By Shane Costello
Norwich City’s Robbie Brady scored a Goal of the Month contender in Saturday’s Premier League match against West Ham as part of a fine weekend for Irish players in the top flight.
Brady, who was once again playing as a left-back, found himself pressing in the West Ham half to steal the ball from Michail Antonio before curling in a beautiful shot past Adrián.
Brady’s only other Premier League goal this season, coincidentally, also came against the Hammers.
That's why I'd play Robbie Brady higher up the pitch for Ireland!! #MOTD— Alan Cawley (@alancaw) February 13, 2016
Wes Hoolahan added a second to give Norwich a 2-0 lead in what was a vital game for the Canaries. Hoolahan was involved in the build-up that started the move and found himself in the right place at the right time to slot home his fourth league goal of the season.
That goal made the former Shelbourne man Norwich’s joint top scorer. Hoolahan has been an integral part in Norwich’s survival bid. He has played a key part in 37% of Norwich’s goals in the Premier League this season, scoring four and assisting seven.
Norwich once again shot themselves in the foot by losing their two-goal lead, but the point was enough to lift them out of the relegation zone. Darren Randolph was back on the bench for West Ham, despite his heroics in the FA Cup fourth-round replay against Liverpool in midweek, and will be hoping to start against Blackburn Rovers in the next round this weekend.
It was Chelsea’s trouncing of Newcastle that helped lift the Canaries out of the relegation zone on goal difference after putting five goals past Ireland’s Rob Elliot.
Chelsea’s first three goals were scored inside 17 minutes. Elliot may not be solely responsible for any of the goals after a disastrous defensive performance but it was the second time Elliot conceded five goals in London this season after the Magpies also lost 5-1 to Crystal Palace in November.
There’s an old saying that sometimes you look a better player when you don’t play and Irish defender Ciaran Clark will be hoping that’s the case after he remained on the bench during Liverpool’s 6-0 mauling of Villa on Sunday. Clark has yet to start a Premier League game in 2016, his last coming in the 2-0 away defeat at Norwich at the end of December.
Irish-qualified goalkeeper Mark Bunn didn’t improve his remote chance of being called up for the March friendlies after Villa’s latest thrashing.
It was a much better weekend for John O’Shea as he put in a man-of-the-match performance as Sunderland beat Manchester United 2-1 to bolster their survival hopes.
Sunderland have not kept a clean sheet since November but this battling display shown by O’Shea means that run is unlikely to continue much longer.
Shane Long scored his sixth league goal of the season to increase his tally to eight in all competitions, making him Southampton’s top scorer this season and giving the Saints a 1-0 win over Swansea in the process.
Long was left unmarked in the Swansea defence and his downward header had too much power for ŁukaszFabiański. The goal must have come as a relief for the Tipperary native after he missed a similar chance in the first-half.
Long was making his 50th Premier League appearance for the Saints, as he started his 11th match in a row in all competitions. All the more notable considering Sadio Mané, Dušan Tadić and new signing Charlie Austin were all on the bench.
Another impressive display by Jon Walters helped Stoke get their first away win of 2016. Walters set up Ibrahim Afellay for his first Premier League goal. The Ireland forward did well to hold the ball up as his darting run stretched the Bournemouth defence.
Despite the arrival of record signing Giannelli Imbula, Glenn Whelan kept his place in the Stoke midfield again this week, playing alongside the French Under-21 international in the centre of the park.
Only Whelan, Erik Peters and Jack Butland have started every league game for the Potters this season. Marc Wilson is still missing and is expected to be out until the end of April with a medial knee ligament injury suffered in the FA Cup defeat at Crystal Palace, while Shay Given steps up his recovery from knee surgery.
Harry Arter was booked for a foul on Xherdan Shaqiri as he made his 16th Premier League appearance of the season, while Eunan O’Kane was on the bench for the Cherries.
Everton somehow left Goodison Park empty-handed against West Brom, despite having 76% possession and 33 shots. Both Séamus Coleman and James McCarthy started for the Toffees with Darron Gibson not included in the match day squad.
The injury-plagued Ireland midfielder has not started a league match so far this season, with the last of his four substitute appearances coming against Norwich in December. He has however appeared twice in the FA Cup since then, starting against Dagenham & Redbridge and coming off the bench against Carlisle and will be hoping for a chance to impress in Saturday’s FA Cup fifth-round clash against Bournemouth.
The Football League’s emergency transfer window opened last week and could be Gibson’s last chance to reinvigorate his Euro 2016 chances with a three-month loan deal.
James McClean was replaced on 57 minutes after picking up a yellow card earlier in the match. Reports in the British press suggested that McClean was involved in a verbal squabble with several Everton supporters after he was substituted.
Former Irish international defender Damien Delaney started at the heart of the Crystal Palace defence but couldn’t prevent Palace extending their winless run in the league to nine matches. Despite their bright start to the season Alan Pardew’s men are just eight points above his former side Newcastle, who are in 18th place.
There was plenty of Irish interest at Molineux as Wolves lost 2-1 at home to Preston. Left-back Greg Cunningham and the highly-rated Alan Browne started for Preston with Eoin Doyle coming on for a late cameo as Preston leapfrog Wolves in the table.
Wolves started with Matt Doherty at full-back, while former Ireland U21 international Joe Mason came off the bench to score his second goal in two games after arriving from Cardiff City in January.
Richie Towell wasn’t included in Brighton’s matchday squad as Chris Hughton’s side won their fourth consecutive league match against Neil Lennon’s cash-strapped Bolton. Brighton are now just one point behind second-placed Middlesbrough, who have played one game less.Towell has yet to play in the league after making his debut in the FA Cup third-round clash against Hull.
Midfielder Darragh Lenihan started for Blackburn Rovers as they lost 1-0 at home to promotion-chasing Hull City. It was third consecutive start for the 21-year-old as Shane Duffy returned to Blackburn’s defence. David Meyler came off the bench late on for the Tigers.
Alex Pearce moved to Bristol City on-loan from Derby County to play more first-team football but was once again on the Bristol bench as new manager Lee Johnson beat Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich Town 2-1 in his first game in charge.
The former Reading defender moved to Derby in the summer but didn’t feature in the league for the Rams and has made just one substitute appearance for Bristol.
Daryl Murphy and Kevin Foley started for Ipswich; Murphy has now just scored twice in his last 12 appearances having been the most prolific striker in the league last season. He did however set up Brett Pitman for his third assist of the season.
Stephen Henderson kept his third clean sheet of the season in his 19th appearance of the campaign against Anthony Pilkington’s Cardiff City. Pilkington had several chances to break the deadlock and hit the bar with Henderson beaten.
Paul Clement was sacked by Derby County last week and was replaced until the end of the season by their academy director Darren Wassall.
One of Wassall’s first decisions was to reinstate Richard Keogh as Derby captain, but Keogh and fellow Irish internationals Cyrus Christie and Jeff Hendrick couldn’t earn the Rams their first league win of 2016 as they lost 1-0 at home to MK Dons.
Darren Potter and Samir Carruthers both started for the victorious visitors.
Reading drew 0-0 for the second week in a row thanks to a penalty save by Reading’s Ali Al-Habsi.
There was good news for Martin O’Neill as Paul McShane started his 25th Championship game of the season for the Royals, while Stephen Ward’s revival at Burnley continues.
Ward hadn’t started a league match for over year before being picked to start against Bristol City at the end of December. The left-back has gone on to start every league and cup match since then.
Stephen Quinn missed the closing stages of Ireland’s Euro 2016 qualification campaign after a knee injury ruled him out for three months. On Saturday, the Dubliner started just his third league match of 2016.
Birmingham City’s Stephen Gleeson picked up his eighth yellow card of the campaign as the Blues drew 0-0 with Rotherham United, leaving his side just three points behind Derby in the final play-off place.
Kieran Westwood had to be replaced last weekend after suffering a head and neck injury after clashing with Wednesday defender Sam Hutchinson. However, the Ireland goalkeeper returned this weekend to earn his sixth clean sheet of the season as Wednesday defeated Brentford 4-0.
Aiden McGeady made his first league start in over a year last weekend but had to settle for coming off the bench this week. The former Celtic winger came on after 62 minutes with Wednesday already three goals up.
Brentford’s Alan Judge will be hoping to make his Ireland debut next month in the March friendlies and was denied by a good Westwood save, preventing the attacking midfielder from getting his 13th goal of the season.
Goalkeeper Joe Murphy was on the Huddersfield bench as the Terriers won 2-0 away at Nottingham Forest.
Chris Forrester was roundly praised for his performance for Peterborough against West Brom in the FA Cup fourth-round replay during the week. Playing 120 minutes must have taken their toll as the former Bohemians and St. Pat’s midfielder started from the bench in Bradford’s 4-0 thrashing of the Posh on Saturday.
Ireland Under-21 international Josh Cullen began his one-month loan with Bradford City with a place in the starting line-up, playing the full 90 minutes.
Manchester City goalkeeper Ian Lawlor had a day to forget as his Bury side conceded six goals at Coventry City. Another Irish goalkeeper, David Forde, still remains on Millwall’s bench having started only seven games in League One this season.
Former Ireland under age international Conor Hourihane scored his eighth league goal of the season but it wasn’t enough to prevent his side losing 2-1 at Gillingham.
Paddy Madden scored his 17th goal of the season and his 14th in the league as his Scunthorpe United side make a late dash for the League One play-offs after they won their third consecutive match.
Former Aston Villa trainee James Collins scored twice as Northampton consolidated their place at the top of the League Two table.
Former Galway United and Sligo Rovers player Séamus Conneely scored for Accrington Stanley, while 18-year-old Wimbledon defender Ryan Sweeney opened the scoring for the Dons.
Jack Byrne who is on loan at Cambuur Leeuwarden in Holland’s Eredivisie from Manchester City, made his 15th start of the season but couldn’t prevent his side losing their sixth successive game. Cambuur are bottom having won only two games this season.
Andy Keogh scored his second goal of the season for Perth Glory as his side won 2-1 away at Sydney in Australia’s A-League .
In-form striker, Adam Rooney will be hoping to catch the eye of Martin O’Neill on Monday night. The Aberdeen striker has scored 18 goals this season and the Dons go into this game knowing a win will take them back level with Celtic at the top of the Scottish Premiership table.