Grealish told to play in top flight

England manager Gareth Southgate has told Jack Grealish that he may not get a chance at international level unless he plays regularly in the Premier League.

The Aston Villa midfielder has seven caps for England at under-21 level but has not yet received a call-up for the senior squad.

He last played in the top flight for Villa in 2016 but they have failed to win promotion since, losing in the Championship play-off final last season.

Grealish was then linked with a move away from Villa Park, Tottenham making bids that were rejected in the summer. The midfielder then pledged his future to Villa, signing a new five-year contract.

However, Southgate says that, if he is to achieve his international ambitions, Grealish will have to either get promoted with Villa or seek a move to a Premier League club.

The England boss said: "Although we can see the quality, when the evidence of the opponent is a different level, that's where it's hard to directly correlate what that's going to look like at a level above.

"With Callum [Hudson-Odoi], he's playing Europa League, he's playing Premier League – that does make a difference."

Southgate added that, as an ex-Villa player himself, he hoped to see Grealish and the club back in the top flight before too long.

Meanwhile Southgate is preparing his side to face Montenegro away in the Euro 2020 qualifiers on Monday night.

His side top Group A after starting their campaign with a 5-0 win at home to the Czech Republic on Friday, Raheem Sterling scoring a hat-trick.

They are 1/3 for the win on Monday with Montenegro 10/1 and the draw 7/2.

Sterling is 15/8 to score at any time on Monday while England are 7/1 to win the game 3-0.

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Giggs praises team’s composure

Wales manager Ryan Giggs said his team showed good composure to beat Slovakia and get their Euro 2020 qualifying off to a winning start.

They won 1-0 at Cardiff City Stadium with a fifth minute goal from Daniel James separating the sides.

Slovakia got their campaign in Group E underway on Friday night, beating Hungary 2-0, Croatia beating Azerbaijan at the same time.

So Wales were made to wait for their own kick-off but reduced the pressure with the early goal.

With Gareth Bale in their line-up they missed chances to extend their lead and the visitors created opportunities of their own, Albert Rusnak and Robert Mak both forcing Wayne Hennessey into saves.

However Wales held on to collect the three points that got them up and running. They, Croatia and Slovakia all have three points at the top of the group.

Afterwards Giggs was delighted with the way his team showed character and composure to get the win.

He said: "It's not easy. I tried to play it down because I knew other teams played first but you do feel the pressure. There were so many outstanding performances and we dug in at the end to get that clean sheet.

"In the first half we showed real composure. We rode our luck a little bit in the second half and I thought we could have scored a few more in the first but some of the play was fantastic, paired with great determination."

Wales have a tough task in their next Euro 2020 qualifying game, playing World Cup 2018 finalists Croatia away in June.

Wales were semi-finalists at the last European Championships, in 2016 and will hope to feature next year when the tournament is being held throughout Europe rather than in one host country.

However, England's Wembley Stadium will be used for the semi-finals and final. England got their own campaign off to a winning start, beating the Czech Republic 5-0 on Friday night.

They travel to Montenegro for their second game on Monday and are 1/3 for the win with the hosts 10/1 and the draw 7/2.

Raheem Sterling scored a hat-trick against the Czech Republic and is 15/8 to score at any time on Monday while England are 7/1 to win the game 3-0.

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Clough cools play-off hopes

Burton Albion manager Nigel Clough doubts whether his side can sneak into the League One play-offs even after their 5-2 win over Accrington Stanley.

The Brewers trailed 2-0 in the first half but Scott Fraser halved the deficit before the break and Clough's side scored four goals in the second half.

The result leaves Burton, who reached the League Cup semi-finals earlier in the campaign and were relegated from the Championship last term, five points off a play-off spot. They are 100/1 to be promoted this season.

Clough said after his team's superb comeback victory: "I thought we played well in the first 35 minutes and didn't deserve to be 2-0 down – the reason we were was two mistakes.

"The goal we scored just before half time was then massively important but we had 10 to 12 moves like that and hadn't got a shot off. In the second half we finished them off, that was the difference.

"It might just be a bit too late [to get into the play-offs]. But we will try and win as many games as we can and see where that takes us.

"We really should be in the high 50s in terms of points at this stage but we'll keep going and four out of the last seven are against top-six sides so there is a lot to look forward to."

McCarthy demands big improvement

Mick McCarthy thinks Georgia will be confident of beating a Republic of Ireland side that laboured to a 1-0 win against Gibraltar on Saturday.

A Jeff Hendrick goal proved decisive as Ireland at least made a winning start to their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign at Victoria Stadium.

But Ireland created little else in a disappointing performance in what was McCarthy's first game in his second spell in charge.

"I pretty much hated every minute of that," he said afterwards.

"I knew what it would be like. We were never going to complain about the pitch. The wind was blowing a gale. We didn't play particularly well. We had chances, one or two in the first half. Darren Randolph was probably man of the match.

"I was asked earlier on about gaining momentum and I can only gain momentum by winning games. I would have taken 1-0. I wanted to score more and play better but we have three points."

McCarthy's team play Georgia, who lost 2-0 to Switzerland in their first qualifier, at the Aviva Stadium on Tuesday.

He added: "It is going to be a completely different game against a completely different team. Georgia lost and they will be looking to get some momentum against us. They will be watching that and think we are hopeless but we will play better than that."

Republic of Ireland are 1/2 to beat Georgia and 4/1 to win the match 1-0.

Giggs confirms Ramsey absence

Wales will be without star midfielder Aaron Ramsey for their opening European Championship qualifier against Slovakia in Cardiff on Sunday.

The 28-year-old sat out the 1-0 friendly victory over Trinidad & Tobago on Wednesday, with Dragons head coach Ryan Giggs having hoped the Arsenal ace would recover in time to feature at the Cardiff City Stadium this weekend.

However, Ramsey has now been ruled out and has returned to his club for treatment.

Giggs told reporters: "It's a blow, especially the form he's been in, but it gives a chance for somebody else.

"We made sure we had a Plan B and we've worked on that during the week. We're going to miss someone like Aaron, but we've prepared for it as well.

"It's important for us to get off to a good start, but it's not going to be easy. They're coming here with three points and we'll have to be up for it.

"We want to be competitive in every qualifying campaign, that's the level we need to be at consistently.

"It's difficult because we don't always have the same players available, but we want to get to a consistent level in terms of partnerships across the pitch."

Wales last faced Slovakia at the European Championship finals of 2016, with the Dragons winning the group game in Bordeaux 2-1 thanks to goals from Gareth Bale and Hal Robson-Kanu.

They can be backed at 11/10 to win the game on Sunday and are 8/1 to triumph by a 2-1 scoreline, with Real Madrid ace Bale – who is expected to feature after an injury of his own – 11/10 to score at any time.

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Kovacic looking for fine finale

On-loan Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic is confident that the Blues can enjoy a successful conclusion to what has been an inconsistent season so far.

The 24-year-old Croatia international has made 40 appearances for the Londoners since arriving on a season-long loan from Real Madrid, with Chelsea currently battling to secure a top-four finish in the Premier League.

They are also still involved in the Europa League, where they will face Slavia Prague in the quarter-finals, with head coach Maurizio Sarri still trying to fully implement his own preferred playing style.

Kovacic told Chelsea TV: "When players are used to playing (differently) and then come here and change everything, it's difficult.

"But he (Sarri) has his football in his mind and that's a great personality. He just wants to play his football and that's what we're trying to do and trying to win a trophy.

"In the end the most important thing is to win trophies and the players know it. The players are used to winning trophies and I'm sure we will have a great year this season."

Chelsea currently lie in sixth place in the Premier League standings, three points behind fourth-placed Arsenal and only one point further adrift of Tottenham, who occupy third place.

The Blues return to action following the international break with a trip to South Wales to take on Cardiff City on Sunday March 31st.

Earlier this season the meeting of the two sides at Stamford Bridge ended in a 4-1 win for the hosts, with Eden Hazard scoring a hat-trick.

Chelsea are available at 2/5 to win the game a week on Sunday and are 15/2 to do so by a 2-1 scoreline, with the Blues 2/1 to finish in the top four come the end of the season.

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Jackett targets top-two spot

Portsmouth boss Kenny Jackett is refusing to look too far ahead but is adamant that his side can still clinch an automatic promotion spot.

Pompey's recent victory against Scunthorpe United closed the gap on second-placed Barnsley to just four points and they are 7/5 to beat Shrewsbury Town on Saturday. The Shrews are 5/1 to be relegated from League One while Portsmouth are 10/1 to finish in the top two.

Jackett said: "As far as you can, you have to prepare for one game at a time. All of your energy has to be focused on the next one.

"But when you look at the big picture, it does change slightly because we're going to need a high number of points from the 24 that are still available. We've crept into the 70s now in terms of points and know that, if we want to go up, we'll need to be around 90.

"We're four and nine points respectively off the sides that are currently second and first, so we have to keep pushing and know it's still possible."

Shrewsbury reached the League One play-offs last season but have struggled this term and are in danger of sliding into the fourth tier of English football.

Jackett added: "The bottom half of the season is so tight – it's unbelievable. There are a number of teams that will need points on the board sooner rather than later. We understand Shrewsbury will be fighting for their lives, but have to show our quality and it's an opportunity for us to keep pushing for those promotion places."

Depay to keep his place

Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman has made it clear that Memphis Depay will be in his starting line-up for Sunday's Euro 2020 qualifier against Germany.

The Lyon striker, who endured a difficult spell with Manchester United earlier in his career, scored twice on Thursday and produced a scintillating individual display as the Dutch eased to a 4-0 win against Belarus.

Depay has struggled to hold down a regular place in the Lyon team this season but has been hailed by former Everton boss Koeman.

He said of 25-year-old Depay: "A wonderful player. You saw what he is capable of, even if he is playing less at his club.

"Memphis is a very important pillar for us and he showed that. The ideal is to have a settled starting line-up to be able to work with. You see that with France, how infrequently they change their team."

Depay, who scored in the first minute against Belarus for a Netherlands side that have enjoyed a recent upturn in form after missing out on Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018, said: "It was a great start and, if you begin like that, it makes the rest of the evening easier.

"We said that to each other before we went out that we wanted to push hard for a goal in the opening 10 minutes. But you've also got to have a little luck.

"We have a good squad and a good coaching staff. We've got to ensure we stick together as a team and that everyone buys into our ambitions."

Netherlands, 3/1 to win this summer's Nations League, can be backed at 7/5 to beat Germany on Sunday.

McLeish points to inexperience

Scotland head coach Alex McLeish accepted he does not have a lot of time to turn things around after a dismal 3-0 European Championship qualifying loss in Kazakhstan.

The hosts were two goals to the good inside the first ten minutes in Astana, with a youthful Scotland side unable to find a way back into the game, conceding a third goal early on in the second half.

Afterwards, McLeish told reporters: "It was a poor night for us defensively.

"We had one chance just before they scored and I was thinking it was looking quite lively for us, but they scored two quick goals and we never reacted.

"There's a lot of inexperience in the squad. We have introduced a few new names over the last year or so and it can take time, but I know we don't have time.

"We have other players to come back, players with more experience who have to come back to the squad.

"Obviously we need to have as strong a squad as we can if we're going to be strong in qualification."

McLeish now has to reenergise his players for a qualifier away to San Marino on Sunday, with the hosts having been thrashed 5-0 in Cyprus on Thursday evening.

The two sides have met on four previous occasions, with the Scots winning all four, scoring 13 goals and conceding none in the process.

Scotland are 1/33 to win again on Sunday, while they are 4/1 to secure a 3-0 victory and 6/1 to claim victory by a 2-0 margin.

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O’Neill eyes Irish improvements

Michael O'Neill was pleased to see his Northern Ireland side earn a 2-0 win over Estonia, but admitted that there were things his team could improve on.

Goals from Niall McGinn and Steve Davis ensured victory in the first qualifier of their European Championship campaign, with head coach O'Neill already thinking ahead to the meeting with Belarus in Belfast on Sunday.

He told Sky Sports: "A good win for us, it was never going to be an easy and straight forward game.

"It was all about getting that first goal, we had opportunities in the first half that we should have done better with.

"Then the longer the game goes on the more belief they had because they had something to hold on to, but we got the goal and we could have scored a few more.

"There are a lot of things we are pleased about, but there are things there we need to improve on, there's no doubt about that.

"We got into the final third a lot, but at times the final ball was not good enough."

Northern Ireland have met Belarus once previously, with the hosts winning 3-0 in Belfast in May 2016 thanks goals from Kyle Lafferty, Conor Washington and Will Grigg.

The Irish are 3/4 to win again on Sunday and are 15/4 to claim a 1-0 victory, with the hosts 5/6 to keep a clean sheet.

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