Sunderland fan anger towards Neil understandable

There isn't a lot that makes sense about Alex Neil's move to Stoke City right now. As the dust was settling over Friday's surprise announcement that the 41-year-old Scot was leaving Sunderland, fans were asking quite how and why Neil's reign had come to an end in such swift fashion. It was only back in May that the former Hamilton, Norwich and Preston manager had overseen Sunderland's return to the Championship via the League 1 play-offs and, indeed, this column had praised the work he had done in giving the club its identity back. Neil, himself, sounded as if he was in the job for the long haul, as he spoke about changing the culture at a club which he felt had delusions of grandeur – and he had been impressed by how his players and staff had responded to his observations.

Fast forward a couple of months and the Black Cats have made an impressive start to the new season and currently sit fifth in the division, so you can understand fan anger towards Neil, who recently hinted at a lack of ambition from Everton's Nathan Broadhead, who spent last season on loan at Sunderland, for opting to choose Wigan Athletic over a return to the Stadium of Light.

“We need players who will come here and back themselves to contribute to what we're doing,” said Neil, a fortnight ago, before the irony of his words came back to haunt him. “That takes a certain type of mentality to do that at this club because of the pressure and scrutiny that comes with it.”

The rumour is that Neil was disappointed with the club's transfer activity over the course of the summer, so why Stoke City, who posted losses of £56m and who avoided a points deduction last season as a result of Financial Fair Play issues, made such appeal to him is a question only he can answer.

Sometimes the Lord taketh away before the Lord giveth back again

Hearts' Europa League exit at the hands of FC Zurich on Thursday night might have felt like a disaster at the time for all concerned but the silver lining for the club was always the knowledge that, even in defeat, Conference League action would give them a taste of European group competition for the first time in the club's history.

Friday's draw helped to provide the Edinburgh outfit with the best of both worlds. While Robbie Neilson must have had one eye on the Europa League draw and would likely have been cursing under his breath when Zurich were placed in a glitzy group alongside Arsenal, PSV Eindhoven and Bodo/Glimt, there would have been a quiet satisfaction that the opponents his side did find themselves paired with – Istanbul Basaksehir, Fiorentina and Latvian minnows RFS – provided both a dash of glamour and a decent chance of progression to the knockout rounds.

Norrie worth a bet at Flushing Meadows

The US Open has rarely been more aptly named in a year when the identity of the winner in the men's tournament is incredibly difficult to predict. The big four is a thing of the past with Roger Federer missing as age starts to catch up with him, Andy Murray is no longer the same player since his hip operation while Novak Djokovic's Covid-vaccine status ensures he won't be in attendance at Flushing Meadows when the US Open starts today. That leaves Rafael Nadal as the sole contender from the quartet that dominated men's tennis for the best part of a decade.

It would be foolish to rule out the Spaniard, of course, he has won two of the last five US Open titles and has been victorious in two (the Australian and the French) out of three slams this year. However the US Open has always thrown up a greater diversity of winners (there have been seven different ones in the last decade). This season Cam Norrie reached the final in Mexico and the semi-finals at both Cincinnati and Wimbledon. Last season, he showed that he can live with the big boys by winning in Indian Wells. At 45/1 outright, the adopted Scot can give punters a sweat to the quarter-finals at least.

Lennon deserves his success at Omonia

Neil Lennon took plenty of stick for his role in Celtic's disastrous attempt to win a 10th successive league title in the 20/21 season, a campaign that was ultimately undone by events outwith his control. Numerous players – most notably Odsonne Edouard – wanted to leave the club two summers ago and yet were persuaded to stay, one player went AWOL and a number of others caught Covid leading to fixture delays that left Celtic playing catch up on Rangers and then matters spiralled out of control with an ill-judged trip to Dubai. On top of everything else, poor recruitment by previous directors of football had left Celtic's squad in a dilapidated state.

This is not some attempt at revisionism, however. It was clear that Lennon lost the dressing room when he called out want-away players on the eve of the new season and tactically Celtic appeared all over the place at times. But Lennon was not the only man to blame. That's why it was so pleasing to see his new club Omonia Nicosia create a shock last week in Europe when defeating Gent, and then were subsequently rewarded with a draw in a group containing Manchester United.

Bofelli helping Scotland's cause

Scottish rugby fans already know all about the dangers contained in the laser-accurate boots of Argentina winger Emiliano Boffelli. The 27-year-old, who scored 165 points in 18 games for Edinburgh last season, was the same man who skewered Scotland's hopes of summer tour victory in Argentina with a kick to take the first Test beyond Scotland, then followed up in the series decider with a try that came after the 80th minute in a thrilling victory that served the impact new coach Michael Cheika had made on the Pumas squad. Since then, Argentina have not looked back: they demolished Australia 48-17 in San Juan, a fortnight ago, then, on Saturday, recorded an historic 25-18 win over the All Blacks in Christchurch to leave themselves top of the 2022 Rugby Championship standings at the halfway mark. Boffelli was six from six on penalties and tacked on a conversion to produce a faultless performance with the boot, a world-class display which left him top of the points rankings for the tournament.

The good news for Scotland? They have risen to seventh in the rugby world rankings off the back of Boffelli and Argentina's exploits without even having to play a match.


The number of goals scored by Bristol City attacker Tommy Conway in six games this season. The 20-year-old, who spent last season on loan at Bath City, is believed to be eligible to play for Scotland