Maidstone FA Cup hero Lucas Covolan once scored a goal and saved two penalties in a play-off final but just a few months later found himself in the depths of depression.

The Brazilian goalkeeper, pushed into attack with his Torquay side trailing Hartlepool 1-0 in the 2021 National League final, headed an added-time equaliser to take the match to extra time.

“The feeling of scoring a goal is totally different from just saving it,” he recalled.

“Such a high moment of my career. I don’t know if it brought me into the mental issues I had as well, but I will remember that day for ever.

“It was a corner, they cleared it, it went for a throw-in, I thought they were going to put it back in the box again, so I stayed up.

“It was  great header in the end. I remember looking and the ball was going in the net in slow motion. I didn’t know how to celebrate.”

Covolan then kept out two spot-kicks in the shoot-out, but unfortunately his team-mates missed three and Torquay missed out on promotion.

An ill-fated spell at Port Vale followed where Covolan experienced his mental health problems.

So when the goalkeeper sank to his knees following his extraordinary display in National League South side Maidstone’s stunning 2-1 fourth-round win at Ipswich, the emotions came flooding out.

“It was a thousand moments in the past two years,” he added. “When I went to the league with Port Vale, my mindset was not right.

“Suffering with my mental health, being depressed. I was thinking of the people who helped me through it.

“When I went down on my knees and just cried, it was remembering all the down moments. It was reward for myself, a very special moment.”

Covolan, missing his family back in Brazil, became a withdrawn figure until he sought help from the PFA and received therapy.

“It was a long time, right now I wish I had come forward before and not waited that long,” he said.

“I like to speak about this now, try to encourage people to come forward.”

Covolan and his Maidstone team-mates made history by becoming the first team outside of the top five divisions to reach the FA Cup fifth round since Blyth Spartans in 1978.

They travel to another Championship side, Coventry, on Monday night bidding for a scarcely believable place in the quarter-finals.

Covolan’s heroics have not gone unnoticed by the Premier League’s Brazilian goalkeeping fraternity, Manchester City’s Ederson and Alisson Becker of Liverpool.

“They say when I go up north they will invite me to have a barbecue,” he said.

“I don’t know who’s going to cook, probably Alisson because he comes from the south. I think his barbecue is going to be better.”

Luka Modric scored the only goal of the game as Real Madrid beat Sevilla 1-0 in LaLiga.

The Croatia international fired home from the edge of the box in the 81st minute to maintain Real’s five-point lead over Barcelona at the summit.

Sixth-placed Real Betis are now seven points behind fifth-placed Athletic Bilbao in the table after beating the 10-man Lions 3-1.

Ezequiel Avila’s strike and Yuri Berchiche’s own goal sent Betis ahead before Nico Williams was sent off in the 40th minute.

Gorka Guruzeta pulled one back for the Basque side, but Johnny Cardoso wrapped up victory for Betis in the 67th minute.

Strugglers Cadiz and Celta Vigo drew 2-2, while Las Palmas and Osasuna settled for a 1-1 draw.

Inter Milan continued their unbeaten start to 2024 with a 4-0 triumph over Lecce in Serie A.

Lautaro Martinez scored twice alongside goals from Davide Frattesi and Stefan De Vrij for Inter to extend their winning run to 10 games in all competitions.

They remain nine points ahead of Juventus, who were rescued by Daniele Rugani’s late stoppage-time goal to beat Frosinone 3-2 after initially taking the lead through Dusan Vlahovic’s double.

A late goal also denied Napoli victory as Zito Luvumbo cancelled out Victor Osimhen’s second-half goal for the reigning Serie A champions in a 1-1 draw with Cagliari.

Teun Koopmeiners’ penalty kept Atalanta in the race for Serie A’s top four as he cancelled out Rafael Leao’s opener in a 1-1 draw with AC Milan.

Paris St Germain needed a late penalty from Goncalo Ramos to rescue a point as they drew 1-1 with Rennes in Ligue 1.

A stunning effort from Amine Gouiri fired the visitors in front and the hosts looked destined for a second league defeat this season before Ramos scored from the spot deep into stoppage time, ensuring PSG sit 11 points clear at the top of the table.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored twice as Marseille beat struggling Montpellier 4-1 at the Orange Velodrome.

The visitors had gone in front five minutes in through Mousa Al-Tamari but Iliman Ndiaye equalised before former Arsenal striker Aubameyang netted either side of the break, with Falaye Sacko’s own goal piling more misery on Montpellier.

Nice’s goalless draw with bottom-of-the-table Clemont saw Monaco move into third, but they also needed a late goal to beat Lens 3-2.

They took the lead through Folarin Balogun and Brice Samba’s own goal, but Lens fought back with goals from Elye Wahi and Wesley Said before former Liverpool forward Takumi Minamino found the winner in added time.

Lille were handed a shock after being beaten 3-1 by Toulouse, while 10-man Reims earned their first win in five league games by beating Le Havre 2-1.

Maximilian Beier’s quick double helped Hoffenheim move up into seventh in the Bundesliga table after beating Borussia Dortmund 3-2.

Hoffenheim got off to the perfect start when Ihlas Bebou put them ahead just two minutes into the game, but Donyell Malen and Nico Schlotterbeck scored within four minutes of each other to hand Dortmund the lead going into half-time.

Beier then struck in the 61st and 64th minute to snatch victory for Hoffenheim, who are now four points behind Eintracht Frankfurt after they drew 2-2 with Wolfsburg.

Philipp Max cancelled out Maxence Lacroix’s opener before Kevin Behrens restored Wolfsburg’s lead, but Omar Marmoush levelled against his former club two minutes into stoppage time.

Augsburg ended their four-game winless run after second-half goals from Felix Uduokhai and Arne Engels handed them a 2-1 win against SC Freiburg.

Teun Koopmeiners’ disputed penalty kept Atalanta in the race for Serie A’s top four and AC Milan saw two points wrenched from their grasp.

Koopmeiners cancelled out Rafael Leao’s brilliant opener from the spot three minutes before the break with his 10th goal of the season after Olivier Giroud had been penalised for a high challenge on defender Emil Holm to secure a 1-1 draw at the San Siro.

That left his side two points adrift of fourth-placed Bologna with a game in hand at the end of a frustrating evening for Stefano Pioli’s men, who remain third, but are now 13 points adrift of leaders and city rivals Inter.

Milan could hardly have got off to a better start when Leao picked up possession wide on the left, skipped past Holm and them evaded Giorgio Scalvini’s challenge before curling a delicious shot across keeper Marco Carnesecchi and inside the far post with less than three minutes played.

However, it took a last-ditch 17th-minute challenge from Yacine Adli to prevent Koopmeiners from making meaningful contact with Charles De Ketelaere’s pull-back and defender Berat Djimsiti back-heeled an audacious attempt wide from the resulting corner.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek headed wide and Theo Hernandez saw a long-range strike deflected behind as the hosts responded, but the visitors were handed a way back into the game in controversial circumstances as the whistle approached.

Holm went to ground clutching his face after tangling with Giroud inside the Milan box and although replays showed the striker’s boot had connected with the defender’s armpit, referee Daniele Orsato was advised to review the incident and eventually awarded a penalty, which Koopmeiners converted with the minimum of fuss.

Ademola Lookman joined the fray as a replacement for De Ketelaere before the restart and Atalanta had a better balance about them, although the game became bogged down in midfield.

Loftus-Cheek whipped a 59th-minute shot straight at Carnesecchi after exchanging passes with Christian Pulisic, and the keeper had to make an instinctive save with his foot two minutes later after substitute Davide Calabria cut inside and drilled the ball towards goal.

Loftus-Cheek scuffed an attempt well wide after Leao and Adli had carved a path through the white shirts and Pulisic stabbed past the post after controlling Leao’s pass over the top superbly with the Rossoneri pushing for a winner.

Carnesecchi had to beat away Loftus-Cheek’s 77th-minute drive and then clawed out Leao’s toe-poke three minutes later with substitute Davide Zappacosta clearing Giroud’s follow-up off the line.

But Atalanta, who had won their previous five Serie A games and beaten Milan in both the league and the Coppa Italia this season, held firm to emerge with a point.

Former Southampton and Northern Ireland defender Chris Nicholl, who captained Aston Villa to League Cup glory, has died at the age of 77.

Nicholl, who also managed Southampton before taking charge of Walsall, had been living with dementia, specifically chronic traumatic encephalopathy, which he attributed to brain damage caused by repeatedly heading balls over his lengthy career.

The former central defender’s death was confirmed in a family statement on his daughter Cathy’s Facebook account.

It said: “It is with a heavy heart that we write this. Chris Nicholl (our dad) sadly passed away peacefully on Saturday evening in hospital.

“He fought a very long battle with CTE, caused by his dedication to football. Words can’t describe how much we’ll miss him.”

Wilmslow-born Nicholl, who was capped 51 times by Northern Ireland and represented them at the 1982 World Cup finals in Spain, began his career at Burnley, but made more than 200 appearances for both Villa and the Saints.

A dependable defender, he famously scored with a 40-yard piledriver as Villa lifted the 1977 League Cup with a 3-2 second replay victory over Everton which went to extra time at Old Trafford.

In a series of posts on the club’s official X – formerly Twitter – account, Villa said: “Aston Villa is deeply saddened to learn of the passing of former player Chris Nicholl, who has died at the age of 77.

“The thoughts of everyone at the club are with Chris’ family and friends at this difficult time.

“A two-time promotion and League Cup winner, Chris Nicholl’s achievements in claret and blue will never be forgotten.

“He was a dominant figure at the heart of the Aston Villa defence for over five seasons, making 252 appearances and scoring 20 goals.

“Rest in peace, Chris.”

After hanging up his boots, Nicholl moved into management at the Dell when he was appointed as Lawrie McMenemy’s replacement during the summer of 1985, and it was he who promoted the emerging talents of Alan Shearer, Matt Le Tissier and Rod Wallace to the Southampton first team.

Shearer said on X: “RIP Chris Nicholl. You believed in me and gave me my chance. Thank you.”

Le Tissier added: “The thoughts and prayers of my family go out to the family of my first manager Chris Nicholl, who has sadly passed away.

“I’ll always be eternally grateful to Chris for having the faith in me as a 17 year old boy to give me my opportunity to prove I was good enough to be a professional footballer. Gone, but never forgotten #RIPChris.”

Nicholl parted company with the Saints in May 1991 and spent three years out of the game before taking the hotseat at Walsall.

The Saddlers said on X: “We are devastated to learn that former manager Chris Nicholl has passed away.

“Chris led the Saddlers from 1994 to 1997 and won promotion to Division Two in what was a memorable 1994-95 campaign.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this incredibly sad time.”

Nicholl was reunited with McMenemy during his spell in charge of Northern Ireland, serving as his assistant manager.

A statement on the Irish FA’s X account said: “We are saddened to learn of the passing of Chris Nicholl. He played 51 times for us, including the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

“Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this time”

In 2017, Nicholl told Shearer as part of a BBC documentary of his fears over the damage he had suffered during his playing career.

He said: “I am brain-damaged from heading footballs. My memory is in trouble.

“Everyone forgets regular things, where your keys are. But when you forget where you live, that’s different.

“I’ve had that for the last four or five years, it is definitely getting worse. It bothers me.”

Liverpool’s Carabao Cup final victory over Chelsea was manager Jurgen Klopp’s “most special trophy” after they overcame more injury adversity to win 1-0 at Wembley after extra time.

Already without 11 first-team players, they lost Ryan Gravenberch to an ankle problem after half-an-hour and finished the match with four academy players on the pitch but the youngsters held out long enough for captain Virgil van Dijk to head the 118th-minute winner.

“In more than 20 years it is easily the most special trophy I have ever won. It is absolutely exceptional,” said Klopp, who is leaving the club at the end of the season and looked emotional on the pitch at the final whistle.

“Sometimes people ask me if I’m proud of things and it’s really tricky, I wish I could feel pride more often but tonight is an overwhelming feeling.

“I was proud of everyone involved in everything here: I was proud of our people (fans) for the way they pushed us, I was proud of the staff for creating this kind of atmosphere surrounding where these boys can just do what they are best at.

“I was proud of our academy, I was proud of my coaches, I was proud of so many things. It was completely overwhelming.

“It was nothing to do with it being maybe my last game at Wembley.

“Can you create in football stories which definitely nobody will ever forget? It’s so difficult because ‘this’ happened before, ‘this’ happened before: this tonight, if you find the same story with academy players coming on against a top side and still winning it, I’ve never heard of it.

“I loved it. What we see here today is so exceptional. We might never see again. Not because I’m on the sidelines but because these things don’t happen in football.

“I got told there’s an English phrase ‘you don’t win trophies with kids’. I didn’t know that.”

Victory extended Liverpool’s own record to 10 League Cups and was the seventh major trophy he has won since arriving at the club in 2015.

His side are top of the Premier League and are one of the favourites for both the FA Cup and Europa League but Klopp has no interest in the sentimentality of his final few months.

“I couldn’t care less about my legacy, I am not here to create one,” he added.

“Nothing we’ve done in the last eight or nine years is replaceable, we couldn’t have done the same at another club. It was exactly made for this combination. It is fantastic.

“We learned so much in that time, the people (fans) learned so much. That’s the one thing – it’s not a problem if a manager leaves, if these people would leave, our supporters, that would be a problem.

“As long as they are the way they are, Liverpool Football Club will be fine and that’s the most important thing.

“From time to time you need something to really celebrate. This was so special, you saw the game and saw the circumstances, they become bigger.

“We had a ref (Chris Kavanagh) who was not up to the level of the game, that didn’t help one team or the other. There was no common sense again.

“Then getting through all things. You see tired players. I have no clue who can play on Wednesday (against Southampton in the FA Cup) because we have players on the pitch until the end of the game who had problems.”

Klopp reserved special praise for his captain, who put in a real leader’s performance to lift his first trophy since taking over from Jordan Henderson.

“From the first day coming into the club (Van Dijk) was absolutely outstanding. Thank God he is in form, top shape. I think he learned an important lesson for himself: you always can win the game,” he said.

Inter Milan maintained their stunning start to 2024 with a 4-0 triumph at struggling Lecce.

Lautaro Martinez (two), Davide Frattesi and Stefan De Vrij scored as Simone Inzaghi’s in-form team extended their winning run to 10 games in all competitions.

The result saw the Nerazzurri re-establish their nine-point cushion over second-placed Juventus, who earlier edged Frosinone 3-2, with a game in hand. In contrast, Lecce were left just four points above the drop zone having collected only five wins from 26 games.

Martinez was first to threaten for the visitors with an off-target header, before an Pontus Almqvist fired over for the Salentini at the other end after a free-kick had not been cleared.

Inter broke the deadlock in the 15th minute. Kristjan Asllani found Martinez with a neat pass and the Argentinian brought the ball under control before holding off Ahmed Touba and beating goalkeeper Wladimiro Falcone with a low right-foot finish.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan dragged a left-foot shot wide as Inter sought to increase their advantage, before Antonio Gallo lashed wastefully wide for the hosts just past the half-hour mark.

Alexis Blin headed over three minutes after the restart as Roberto D’Aversa’s team sought an equaliser. However, their hopes of a comeback were ended by two goals in the space of three minutes.

Firstly, Martinez found Alexis Sanchez and the Chile international squared for Frattesi to convert from close range.

Inzaghi brought on Marco Barella for Asllani immediately after the goal and it was 3-0 soon after, Frattesi turning provider with a square pass for Martinez, who tucked away his 22nd goal of the Serie A season.

Roberto Piccoli fired over from distance for the hosts but substitute Lameck Banda had their best chance in the 66th minute, firing a left-foot shot just wide of the far post.

Inter went up the other end and made it 4-0 when De Vrij headed in Federico Dimarco’s corner unchallenged in the 67th minute.

A dismal night for the hosts was summed up when Piccoli fired weakly at Inter keeper Emil Audero, making his Serie A debut because of illness to regular number one Yann Sommer.

Denzel Dumfries wasted a chance to make it 5-0 with a minute remaining when he headed wide from close range.

However, it was a great night for Inzaghi, who was able to rest players and also made five substitutions, with an eye on Wednesday’s rescheduled San Siro clash against Atalanta.

Mauricio Pochettino defended his players after “not fair” criticism from Gary Neville – who labelled Chelsea “blue billion pound bottle jobs” as they lost the Carabao Cup final to Liverpool in extra time.

Liverpool captain Virgil Van Dijk’s glancing header secured a 1-0 win for Jurgen Klopp’s side, who were missing as many as 11 injured players for the Wembley showpiece and relied on young, inexperienced players to come on late in the game.

Chelsea had the likes of £100million midfielders Enzo Fernandez and Moises Caicedo on the pitch and were able to turn to almost £150m worth of talent from their own bench.

After Van Dijk – who had controversially seen a header chalked off by VAR in normal time – headed in the winner, Sky Sports pundit Neville, the former Manchester United and England defender, said: “In extra time it has been Klopp’s kids against the blue billion pound bottle jobs.”

Pochettino, though, defended his stars and pointed to the age of his own players as a comparison to Liverpool’s teenagers.

“I don’t hear what he said but if you compare the age of the two groups, I think it is similar,” he said when told what Neville had called his team.

“But look, I have a good relationship with Gary and I don’t know how I can take this but I respect his opinion. Of course, we made a few changes like (Conor) Gallagher and (Ben) Chilwell in extra time but it is true we didn’t keep the energy that was how we finished in the second half.

“I don’t know how you can describe this situation but for sure I feel proud of the players, I think they made a big effort.

“We are a young team and nothing to compare with Liverpool because they finished also with a few young players. It is impossible to compare and he knows that. He knows the dynamics are completely different.

“I think it is not fair to talk in this way if he says that. But we are going to keep strong and believing in this project and see what we can do in the future.”

Pochettino, who has now lost the three major finals he has reached while managing in England at both Chelsea and Tottenham, told his squad they needed to feel hurt by the setback.

“They need to feel the pain,” he added.

“We played for a trophy we didn’t get and now, it is the same – what can you tell me to feel better? Nothing. They need to feel the pain like us and of course, they need to realise we need to work more, do better things, we need to improve.”

The Argentinian pointed to Liverpool’s own progression under Klopp as an example for Chelsea to follow in the coming years.

“To compete in this level with this team that in the last five, six, seven years is competing for big things, it is about to arrive here and then feel what it means to play for a big trophy,” he said.

“I remember after three or four years at Liverpool, they lose the Champions League, the Europa League, they keep believing and moving the project (forward) and work on the next season stronger until they get what they wanted.

“That is a good example. If we want to challenge a team like Liverpool, it is not to be frustrated today because we didn’t get the trophy. It is taking the example that we need to keep believing.”

Chelsea had also seen a goal ruled out after former Liverpool winger Raheem Sterling tapped home a Nicolas Jackson cross in the first half, only for the Senegal international to be marginally ahead of the defence.

In slipping to defeat, the Blues become the first English team to lose six successive domestic cup finals, with Chelsea now turning an eye to Wednesday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash with Leeds.

A late Goncalo Ramos penalty rescued a point for Paris St Germain as they drew 1-1 with Rennes in Ligue 1.

Although PSG retained the majority of possession in the first-half, Rennes took their chance and Amine Gouiri fired them in front with a stunning effort into the top-corner.

The hosts wasted a series of chances in the second-half and looked destined for a second league defeat this season before Ramos scored from the spot deep into stoppage-time.

A draw means PSG now hold an 11 point advantage over second-placed Brest, who beat Strasbourg on Saturday, while Rennes move into seventh.

A quiet start to proceedings saw the hosts take control but fail to really test Rennes.

Vitinha had the first decent chance of the match in the 20th minute, when his low strike forced Steve Mandanda into a great fingertip save to push the ball behind for a corner.

Christopher Wooh then did well to stick a boot out to deny Ousmane Dembele’s through ball to Kylian Mbappe as the hosts struggled to find the breakthrough.

Despite PSG’s dominance in the first half, it was Rennes who took the lead in the 33rd minute after taking advantage of their first chance of the game.

Gouiri broke through the centre of the pitch and launched into a brilliant run, weaving around the Parisian defence before flicking the ball forward to clip it with the outside of his boot into the top-right corner.

The Algeria striker had another opportunity to double their lead minutes later after taking the ball past Danilo Pereira but fired wide.

Achraf Hakimi fired a free-kick well over the bar early in the second half as PSG searched for the equaliser and the Morocco international came close from another set-piece which curled just wide of the far post.

Their frustrations continued when Dembele burst down the right and found an unmarked Mbappe lurking on the edge of the area in plenty of space, but the captain dispatched a low effort wide.

Mandanda then made a great save, getting a strong hand to claw away Dembele’s strike from the right before Mbappe threatened again with a powerful effort that whistled just over the bar.

Rennes missed an incredible opportunity to extend their lead in the 69th minute when a low cross from the left was fed into Benjamin Bourigeaud at the near post, but the midfielder bundled his shot wide.

PSG had another great chance from a corner when Fabian flicked a header on to Pereira, who headed over the bar.

The hosts had a penalty ruling overturned by VAR in the final 10 minutes when Ramos dived in the box.

Bourigeaud then had a dangerous free-kick punched away by Gianluigi Donnarumma in the 90th minute before Fabian volleyed the ball past the post.

Late drama saw Ramos go down in the box again and, following a consultation with VAR, a penalty was awarded, which the striker blasted into the top corner in the sixth minute of stoppage-time to salvage a point.

Liverpool captain Virgil van Dijk headed the winner deep into extra time as Jurgen Klopp’s massively-depleted side beat Chelsea 1-0 to claim a record-extending 10th Carabao Cup.

The Dutch defender, who controversially had another header ruled out at the same end in the second half after VAR intervention, rose above Mykhailo Mudryk to nod in Kostas Tsimikas’ corner in the 118th minute.

It was no more than the Netherlands international, lifting his first trophy as Liverpool captain, deserved after a monumental performance in defence in a win which seemed against the odds for long periods.

Klopp became the third Liverpool manager to win the trophy more than once as his long goodbye to his departure at the end of the season began with the first of a potential four pieces of silverware.

But for opposite number Mauricio Pochettino his long wait for an English domestic trophy continues.

Eric Ramsay is set to take over at Minnesota United and become the latest British coach to take a management job in Major League Soccer.

The 32-year-old will become the youngest ever head coach in the United States and Canada’s top division when the Manchester United coach completes his move to the Twin Cities.

PA understands Ramsay has agreed a deal to take over at Minnesota following next weekend’s Manchester derby and the Welshman will swell the number of British head coaches in MLS to six.

Gary Smith is in charge of Nashville, John Herdman is at Toronto and ex-England international Phil Neville recently took charge at the Portland Timbers having previously managed Inter Miami.

Dean Smith, the former Aston Villa and Leicester boss, is another recent appointment by an MLS club having joined ambitious Charlotte FC in the winter.

The 52-year-old took charge of his first competitive match on Saturday as they won their season opener 1-0 at home to New York City FC, who are coached by fellow Englishman Nick Cushing.

“If somebody asked for my advice, I would say to anybody in England come to MLS,” Cushing, who previously managed Manchester City’s women’s team, said.

“Just purely based off, firstly, the challenge is like the Championship in the sense of its really competitive.

“The opportunity to win is there if you have a good strategy, good structure, good sort of way of working. You have to back your coaching, your staff and your recruitment.

“But also we’re playing in the Carolina Panthers stadium in front of 65,000. It’s amazing.

“The games never stop. The games will go for 96 minutes. They don’t die down. Apple TV, the infrastructure around this league is excellent, so I don’t think we can affect the perception on that end.

“I’m sure Dean will say in three, four, five months’ time that this was a great move for him because he will see that you get to see the whole of America, the challenge is great.”

Smith pipped former Chelsea and Everton boss Frank Lampard to the Charlotte post and British coaches of all ages are paying increasing attention to MLS.

“I’ve had a lot of people ask if I need any more coaches wanting to get out here,” the former Villa boss said.

“I’m still on the board of the LMA (League Managers Association) so I’ll do a talk for them on what it is like.”

There are also Brits in senior positions in MLS, including DC United’s Scottish general manager Ally Mackay and NYCFC sporting director David Lee.

The latter joined New York Red Bulls from hometown club Exeter in 2011 and then went on to become one of the first employees at NYCFC three years later.

Lee has seen marked change in approach during his time in MLS, from clubs being more open-minded to more experienced coaches wanting to move Stateside.

“I would say that five to seven years ago there was a perception that foreign coaches didn’t work,” Lee said.

“Over time, clubs started to realise that it’s not where you’re from, it is just how good you are. There is a core American coaching tree in MLS, but more clubs are being more adventurous.

“The level of our league has increased to where it becomes more interesting for English coaches than it would have been five years ago.

“The standard has improved, budgets have improved.

“I’d have been surprised if five years ago you could have got someone like Dean Smith into this league. That is a big change.”

Sheffield United boss Chris Wilder dismissed the clash between Blades team-mates Jack Robinson and Vini Souza in the defeat at Wolves.

The pair squared up, went head-to-head and engaged in a shoving match during Sunday’s 1-0 Premier League loss at Molineux.

Pablo Sarabia’s winner condemned the visitors to a 19th defeat in 26 games and left them eight points from safety at the bottom of the table.

But, despite their plight and players’ frustrations boiling over, Wilder insisted there were no issues.

“That happens at every club up and down the country, three or four times a year,” he said. “Of course you can’t condone it, it has to stay at a level, we have a responsibility to the young kids out there playing.

“That happens behind closed doors at every level, at Man City and the bottom of League Two.

“You don’t want to see it but it does. VAR spotted it and for me, you just move on pretty quickly. They were told about their responsibilities at half-time. We talked to the boys and they are fine and cool.

“We’re a team who is learning in the Premier League, learning on the job and our opponents have been building for quite a while.

“We were competitive. We haven’t got the result but my frustration and criticism of the team are about the big moments. We had enough territory and we have to find that quality they found.

“I believe we played well enough. If you play well you have to come away with something and that’s my frustration and criticism.”

Rhian Brewster and James McAtee tested Jose Sa but the Blades’ threat faded quickly and Sarabia won it after 30 minutes.

He met Rayan Ait-Nouri’s cross with a glancing header – having escaped Yasser Larouci – which found the top corner.

Pedro Neto fired over as Wolves looked for a second, which sparked the confrontation between Robinson and Souza, with VAR opting not to send either off for violent conduct.

The ill-disciplined Blades never recovered and, while there was plenty of second-half effort, they lacked the quality to punish Wolves.

Brewster’s half-chance at the far post, with his sliding effort forcing Sa into action, was the best they created.

Sarabia shot wide for Wolves, who rose to eighth to maintain their hopes of returning to Europe next season.

Boss Gary O’Neil said: “We struggled to find the correct solutions in the second half and a lot of that is on me. That second-half performance gets us nowhere near Europe.

“The lads have done incredibly well and maybe I’m being slightly hard on today, you have no divine right to win, but the second-half performance looks a long way from a team pushing to Europe.

“I’m really pleased with the win. Up to eighth but it’s probably the worst I’m going to feel for the next hour, being eighth, because I was really disappointed with the second half.

“We had to show grit, determination and dig in. I thought the lads were excellent in sticking together.”

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers praised his side for dealing with the pressure after coming from behind to snatch a last-gasp win over Motherwell.

Motherwell deservedly led at half-time through Blair Spittal’s impressive goal but substitute Adam Idah quickly headed Celtic level after the break.

Celtic forced Motherwell back in the final quarter of the game and the pressure told four minutes into stoppage time when Idah stabbed home Alistair Johnston’s pass.

Luis Palma quickly added another to seal a 3-1 victory which cut the gap at the top of the table back to two points.

Rangers had moved five in front with a 5-0 win over Hearts on Saturday and Celtic faced a big challenge at half-time after dropping four points in their previous three league matches.

Rodgers admitted there was an anxiety in his side’s first-half passing but he added: “It was more the football and the performance, we were arriving into areas too early which gave players less options on the ball, that meant the passes were longer and they were looking into depth too much.

“Sometimes that happens in the game, so at half-time it was just about staying calm, reinforce the good bits of the game, but actually where we needed to adapt in order to connect the game.

“That is what this team is about. It’s about running and connecting the game fast, lots of passes, getting it out to the sides, making runs in behind, getting crosses into the box from half space wide areas.

“Technically, we needed to make some adjustments, but all at the same time, stay calm. Stay calm, because it’s one goal in it and I know this team and I know this club.

“The players were magnificent second half, I’ve got to say, under the pressure of being behind. They dealt with it really well.”

Rodgers was delighted with the impact of his subs with Yang Hyun-jun and Cameron Carter-Vickers coming off the bench to good effect following the half-time introduction of Idah for Kyogo Furuhashi.

“He scores two brilliant goals,” Rodgers said. “His first one is an amazing header – it’s a great cross by Greg (Taylor) but his header is absolutely brilliant. And then obviously he makes his first-post run and gets the second one.

“I think the guys coming into the game made a really good impact. Yang was good, he gave us the width and attacked on the outside and created space for the passes inside. Palma comes in and scores a goal as well, gets into the second post for the cross.”

On Carter-Vickers, Rodgers added: “You see when he comes into the game, there’s no trouble.

“The big guy up front (Theo Bair) gave us a problem in the first half with his strength and his size, and Cam comes in and just controls that side of it and allows us to play and get forward quicker, because he’s controlling that along with Scalesy (Liam Scales). So, him coming back is huge for us.”

Motherwell manager Stuart Kettlewell was frustrated over the “miscommunication” that saw two players dragged to the ball to leave Johnston free to set up Idah’s second.

And he will work on getting his players conditioned for 90 minutes after taking off four young players and Dan Casey, who pulled up after making a sliding tackle.

“Once we start to see one or two feeling for hamstrings and thighs, it shows the opposition can grow momentum,” he said.

“Ideally, how we were performing defensively, I would rather keep that structure and personnel on there. But I felt we were forced into one or two changes through necessity.

“One or two young guys in the team, even the senior players, we have to work towards being able to condition ourselves to play 96 minutes.

“It’s not just your body, it’s your head and being switched on to it. I have to identify what I felt cost us at least a point.”

Sheffield United players fought amongst themselves as they slumped to another damaging Premier League defeat in a 1-0 reverse at Wolves.

Team-mates Jack Robinson and Vini Souza clashed in the first half with the ill-disciplined Blades left rooted to the bottom of the table following the narrow loss.

The pair squared up with the visitors already behind to Pablo Sarabia’s first-half header and they will need to channel any further fighting spirit into a survival bid which looks increasingly doomed.

Chris Wilder’s side are eight points from safety and another poor performance offered no hope for their chances.

In contrast, the victory was Wolves’ first top-flight win at Molineux this year and lifted the hosts to eighth as they maintain a surprise European challenge.

They are a point behind Brighton in seventh as Gary O’Neil’s men continue to impress and dismiss the predictions of a season of struggle.

Wolves, though, were not at their best at Molineux but did not have to be to beat the Blades.

It took until the 18th minute for some serious action when Rhian Brewster was left unmarked to test Jose Sa, after Craig Dawson blocked his initial effort.

The former Liverpool youngster then had a second opening five minutes later, only to shank his shot wide under pressure from Toti Gomes.

Despite bossing possession, Wolves struggled to open the visitors up and it was O’Neil’s men who conceded the chances.

James McAtee became the latest wasteful Blade when he fired straight at Sa, having escaped from Dawson on the left and United’s misses proved costly after 30 minutes.

Yet again the visitors’ soft underbelly became their greatest issue as they conceded goal number 66 of the season.

Yasser Larouci was caught napping, allowing Sarabia to arrive unchecked to meet Rayan Ait-Nouri’s inviting cross and glance a looping header into the top corner.

With it, Sheffield United cracked with Robinson and Souza pushing and trading blows after Pedro Neto shot over.

In December Wilder had called for his players to “swing some punches” in the battle against relegation – though he would not have expected them to take his words so literally.

VAR gave the pair a pass but the Blades had lost their discipline and needed half-time to regroup.

They did manage to put Wolves under mild pressure and McAtee dragged a shot wide but there was never a sense Wilder’s side would equalise.

Brewster tested Sa as United’s momentum faded and Sarabia went close to a second when he curled wide just after the hour.

A pedestrian half rarely found its groove, though, and the visitors never had Wolves on the ropes as they suffered another knockout blow in the Premier League.

Fran Kirby has withdrawn from the England squad for further assessment on a “minor knee injury”.

The forward, who was forced out of the Lionesses starting line-up for Friday’s match against Austria after pulling up in the warm-up, will now return to club side Chelsea.

Sarina Wiegman’s side face Italy on Tuesday in their second friendly in Spain, having beaten Austria 7-2 at Algeciras’ Estadio Nuevo Mirador.

An England statement read: “Fran Kirby has withdrawn from the England camp in Spain and will return to Chelsea for further assessment on a minor knee injury reported before the Austria match.

“At this stage, there are no plans to call a replacement into the senior squad.”

Ella Toone came into the starting line-up in place of Kirby on Friday as England thrashed Austria, where Grace Clinton scored on her Lionesses debut.

Alessia Russo and Beth Mead also impressed with the Arsenal duo both netting braces, while strikes from Jess Carter and Rachel Daly completed the victory.

The friendly double-header mark England’s first games of 2024 as they turn their attention towards next year’s European Championship title defence.

Bordeaux have confirmed forward Alberth Elis remains hospitalised after undergoing emergency surgery for a “significant head impact” sustained after colliding with an opponent on Saturday night.

The incident took place 34 seconds into his side’s 1-0 Ligue 2 victory over Guingamp when the Honduras international clashed with defender Donatien Gomis.

He was removed from the action on a stretcher after eight minutes of on-pitch treatment and later placed into an induced coma.

On Sunday the 28-year-old’s club issued an update, saying: “It is still impossible to comment on Alberth’s vital and functional prognosis” and called for “restraint” during the troubling time.

Their statement read: “Alberth Elis suffered a significant head impact last night at the very start of the match on the 26th day of Ligue 2 BKT.

“Supported by the medical team, he was quickly transferred to the CHU Pellegrin in Bordeaux where a surgical procedure was carried out during the night.

“Alberth Elis suffered a head trauma which placed the player in a protective artificial coma.

“We will follow the evolution of his state of health in the hospital in the coming days. At this moment, it is still impossible to comment on Alberth’s vital and functional prognosis.

“The club therefore expects not to be able to communicate new decisive information for a few days and will not make any further comments on Alberth’s state of health.

“We call for restraint regarding the dissemination of medical information, out of respect for him, his family and those close to him, at a time when nothing else is more important. A psychological unit will quickly be set up to support club employees in these difficult times.

“The club and all of its employees extend their full support to his family and loved ones during this terrible ordeal.”

Bordeaux president Gerard Lopez said: “We warmly thank all those who have shown their support for Alberth and those close to him, in particular the clubs across France.

“Your words warm our hearts and are a great strength in the fight that Alberth is waging.”

Bordeaux head coach Albert Riera paid tribute to Elis in his post-match press conference, saying: “My first words are for Alberth. We spoke with the doc and we can’t say anything.

“He is in the hospital and there is nothing we can say. The victory is for him.”

Elis’ international team-mate Luis Palma took off his shirt to reveal a ‘Fuerzas Elis’ (strength for Elis) message on his vest after scoring for Celtic at Motherwell on Sunday.

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