought play back for the foul.

However, Guardiola does not think his players need that incident to fuel their fight for the rest of the season.


“We never use these kind of situations. Today the motivation is to try and do better,” he said.

“Sometimes decisions help you, sometimes they don’t. I learn that if you want to win something you have to do it much, much better than the opponents.”

City have been charged with failing to control their players by the Football Association after their players surrounded Hooper following the incident.

Haaland went on to criticise Hooper in a social media post, but the Norwegian is not facing any individual action from the FA.

Guardiola said his side have “behaved incredibly this season” and pointed to comments by his players that highlighted they needed to do better as a group on the pitch.


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Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi in talks over new contract



Roberto De Zerbi
As well as a sixth-place finish, Roberto De Zerbi also led Brighton to the FA Cup semi-finals last season

Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi says he has opened talks over a new contract.

De Zerbi, who succeeded Graham Potter in September 2022, guided the Seagulls to sixth last season and a European qualification for the first time.

Brighton are eighth in the Premier League and have qualified for the knockout stages of the Europa League.

“I usually work to be happy and to enjoy and I feel very good in Brighton,” said the 44-year-old, whose current contract runs until 2026.

“I have a great relationship with the players, with the club, with Tony [Bloom, chairman], with Paul Barber [chief executive], with David Weir [technical director] and everybody who works in Brighton.


“Yes, we are speaking about the new contract but at the moment we are [only] speaking, it’s not done yet.”

Brighton’s progress under De Zerbi has led to speculation linking him to other clubs.

But the former Sassuolo and Shakhtar Donetsk boss says he has no plans to leave Amex Stadium provided the club shares his ambitions.

“At the end we have to analyse the target. If the targets are the same as the club’s, it’s an honour for me working in Brighton. I don’t try to reach the higher level,” the Italian added.

“Most important for me is working seriously, with a good team, good players. It’s important for me to fix an important target.”


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