Sunderland have been linked with a move for PSV Eindhoven’s Holland Under-21 international Jeoren Zoet, but Westwood’s experience has put him at the head of the queue as new manager Paolo Di Canio overhauls his squad. The former Coventry keeper will return with more than most to prove, but everything to gain after spending every second of the Italian’s eight games to date sitting impotently on the bench. However, goalkeeping coach Domenico Doardo has had a chance to see what he can do in training, and the club’s fans are well aware of his ability after seeing him put together a run of eight successive starts the season before last with his run only ending because of a bout of illness. Westwood’s misfortune on Wearside did not initially affect him at international level, where he was chosen as the natural successor to Shay Given. He started the August friendly in Serbia and the World Cup qualifiers against Kazakhstan, Germany and the Faroe Islands before Trapattoni decided he needed his first-choice goalkeeper to be playing regularly. As a result, Millwall’s David Forde got the nod for November’s friendly against Greece and has started six of the seven games since with Westwood earning a rare opportunity in the 4-0 friendly victory over Georgia on June 2. It was after that appearance that he admitted he may have to look for another club. He said: “I love it at Sunderland, but if I’m not going to play… It’s a tough decision, but I need to play football, I think that’s evident in itself.” However, he was prescient too as he considered his options. He said: “A lot of stuff can happen over the off-season. Basically, I just want to play football. I’m looking forward to the future, if I’m honest. It’s been a frustrating 12 months or so, so I’m looking to come out of the dark times and into some good ones.” The 28-year-old keeper endured a miserable 2012-13 campaign as his lack of club action – he made just three appearances for the Black Cats, all of them in the Capital One Cup – cost him his place in Giovanni Trapattoni’s starting XI. Westwood admitted earlier this month that he might have to leave the Stadium of Light to play regular football, although Simon Mignolet’s impending move to Liverpool looks to have opened the door once again. Keiren Westwood will begin pre-season training determined to re-establish himself as number one for both Sunderland and Ireland. Press Association
Press Association Amat, who spent last season on loan at Rayo Vallecano, has agreed a four-year contract. Swansea have made offers for a number of players over the past couple of weeks, with Amat the first among them to join the club. The Swans have tabled potential club-record offers for Lyon striker Bafetimbi Gomis and Vitesse Arnhem’s Wilfried Bony, with the fee for the latter understood to be around the £10million mark. Bony’s agent, Francis Kacou, had told Arnhem newspaper De Gelderlander a £10.2m deal had been done for the Ivory Coast international. But Vitesse posted a statement on their website which read: “Various media have reported that Wilfried Bony is to transfer to Premier League club Swansea City. This message is incorrect. “There is admittedly much interest in the striker, the top scorer in the Eredivisie last season, and Swansea City are one of the interested clubs. However, a transfer is not the case.” Despite Vitesse’s statement, Press Association Sport understands a deal is likely to be completed in the coming days for Bony to become Swansea’s record signing, as Laudrup looks to ease the goalscoring burden on Michu. The fee would almost double the £5.55million paid for Pablo Hernandez last summer. Real Betis midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo is also set to join his former team-mate Canas in south Wales, while Swansea are looking to bring Jonathan de Guzman back to the Liberty Stadium on a second season-long loan. Bids have also been lodged for Birmingham winger Nathan Redmond, and Standard Liege forward Michy Batshuayi. The 21-year-old has long been on manager Michael Laudrup’s radar, and he becomes the second summer arrival at the Liberty Stadium, with the services of Real Betis midfielder Jose Canas already secured. A statement on the Swansea website said: “Swansea City have completed the £2.5m signing of central defender Jordi Amat from Espanyol, subject to a medical and international clearance.” Swansea have completed the signing of Jordi Amat from Espanyol for a £2.5million fee, subject to the defender completing his medical.
The 53-year-old was arrested by gardai near the Tullamore Court Hotel in Co Offaly on Saturday afternoon after complaints were made that a man was being loud and annoying others in the area, a senior officer confirmed. McGrath was taken to a local garda station where he was charged under Sections 4 and 6 of the Public Order Act. Former Ireland international Paul McGrath was arrested at the weekend over alleged public order offences, it has been revealed. He was bailed and will appear at Tullamore District Court on July 17. The ex-Manchester United and Aston Villa defender has spoken openly about his problems with alcohol over the years. He played for Ireland 83 times and scored eight goals in a 12-year career, which included playing with the Irish squad at Euro 88 and the World Cups of 1990 and 1994. Press Association
Jockey Brian Toomey is reported to be in a “stable condition” after suffering serious injuries in a heavy fall at Perth on Thursday. The 3lb claimer was partnering Solway Dandy in the Book Now For 2014 Perth Festival Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle when the 11-4 favourite came to grief three flights from home. He was taken to Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital and a spokesperson for NHS Tayside on Thursday night said Toomey was “suffering from a life-threatening head injury”. A statement released by the Injured Jockeys’ Fund on Friday morning read: “Following his fall at Perth racecourse yesterday, jockey Brian Toomey was taken to Ninewells Hospital in Dundee. He remains in intensive care in a stable condition and his mother and sister are both with him. It is unlikely there will be a further update for 48 hours.” Toomey is attached to the yard of Kevin Ryan in North Yorkshire and is the boyfriend of the trainer’s daughter, Amy. Press Association
West Ham were held to a goalless draw by Barclays Premier League bottom side Sunderland but it will be the Black Cats who will be more disappointed with having to settle for a share of the spoils. The Hammers had the ball in the net from the resulting set-piece as Guy Demel bundled it home but referee Andre Marriner had already blown for a free-kick for an infringement. The early pace of the game was lost as the first half progressed, with Marriner coming under increasing scrutiny from the home fans for giving a number of decisions in favour of the Black Cats. Their upset turned to anger just before the half-hour mark as Collins was instructed to hurry up with a free-kick inside his own half despite the fact Altidore was clearly not 10 yards back. The Wales international eventually took the free-kick and it hit Altidore, with Fabio Borini breaking at an unprotected West Ham defence before shooting straight at Jaaskelainen. Full-back Bardsley came closest to opening the scoring before the interval as his arrowed drive cracked against Jaaskelainen’s crossbar with the experienced Finn well beaten. Ravel Morrison then burst to life with two jinking and twisting runs that left more than one Sunderland defender on the ground but neither resulted in chances for the hosts. Giaccherini saw a shot deflected behind as the half drew to a close and Demel blocked well from Borini as Poyet’s side ended the half in the ascendancy. Skipper Cattermole had the last meaningful touch of the half as he flashed in an effort that once again required Jaaskelainen to make a save. The movement of Sunderland’s attacking trio of Giaccherini, Borini and Altidore continued to cause West Ham problems at the start of the second-half as the Black Cats started on the front foot once more. West Ham were still enjoying small spells of possession with the craft of Morrison continuing to look their most likely way through to opening the scoring. The former Manchester United youngster hit a low shot that was well saved by Vito Mannone before Diame thrashed an effort into the side-netting after making space for himself inside the box. The game reverted back to a pattern similar to the opening exchanges with both sides looking to break the deadlock, although neither Sebastian Larsson nor Giaccherini could test Jaaskelainen with their respective efforts. Altidore did work Jaaskelainen after a smart turn in the box but the 38-year-old saved comfortably as the game remained goalless with 30 minutes remaining. Poyet turned to substitutes Adam Johnson and Steven Fletcher to win him the game while Allardyce introduced Carlton Cole from the bench for the final 15 minutes as he looked to give his side more attacking clout. But it was Sunderland who came close once again as Ki turned inside the box and saw his effort pushed away by Jaaskelainen. Morrison flashed a shot wide with just under five minutes remaining, with West Ham seemingly shifting their game plan and aiming long balls towards Cole. Former Sunderland defender George McCartney almost scored a lucky winner deep in stoppage time when his cross had to be tipped over by Mannone as the game ended goalless. Sunderland defender Phil Bardsley came closest to finding a winner with a long-range pile-driver that came back off the woodwork towards the end of the first half. Gus Poyet’s side need to start picking up wins but, with no league goal away from home since August 31, Sunderland know where their improvement must come from. The game started at a high tempo as both sides looked to strike early and settle any nerves that would have been prominent at kick-off. Mohamed Diame nutmegged John O’Shea and held off Lee Cattermole before cutting a cross back to Modibo Maiga, who blazed over with Wes Brown sliding in. The same duo linked up again moments later with a deeper cross from Diame headed towards the back post by Maiga, with the onrushing Matt Jarvis unable to get a telling touch. The best early chance fell to the visitors as Emanuele Giaccherini slipped a ball into the path of Jozy Altidore but the United States international’s shot was tipped behind by Jussi Jaaskelainen. The corner was only cleared as far as Ki Sung-yueng, whose rasping drive was deflected behind with the Swansea loanee blazing over from a similar position seconds later. With the game still wide open, Jarvis’ cross to the near-post was just missed by James Collins with the ball deflecting behind for a corner. Press Association The Hammers struggled to create any chances of note in a poor game at Upton Park and they remain outside of the league’s relegation zone by just a point. Co-chairman David Sullivan had said earlier in the day that manager Sam Allardyce will be at the club until the end of the season but a lacklustre display in front of a largely disgruntled crowd will have done the Hammers boss few favours.
In contrast, playing partner Matt Fitzpatrick got off to a nightmare start with a double-bogey six, the 19-year-old US Amateur champion from Sheffield driving into trees and then pitching over the green with his third shot. Sweden’s Jonas Blixt was setting the early pace on three under par after 12 holes, with former US Open champion Webb Simpson making birdies at the first three holes before a double-bogey at the fifth halted his charge. Italy’s Matteo Manassero, who has struggled for form since winning the BMW PGA Championship at Wentworth last year, was two under par after birdies on the second and third. Pre-tournament favourite Rory McIlroy was in danger of dropping a shot on the first after spinning his approach back off the green, but almost holed his pitch and was left with a tap-in to save par. Three hours earlier, Jack Nicklaus had been able to claim bragging rights after joining Gary Player and Arnold Palmer in getting the tournament under way. The trio formerly known as golf’s ‘Big Three’ – they have 13 Masters titles between them – continued their role as honorary starters by each hitting a tee shot on the par-four first hole. And it was six-time champion Nicklaus, 74, who produced the longest drive by around two feet from 78-year-old fitness fanatic Player, with both players splitting the fairway on a hole ranked the second hardest on the course last year. Palmer, who will undergo back surgery after the Masters, had also found the fairway with his drive, although the 84-year-old’s effort was comfortably the shortest of the three. Scott was fortunate to see his tee shot on the opening hole narrowly miss a deep fairway bunker, but made the most of his good fortune with a brilliant approach to within three feet of the hole. The Australian duly holed out for a birdie to kickstart his campaign to join Jack Nicklaus, Nick Faldo and Tiger Woods as the only men to win back-to-back Masters titles. Adam Scott made an ideal start to the defence of his title as the 78th US Masters got under way in perfect conditions at Augusta National on Thursday. Four-time champion Tiger Woods, missing the event for the first time following back surgery, wrote on Twitter: “It never gets old watching the honorary starters tee off. One of the oldest and best traditions in the game.” Fitzpatrick bounced back with a birdie on the par-five second, but Scott and McIlroy both missed out after finding the same bunker at the front of the green. McIlroy made amends on the third to get to one under par, three behind Blixt who failed to convert a seven-foot eagle putt on the 13th but tapped in for his sixth birdie of the day. The 29-year-old was two shots ahead of a chasing pack which featured veteran duo Fred Couples and Miguel Angel Jimenez, the 54-year-old Couples picking up shots on the fifth and eighth and 50-year-old Jimenez making birdies at the second and sixth. The par-five 15th usually provides a good birdie opportunity but Blixt ran up a bogey six to drop back to three under and into a share of the lead with Jimenez and another veteran in Sandy Lyle. Jimenez, the oldest winner in European Tour history, had picked up another shot on the seventh while 1988 Masters champion Lyle, 56, had birdied the second, third and fourth. McIlroy and Scott were only a shot off the lead in a seven-strong group on two under, Scott having birdied the sixth and McIlroy the fifth. Press Association
Press Association Abandoning the tactics which brought him victory at Royal Liverpool in 2006 proved costly for Tiger Woods in the second round of the 143rd Open Championship on Friday. Woods famously used his driver just once in 72 holes on his way to a third Open title eight years ago and was similarly circumspect in an opening 69 on Thursday. However, wayward drives on the first two holes resulted in the 14-time major winner dropping three shots, despite the later starters again appearing to have the best of the conditions. He gave back a shot after three-putting from 40 feet at the third but made birdie on the par-five fifth and 10th. Molinari was one over for his round after nine holes but picked up shots on the 10th, 13th and 14th to join Garcia on six under, one ahead of clubhouse leader George Coetzee who had carded a superb 69 on his 28th birthday in the windier conditions hours earlier. McIlroy moved three shots clear with a birdie on the par-five 10th, although the sheepish grin on his face suggested he felt he had been somewhat fortunate with his chip from heavy rough to the left of the green. It looked certain he would make it five birdies in seven holes on the next, but surprisingly missed from four feet to remain nine under par. Molinari remained six under par with two to play, but Garcia dropped a shot on the 14th after his drive stopped inches short of a gorse bush, prompting the Spaniard to don his waterproofs before edging gingerly into the edge of the bush to pitch back onto the fairway. The Italian completed a round of 70 to set the new clubhouse target on six under, a target matched by playing partner Ryan Moore after the American birdied the 17th and the 18th, the latter after a superb approach to within inches of the hole. Woods had carded 13 pars in succession to remain level par with three holes to play, with the cut currently predicted to fall at two over par. Woods pulled his opening drive so badly that it ended up in thick rough to the left of the fairway on the adjacent 18th, from where he missed the green with his approach and hacked his third shot onto the green and off the other side. From there he chipped on and two-putted for a double-bogey, while his drive on the second also found the rough and his approach ran over the back of the green to lead to a bogey. A run of seven straight pars to the turn left Woods on level par and eight shots adrift of the pace being set by overnight leader Rory McIlroy. McIlroy had also got off to a slow start with a bogey on the first after overshooting the green with his approach, but reclaimed the lead with a birdie on the fifth after narrowly missing from 40 feet for an eagle. The former world number one, looking to become only the third player in the modern era after Woods and Jack Nicklaus to win three majors by the age of 25, also holed from 10 feet for birdie on the sixth. And the Northern Irishman then carded another birdie from close range on the eighth, despite the bizarre scenario of having to wait for an errant pheasant to walk across the green. At eight under par, McIlroy enjoyed a two-shot lead over Ryder Cup team-mates Francesco Molinari and Sergio Garcia, with Garcia enjoying an eventful round so far. The Spaniard bogeyed the first after pulling his drive into rough to the left of the fairway on the adjacent 18th, but responded impressively with an eagle at the par-four second – the same hole where he pitched in with a nine-iron in 2006 – when his approach from the semi-rough dropped into the cup.
Chelsea started the season with a bang as they mercilessly swept Burnley aside with a 3-1 win at Turf Moor. Burnley fans started dreaming of a shock win when Scott Arfield fired past Thibaut Courtois in the 14th minute, but Chelsea quickly put a dampener on the Premier League newcomers’ party. Diego Costa marked his debut with a poacher’s strike to equalise and Andre Schurrle then finished off a sublime 25-pass move to put Jose Mourinho’s men ahead. The hosts nearly went behind within three minutes though. Kieran Trippier’s nerves got the better of him as his misplaced pass went straight to Costa. The striker laid the ball off to Schurrle, whose deflected shot drifted just a few inches wide. The relieved home fans roared their team on, before Lukas Jutkiewicz spurned a good chance to test Courtois as he drilled into the side-netting from inside the box. The decibel levels rocketed in the 13th minute when Arfield beat the new Chelsea number one. Chelsea’s back four were slow clearing the box from a corner and Matt Taylor, played onside by John Terry, found Arfield just inside the box. The unmarked midfielder, released by Huddersfield two years ago, blasted a sweet volley past Courtois, who froze as the ball flew past his right ear. The stands rocked as Burnley started to believe an upset was possible, b ut three minutes later Chelsea were level. Ivanovic latched on to a Fabregas backheel and flashed a low cross from the right that took a touch off defender Jason Shackell and hit the far post. Luckily for Chelsea, Costa was there to sweep the ball in through Michael Duff’s legs. The Blues then took the lead with a sublime goal that came after a stunning passing move. Hazard surged deep inside the Burnley half, beating three defenders before laying the ball off to Ivanovic. The Serbian then found Fabregas, whose perfectly weighted pass was converted first time by Schurrle. Hazard may have failed to light up the World Cup, but his star was shining bright on this chilly night in east Lancashire. The Belgian slalomed through the Burnley defence and lofted a ball over Heaton, but Costa could not get on the end of it. The Spain forward was sharp enough to pick up on Ben Mee’s careless back pass a few minutes later, but he hit the deck after Heaton raced off his line to challenge him. Replays showed the Burnley goalkeeper clipped Costa’s trailing leg, but referee Michael Oliver booked the striker for diving. Mourinho, clearly unhappy with the decision, aired his grievances with fourth official Mike Dean, but t he Chelsea manager was a happy soul in the 33rd minute as Chelsea found the net again. Despite the best efforts of a paper plane enthusiast, Fabregas floated a peach of a corner straight to the right foot of Ivanovic, who prodded the ball home after surging through the box ahead of his marker. With Fabregas, Hazard and Oscar in midfield, Chelsea had no problem playing keep-ball until half-time. After the break, Burnley threw everything they had at the visitors. Gary Cahill’s clearance landed straight at Arfield’s feet, but the Scot’s curling shot was superbly saved by Courtois. Dyche brought on Ashley Barnes and Michael Kightly as he tried to engineer a way back into the game. Schurrle received a standing ovation as he was replaced by Willian, and Didier Drogba came on for an eight-minute cameo. The Ivorian, back for another spell with Chelsea, almost made it a second debut to remember when he took down Courtois’ long ball and fired a volley towards goal, but it swerved wide. It did not matter, though. The game had been won long before. Costa thought he should have had a penalty when he raced through on goal, but he was booked for diving despite having his heels clipped by Burnley goalkeeper Tom Heaton. Mourinho was unhappy with the decision, but in the end it counted for little as Branislav Ivanovic made it 3-1 and Chelsea strolled on to victory. On this performance, it is easy to see why Chelsea are favourites to win the league. The Blues will come up against tougher teams this season, but the way in which they took Burnley’s defence apart in the first half will have given their title rivals food for thought. Cesc Fabregas, somehow overlooked by Arsenal and Manchester United this summer, slotted perfectly into the Chelsea midfield while Eden Hazard and Schurrle cut through the home defence with ease. Courtois would be disappointed with his failure to stop Arfield’s goal, but otherwise he put in an assured debut performance, which suggested he is up to the task of replacing Petr Cech, who was named on the bench. And in Costa, Chelsea look to have the “killer” striker Mourinho lacked last year. A wave of noise greeted Sean Dyche and his men as they emerged from the tunnel to signal the start of an exciting new dawn at Turf Moor. Press Association
Press Association Midfielder Niko Kranjcar curled in a late free-kick to earn QPR a 2-2 draw against Stoke at Loftus Road. Stoke, managed by former QPR boss Mark Hughes, had taken the lead after 11 minutes through Mame Biram Diouf, only for Peter Crouch to stab a header from QPR defender Steven Caulker into his own net just before the break. Crouch, who played at QPR as a youngster, looked to have secured victory when he swept home from close range after 51 minutes. The home side were level just before the break. A corner from Jordon Mutch on the left floated over to Caulker at the back post. His header down into the crowded six-yard box was toe-poked up into the Stoke net by Crouch – with two other defenders ready to hack clear on the line. QPR were forced into another change just after the restart when Mutch hobbled off, replaced by Karl Henry, and Stoke regained the lead in the 51st minute. Moses, on loan from Chelsea, caused problems down the left, squirming to the touchline before cutting the ball back into the six-yard box. Crouch, who had been linked with a summer move to QPR, dropped off Ferdinand, which gave him the time and space to fire a left-footed shot past Green for a first Premier League goal – at the right end – in 10 games. Stoke should have sealed victory on the break when Charlie Adam picked out Steven Nzonzi arriving in the right side of the penalty area, but his sidefooted effort was wide. QPR felt they should have been awarded a penalty when Stoke captain Ryan Shawcross appeared to pull Caulker’s shirt, but referee Martin Atkinson was not interested. With eight minutes left, there was a flashpoint as Shawcross clattered Kranjcar with a late sliding challenge, with Leroy Fer squaring up to the Stoke captain. Eventually, the referee booked both players, which did not go down well with the frustrated home support. Loftus Road was, though, soon rocking when, after being fouled by substitute Steve Sidwell, Kranjcar clipped a free-kick up over the wall into the top right corner, past the diving Asmir Begovic. However, with two minutes left, Croatian Kranjcar clipped in a fine 20-yard free-kick to earn Harry Redknapp’s men a share of the points in the Barclays Premier League tussle. Hughes – sacked following a testing 10-month spell in November 2012, after which the west London club slipped to relegation amid financial turmoil – was expecting plenty of abuse from the home supporters, and it was only a few minutes before chants against the former QPR boss rang around Loftus Road. The Welshman has, though, steadily rebuilt his reputation at Stoke, whom he guided to an impressive ninth-placed finish last season, and Hughes was pumping the air as Stoke went ahead. The ball was played out to Victor Moses on the left, and his lofted cross was headed down by Crouch, who held off former England team-mate Rio Ferdinand, and Diouf nodded it past Robert Green. The visitors remained a threat on the break, but Diouf chose the wrong option when shooting at the edge of the penalty area when he had men over on both sides. Crouch was then unfortunate not to make it 2-0 after another quick break when played in by Moses at the edge of the penalty area. He took the ball in his stride before drilling a low effort just wide of Green’s right-hand post. At the other end, Kranjcar fired a 25-yard effort just over the angle of post and bar. QPR captain Joey Barton, whose inclusion was one of four changes to the side beaten 4-0 at Manchester United, had to be replaced because of injury, with Matt Phillips coming on.
“In particular in the striking department, we’ve had a lift. We’ve looked okay in the majority of games and have deserved more points than we have, but at the same time we’ve looked like we’re not going to score too many goals. “The lift from the three strikers has helped the squad and will settle us.” It was Papiss Cisse who started the ball rolling when, after five months on the sidelines nursing a fractured kneecap, he climbed from the bench and, with Pardew freely admitting he should not even have been in the squad, scored twice to salvage a point against Hull. Summer signing Emmanuel Riviere took up the baton at Palace when he ended his wait for a first competitive goal for the club at the seventh attempt as he also claimed a double. Asked how hard it has been for the Frenchman, Pardew said: “He hasn’t really carried it as hard. His confidence has been strong in training. “I have spoken to him on a number of occasions on things I thought would help him get the goal and he always seemed very assured – strikers are made like that. “But you don’t want to go too long without a goal, particularly at this football club and particularly when he got the competition he has at the moment, so they were very important goals for him.” Cisse, keeper Tim Krul and midfielder Yoan Gouffran could all be available after missing the trip to Selhurst Park through illness, and Pardew is hoping the outbreak has been contained. He said: “I haven’t heard anything from the doctor that makes me worry.” Stoke manager Mark Hughes has laughed off Manchester City counterpart Manuel Pellegrini’s “small team” comments. Pellegrini was left annoyed by Chelsea boss Jose Mourinho’s tactics in last Sunday’s 1-1 draw between the sides at the Etihad Stadium. Having been beaten at home by Stoke three weeks previously, the 61-year-old Chilean held up Chelsea and the Potters for comparison, seemingly belittling both clubs. Describing the match with Chelsea, Pellegrini said: “It was very similar to the Stoke team, with a big team playing against a small team with very good players, trying to defend, trying to keep the score (0-0).” Asked for his thoughts on Stoke being described as “small”, Hughes said: “I think everybody understood what he meant. “He was possibly disappointed with the way Chelsea approached the game. “Having seen us play exceptionally well a few weeks previously, why wouldn’t Chelsea follow what we did? “We didn’t take any umbrage with it, as criticism of ourselves. “It was more the Manchester City manager’s take on how he thought one of the top teams went up against his side. “On the day they were gracious in defeat, which sometimes doesn’t happen with big clubs. “But I felt we fully deserved the victory and they said so.” It was at Manchester City where Hughes was given his first taste of big-time management, and the pressure and expectation that comes in running a club of that ilk, lasting just over 18 months before being sacked. In that respect Hughes appreciates the circumstances currently being faced by Newcastle boss Pardew, whose side face the Potters on Monday. From his time at City, Hughes claims the expectation and focus that comes with managing a big club is “unfair”. The Welshman added: “It’s circumstantial as a lot of people don’t know the reason why certain things have occurred or why there hasn’t been a good performance. “There are always other things people outside the immediate group don’t know about and you know yourself you can’t go out and say, ‘well, these are the reasons’. “So you have to protect yourself, your position and your club sometimes from situations, and sometimes that’s to the detriment of yourself. “It’s not easy because there is more focus on you as a club and you, as the figurehead, in terms of football. It goes with the territory and you have to deal with it. “The focus on big clubs is always there and the only way you can deal with it, to take that focus off you as a manager, is by winning football matches and if you don’t there is a negative focus.” Hughes has no fresh injury concerns, with only midfielder Jonathan Walters a doubt with a calf problem. He said: “I think he was trying to be supportive in his own kind of way. They [the comments] are what they are and unfortunately we have had those sort of headlines for two or three weeks. “The focus for me really can only be Monday night.” Pardew and his players have steadied the ship somewhat in the last week with a determined fightback from 2-0 down to claim a 2-2 draw with Hull with the manager’s critics in full voice at St James’ Park last Saturday, and then a 3-2 midweek victory at Crystal Palace which ensured the club’s continued participation in the Capital One Cup. However, they will head for the Britannia Stadium sitting at the foot of the Barclays Premier League table and still awaiting their first three-point haul of the campaign. Pardew said: “We are very conscious that we haven’t had the win. We have got to try to get the balance right because it’s not a boxing match, we can’t fight our way to a win. “We have got to get a balance between having enough fight and playing, and I think we got that right at Palace. We had enough determination to win the game, but also were relaxed enough to play.” Pardew admits the pressure he has been under, and in many ways remains under, has been far from enjoyable but a better week has salved some of the wounds. He said: “You’re going to carry some scars as the week progresses. You can get an injury, the team doesn’t function in training or the press are giving you a hard time, so it does change your mood when you get lifts like we’ve had this week. Press Association Newcastle manager Alan Pardew is treating owner Mike Ashley’s joke threat to sack him as a back-handed vote of confidence. The 53-year-old woke on Saturday morning to read claims that he is “Dead. Finished. Over.” if the Magpies lose at Stoke on Monday evening. Club officials immediately dismissed Ashley’s comments to a reporter in a Soho bar as a joke, and Pardew, who has come under intense pressure from dissenting fans in recent weeks, is viewing the sports magnate’s remarks as a positive.