Harrison ready to hang up his gloves after being knocked



Audley Harrison admitted the end may finally be nigh after he was stopped by knockout artist Deontay Wilder inside 70 seconds in Sheffield on Saturday night.

The London heavyweight's latest comeback ended in farcical scenes reminiscent of his defeat to David Price last year.

The 41-year-old accepted that his world title dream is over and it could be time to hang up his gloves.



Furious: American Deontay Wilder gave Audley Harrison a barage of punches





Flurry: Once Harrison was down there was no stopping Wilder who kept coming

Harrison said: 'I think this time it is probably the end.

'There are only so many times I go knocking on doors. I've smashed those doors down in the past and shown tremendous fortitude.

'But this comeback took everything I had and I've been knocked out in the first round again.

'I will go away and think about it and talk to my family, but I don't know if I can put myself through it, or put my family through it.

'I have to accept that age the age of 41 I'm not going to get many more chances, but if it is the end I can be proud of what I've done, winning the Olympic title and the European title.

'I always said if I prepared right and came in for a fight fully focused and I was beaten then that would be it. I fought a guy with 27 knockout wins and I became number 28.

'I will go away and think about it but I think it is probably the end.'




Finished: Harrison didn't understand the decision to stop the fight so soon

Harrison looked to be heading for retirement when he was blasted out in just 82 seconds by Price last October but returned to the ring in February to win his second Prizefighter tournament at London's York Hall.

His opponents that night - Derric Rossy, Martin Rogan and Claus Bertino - looked a long way short of world class but Harrison insisted that even at his advanced age, he could still reach the pinnacle of the sport.

Having won gold at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney, he was crowned European champion three years ago but has consistently fallen short at the highest level and lost to David Haye in a world title challenge in 2010 having barely thrown a punch.

Wilder meanwhile had raced to a record 27 stoppage victories from as many contests since turning professional on the back of a bronze medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The 27-year-old from Alabama has been criticised for his apparently padded record but only eight of his previous opponents had losing records.

His victory over Harrison will have done little to alter that perception as he plots a route to the top of the division.



Up and down: The careers of Wilder and Harrison are set to go in completely different directions

The American was given a hostile reception by the crowd as he entered the ring but had won them over just a few minutes later.

After a slow start in which neither fighter made an impact, Wilder looked to let go with his right hand and as if on cue, Harrison slumped down by the corner.

He struggled to get up as the count sounded and the contest was waved off by the referee.

'I got up, I beat the count. I wanted to continue - 100 per cent,' Harrison said. 'I had my senses about me and I was still in the fight.'It's looking like the end.'

Warrington 32 Bradford 4: Grix and Monaghan extend Bulls' miserable run



Bradford coach Francis Cummins admits his opposite number Tony Smith has been a big influence on his career--first as a player then in grooming him for his first role in management.

Clearly, he is still learning from his mentor as Smith’s Warrington, strongly fancied for honours again this season, blunted Bradford’s ambitions with a strong finish.

Three tries in the last eight minutes ended whatever hope Bradford had of underlining their splendid progress under Cummins by beating one of the top clubs for the first time in Super League XVIII.



Winners again: Warrington extended their victorious run over Bradford at the Halliwell Jones Stadium to nine matches with a 32-4 win today



Touchdown: Ben Curries prepares to slam the ball down to score Warrington's second try of the afternoon

Match Facts



Warrington Wolves: Hodgson, C. Riley, Grix, Atkins, J. Monaghan, Ratchford, Myler, Cooper, Higham, Hill, Waterhouse, Westwood, Currie

Replacements: M. Monaghan, Wood, D. Bridge, G. Riley

Tries: Grix (2), Currie, Riley, Monaghan, Hill, Atkins
Goals: Hodgson (2)


Bradford Bulls: Kearney, Kear, Purtell, Lulia, Platt, Sammut, Gale, Scruton, L'Estrange, Manuokafoa, Bateman, Whitehead, Walker

Replacements: Diskin, Addy, Evans, Sidlow

Try: Purtell

On a difficult afternoon, when the swirling wind played havoc with Warrington full back Brett Hodgson’s goal-kicking, restricting him to two successes from seven attempts, Smith’s men still did more than enough.

Cummins, who has praised Smith for ‘putting the finishing touches to my playing career at Leeds and then giving me a great apprenticeship in how to coach and manage people’, said: ‘Warrington controlled the game and the ruck.

‘We had a few opportunities and the effort was there but you need more than effort to beat the top teams. I am a bit annoyed that we lacked composure.’

Smith said: ‘We usually start to improve about this stage of the season.’

At the halfway mark, Warrington are still chasing pace-setters Wigan and Huddersfield but Smith was satisfied that they limited Bradford, a top-eight side, to only four points.

‘Bradford are a hard-working side and were never going to give us a free passage but I felt if we were patient and didn’t panic in the conditions or with the amount of defending we had to do, we would be okay.



Getting shirty: Atkins drags Purtell out of the equation by his collar





Bearded wonder: Bradford's Jarrod Sammut tries to weave a way through the Wolves' defence as Richie Myler goes in for the tackle





The right pass: Michael Monaghan looks for a team-mate as Evans brings him down

‘We came up with some excellent plays even when the weather got worse and I was pleased with Danny Bridge and Glenn Riley, who were making their Super League debuts. Another of our young players, Ben Evans, was making his debut for Bradford, on loan.

‘Maybe we could have done with a few more goals. Brett (Hodgson) is in the dressing room checking his boots!’

Hodgson, who will captain The Exiles against England on this ground in June, needed five points to reach 1,000 in Super League. He will have to wait after managing only four.

Centre Simon Grix crossed for two of Warrington’s six tries, the others coming from Ben Currie, Chris Riley, Joel Monaghan, Chris Hill and Ryan Atkins.

Monaghan’s was the highlight, clawing a towering crossfield kick from Richie Myler out of the sky right by the corner post although Cummins thought he had dropped the ball before scoring.

Bradford’s only points came from centre Adrian Purtell.



Face-off: Ben Westwood snuffs out Jarrod Sammut as he tries to make the tackle





Clean pair of heels: Adrian Purtell grimaces as he tackles Richie Myler

Wilkinson backs Farrell for Lions despite kicking Toulon into Heineken Cup final



Jonny Wilkinson admitted it would be ‘fabulous’ to make the Lions squad in Australia after another match-winning display.

But after kicking Toulon to victory over Saracens at Twickenham, he once more played down his chances of going on a third tour.

Wilkinson said: ‘It’s fabulous. It’s the most amazing experience you can possibly get in rugby, but I watch fellas like Owen Farrell, Johnny Sexton, Dan Biggar and others and perhaps they are the guys who should be driving the tour forward.’




Head to head: Jonny Wilkinson (right) and Owen Farrell met at Twickenham

Wilkinson’s afternoon included a drop goal six minutes from time which he landed despite a desperate tackle from Farrell.

Wilkinson was flattened but still consoled his opposite number by patting him on his back as the two got up.

Wilkinson added: ‘I said, “Listen mate, that’s a bit lucky. I apologise for that one”. He smashed me as well.’




Kicking king: Wilkinson was in fine form as Toulon beat Saracens

Toulon coach Bernard Laporte said: ‘Jonny is a great player. We have seen before that he is a great player and we saw it again here.’

Laporte may rest Wilkinson in the lead-up to the Dublin final on May 18.


‘He is 34 next month and he needs more time to recover,’ he added.

Saracens director of rugby Mark McCall said: ‘We had a couple of decent opportunities but we could not take them. For 65 minutes there was nothing between the teams but it got away from us in the end.’

Eight is great! Nadal the king in Barcelona once more



Rafael Nadal won the Barcelona Open for the eighth time Sunday after seeing off Nicolas Almagro 6-4, 6-3 in the final.

Almagro played aggressively early on and built a 3-0 lead, but Nadal found his form and broke his fellow Spaniard in three of his next four service games to take the initiative - and he held it for good.

It was Nadal's 54th career title and fourth this year, having made six straight finals after returning from a knee injury that had kept him off the courts since last summer.




Taste of glory: Rafael Nadal won his eighth Barcelona title after beating Nicolas Almagro in the final







Silverware: Nadal won his fourth title of the year


Strong: Nadal has reached six finals since his return




The title came one week after Nadal's eight-year reign at Monte Carlo ended in a loss to World No 1 Novak Djokovic.

'I am very happy,' Nadal said. 'It has been an important week for me to win here again and a great source of joy after everything I have been through.'

Nadal has won 39 straight matches on the red clay in Barcelona, with his last loss coming 10 years ago to Spain's Davis Cup captain, Alex Corretja. The 26-year-old Nadal won the tournament from 2005-09 but missed the 2010 edition because of a knee injury. He has won every year since.

His latest trophy is a promising sign that he is returning back to full fitness, after his nagging case of tendinitis, in time for the French Open beginning at the end of May.




Recovery: Nadal was 3-0 down early on but soon found his groove against his compatriot



Shower time: Nadal sprays champagne in celebration of his win on Sunday in Barcelona

Almagro enjoyed a good start and stole Nadal's first service game with a forehand winner before holding his serve to love.

Almagro continued to work Nadal around the court with his deep backhand strokes and broke Nadal yet again for a 3-0 lead following a long rally when he swatted a running crosscourt return past the favorite.

But Nadal then showed why he hasn't lost in Barcelona in a decade, reeling off four straight games to take control.




Promise: Nadal's strong showing in Barcelona put him in a good position to defend his French Open crown





'It was important for me to get the break down 3-0,' Nadal said. 'Almagro is having a great season and I wish him the best.'

Almagro was serving up 30-0 and committed a series of errors including a final double fault to let Nadal level at three games apiece.

Nadal took control of the first set and the match by breaking Almagro a third time. Down 0-30, Nadal saved a point by returning a defensive lob with a shot from between his legs, before Almagro ceded the game and set.




Stretch too far: Almagro couldn't hold on to his early advantage in the first set





In the second, Nadal pressed home his advantage and broke Almagro for 3-1.

Nadal serve out the match to love before applauding the local fans who had cheered both players on despite the drizzling rain.

Nadal has won all 10 meetings with the 12th-ranked Almagro.

'He showed again why he is the best player in history on this surface,'Almagro said, adding he'll try to win the title next year 'f Rafa let's me.'

Wilkinson: I'd rather be in young pretender Owen's boots than mine



Jonny Wilkinson admitted last night that he envies Owen Farrell for having ahead of him what the former superstar of English rugby experienced in his career.


The 33-year-old and the 21-year-old pretender will eyeball each other today at Twickenham as pivotal fly-halves for Toulon and Saracens in the Heineken Cup semi-final.




Talisman: Wilkinson has done it all in his career

Wilkinson, despite a World Cup and Grand Slam on his way to becoming the second highest points scorer of all time in international rugby, would rather have the chance to do it all over again.

'I'd love to be in Owen's boots, not mine,' admitted Wilkinson.

'I have enormous pride in what I've done in rugby. But what's so exciting for Owen is that he's got years and years ahead of him and I'm so excited to see just how far he can go and how much he can achieve.

'He's already there in terms of having played a key role for his country for a while, as well as for one of the top clubs in Europe. In that sense he's ahead of me at the same age. I've watched him play already for a number of years and I'm excited for him and also as a rugby fan. 'My time has been and gone. I no longer play in the Test environment. Owen now has the opportunity to do something else and to do something better. It will be fun to watch him over the next 10 years or so. I think there is every chance he and the teams he will play for enjoy big success.

Saracens warm up for Heineken Cup clash with Jonny by declaring



Saracens have dubbed themselves the 'Crocodiles of Chaos' after their preparations for today's Heineken Cup semi-final against Jonny Wilkinson's Toulon featured a crocodile and a tarantula.

It was the latest animal-related ruse by coaches Paul Gustard and Alex Sanderson, who this season have brought wolves to Allianz Park to turn his hard tacklers into a 'wolf pack', as well as a mouse-eating anaconda and frogs, all designed to relax the team before a big game and get some key messages across.




Crocodile rock: Mako Vunipola (left), Owen Farrell (centre) and Steve Borthwick (right) are ready for Toulon

The latest animal tale employed the services of TV nature personality 'Safari Pete', who went to the club's training ground in St Albans where, first, former Springbok captain John Smit, on the bench today, gave a presentation holding a small crocodile.

'It was a baby crocodile about a metre long with sharp teeth,' said England and Saracens centre Brad Barritt.

'John held the croc up in front of us, clamped its mouth with one hand and explained how crocodiles can cause chaos. This is what we intend to do against Toulon. We want to be crocodiles of chaos.

'John pointed out, though, how to quell the chaos, too, by clamping its mouth. That's what we need to do to Toulon. Clamp their mouths.

'It was a different and fun way to get across an important message - though nobody else wanted to get up and hold the croc.'


Next up was a 'large and hairy' tarantula, held in the palm of his large hand by a nervous Ernst Joubert, who starts today as No 8.




Put it there: Jonny Wilkinson of Toulon poses alongside Steve Borthwick of Saracens

Barritt added: 'The message this time was, like Ernst, we needed to be fearless in the face of anything thrown at us. On Friday it was a tarantula. On Sunday it's Jonny and the rest of a massively impressive Toulon team.

'We've had wolves, snakes and frogs before, but this time the coaches surpassed themselves.'

Gustard's innovative training methods have impressed England head coach Stuart Lancaster so much that he has asked him to stand in for Lions-bound Andy Farrell for this summer's tour to Argentina.


Explaining the 'wolf-pack' idea, Gustard said: 'I wanted to give a meaning to it, a heartbeat and a soul. It represented our mentality - we have to hunt people and, when we get there, we have to be savage.

'We had a team meeting with live wolves before the Harlequins game. You want people to remember things. They hear me for 50 weeks of the year and I do two or three presentations a week. You want something to stand out and it was the first opportunity post-Six Nations to get everyone back into the groove and do what we want.'


A big hit: Brad Barritt

Saracens must today see off a side full of global superstars who lie second in France's Top 14, beat Leicester in the quarter-final and, aside from the likes of Matt Giteau, Mathieu Bastareaud, Bakkies Botha, Juan Marin Fernandez Lobbe and Delon Armitage, feature Wilkinson who Barritt holds in the highest esteem.

'When I was 16 in South Africa, I watched Jonny win the World Cup with that drop-goal. As I developed into a professional player, I and my colleagues respected Jonny so much, not just for his kicking, but his commitment in the tackle, which has changed the way stand-offs play,' says Barritt, 26.

'I love to make a big hit. It can change the momentum of a match, so nobody admires Jonny's willingness and ability to make hard tackles more than me.

'It will be interesting to see how we fare if we have a coming together, but what I do know is that we can't afford to give any penalties away inside our own half. If we do, he'll destroy us as he did Leicester.'

Barritt believes Aviva Premiership leaders Saracens hold two advantages. The first is the venue, which his team-mates are more familiar with after numerous England appearances and a quarter-final win over Ulster three weeks ago.


The second is Sarries' dogged mentality, a trademark this season marked best by their Owen Farrell-inspired win in Nantes after Racing Metro threatened to overwhelm them.

'That win over Racing epitomised what we're all about. We never lost our cool, we kept our belief and as we grew stronger, they weakened. I expect a similar mental challenge against Toulon. They will have to play 80 minutes before they beat us.'

Barritt also knows this is a final shop window before the British and Irish Lions squad is announced on Tuesday and the man who, as an 11- year-old boy, sat in the stands in Durban as Jerry Guscott's rare drop-goal won the 1997 Test series against South Africa, is desperate to play. 'It would be a dream,' he said.

'With an English mother and grandparents I was not that unhappy seeing the Boks lose, more excited about seeing a team that comes to South Africa once every 12 years.

'I watched every game on TV, and the second Test live at the ground. I hope I've done enough to get the call. But Sunday is all about beating Toulon, not Lions selection.'


But if Saracens win, their coaches will have to better crocodiles and tarantulas before May's final. The mind boggles.

It will be a baptism of fire... but this could be a great success story



Lawrence Okoye was wooed by several NFL franchises, but it turns out he couldn’t resist the advances of the San Francisco 49ers.

Coach Jim Harbaugh went as far to call the 21-year-old 'a beautiful man'– and the Olympic discus finalist appeared smitten while discussing his move to the NFC champions in free agency.

‘The 49ers are the best fit in the league for what I’m trying to do. They have the same vision as me. This could be a great success story,’ said Okoye from his current base in Macon, Georgia.

‘It’s amazing for me, I'm absolutely delighted how things have worked out.’ And while he would not discuss specifics of the deal, the Olympic discus finalist joins the Niners on a ‘long-term commitment’.




New path: Lawrence Okoye has signed for the San Francisco 49ers in free agency

He was in constant contact with the 49ers and other franchises during the draft, but admitted it was the pedigree and persistence of defensive line coach Jim Tomsula which proved decisive.

‘It's the team I felt wanted to do the most work with me,’ said Okoye, who is expected to play as a defensive end. Jim Tomsula has a great background in NFL Europe developing players without much background in the game.’

Despite never playing a down, Okoye impressed at the regional combine after opting to turn his back on the discus and pursue a long-term ambition of playing in the NFL.


And it was his performance in the subsequent Super Regional Combine in Dallas earlier this month which sent scouts into a frenzy.



Change of scenery: Okoye took part in the Olympic discus event at London 2012



Pedigree: San Francisco are one of the elite teams in the NFL having reached the Super Bowl last year

The 6ft 6in, 21½ stone Okoye was the pick of the bunch of the 23 DEs on show, running the 40-yard dash at 4.88sec and 4.78sec, leaping to the best jump from a standing position at 10ft 5in and finishing No 2 in the vertical jump with a leap of 35in.

His life has been a whirlwind since – he admitted to being on 16 flights so far this month on his Twitter page – encompassing training during the day and studying video tapes into the night.
But Okoye is aware that the hard work has only just begun.

‘It's going to be a baptism of fire but that's part of the process. I don't set limits on myself. If I said when I was 18 that I was going to be in an Olympic final in two years I don't think anyone would have said I was serious.'



Praise: Okoye impressed in the scouting combine and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh called him 'a beautiful man'



NFL'S ENGLISH LEGION



Okoye joins Manchester-born Menelik Watson on the west coast of America after Watson was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the second round of the draft, while Crawley-born linebacker Tom Wort joined the Tennessee Titans as an undrafted free agent.


He added: ‘I realise it's going to be a ridiculously tough, tough process. It's going to be a fight every day and I am aware of the big possibility of being on the practice squad for however long they see fit. If I make it early or late it doesn't matter as long as I make it.

‘I will have to work even harder than everyone else, I have a lot to catch up on. I know as much as I can without having played it but I am still an outsider looking in.

‘They have made it clear they are going to teach me everything from scratch. It's similar to my discus journey under (discus coach) John Hillier, learning how to hold it, how to release it from the fingers.’

New coach Harbaugh was so impressed with Okoye that he said: ‘He’s just an Adonis. Just a great physical specimen of a man. I can think of some other adjectives. Our Creator created a beautiful man.’ As well as Okoye’s physical attributes, it was his capacity to learn skills quickly which persuaded the younger Harbaugh brother to take a punt on his untried talent.
And time will tell if Okoye proves to be a gift from the heavens.

Saracens 12 Toulon 24: Wilkinson upstages Farrell by kicking ALL team's points to win



Of all he memorable images depicting Jonny Wilkinson’s glorious deeds at Twickenham, few — if any — can rival the snapshot which defined his Heineken Cup semi-final masterclass.

With six minutes remaining in a tense, disjointed encounter, the one-time golden boy of English rugby showed that his match-winning powers remain as strong as ever. It was a poignant, symbolic moment. Toulon were pounding the ramparts of the Saracens defence, then the ball was transferred back to the No 10, standing deep.

Under pressure, Wilkinson stepped to his left and hurriedly dispatched a low drop-goal shot just as his opposite number, Owen Farrell, crashed into him. As the pair fell to earth, they watched the ball fly just high enough to clear the bar, narrowly inside the right-hand post.




Main man: Jonny Wilkinson kicked all of Toulon's points as they beat Saracens at Twickenham





Side by side: Jonny Wilkinson and Owen Farrell after the former had dispatched a drop kick





Once he knew he had hit the target, the captain of the French side reached up and graciously patted his rival on the shoulder before being hauled to his feet.

The stunning, reflex kick made it 21-12 to Toulon and ensured a berth in the final against Clermont Auvergne in Dublin on May 18. It was a familiar script — Wilkinson dropping a goal to settle a high-stakes game — but there was far more resonance beyond a result which removed the last English club from European contention this season.

So much focus in the build-up had been on the fly halves — England’s past and present playmakers. Ultimately, it was no contest. While Farrell held his own until just before half time, a missed penalty from halfway was the first minor blip and the decline in his performance after the break was in stark contrast to Wilkinson’s ability to maintain or even raise his standards.

As the pressure mounted, the younger man blinked. The 33-year-old in his line of vision didn’t blink at all. Aside from an early knock-on, Wilkinson was relentless in his precision, above and beyond the routine matter of nailing every kick, from all manner of awkward angles. His distribution was supreme, capped by a deft pick-up off his toes and rapid pass right to send Matt Giteau into space in the first half.




Kicking king: Wilkinson was in fine form as Toulon beat Saracens to reach the showpiece event




Perhaps most telling of all was his footwork and running. Wilkinson, not renowned for being nimble and elusive in heavy traffic, was just that yesterday. Once he had dispatched a seventh penalty from as many attempts four minutes from the end, the formality of his man-of-the-match award was announced and all present paid handsome tribute.

Afterwards, the icon hugged and consoled Farrell before suggesting he is ‘hanging on by his fingernails’, in terms of his effectiveness in the elite game. Such an endearingly modest view bore no relation to what had just taken place.

This was a tour de force to match any he has delivered at HQ since his Test debut there in 1998. His return to the scene of so many heady occasions was a staggering triumph. Not long after the final whistle, in the streets outside the stadium, the hordes were chanting his name in raucous tribute.

For Farrell, the second half was a grim period. In the 52nd minute, when Toulon flanker Danie Rossouw was in the sin bin, the Saracens No 10 wasted an overlap on the left with a loose, long pass which went forward. Later, as he and the rest of Mark McCall’s men strove to conjure a try, a misplaced chip near the opposition 22 and a pass in his own half which was almost intercepted by Giteau suggested his composure was deserting him.



Campaign: Wilkinson could have earned himself a call up the Lions squad

As expected, this became a kicking duel as two powerful, resilient teams cancelled each other out, with over-zealous interventions from the ever-fussy referee Alain Rolland. Amid all the sharp-shooting, Giteau’s inside pass sent Alexis Palisson clear in the 16th minute but his kick to the left corner just evaded Delon Armitage.

At the other end, Alex Goode and Brad Barritt, who was outstanding until he limped off with an ankle injury, made inroads for Saracens. They manufactured an overlap, only for Ernst Joubert to cut in and ignore Kelly Brown outside him.

Toulon were 12-9 up at half time and held their own during Rossouw’s absence. With the likes of Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Chris Masoe making their presence felt, Saracens found all routes to a revival resolutely blocked, despite an occasional burst from the rolling maul.

For all their commitment and spirit, Sarries didn’t have enough accuracy and cutting edge to go with their willing graft. So the English teams are out, but a champion English fly half will go to Dublin for his first Heineken Cup final ready to prove yet again that he is still a potent force and a master conductor.


JONNY V OWEN



2 MINS: Farrell makes a great start, putting Saracens ahead, with a 40-metre kick.


Saracens 3 Toulon 0


4 MINS: Despite the early score for Saracens, Wilkinson replies straight from re-start.


Saracens 3 Toulon 3

12 MINS: Wilkinson scores his second penalty of the day, again from wide out on the left.


Saracens 3 Toulon 6


16 MINS: Farrell is penalised for obstructing wing Alexis Palisson and Wilkinson punishes him.


Saracens 3 Toulon 9


21 MINS: Farrell kicks his second penalty after a Toulon infringement at ruck.

Saracens 6 Toulon 9

23 MINS: Saracens kill ball at a ruck gives Wilkinson his easiest kick so far.


Saracens 6 Toulon 12


35 MINS: Farrell reduces margin by landing a superb 45-metre long effort.


Saracens 9 Toulon 12


46 MINS: Saracens penalised again at the scrum and Wilkinson kicks his fifth penalty.


Saracens 9 Toulon 15


56 MINS: After Toulon flanker Danie Rossouw is sin binned, Farrell kicks a penalty but Wilkinson responds instantly to land a kick from 51 metres.


Saracens 12 Toulon 18


74 MINS: The killer drop goal. Wilkinson grabs the chance despite a tackle from Farrell. Both men watch as the ball sails through.

Saracens 15 Toulon 21


76 MINS Saracens concede a penalty after a quick line-out and Wilkinson kicks his seventh penalty.


Saracens 15 Toulon 24




Not your day: Owen Farrell was outshone by Wilkinson as Saracens fell at the semi-final stage

Clarke insists referee was right to send off trio in West Brom



West Brom manager Steve Clarke hopes his side's almost perfect away performance does not get overshadowed by the three red cards dished out at Southampton today.


The Baggies headed to St Mary's with just three wins in 14 league games but returned to form in style, with Marc-Antoine Fortune, Romelu Lukaku and Shane Long all scoring in a 3-0 win.




Early strike: Marc-Antoine Fortune opens the scoring at the second attempt after Artur Boruc fumbles the first shot



The three points saw them set a new club record for Premier League points (48) and wins (14), although it is referee Robert Madley's top-flight debut that stole the show.


The Yorkshireman sent off Saints pair Gaston Ramirez and Danny Fox as well as West Brom's Fortune - something manager Clarke hopes does not draw attention away from his side's fine performance.




Off: Marc-Antoine-Fortune is sent off after striking Gaston Ramirez

'I think the win is the most important topic,' he said. 'We've been scratching around for a win a bit recently. The performances have been okay by and large. We have become a little bit of a reactive team, where we wait to the game happens and then we go chasing it.




On the slide: Adam Lallanais challenged by Graham Dorrans





'We do that quite well but today we spoke about getting the first goal, we did that and from there we controlled the game.


'It was almost a perfect away performance.


'The three front players were great, not just causing Southampton a problem but defensively they worked hard for the team, closed the game down at the right times.


'The shape of the team was good - something we've worked on this week. It is nice when it pays off.'

Clarke had not seen a replay of Fortune's sending-off before speaking to the media, but agreed with Madley's decision to send off Ramirez and Fox.


Rising star: Maya Yoshida heads towards the West Brom goal





'They tell me Marc pushed him and his hand caught him in the face so if that is the case we will take the punishment,' he said. 'I thought the other two red cards were clear as well, although it is a shame when a game finishes 10 against nine.'


Southampton manager Mauricio Pochettino had also not seen the incidents back but could not have missed his side's woeful display.


Today's performance was the worst since the Argentinian replaced Nigel Adkins at the helm in January and brought an abrupt end to a six-match unbeaten streak.


'From my point of view we just didn't start in the game,' Pochettino said. 'We didn't really get into the game at all.




Shoulder to shoulder: Southampton's Nathaniel Clyne attempts to shrug off the challenge of Shane Long





'We didn't feel comfortable, especially when we conceded the first goal in the sixth minute.

'Then we became a bit fearful of their attacking strikers, who were quite fast, strong and physically fit.

'From that point on we were uncomfortable and never really got into the game.


'I think we had a bad day but, then again, the good days, the good victories and bad days give me a lot of information as a manager so I have learned a lot from today.'

Diving in: Saints' French midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin (left) vies with keeper Ben Foster (right)





Pochettino was clearly frustrated after the match and knows his side need to learn from the defeat.


Asked if he was more disappointed with the loss or his sent-off players, he said: 'I don't know right now.

'I need to review the images on the TV and we'll see later on if they are actually red cards.


'But what is true is that the team showed a side that has nothing to do with who we are and how we play.'

Unplayable: Romelu Kukaku was outstanding at St Mary's and sealed the points, scoring the second





Fox's red card was particularly frustrating given he was playing in place of injured first-choice left-back Luke Shaw, meaning both will now miss next weekend's trip to Tottenham.


'It is always a problem when one player is injured and another is banned in the same position,' Pochettino added.


'That represents a problem but Nathaniel Clyne has played there in the past and perhaps he will do again.'

Early bath: Gaston Ramirez (right) is sent off by Referee Robert Madley

Even in his moment of glory, Ferguson has his sights on title No 14



Within an hour of becoming a Premier League champion for the 13th time, Sir Alex Ferguson was deep in conversation with one of his greatest-ever players about winning title No 14 and chasing European glory.

As far as Captain Marvel, Bryan Robson, could tell, Ferguson had moved on from this season's triumph, even before Manchester United fans had stopped singing in celebration outside Old Trafford.



Confidant: Bryan Robson with Sir Alex Ferguson on the training ground

'He wasn't talking about how well they had played to win the title,' said Robson, who was allowed into Fergie's inner sanctum deep below the South Stand following Monday night's win against Aston Villa.

'He was talking about next season and how to improve. The planning has already started. It doesn't matter what he achieves, it's about what he's going to do next year.'

With Manchester City seen off in spectacular style, Ferguson is free to spend the remainder of the campaign chasing transfer targets and history.

An A-list striker along the lines of Borussia Dortmund's Robert Lewandowski or Atletico Madrid's Radamael Falcao would boost their Champions League prospects. If Gareth Bale decided to leave Spurs, expect Ferguson to try to find the money, as he did for Robin van Persie a year ago.

'I can find room for anybody,' said Ferguson last night, a chilling sentence for City and Chelsea, who have found themselves clutching United's coat-tails this season, despite a supposed financial superiority.

On the history front, four more wins - starting at Arsenal today - would see United surpass the record 95 points set by Jose Mourinho's Chelsea and, therefore, statistically become the greatest Premier League champions of them all.



Top target: Fergie would like to sign a star name like Gareth Bale

Ferguson says this season's triumph has been built around a fab four of goalkeeper David de Gea, defender Rafael, midfield general Michael Carrick and the Premier League's top scorer, Van Persie, who will be the centre of attention on his return to The Emirates today.

'They are the four I'd say have been our best players this season - I wouldn't like to choose between them,' said Ferguson.

'You've got two developing players in Rafa and De Gea, who have been outstanding this season. Then you've got Carrick and Van Persie. They have elevated themselves this season, definitely.'

It is Van Persie's character, in addition to his unquestioned ability, that has helped him thrive at United, according to Ferguson. At Old Trafford, the pressure to win is greater than nearly anywhere else and, therefore, the camaraderie among players has to be paramount.

'There is a clip of Arsenal in the Champions League when the boy [Kieran] Gibbs slipped and cost them a goal,' says the United manager. 'The only Arsenal player who went up to Gibbs was Van Persie, he put his arm round his shoulder - and I think he's the same with us.

'He has that influence on the young players here. He lives the right way, he trains the right way. He lives his life in the right way. It took him three or four months to get his personality into the training sessions, but it's there now.'

Van Persie's arrival has led to some big calls from Ferguson this season. Wayne Rooney has been sacrificed for games like the Champions League showdown against Real Madrid or moved back into midfield. Like David Beckham and Ruud van Nistelrooy before him, England's best player has found reputation is no barrier to getting chopped.



Impressive: Defender Rafael da Silva

That does not surprise Robson. United's first title-winning captain under Ferguson enjoyed a legendary status at Old Trafford and held the team together for a decade. But even he was not shown any sentiment in the manager's relentless urge to look forward.

'I'd won the title in '93 and '94 and we'd reached the FA Cup final in 1994 against Chelsea. I'd already agreed to go to Middlesbrough as player-manager the following season, so I thought, "What a way to leave United by winning the Double",' said Robson. 'I'd played in loads of cup-ties that season and scored in the semi-final against Oldham. We get to the final at Wembley and I'm not even a sub.



'I was gutted but that is what the man is about. He makes real tough decisions and, going into management myself later, I know that those are tough decisions.

'When you get to a cup final you want to look after everybody, but you can't. He said to me when he made that decision, "I've got Nicky Butt coming through. I think a lot of him. I'm going with him on the bench, not you".

'I told him, "I've scored a goal in the semi-final. We won 4-0, we're in the final and we've won the league, where's the justice in that?". He just said, "That's my decision", so you've got to accept it. That is what makes him a winner because he makes hard decisions like that.

'OK, it doesn't make him favourable with everybody, but that's what makes him successful. He has this aura about being a winner.'

He also has the appetite for it. He observes every training session, so when he goes to the board and recommends a player should be offered a new contract, he does so from a position of knowledge.

Under Ferguson, United have long since knocked Liverpool 'off their perch' and replaced them as the most successful club in terms of domestic trophies.

Europe is the next challenge, the next horizon. No manager in history has won more than three European Cups, but Ferguson still feels his tally of two is below par.

Watching Dortmund destroy Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final last week has whetted the appetite.

'I think it should have been us playing there, but for the referee [who sent off Nani against Real Madrid in the last-16 tie], it would have been. Absolutely, we have to do better in Europe.'

While others put United's 20th title into some kind of historical context, Ferguson is pressing ahead to new challenges - starting at The Emirates today.

'I know for a fact if United lose the next four games because they're already champions, the manager will go ape,' said Robson with a smile.