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ON THE ROAD SPECIAL: Worthing, South Shields and Truro are back in business

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on the road special worthing south shields and truro are back in business

Matt Barlow at Cheriton Road – Folkestone 1 Worthing 2 

According to George Dowell’s five-year plan, this was to be Worthing’s first year in the National League South and they were firmly on track when the season was ended early.

The team known as the Mackerel Men were seven points clear at the top of the Isthmian Premier with seven to play when the axe came from the FA and ruled their fine campaign to be void.

It is still a sore point but time to move on. ‘I’m looking forward to watching some football again,’ said Dowell, who provides a unique perspective on such matters.

Worthing were back in action this weekend as they secured a 2-1 victory against Folkestone

Worthing were back in action this weekend as they secured a 2-1 victory against Folkestone

Worthing were back in action this weekend as they secured a 2-1 victory against Folkestone

Worthing owner George Dowell is adamant his team should be in the National League South

Worthing owner George Dowell is adamant his team should be in the National League South

Worthing owner George Dowell is adamant his team should be in the National League South

He was a teenage Worthing player when he broke his spine in a car accident a decade ago and was left paralysed from the chest down but he refused to let it end his footballing ambitions.

In 2015, Dowell bought the club using his compensation and they have been thriving since, with investment in Adam Hinshelwood’s team and the ground.

When the pandemic hit, fans raised £43,000 to complete an upgrade, taking the stadium to National League standards with new toilets, turnstiles, a new burger bar and better floodlights. Promotion is the target again.

Among the items sold to raise funds were souvenir shirts listing last season’s results on the front and the slogan ‘Expunged but not forgotten’ across the back.

They started the new campaign with a solid 2-1 away win thanks to goals from Ricky Aguila and Ollie Pearce at Folkestone Invicta, another team with eyes on promotion when football came to a halt in March. 

Worthing have thrived since Dowell purchased the club in 2015, with investment being made

Worthing have thrived since Dowell purchased the club in 2015, with investment being made

Worthing have thrived since Dowell purchased the club in 2015, with investment being made

When the pandemic hit, fans raised £43,000 to complete an upgrade, taking the stadium to National League standards

When the pandemic hit, fans raised £43,000 to complete an upgrade, taking the stadium to National League standards

When the pandemic hit, fans raised £43,000 to complete an upgrade, taking the stadium to National League standards

‘Sh** town, no pier’ sang the travelling contingent of Worthing fans. They, too, were delighted to end the six-month hiatus and yet remain distinctly unimpressed by the FA’s decision to deny them the chance to go up to the sixth tier.

They also wanted to know why midfielder Jesse Starkey should be serving out a suspension for a red card from the season that never was.

Worthing drew an average crowd close to 900 for home games last season. There were nearly 1,700 for the derby against Bognor.

Attendances in the Isthmian Premier will be restricted to 600 to comply with social distancing

Attendances in the Isthmian Premier will be restricted to 600 to comply with social distancing

Attendances in the Isthmian Premier will be restricted to 600 to comply with social distancing

Attendances in the Isthmian Premier will be restricted to 600 to comply with social distancing and, at Folkestone on Saturday, all the tickets went long before kick-off.

David Smith pulled one back for the hosts but they started with a defeat.

‘Not only did we lose but the Invicta TV camera appears to have died 10 minutes from the end of the game,’ groaned their Twitter account. ‘Terrible day all round.’

Only it did not feel like a terrible day. It was good to see football back at this level.

Matt Barlow – Truro City 1 Harrow Borough 0 

The expunged are back and Jack Richards cannot resist a laugh. When he first heard the word, he looked it up and found it defined as ‘to obliterate’ or ‘to remove completely, usually something very unpleasant’.

He wasn’t laughing then. It was March and nine months of graft were down the drain as the FA ruled the Southern League 2019-20 season never happened and Truro City would not be going up despite being clear at the top of the Southern League Premier South.

‘It’s a long time since I heard that word,’ said Richards, the former Surrey and England cricketer who returned to his Cornish roots and became the chairman at Truro.

Six months on and the new season started with a 1-0 win for the White Tigers against Harrow Borough, on Saturday, and a crowd of 420 fans, all carefully adhering to the new post-pandemic guidelines at Treyew Road.

‘It’s important that fans trust us,’ said Richards. ‘We want to make it safer to come to Truro City than it is to go to Sainsbury’s – and cheaper! We survived with the help of the furlough scheme and a good group of volunteers.’

They missed out on the usual money-spinning pre-season friendlies against Plymouth and Exeter but still have aspirations to become established in the National League and, over time, take a shot at the EFL.

Key to this is Truro City’s partnership with Cornish Pirates and Penwith College to create a stadium in Truro fit for Premiership rugby and EFL football while delivering a much-needed boost for the region.

‘God knows it’s not easy for young people down here,’ added Richards. ‘It’s a hard slog and we have to keep them motivated and give them something to aspire to. The stadium will help us to do this, promoting activity in deprived areas and bringing the county together. ‘There’s more sporting talent in Cornwall than we ever see.’

Truro returned with a win thanks to a splendid goal curled in by Rocky Neal, and match-day programmes hailing boss Paul Wotton as the ‘White Tiger King’.

Craig Hope at Mariners Park – South Shields 3 Mickleover 0 

‘Ref, are you part of their bubble?’ Welcome to 2020 and a new playbook of terrace wit.

It was heartening to hear the good folk of South Shields make light of this peculiar world – and they were in high spirits, 600 of them back inside Mariners Park for the first game of their Northern Premier League season.

There were no jokes back in June, however, when the club were told that the FA’s decision to null and void the last campaign would stand.

South Shields were 12 points clear and heading for the National League North for the first time in their history.

The only team to blow that sort of advantage in these parts were, infamously, Newcastle in 1996. A 2-1 defeat at Blackburn during that collapse was fatal. The scorer of Blackburn’s two goals? Geordie boy Graham Fenton, now joint-manager of Shields.

The 46-year-old said: ‘We’d have gone up last season, so it hurt, a lot. There were a few days of feeling aggrieved and then you get on with it, and here we are.’

It took just 90 seconds for Nathan Lowe to curl into the top corner, bestirring a roar of celebration six months in the making. Captain Jon Shaw headed a second and striker Jason Gilchrist hooked a third in stoppage time.

News of last week’s partial lockdown in the North East had left this fixture – as well as the prospect of the limited crowd – in doubt. But the sun shone on Shields, literally and metaphorically. ‘We’re drinking beer and watching football, we’re lucky,’ said one fan.

Elsewhere, a pre-match chorus of ‘happy birthday’ broke out among a group of regulars.

‘No singing without our masks!’ checked one of the gang.

Fenton spent the game sitting on what looked like a Marcelo Bielsa bucket. ‘Nah, the social-distancing thing meant I had to sit outside the dugout – I think it was a nursery school seat!’ he laughed. There was humour, but also caution. Shields want to make the Football League and, with the backing of chairman Geoff Thompson, there is a five-year plan to make that happen.

But skipper Shaw warned: ‘Football doesn’t survive without fans at our level. We’re fortunate to have the owner we have. But some clubs have gone. That saying, ‘One game at a time’, has never felt more appropriate.’

So this was a start and it felt good. But in a Covid world, who knows when that bubble will burst?

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Dias showed what he is about by bouncing back from error to shine for Manchester City against Porto

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dias showed what he is about by bouncing back from error to shine for manchester city against porto

Manchester City‘s detractors might say that Ruben Dias has settled in already. He strode out from the back, purposefully attempted to pass through the lines, gave away possession and the opposition scored on the break.

A fair few central defenders have done that in this stadium over the years and it was not the £64million signing’s finest moment in what has been an encouraging start to his City career.

But he has bashfully rejected comparisons with Vincent Kompany, and severe criticism would be premature. If nothing else, City at least appear more stable for the inclusion of Dias, which is a significant step forward.

Pep Guardiola will take heart from how Ruben Dias recovered after his early mistake

Pep Guardiola will take heart from how Ruben Dias recovered after his early mistake

Pep Guardiola will take heart from how Ruben Dias recovered after his early mistake

Pep Guardiola’s hunt for someone to slot alongside Aymeric Laporte has been a long one, taking in at least five targets over the last 18 months.

City settled on Dias and have already benefited from his rugged defensive ability — a bit of grit in a unit that has been far too porous.

In that sense, the 23-year-old has borrowed a fair amount from his mentor Pepe, described by those around the Portugal squad as something of a father figure. 

Pepe — who captained Porto on Wednesday night — has been one of the best, an unashamed master of the old art for well over a decade. City need that. 

The 23-year-old defender has injected a bit of grit and leadership into City's backline

The 23-year-old defender has injected a bit of grit and leadership into City's backline

The 23-year-old defender has injected a bit of grit and leadership into City’s backline

There will be time to finesse Dias’s distribution when they finally get the chance to take training sessions that are not focused on recovery from the last match or preparation for the next.

What they do not need to hone is his leadership. Although young, Dias has that in abundance, with a ‘mentality of a champion’, according to those who know him. 

His English is flawless and Guardiola will take heart from how he approached this game after his early mistake — notably when he jockeyed Luis Diaz for 20 yards and held him up as Porto threatened to nudge ahead for a second time.

Many who went before him wilted in adversity. There was some evidence here that Dias is made of stronger stuff.

Dias speaks to Eric Garcia during Wednesday's Champions League victory over Porto

Dias speaks to Eric Garcia during Wednesday's Champions League victory over Porto

Dias speaks to Eric Garcia during Wednesday’s Champions League victory over Porto

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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Klopp praises Gomez and Fabinho but warns his players ‘there is a lot to improve’ after Ajax win

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klopp praises gomez and fabinho but warns his players there is a lot to improve after ajax win

Jurgen Klopp hailed Liverpool‘s battling qualities that enabled them to emerge from a ‘pressure situation’ in Amsterdam with a confidence restoring victory.

Liverpool beat Ajax 1-0 thanks to an own goal from Nicolas Tagliafico but their performance in their opening Group D fixture was characterised by the way midfielder Fabinho moved back into central defence and never put a foot wrong.

The highlight of his display came just before half-time, when he acrobatically scooped Dusan Tadic’s lob off the line. Ajax were a nuisance throughout and they came close to grabbing an equaliser when Davy Klaassen hit a post early in the second period.

Jurgen Klopp was impressed with how his Liverpool team battled to win three points at Ajax

Jurgen Klopp was impressed with how his Liverpool team battled to win three points at Ajax

Jurgen Klopp was impressed with how his Liverpool team battled to win three points at Ajax

An own goal from Nicolas Tagliafico in the first half was enough for Liverpool to win the game

An own goal from Nicolas Tagliafico in the first half was enough for Liverpool to win the game

An own goal from Nicolas Tagliafico in the first half was enough for Liverpool to win the game

Klopp conceded there is still significant room for improvement in Liverpool’s form but, after a turbulent week that began with Virgil van Dijk being ruled out for the majority of the season, the manager was delighted with his team’s determination.

‘Was there pressure in the situation? Yes,’ said Klopp. ‘It (a clean sheet) is huge but we are not dumb enough to think we didn’t need a bit of luck as Fabinho needed to make a proper stretch to get that ball from the line and they hit the post.

‘The clean sheet is one information but we could have done better. I don’t care in the moment. We wanted to win the game and we have done that but now we don’t hang the clean sheet too high because there were two situations where we were not far away from perfect.

Liverpool registered a clean sheet and Klopp was complimentary of Joe Gomez's performance

Liverpool registered a clean sheet and Klopp was complimentary of Joe Gomez's performance

Liverpool registered a clean sheet and Klopp was complimentary of Joe Gomez’s performance

Fabinho was also a standout performer and made a vital goal-line clearance in the first half

Fabinho was also a standout performer and made a vital goal-line clearance in the first half

Fabinho was also a standout performer and made a vital goal-line clearance in the first half

‘But the result is absolutely OK. Now on Saturday night a completely different challenge. Sheffield United have had their legs on the sofa and we need to recover quickly. It was a good performance but there is a lot to improve – and that is good.’

All eyes were on Fabinho and Joe Gomez, given the injuries to Van Dijk and Joel Matip, but Klopp did not have any doubts about whether the Brazilian would be able to cope with the different demands that were asked of him.

‘For the two at the back, it was their first game together,’ said Klopp. ‘They need to get used to each other, they need to get used to the verbal demands. Fabinho can play the position, he likes playing it actually. If I asked him to play right back I don’t think he would enjoy it as much.

‘In our situation we have to keep those boys fit. I’m not surprised Fabinho plays in the position, otherwise I would have thought about a different solution. That would have been tricky but I’m really pleased.’

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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‘We are struggling at the moment’: Ilkay Gundogan admits Manchester City are not their usual best

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we are struggling at the moment ilkay gundogan admits manchester city are not their usual best

Ilkay Gundogan has said that Manchester City still haven’t found top gear this season despite a strong second-half display against Porto.

Gundogan scored a sublime free-kick in City’s 3-1 Group C victory in the Champions League on Wednesday night.

City did, however, go behind through Luis Diaz’s goal in the first half which exposed frailties in Pep Guardiola‘s defence.

Ilkay Gundogan scored Manchester City's second goal in the 3-1 win over Porto at the Etihad

Ilkay Gundogan scored Manchester City's second goal in the 3-1 win over Porto at the Etihad

Ilkay Gundogan scored Manchester City’s second goal in the 3-1 win over Porto at the Etihad

And while City have won two of their opening four Premier League games, Gundogan believes they are still some way off their best.

He said: ‘If I’m being honest we are struggling at the moment.’

City were dealt a further fitness blow late on in Wednesday’s win when Fernandinho, who came on as a substitute in the 85th minute, left the pitch nine minutes later with an injury. The Brazilian midfielder could be out for four to six weeks.

There was bad news for City when Fernandinho went off injured nine minutes after coming on

There was bad news for City when Fernandinho went off injured nine minutes after coming on

There was bad news for City when Fernandinho went off injured nine minutes after coming on

Nathan Ake wasn’t included in City’s squad against Porto, raising doubts over his fitness and whether he will play against West Ham on Saturday.

Gundogan, who admits he still isn’t fully fit having tested positive for coronavirus last month, added it would be easy for Guardiola to rotate because of City’s fitness problems.

He said: ‘Fernandinho went off at the end, we have players playing in different positions. I am not 100 per cent there because I had Covid, we are not all at the same moment.

Pep Guardiola could be without his Brazilian defensive midfielder for four to six weeks

Pep Guardiola could be without his Brazilian defensive midfielder for four to six weeks

Pep Guardiola could be without his Brazilian defensive midfielder for four to six weeks

‘That is the challenge for this season, it’s not going to end for a while. It’s not going to be difficult for Pep to pick an XI because players are going to be tired.’

Guardiola said after the game that he was ready to take Gundogan off seconds before he scored in the 65th minute – the 29-year-old came off three minutes later. 

Guardiola added: ‘We decided before the goal he [Gundo] would go off but he made an incredible goal.’ 

This post first appeared on dailymail.co.uk

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