Dendoncker sinks Villa to boost Wolves’ Euro bid

Wolverhampton Raul Jimenez and Aston Villa’s Kortney Hause, right, during their match in Birmingham on Saturday. (AFP)
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Updated 28 June 2020

Dendoncker sinks Villa to boost Wolves’ Euro bid

  • Wolves have yet to concede a goal following the coronavirus hiatus

BIRMINGHAM: Wolves stepped up their bid to qualify for the Champions League as Leander Dendoncker sealed a 1-0 win at Aston Villa that lifted them into 5th place in the Premier League on Saturday.

Nuno Espirito Santo’s side made it three successive victories since the Premier League restart thanks to Dendoncker’s clinical finish in the second half.

Wolves have yet to concede a goal following the coronavirus hiatus and are now just 2 points behind 4th-placed Chelsea and three ahead of 6th-placed Manchester United.

Both Chelsea and United have a game in hand on Wolves due to their FA Cup involvement this weekend.

But with 5th place potentially offering Champions League qualification if second placed Manchester City’s European ban is upheld, Nuno’s men are firmly in contention to play in the continent’s elite club competition for the first time in 60 years.

Wolves are unbeaten in eight league games and have won three successive top-flight away matches for the first time since 1980.

In contrast, their struggling midlands rivals Villa are without a win in 8th league games and remain rooted in the relegation zone on goal difference.

Second bottom Villa have now played a game more than the teams around them and have just six matches left.

With fixtures against Liverpool and Manchester United up next, Dean Smith’s team are in serious danger of an immediate return to the Championship.

Smith had complained about the fixture schedule that saw his team playing for the fourth time in 11 days.

His fears were confirmed when defender Matt Targett limped off with a leg injury after 10 minutes.

Wolves were on top and Joao Moutinho’s free kick was flicked goalward by Raul Jimenez, but Orjan Nyland was well placed to save.

Matt Doherty led another threatening Wolves raid, the wing-back bursting into the Villa area to shoot into the side-netting.

Villa captain Jack Grealish was being deployed in a central midfield role rather than his usual wider position and he tested Rui Patricio with a low strike from the edge of the area.

Nyland had got away with a horrendous mistake in Villa’s first game of the Premier League restart when he carried the ball into his own net against Sheffield United, only for Hawk-Eye to fail to award the goal.

Luck was on Nyland’s side again when he threw the ball straight to Diogo Jota late in the first half, but the Wolves forward shot hurriedly over the bar with just the blundering keeper to beat.

Douglas Luiz was narrowly off target from long-range as Villa tried to change the momentum in the second half.

But Nuno sent on Adama Traore after the break and the electric winger immediately made an impact.

Dancing through the Villa midfield, Traore found Jimenez and his raking pass reached Jonny, who teed up Dendoncker on the edge of the area.

Unleashing a perfectly-placed low drive, the Belgian midfielder beat Nyland in style for his fifth goal of the season.

Kortney Hause headed wide from Grealish’s free-kick, but Villa lacked the cutting edge to salvage a point.

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Formula One in brave new world as Verstappen seeks repeat Austria triumph

Updated 9 min 30 sec ago

Formula One in brave new world as Verstappen seeks repeat Austria triumph

  • Teams are cut to a maximum of 80 staff, all in protective equipment

SPIELBERG, South Africa: Max Verstappen will seek a hat trick of home wins for Red Bull and an early lead in the drivers championship at this weekend’s delayed and somewhat surreal season-opening Austrian Grand Prix.

For everyone involved, the race will be an unprecedented experience — the calendar is unknown beyond the first eight races in Europe in 10 weeks, all to be run behind closed doors and severe limitations introduced with a new paddock protocol forbidding meetings.

As racing returns, the COVID-19 virus remains in circulation, which requires all participants to be tested before travel to Austria on private chartered jets, ongoing tests, the separation of teams and car crews into “bubbles” and controlled hotels.

Teams are cut to a maximum of 80 staff, all in protective equipment, there will be no sponsors, no guests and only a limited number of accredited broadcast and written news media.

Journalists, limited to a dozen instead of 300 or more, have to pass a test within 72 hours in advance of arrival and will not be allowed to leave the media center.

All interviews and news conferences will take place by video.

The teams will be kept isolated, based in tents with awnings instead of their usual grand motorhomes — and there is expected to be a synchronized taking the knee by the drivers on the grid, to support Black Lives Matter, ahead of Sunday’s race.

Afterwards, there will be no podium ceremony.

When the race begins, it will end the longest gap between races in the sport since 1962, but with two successive races in Austria and then one in Hungary, the pressure will be immediate and intense.

Red Bull team boss Christian Horner said: “There’s been a long drought. We all do this because we love it. We’ve missed it, so we can’t wait to start.”

“It’s going to be exciting and intense. The races come thick and fast.”

Dutch driver Verstappen, who bullied his way past Ferrari rival Charles Leclerc to triumph in front of a mass of his “orange army” of fans last year, says he is unfazed by high expectations or the absence of spectators at the Red Bull Ring, a remote and compact circuit in the Styrian Alps.

“I am not thinking about a hat trick,” he said.

“The most important thing for me is to have a competitive car and to perform at my best.

“I never consider myself as a favorite because, actually, when you look at the track, it’s not even our best one, but last year it was very warm and we were good at keeping the engine cool.

“So I don’t expect an easy win. I think Mercedes will be very strong again and they are the ones to beat.”

Verstappen, who has kept a low profile during the lockdown, delivered three wins and eight podiums last year as Lewis Hamilton claimed his sixth title with Mercedes, who this year seek an unprecedented seventh constructors’ and drivers’ double in succession.

Verstappen and teammate Alex Albon will have an upgraded Honda engine package, developed since the coronavirus lockdown ended, to boost them at the contest in the Styrian Alps where the 800-meter altitude can affect engine performance.

Mercedes will also have an updated package while Ferrari, struggling to match them in pre-season testing, announced Tuesday that they are updating their cars for the third race in Hungary.

Hamilton this year bids for a record-equalling seventh drivers title as he campaigns passionately for greater diversity, and against racism, in the sport.

“We are preparing the best way we can for what is going to be the most difficult season that F1 and all of us have experienced,” he said in a video from the team, which — at his prompting — is running black livery this year to support equality and diversity.