Last-gasp Benteke penalty hands Sherwood first Villa win

Sadio Mane struck late to rejuvenate Southampton’s fading battle for Champions League qualification with a 1-0 home win against Crystal Palace to move them into fifth, while Sunderland came from behind to draw 1-1 at Hull City.

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Aston Villa, who have never been relegated during the Premier League era, started the day second bottom and on a seven-game losing streak, their worst run for 52 years.

In his third game in charge, Sherwood avoided equalling Dick Taylor’s 1964 record of losing his opening three league matches in dramatic circumstances.

Villa nearly took the lead when West Brom goalkeeper Ben Foster spilled a routine save but he managed to claw the ball to safety, with goalline technology proving it was a whisker away.

Gabriel Agbonlahor struck his first goal in 14 games to open the scoring after 22 minutes, latching onto Benteke’s knock on to slot the ball through the legs of Foster, sparking wild celebrations from Sherwood.

Fabian Delph nearly extended their lead but he hit the post with a long-range, curling effort before the visitors equalised after 67 minutes when Saido Berahino headed in from close range. It was the striker’s 12th league goal of the season.

HAPLESS FOSTER

Just as the match looked to be heading for a draw, hapless Foster fumbled the ball again and, in a desperate attempt to rectify his mistake, brought down Matthew Lowton to concede a penalty.

Belgium striker Benteke stepped up to coolly roll the ball in from the spot four minutes into added time.

“We kept at it and someone was looking down on us today. I’ll try anything, we are at that stage,” Sherwood told the BBC.

“We hadn’t won in 12 Premier League games and had to buck that trend. I think we deserved the three points and onwards and upwards.”

It was Villa’s first win in 13 league games and lifted them into 17th place on 25 points, three above the relegation zone.

The two sides will meet again in the FA Cup quarter-final at Villa Park on Saturday.

Southampton, who had won once and scored just one in their last five games prior to kick off, ended a wait of over six hours for a goal at St Mary’s when Mane struck in the 83rd minute.

In what had been a match low on quality, Mane produced a deft chip over Julian Speroni after the Palace keeper had parried a shot from substitute James Ward-Prowse.

Victory lifted Southampton to 49 points, one point outside the top four and a spot in European soccer’s elite club competition next season.

“It was crucial game to win today, now we have 10 days until the Chelsea game (at Stamford Bridge) and it makes the situation a lot more comfortable and I hope they will get total confidence back and play like we did before,” Saints boss Ronald Koeman said.

Hull City’s Dame N’Doye, a deadline day signing, scored his third goal in five games to give them the lead against Sunderland with an exquisite flick after 15 minutes.

The visitors then had manager Gus Poyet sent to the stands after a heated touchline exchange with his opposite number Steve Bruce.

Jack Rodwell headed in a equaliser with 13 minutes left to keep Sunderland in 16th place on 26 points, four above the relegation places and one point below Hull.

(Reporting By Sam Holden; editing by Toby Davis)

Qld demands changes to reef plan

Queensland’s new Labor government is pressuring Canberra to amend a key plan that could ward off an in-danger listing for the Great Barrier Reef.

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The state government says a long-term plan for the reef, drafted by the former Newman government and the Abbott government, is deficient and must be amended before UNESCO meets in June to consider the reef’s World Heritage status.

Queensland is seeking urgent amendments to the draft Reef 2050 Long Term Sustainability Plan, which scientists have criticised as a blueprint for sustainable development not reef protection and conservation.

State Environment Minister Steven Miles wants an improved plan lodged as soon as possible, to give UNESCO time to consider it before it meets in Germany in June to consider the reef’s status.

Queensland wants the plan to include a ban on sea dumping of dredge spoil within the reef World Heritage area.

It’s also demanding a new taskforce to determine how to achieve an 80 per cent cut in nitrogen run-off, and a 50 per cent cut in sediment run-off onto the reef by 2025.

It wants an extra $100 million over five years for water quality initiatives, research, and help for farmers and fishermen to improve their practices.

And it says work must start on a new class of vessel to ensure bulk goods carriers travelling in the World Heritage area meet stringent safety codes.

“The new government has underlined the priority it places on protecting the future of our reef by taking action that will hopefully avoid UNESCO applying a World Heritage in danger listing,” Dr Miles said.

Action had also been taken to stop the former Newman government’s plans to remove a requirement to apply principles of ecologically sustainable development to the management of water resources.

“The LNP’s amendments (to the Water ACt) now will not come into effect. Its proposed changes caused serious concern for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority,” Dr Miles said.

Democrats savage Netanyahu speech

Several US Democrats irate over Benjamin Netanyahu addressing Congress over Iran’s nuclear program have blasted the Israeli prime minister as a fear-mongerer leading a stampede to war.

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Dozens of House and Senate Democrats boycotted Netanyahu’s speech, arguing he should not have been invited by Republican leaders just two weeks before his own country’s elections and amid delicate international negotiations to rein in Iran’s nuclear program.

Other Democrats who attended appeared exasperated or annoyed, including top House Democrat Nancy Pelosi, who was often the last to rise for standing ovations led by Republicans approval of Netanyahu’s warnings.

“I was near tears… saddened by the insult to the intelligence of the United States … and saddened by the condescension toward our knowledge of the threat posed by Iran and our broader commitment to preventing nuclear proliferation,” she said.

Politicians slammed the visiting dignitary’s performance as an “affront”, “condescending”, and blatant “political theatre worthy of an Oscar”.

An impassioned Netanyahu warned the deal the Obama administration was negotiating with Tehran would merely leave the Islamic republic on a path to nuclear weapons and imperil the world.

The speech was “fear-mongering” that was “straight out of the Dick Cheney playbook”, congressman John Yarmuth told reporters, referring to the hawkish Bush-era vice president.

The speech was one of the most contentious in years in the House, and as many as 60 Democrats stayed away.

One of them was congressman Earl Blumenauer, who said Netanyahu time and again has gruffly pushed the US towards war.

“I’ve listened to his alarmist predictions. I listened to him cheerlead for the United States’ greatest single blunder in our history, the Iraq war,” Blumenauer said.

In Tuesday’s address, he added, Netanyahu “gave no alternative path forward, just… a series of demands”.

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky bristled at Netanyahu’s antagonistic approach.

“What I heard today felt to me like an effort to stampede the United States into war once again,” Schakowsky said.

Several Democrats, including Senator Robert Menendez and Senator Chuck Schumer, appeared strongly supportive of Netanyahu, who was received warmly by a joint meeting of Congress.

And Republicans gave a rapturous welcome to Netanyahu, who was invited to Washington by House Speaker John Boehner without consulting the White House or Democratic congressional leaders, triggering uproar.

Chances of El Nino rise again: BOM

Renewed sea surface warming has again raised the chances Australia will be affected by a drought-inducing El Nino.

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The Bureau of Meteorology says the sea surface on central and western parts of the tropical Pacific Ocean – a key indicator if the presence of an El Nino – have warmed by 0.2C to 0.3C in the past two weeks, with average temperatures for this part of the year in the region now about 2C above normal.

This has prompted the BOM prompted to change its El Nino Southern Oscillation tracker prediction from neutral to watch, just two positions short of the declaration of an El Nino event.

“This is largely the result of weakened trade winds and tropical surface currents in recent weeks. Weakened trade winds are forecast to continue, and this may induce further warming,” the BOM said in its fortnightly ENSO report.

El Ninos typically result in below-average winter and spring rainfall in eastern Australia and warmer than normal temperatures in the southern half of the continent.

Many parts of Queensland, NSW, Victoria and South Australia are already suffering a prolonged dry spell.

The BOM says all eight international weather forecasting models it surveys predict sea surface temperatures are likely to remain warmer than average.

Although the accuracy of the forecast is less reliable during the southern winter, the BOM says six of the eight models suggest indicate sea surface temperatures will exceed El Nino thresholds by mid-year.

Tropical Pacific sea surface temperatures have been highly variable variable since late 2014.

In January, following a dramatic cooling of temperatures, the BOM moved its ENSO tracker from alert, one step short of declaring an El Nino, to neutral, with a less than 25 per cent chance an El Nino would develop by winter,

First Villa win better than lottery jackpot – Sherwood

A stoppage-time Christian Benteke penalty handed Villa their first win in 13 league games and Sherwood his first points after three games in charge at the struggling club.

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Victory lifted Villa, who have never been relegated in the Premier League era, from second-bottom to 17th in the table and arrested a seven-game losing streak in the league.

Sherwood believes the last-gasp win could be a turning point in his team’s season and said it was more important to him than winning a huge jackpot.

“My missus said to me this morning she was doing the EuroMillions lottery, 54 million pounds ($82.94 million)jackpot,” Sherwood told reporters. “I said I’d rather have three points.

“I think so (it’s a turning point). We have conceded late against Stoke (in a 2-1 home loss) and it is a real body blow, but to score one late is an excellent feeling and I thought it was thoroughly deserved.

“We are improving every game and we are still alive and kicking. It’s a massive football club and it is at the wrong end of the table.”

Villa have scored the fewest goals in the Premier League this season with 15 but showed a will to get forward and attack local rivals West Brom.

They recorded more shots on target (eight) than in any of their league games since May last year and the determination to be more dynamic going forward was a sign of Sherwood’s influence.

“We kept at it and someone was looking down on us today. I’ll try anything, we are at that stage,” the former Tottenham Hotspur manager said.

“We hadn’t won in 12 Premier League games and had to buck that trend. I think we deserved the three points and onwards and upwards.

“When you are at the bottom you have to grind out results…

“I don’t think we can do it the old fashioned way with blood and thunder, we have to play through teams.”

(Reporting By Sam Holden; editing by Toby Davis)