The sporting week ahead (18/12/11)

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The Independent Online


Goodwill to all men? Not at Fratton Park at 1pm. Portsmouth host Southampton in one of the most hate-filled derbies. The fact that the two are moving in opposite directions, and have crossed paths, only adds to the lustre. For Pompey fans facing further financial failings this season, victory over the upwardly-mobile Southampton will be better than any present. And for Saints, storming back towards the Premier League, defeat will ruin Christmas.


The Ghost of Carling Cup Past comes to haunt Selhurst Park. Birmingham City are the holders, but were relegated from the Premier League three months after the final. Crystal Palace are in the semi-final next month, and while the lure of Wembley is strong, Birmingham are a lesson of what happens to teams who get distracted from the League.


A Christmas gift for Australian cricket fans: Shane Warne's return to cricket in the KFC Twenty20 Big Bash. (Fried chicken, of course, being the natural accompaniment to both Christmas and professional sport). Warne's Melbourne Stars travel to the Gabba to face Brisbane Heat, who boast Daniel Vettori, Matthew Hayden and Nathan Hauritz.


A big programme of top-flight games. Sir Alex Ferguson and Martin Jol, two of the wise men in any Premier League nativity play, meet at Craven Cottage. Brendan Rodgers and David Moyes, either of whom could play a harsh inn-keeper, clash at Goodison Park. But the tie of the night is for the role of the Angel Gabriel: between Roberto Mancini and Tony Pulis.


The second round of the World Darts Championship begins at the Alexandra Palace. On Thursday the reigning champion Adrian "Jackpot" Lewis will play, after being given a deathly scare in the first round by Nigel "The Undertaker" Heydon.


Cardiff meet Newport Gwent Dragons, a ports derby that might be in more Christian spirit than Pompey v Saints. That said, some Newport players will try to give Blues' Gavin Henson an early Christmas present or two.


The same could be said for Bath players eager to pass season's greetings to Chris Ashton, as they play Northampton on Christmas Eve. The wing is suspended for hair-pulling.