27th Old Bridge Wrestling Festival starts Monday Top wrestlers from throughout the region expected to compete

first_imgStaff Writer By Warren Rappleyea 27th Old Bridge Wrestling Festival starts Monday Top wrestlers from throughout the region expected to compete JERRY WOLKOWITZ Former New York Knicks great Walt “Clyde” Frazier signs an autograph for a fan at Fanabilia on Monmouth Street in Red Bank on Saturday. The Hall of Fame player met with fans for about three hours. The 27th annual Old Bridge Wrestling Festival will open Monday, and this year’s event is expanded to include 15 individual tournaments. Festival Director Greg DeMarco is expecting 1,400 participants. Last year more than 1,000 grapplers descended on the Old Bridge Sports Arena for the various double-elimination tournaments. This year’s festival includes high school scholastic tourneys on each of the four days of competition, as well as two junior high school and two elementary school scholastic tourneys, one on each weekend of the competition. “People come here to wrestle, so we decided to give them more opportunities to do that,” DeMarco said. “We get some of the top competitors from throughout the region, and now they’ll have the chance to get in more matches.” He added that about one-third of the participants are from Middlesex and Monmouth counties, another third from other areas of the state, with the final third primarily from other East Coast states, although many areas of the country are represented. The competition schedule shapes up as follows: Saturday: High School Scholastic I (9th-12th-graders), Elementary Scholastic I (sixth-graders and under), Open Freestyle, High School Freestyle (9th-12th-graders) and Junior High Freestyle (6th-9th graders). Sunday: High School Scholastic II, Junior High Scholastic, Open Greco-Roman and High School Greco-Roman. July 21: High School Scholastic III, Junior High Scholastic II, Open Collegiate. July 22: High School Scholastic IV, Elementary Scholastic II and Masters Scholastic (30 years old or older). As always, organizers will use its homegrown “Madison System” where competitors weigh in the morning of the tournament and weight classes are then determined. Now widely used, this system was devised in the early days of the festival when Old Bridge was known as Madison Township. Weigh-ins will be held from 7:30 until 9 a.m. on the day of the tourney. Wrestling begins at 11:14 a.m. The entry fee is $15 per competition, payable at the scale. Each tourney uses a double-elimination format, and wrestlers will not be seeded. All champions receive trophies; runner-ups receive medals. Another high point of the festival is the Central Jersey Duals, a competition for high school teams held July 16-19. DeMarco is expecting 20 teams to the event, which Piscataway has won for the past four years. Teams are accepted on a first-come basis. The festival also features two wrestling camps, both of which begin Monday and run through Friday at the Jonas Salk Middle School on West Greystone Road. The Old Bridge Wrestling Camp is for grapplers in seventh through 12th grades. It runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with the Friday session ending at noon. Cost is $90 per participant and includes a training manual, T-shirt and complimentary issues of wrestling publications. A mini camp for third- through sixth-graders will be held from Monday through Thursday from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Fee is $45 and includes a camp T-shirt. Camp instructors will include Joe Dougherty, the head coach at South Brunswick who serves as camp director; Glenn Pazinko, head coach at East Brunswick; Vince Fitz, head coach at Delaware Valley High School; Ray Nunamaker, head coach of Nazareth High School (Pa.), a four-time Pennsylvania Coach of the Year; and Ricky Romero and Tom Tanis, who both compete for Rutgers University. For more information on the festival, call (732) 721-5600 ext. 4999 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. or visit www.obwf.org.last_img read more

A fitting tribute

first_imgAbove, Rutgers’ Ryan Breznitsky is slide-tackled by St. John’s Adam Himeno during the showcase game of the Doug Hamilton Memorial Soccer Classic in Hazlet Saturday night. At left, Hazlet’s Adam Elliot, 8 (l), and Quinton Bivians battle for possession of the ball during one of the evening’s youth games, while below, Middletown United’s Tara Mulvey, 10, moves the ball up the field during her team’s youth game. On a night honoring the memory of one of the local soccer community’s greatest contributors, soccer players of all ages took the fields of Raritan High School in Hazlet on Saturday. The first annual Doug Hamilton Memorial Soccer Classic, held by the Hazlet United Soccer Association, drew fans for a variety of games and clinics held throughout the day. The highlight of the event was a game played between the Rutgers University and St. John’s University mens teams, while as many as 16 local youth teams also had their chance to shine in a series of quick match-ups. Hamilton, 43, who passed away suddenly in March 2006 of heart complications, starred on the Raritan High School soccer team (class of 1981), and played as a child for his hometown club; Hazlet United S.A. PHOTOS BY CHRIS KELLY staff His contributions to the sport, on both a local and national level, made him a respected figure throughout the soccer community, leading to the formation of this event in his honor. With his passion for the sports serving as the inspiration, Saturday’s event served as a fitting tribute to a beloved local legend.last_img read more

Defense separating SJV from other Lancer teams

first_img St. John Vianney St. John Vianney’s airtight defensive softball team plays for this time of year as it heads into tournament time. The Lancers, in search of a third straight Monmouth County Tournament title, won their opener, 4-1, over Middletown North on April 28 and play host to Manalapan in the next round on May 5 at a time to be determined. The Lancers are the top seed.In April, St. John Vianney also ran its Shore Conference A Central record to 8-0 with a 7-0 victory over Shore Regional.Along with playing Manalapan, it also plays its third Shore Conference A Central game at Holmdel at 2 p.m. May 5. Games around the state are scheduled later that day because of SATtests being taken in the morning.Carrying a 14-2 record into the home stretch of the season, St. John Vianney on May 1 plays at Rumson Fair-Haven and on May 3 plays host to Raritan in league games. Because Manalapan plays its league games on the other days of this week — Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — St. John’s agreed to a late Saturday (May 5) game.Although it makes for a hectic Saturday again this weekend, coach Kim Lombardi feels it’s nothing her team can’t handle.“Many of these girls play on travel teams that sometimes play four games in a day, and if they can’t play two games in a Saturday, then I don’t know what they can do,” said Lombardi.The veteran coach said this year’s team “hasn’t peaked yet,” but feels this is a team that may be set aside on its defensive skills fromher past teams and the teams that the last two years reached five goals — winning county tournament finals and going on to win NJSIAA section and state titles, winning division titles and reaching the Shore Conference Tournament final where it lost two years ago to Red Bank Catholic. “Certain kids are starting to settle in.”But what sets this team apart from others in recent years is what Lombardi praises as “an incredibly solid defense, the best I’ve seen here” where eight starters return.“I agree 100 percent,” said senior catcher Kristen Solari, who is headed this fall to Johnson and Wales on a financial scholarship package. “We work hard in practice and it shows in games. We work well together.”“Our defense has always been strong and we have great coaches who prepare us for games,” said senior second baseman Cailin Winokur, who is headed to Fordham on a financial scholarship package. “Our defense is really strong this year, no weak spots.”Winokur feels her determined play has rubbed off on the younger players like sophomore shortstop Jackie Gallagher. “I’ve been working hard at it and took lessons,” Winokur said. “It’s up to me to start stepping up and make plays to show it can be done and then our shortstop starts picking up on that, too. I’m so proud of how the underclassmen are stepping up.”Veteran starter Kate Beriont, a left-handed sophomore with a 9-1 pitching record coming into this week, is joined by freshman Ashley Ventura, who raised her record to 5-1 with a no-hitter against Southern Regional. It was the third no-hitter thrown by St. John’s pitchers, with Beriont hurling the other two. Beriont held Middletown North to four hits in its county tournament opener. She hurled the county tournament and Shore Conference Tournament championship victories among her 13 wins on last season’s 29-1 team.They fill the void left by graduated pitcher Jen Retzer, who had 16 wins. She is at the University of Pennsylvania.Lombardi said her pitching so far has been “pretty good” and the hitting is solid, led by Solari’s .647 batting average. “I worked really hard on it in the off-season with mechanics and having a positive attitude,” Solari said.“She’s been hitting the ball the way she should and has been a leader,” Winokur said.And she is not alone in that regard.“Everyone hits .300, .400 and.500 in our batting order,” Lombardi said. That includes .500 hitters Winokur, who hits No. 2 in the lineup, and leadoff hitter Gallagher. Senior Taylor August at third base and freshman Erica Krumbine at first complete the infield. August has accepted a financial package from Fairfield University.Junior center fielder Amanda Durham, senior left fielder Zoe Otterman and sophomore right fielder Kate Baron start in the outfield with young backups Marlene Bevilacqua a sophomore, and freshman Breanna Keelan, who also supply speed on the offense as pinch runners. Freshman backup catcher Hannah Milano has had opportunities to play in some commanding victories.Durham powered the victory over Middletown North with two hits for two RBIs while Baron lined two doubles and Otterman drove in another run. True to form in the balanced offensive attack, Gallagher drove in two runs with three hits against Shore.“We’ve been coming out with a lot of heart and intensity,” Solari said.Winokur feels it will help in the tournament games.“I have so much faith in the team and we all pick each other up,” Winokur said. “We’re very together, which is different from a lot of teams.” BY WAYNE WITKOWSKI Correspondent Softball team is 14-2, top seed in MCT last_img read more

Anorthosis victory marred by racist chants, Othellos Athienou record first win

first_imgBy Iacovos ConstantinouIn the weekend’s first division football games Anorthosis came back from behind to defeat Omonia while Othellos Athienou recorded their first away win in the first division against Nea Salamina. AEL’s dismal season continued as they crashed to their fourth defeat of the season while Doxa overcame Ayia Napa.Two second half goals were enough to give Anorthosis all three points against Omonia who had taken a first half lead through a superb strike by Economides. Laifis headed home the equalizer early on in the second half and Makris rolled the ball into an empty net eight minutes from time after a blunder by Omonia’s keeper Moreira.Anorthosis win was marred by racist chants from a section of their fans towards the end of the game, directed against Omonia striker Pote. This is the second game (first being against APOEL a couple of weeks ago) that the French-born Beninese international was subjected to racial abuse.Ethnikos Achnas bounced back from a two goal deficit to defeat AEL by 4-2 in a game that will be remembered by referee Masias’s controversial decision to send off AEL’s striker Kantou for a second bookable offence for diving. The score at the time was delicately poised at 2-2.AEL’s president Andreas Sofokleous issued a statement lambasting the Cyprus Football and claiming that referees intentionally ‘alter’ results.For the record AEL took the lead through Bebe and Ionitsa while Juninhio pulled one back before the break. With the restart Ethnikos equalized through Adanda and Walder gave them the lead (76th minute) before Adanda got his second, a couple of minutes from the end.Doxa Katokopias recorded their second win of the season after they defeated fellow strugglers Ayia Napa by 1-0.The only goal of the game came in the 31st minute through Ramos. The home side were the better side and fully deserved their win against a depleted (through injuries) Ayia Napa.In the final weekend game Othellos Athienou created an upset by defeating Nea Salamina 1-0 with their rookie keeper Jacouris producing two excellent saves in the final minutes of the game to ensure all three points for Othellos.The goal that decided the game was a bizarre own goal. In an attempt to clear the ball Salamina’s Leandro hit it straight at his teammate Tsindi and the ball nestled in the back of the net.The quartet at the top of the table play against each other tonight at 7pm with the top two APOEL and Apollon at home to AEK and Ermis Aradippou respectively.last_img read more

Spinners give Pakistan 2-0 series win as England collapse

first_imgBy Sudipto GangulyPakistan’s spinners handed their team a 2-0 series victory after ripping through England’s batting line-up on the fifth day of the third and final Test at Sharjah on Thursday.Leg-spinner Yasir Shah took four wickets for a match-haul of seven while retiring all-rounder Shoaib Malik grabbed three as England were all out for 156, 40 minutes into the second session of the final day.England had resumed the day on 46-2 chasing 284 for a series-levelling win at the SharjahCricket Stadium but the tourists were reduced to 59-6 after the first seven overs of the morning.Shah made the opening breakthrough by dismissing Joe Root (six) leg before wicket in the second over of the day and then trapped Jonny Bairstow (zero) in front of the stumps as the batsman attempted a sweep shot.Left-arm spinner Zulfiqar Babar provided able support by dismissing James Taylor (two) and Samit Patel for a duck as England lost four wickets for 13 runs in the morning.Captain Alastair Cook did offer resistance, completing his 46th half century in Tests, with a stand of 49 runs for the seventh wicket with Adil Rashid, who was out shortly before the lunch break.Stuart Broad was then removed by Shah for 20 with Cook (63) following shortly after to Malik, who had announced his retirement from the longest format following this match.Ben Stokes (12) came out to bat despite a broken collarbone before being the last man out.last_img read more

Williams sister act through to Open second round (Day 2 results)

first_imgBy Steve KeatingWorld number one Serena Williams opened her U.S. Open account with a tidy 6-3 6-3 win over Ekaterina Makarova on Tuesday, to join her sister Venus in the second round of the year’s final grand slam.Williams, whose status as world number one is under attack from several fronts, delivered a message that she will not be surrendering the top spot without a fight, needing just 63 minutes to dispatch the 29th-ranked Russian.Germany’s Angelique Kerber and Spain’s Garbine Muguruza, who have both beaten Williams in slam finals this season, along with Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska, will all be eyeing the number one ranking should the American’s bid for a 23rd grand slam title stall.Williams has owned the number one spot since Feb. 18, 2013 and will extend her streak to 186 consecutive weeks by the end of the U.S. Open fortnight, tying the WTA record held by Steffi Graf.Back on Arthur Ashe Stadium court for the first time since a shock loss to Italy’s Roberta Vinci in last year’s U.S. Open semi-finals, Williams made quick work of Makarova to follow the lead of her sister Venus.Sixth-seeded Venus had provided the opening act for sister Serena when she outlasted Ukraine’s Kateryna Kozlova 6-2 5-7 6-4 before turning over the Arthur Ashe Stadium court to her top-seeded sibling.The Flushing Meadows spotlight is once again firmly fixed on Serena as she chases an Open Era, record smashing 23rd slam title with concerns over her right shoulder, believed to be a factor in her third-round singles loss at the Rio Olympics.FASHION STATEMENTAs always at the U.S. Open, what the world number one was wearing attracted as much attention as her performance. Williams sported a black tennis dress with cutouts revealing her muscular shoulders.“It’s a part of the design,” explained William. “It’s just the latest and greatest accessory.“It also is functional, so I think that helps me, especially with my shoulder problems that I’ve been having.”The 34-year-old American took something off her big serve, but showed no signs of distress as she blasted 12 aces past Makarova, a player who on occasion has given her problems, beating her in the fourth round of the 2012 Australian Open.“I didn’t hit them as hard as I normally hit them,” she said about her serves. “I just went for more placement. I didn’t go for the big 120s (mph), just the regular.”“I knew today I needed to be focused,” said Williams. “She goes deep in majors. She knows how to play big matches on big courts. She’s not intimidated.”As usual, history beckons Williams who is bidding for a seventh U.S. Open victory that would surpass the Open Era record she shares with Chris Evert.But whether it is the world number one ranking or another record at stake, Williams had the same answer.“I don’t answer those questions,” flatly stated Williams, who will next face American wild card Vania King, a 7-6(2) 6-3 winner over Germany qualifier Antonia Lottner. Results from the U.S. Open Women’s Singles Round 1 matches on Tuesday 1-Serena Williams (U.S.) beat Ekaterina Makarova (Russia) 6-3 6-3Jelena Jankovic (Serbia) beat Mariana Duque (Colombia) 6-4 6-1Julia Goerges (Germany) beat Yanina Wickmayer (Belgium) 6-3 6-217-Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Russia) beat Louisa Chirico (U.S.) 6-1 6-4Naomi Broady (Britain) beat Laura Robson (Britain) 6-7(4) 6-3 6-419-Elena Vesnina (Russia) beat Anett Kontaveit (Estonia) 7-6(4) 4-6 6-311-Carla Suarez Navarro (Spain) beat Teliana Pereira (Brazil) 6-0 6-0Katerina Siniakova (Czech Republic) beat Eugenie Bouchard (Canada) 6-3 3-6 6-2Johanna Larsson (Sweden) beat Karin Knapp (Italy) 6-4 6-2Kurumi Nara (Japan) beat Stefanie Voegele (Switzerland) 6-0 7-5Annika Beck (Germany) beat Nadia Podoroska (Argentina) 7-6(6) 6-316-Samantha Stosur (Australia) beat Camila Giorgi (Italy) 7-5 6-7(4) 6-115-Timea Bacsinszky (Switzerland) beat Vitalia Diatchenko (Russia) 6-1 6-1Nicole Gibbs (U.S.) beat Aleksandra Krunic (Serbia) 6-1 6-0Zhang Shuai (China) beat Ellen Perez (Australia) 6-1 6-131-Timea Babos (Hungary) beat Barbara Haas (Austria) 5-7 6-3 7-525-Caroline Garcia (France) beat Pauline Parmentier (France) 4-6 6-3 6-4Wang Qiang (China) beat 23-Darya Kasatkina (Russia) 6-4 2-6 6-2Ana Konjuh (Croatia) beat 20-Kiki Bertens (Netherlands) 6-3 2-6 6-4Richel Hogenkamp (Netherlands) beat Heather Watson (Britain) 6-2 7-5Lucie Safarova (Czech Republic) beat Daria Gavrilova (Australia) 6-4 6-4Denisa Allertova (Czech Republic) beat 29-Ana Ivanovic (Serbia) 7-6(4) 6-15-Simona Halep (Romania) beat Kirsten Flipkens (Belgium) 6-0 6-2Yaroslava Shvedova (Kazakhstan) beat Lara Arruabarrena Vecino (Spain) 6-2 6-310-Karolina Pliskova (Czech Republic) beat Sofia Kenin (U.S.) 6-4 6-34-Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland) beat Jessica Pegula (U.S.) 6-1 6-126-Laura Siegemund (Germany) beat Patricia Tig (Romania) 3-6 6-3 6-2Varvara Lepchenko (U.S.) beat Peng Shuai (China) 4-6 7-6(9) 6-3Kristina Mladenovic (France) beat Nao Hibino (Japan) 6-4 7-56-Venus Williams (U.S.) beat Kateryna Kozlova (Ukraine) 6-2 5-7 6-4Vania King (U.S.) beat Antonia Lottner (Germany) 7-6(2) 6-3Montserrat Gonzalez (Paraguay) beat Danka Kovinic (Montenegro) 7-5 6-2last_img read more

PNG take 1-0 lead over SI at break

first_imgIt took PNG’s strike player Tommy Semmy  to score PNG’s first goal at the Pacific Games midway through the first half.Semmy had several more chances to score, going one on one with the keeper but was unlucky. The Solomon Islanders came equally close to scoring but goal keeper Ismael Pole has so far managed to keep the ball  from getting past him.Another one of Pole’s saves got him injured and he had to be taken off on a stretcher by medics in injury time.last_img

Sports Minister lashes Opposition on funding

first_imgJustin Tkatchenko, the Minister for Sports and National Events, has blasted the Opposition Leader  Don Polye for the “constant stream of negative nonsense’’ that has now seen the Opposition seek to abandon national rugby league players.Mr Polye yesterday called for a shift in funding priority for rugby to other sporting codes like soccer, swimming, rugby union among others, in which ‘our sports personnel excel’.“We cannot continue to waste taxpayers’ money in a sporting code which secures low ranking in the world index,” he said.Today, Mr Tkatchenko replied: “Don Polye is slapping every rugby league supporter in the face with his call to give up on our rugby league players.“This Government will not abandon rugby league, the O’Neill/Dion Government will strengthen rugby league in Papua New Guinea.“What absolute rubbish from Don Polye calling for funding to be taken away from supporting rugby league, when a lack of funding is why, from the Somare/Polye Government, is the reason why the sport suffered.“When we came to Government rugby league administration in our country was in a dismal state. We are rebuilding rugby league infrastructure in our country and we are investing in the junior leagues.“Our SP Hunters served the nation proud last season and our national team will continue to build on the last season.“While Polye questions if Papua New Guineans still love rugby league, I can assure you that it is. I know this because I talk to our people, particularly our grassroots people.”The Minister said the Opposition’s search for a news headline overlooked facts. “We are increasing investment in other sports including soccer, cricket, athletics, swimming and AFL and we are seeing results.“The people of our nation can easily compare the track records of the two governments. “Somare and Polye gave up on sport in Papua New Guinea, and the O’Neill Government is rebuilding sports in our country.“An example of this is the way Somare and Polye gave up on the Pacific Games, and our Government led by Peter O’Neill stepped up to the challenge and delivered the best Pacific Games in history.”last_img read more

Serena beats Venus to win record 23rd major

first_imgWhen Serena beat her older sibling in the Australian Open final 6-4 6-4, she collected a 23rd grand slam title to surpass Steffi Graf for the Open Era lead.Now she only trails all-time leader Margaret Court by one major and the way she played in Melbourne — not dropping a set — Serena, 35, is looking good to achieve that feat later in 2017.”It’s never enough, 23, 24, 25,” Serena told the crowd after her win. “I felt like I really elevated my game this year.”As a considerable bonus Saturday evening, Serena also regained the No. 1 ranking from Angelique Kerber. Last year the German upset Serena Williams to win the title.Serena had her game face on throughout, but the sisters exchanged an extended hug after Serena converted on her first match point in one hour, 22 minutes. The competitors in them took a backseat.”Your win has always been my win,” Venus told the crowd. “All the times I couldn’t be there, didn’t get there, you were there.”It simply wasn’t meant to be for Venus, who appeared to be the crowd favorite at Rod Laver Arena.At 36, she was the oldest Australian Open finalist in the Open Era. Her celebration after winning in the semifinals is sure to be one of tennis’ memorable moments come the end of the long campaign.Venus had last played in a grand slam final in 2009 at Wimbledon, when Serena once again came out on top. Her career has been slowed after she was diagnosed with autoimmune disorder Sjogren’s Syndrome in 2011.In keeping with their head-to-head record — Serena now leads 17-11 and 7-2 in grand slam finals — it was her kid sister who would have the final say in Melbourne.The sisters have always been close but it was all business, especially from Serena, even before the match — the oldest grand slam women’s final in the Open Era in combined age — began.They didn’t chat in the tunnel on the way to the court. Venus placed her arm around Serena for the habitual pre-match photo, but Serena kept both hands by her side.She was clearly focused on the task at hand, perhaps fueled by the fact that in 2016, she lost two of her three grand slam finals. Very unusual.This didn’t turn out to be like their last duel at the US Open in 2015, which was one of the finest matches of the season.At one stage Serena struck three double faults in one game, and Venus, sporting strapping on one leg, wasn’t able to serve in the fashion she did in previous rounds.Serena also received a warning for smashing her racket in the third game when a net-cord winner went against her.She, however, earned the pivotal break of the first at 3-3 and broke again in the same game of the second. In that second set Serena’s first serve — which she said hadn’t helped her out much of the tournament — became more of a factor.She ended up with 10 aces and an impressive 76% points won on first serve.The crowd wanted a third set and when Venus won a 24-shot rally to get to 15-30 on the Serena serve at 5-4, it may have been coming. Venus though made a pair of unforced errors before Serena forced an error on match point.She sunk to the ground, before the long embrace.Later near the locker room Serena exchanged hugs with her team and fiance Ohanian, the Reddit founder. One wondered if parents Oracene Price and Richard Williams — so instrumental in their daughters’ careers — watched back home in the US.Their daughters were in another grand slam final, with Serena — based on what happened in Melbourne — playing some of her finest tennis.last_img read more

Northern giants clash with Premier League return in sight

first_imgIt will be a Premier League game in all but name when Newcastle United face Leeds United at St James’ Park on Friday, with two of the traditional powers of northern English football seeking a return to the top flight.Newcastle, relegated from the Premier League last season, are second in the Championship and well placed for an immediate return, while Leeds, in fifth place, will look to get through the play-offs and end their 13 years in the lower divisions.The two clubs have histories that make them known well beyond their passionate local support bases.Both are both former champions of England, with Leeds having won the last title before the creation of the Premier League in 1992.They have both won European trophies – Leeds twice capturing the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup, the forerunner of today’s Europa League, while Newcastle won the same competition in 1969.In more recent years, the clubs have featured in the Champions League, which Newcastle’s Spanish manager Rafa Benitez won as manager of Liverpool in 2005.While Benitez and Newcastle have quickly healed the pain of relegation with a strong challenge for direct promotion this season, life outside the Premier League has been tough for Leeds.The financial troubles which caused the team’s relegation from the top flight in 2004 were also to blame for a slump into the third tier (League One) for three seasons, until they returned to the Championship in 2007.It has hardly been smooth progress since, with instability at both boardroom and managerial level reflected in lower half finishes in the past five campaigns.But manager Garry Monk has succeeded this year in keeping the team well within the play-off positions throughout the campaign, even if he is wary of raising expectations of promotion this season.“That will always be the ambition of the club, it’s a huge club. The ambition will always be to get this club back in the Premier League. But it doesn’t just happen,” he said this week.“That’s what we are trying to do. But we are not thinking about that, we are only thinking about this weekend. Overall we have exceeded expectation, the group has improved massively.”Newcastle won the corresponding fixture at Elland Road in November 2-0 thanks to two goals from their impressive striker Dwight Gayle, who misses Friday’s match due to injury.The match drew the first sell-out crowd for Leeds in several years and Monk believes his team were overawed by the occasion.“Maybe we played the occasion a little bit and didn’t have our full focus on the football. We want to go up there and make sure we don’t make the same mistake,” he said.Newcastle are well used to playing in front of their capacity 52,000 home crowd and their squad still has plenty of top-flight experience.Benitez knows the job has to be finished off but believes Newcastle have a bright future ahead of them.“The fans are incredible, the stadium is superb, the staff, everything is in place to allow this club to achieve great things,” he said recently.“But first we have to reach the target, we have to remain focused on only one thing and that is securing promotion”.last_img read more