It was a good weekend for the “Trap Door” as no fewer than 24 men in green played in the top level of English football. The quality of the Irish squad is certainly increasing and will surely benefit with some many of our stars playing regularly in the top league.
While he may be a veteran of the big stage, it was still good to see Shay Given return after a 6 game absence as he went straight back into the Aston Villa side for the 1-1 home draw with Everton.
Given showed no signs of rustiness with a competent display and there was little he could do about Victor Anichebe’s second half goal. The Donegal man made a couple of important saves including a fine reflex stop from one of his own players.
Villa Park was a hot bed of Irish activity with no fewer than seven Irish players on show, the two most eye catching being in the blue of Everton where young Shane Duffy made his premier League debut for the club at centre back along with new signing Darron Gibson, who made his debut just 24 hours after joining the club.
Another new signing on display was Villa’s loan star Robbie Keane with the LA Galaxy striker making his Premier League comeback with a nine minute run out.
Stephen Ireland, Ciaran Clarke and Richard Dunne complete the green display with the trio all but in decent if somewhat unspectacular performances.
At Ewood Park the rejuvenation of Stephen Kelly was put on temporary hold as the right back was given a tough time by Canadian winger Junior Hoilett as Fulham went down 3-1 to Blackburn. Damian Duff scored on his return to his old stomping ground and was lively throughout.
James McClean missed a chance to score for Sunderland as they went down 1-0 to Chelsea however the former Derry man once again caught the eye with his positivity and ability to get the cross in. McClean may soon get the chance to pull on the green shirt of Ireland and he will no doubt to his club mate John O’Shea for help settling in. O’Shea is starting to look the player that moved to the North East after a slow start.
Meanwhile at Anfield, Marc Wilson, Glenn Whelan, Rory Delap and Jon Walters all put in dogged and determined performances as the visitors grabbed a now customary point from Liverpool. Walters in particular was his usual dogged self but found it hard to get good service and time against Martin Skrtel, Jaime Carragher and Sebastian Coates.
Fellow striker Leon Best scored his goal fourth goal of the season to help Newcastle into 6th spot as the former Nottingham Forest man showed he could be the man to step into the considerable shoes of Demba Ba. The forgotten man’s ability to stay on the field 90 minutes was once again a minor talking point with Best lasting 76 minutes before being retired to the bench by Alan Pardew, the 11th time he has been taking off before the final whistle this season. Best who also has two assists to his name this season has only finished a game four times under Pardew.
Stephen Ward had a solid 90 minutes at White Hart Lane as Wolves dented the title hopes of Spurs with a 1-1 draw. After recent outings in midfield and up front Ward was deployed in his now more natural left back position and offered good defensive support to his fellow defenders, including fellow Irish man Kevin Foley who managed to keep Welsh wizard Gareth Bale quiet on his return to right back.
Stephen Hunt was a second half substitute using his 23 minutes on the field to burn to good effect as he burned off that excess energy with hard working cameo.
Wes Hoolahan and Anthony Pilkington both had quiet afternoons as Norwich won for the second week running with a 2-1 win over WBA.
Simon Cox started for the third game running and was joined in the second half by Shane Long who managed to get his name on the score sheet with a nicely taken penalty.
The Monday night game saw James McCarthy continues to be shifted around the Wigan midfield with a 90 minute stint on the left of midfield for the league’s bottom side in their narrow 1-0 loss to Manchester City.
Such is the strength in dept of the Irish squad at present with more and more of our first team playing in the Premier league Giovanni Trapattoni and his team are less reliant on the Championship, although there are still a number of high quality men in green to be found there. Of those in the squad, Darren O’Dea featured for Leeds as they drew with a Crystal Palace featuring on loan Paul McShane while David Forde’s return to the Millwall line up ended in a nightmare he conceded 6 goals to Keith Fahey’s Birmingham, Adam Rooney grabbing one of them.
There is a plethora of Irish stars playing week in week out in Scotland with the likes of Sean Dillon, Jon Daly, Richie Ryan, Willo Flood, Daryl Murphy, Jonathan Hayes and Eoin Doyle all playing regularly however only two of them Darren Randolph and Anthony Stokes are on the fringes of the Irish squad.
Stokes claimed an assist as Celtic kept their impressive run going with a 2-1 win over Dundee United while Randolph’s Motherwell slipped to a seventh defeat of the season with a 1-0 home loss to Inverness.
Shane Duffy is this weekend’s star man if for nothing more than ending two tough years with his first Premier League start for Everton. Duffy was comfortable throughout the game and impressed enough to leave everyone in no doubt it won’t be his last start.
Moment of the weekend has to go to Pat Fenlon, who recorded his first Scottish Premier League win since taken over at Hibernian. The former Bohs manager overseeing a 3-2 away to Dunfermline, only the club’s fourth of a difficult season.
Good to see you back Darron Gibson, the Derry man finally deciding to make the move from Old Trafford in order to get regular first team football.
Did not play: