On Friday, Martin O’Neill is scheduled to announce the Ireland squad for the friendlies against Switzerland and Slovakia at the end of March.
It’s one of the last remaining chances for players on the periphery to book a golden ticket to be part of O’Neill’s 23-man squad for Euro 2016.
Here is how some of those players aiming to make the squad got on this week.
Good week: Shay Given
Shay Given has returned to light training with Stoke City after undergoing surgery in Qatar.
The goalkeeper, who will turn 40 next month, suffered complications in recovering from a twisted knee he picked up against Germany in October.
It is thought that should Given return to fitness before the end of the season, he could be loaned out to a Championship club to get some game time.
Lack of form and fitness has seen Given play in just 37 club matches since Euro 2012.
There are question marks over the goalkeeper’s place in the final squad as he has suffered from a noticeable drop in agility, reactions and overall sharpness in goal in the last couple of seasons.
Bad week: John O’Shea
The former Manchester United defender carried a calf injury into the game against Southampton which resulted him only being fit enough for the bench.
However, the Sunderland captain was called on as a late substitute in stoppage time to help Sunderland close out what would have been a vital win at St Mary’s, but the veteran Irish defender left Virgil van Dijk free in the box to score the equaliser.
Five things we learned this week:
1) Injuries are beginning to pile up for Martin O’Neill ahead of the friendlies against Switzerland and Slovakia later this month. Injuries for Shane Long, Harry Arter, Daryl Murphy and Paul McShane meant they all missed the weekend’s action, while Robbie Brady was taken off in the first-half for Norwich. Adam Rooney is already out of the friendlies after picking up a thigh injury last week.
2) A lack of goals for Jon Walters may mean the Irish forward will have to bide his time before getting back into the Stoke starting line-up. Walters has not scored since the 13th of January, a run consisting of seven games. The versatile attacker was an unused sub against Chelsea at the weekend.
3) Ciaran Clark’s poor club form continues after starting his first Premier League match of 2016 in the midweek game against Everton. Another four goals conceded against Manchester City means that Villa have conceded 16 goals in the last five games Clark has started in the league.
4) Aiden McGeady is still struggling to find any sort of form while on-loan at Sheffield Wednesday. The former Celtic winger was withdrawn at half-time as the Owls lost 1-0 at home to struggling Rotherham United.
5) On the other hand, Alan Judge’s superb form shows no sign of abating; the 27-year-old added another assist this weekend to take his Championship tally to nine, joint-top with Charlton’s Johann Berg Gudmundsson. That’s on top of his 14 league goals so far this campaign.
The weekend in numbers:
Premier League: 8 starters
Goalkeepers (1): Rob Elliot (Newcastle United)
Defenders (4):Séamus Coleman (Everton), Damien Delaney (Crystal Palace), Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa), Robbie Brady (Norwich City)
Midfielders (3): Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), James McCarthy (Everton), Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City)
Three substitute appearance
Defenders (1): John O’Shea (Sunderland)
Midfielders (2):Stephen Ireland (Stoke City), James McClean (West Brom)
Three unused substitutes
Goalkeepers (1): Darren Randolph (West Ham United)
Midfielders (1):EunanO’Kane (Bournemouth)
Forwards (1): Jonathan Walters (Stoke City)
Championship: 18 starters
Goalkeepers (1):Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday)
Defenders (6):Cyrus Christie (Derby County), Shane Duffy (Blackburn Rovers), Richard Keogh (Derby County), Matt Doherty (Wolves), Greg Cunningham (Preston), Stephen Ward (Burnley)
Midfielders (10): Alan Browne (Preston), Jeff Hendrick (Derby County), Kevin Foley (Ipswich Town), Darren Potter (MK Dons), Lee Frecklington (Rotherham United), Stephen Gleeson (Birmingham City), Darragh Lenihan (Blackburn Rovers), Stephen Quinn (Reading), Aiden McGeady (Sheffield Wednesday), Alan Judge (Brentford)
Forwards (1): Anthony Pilkington (Cardiff City)
Five substitute appearances
Defenders (1): Stephen Kelly(Rotherham United)
Midfielders (1): Samir Carruthers (MK Dons)
Forwards (3): Joe Mason (Wolves), Eoin Doyle (Preston North End), Leon Best (Rotherham United)
Seven unused substitutes
Goalkeepers (2): Jack Bonham (Brentford), Paddy Kenny (Rotherham United)
Defenders (2): Alex Pearce (Bristol City), Derrick Williams (Bristol City)
Midfielders (2): Alan McCormack (Brentford), Paul Green (Rotherham United)
Forwards (1): Simon Cox (Reading)
Ciaran Clark started his first Premier League game of 2016 on Tuesday against Everton, but his return to the Aston Villa starting line-up has not reversed Villa’s fortunes.
The three goals conceded midweek against Everton were followed by four at Manchester City. It could have been even worse for Clark at the Etihad after he blatantly tripped City’s Kelechi Iheanacho in the box, but Sergio Agüero failed to complete his hat-trick from the resulting penalty.
Due to the outstanding form of Xherdan Shaqiri and Marko Arnautović, Jon Walters has found himself playing a more central role for Stoke in recent weeks.
After shooting another blank against Newcastle on Wednesday, Mark Hughes decided to drop the 32-year-old to the bench at Chelsea on Saturday.
His replacement, Mame Biram Diouf, scored the late equaliser against Chelsea - his first goal since September.
Expect Mark Hughes to bring in a marquee striker in the summer. The ever-reliable Glenn Whelan started for Stoke in the centre of the park with defender Marc Wilson not expected to return from injury until late April. West Ham completed a remarkable comeback to beat 10-man Everton 3-2 at Goodison Park.
West Ham goalkeeper Adrián saved the fourth penalty of his Premier League career in that game but his deputy, Darren Randolph, is still expected to start against Manchester United in the FA Cup quarter-final next Sunday. Everton’s team sheet contained Irish pair Séamus Coleman and James McCarthy.
It was revealed during the week that no player born in 1988 has played more league games in Europe’s top leagues than McCarthy. Darron Gibson was excluded from the Toffee’s matchday squad.
Steve McClaren is under pressure after losing against Bournemouth at St James’ Park.
Ireland’s Rob Elliot is one of a select few of Newcastle players who can hold his head up high this season, but another three goals conceded means that Newcastle’s tally of 24 points from 28 games is their lowest in the history of the Premier League.
Harry Arter missed the game against the Magpies after he was taken off midway through the midweek match against Southampton with an Achilles injury, but it’s hoped he will be fit enough to return next week to face Swansea. Eunan O’Kane was on the bench for the Cherries.
Another Irish player to be replaced in the match was Southampton’s Shane Long, with a knee injury. He missed Southampton’s game against Sunderland but is also expected to return next weekend as the Saints travel to Anfield.
John O’Shea was only fit enough for the Sunderland bench after limping off after 28 minutes in the midweek match against Crystal Palace. The 34-year-old was called onto the pitch with only stoppage time to play with Sunderland leading 1-0.
However, the experienced defender was culpable for Southampton’s late equaliser leaving former Celtic defender Virgil van Dijk unmarked as the Saints gained a valuable point. That was O’Shea’s first substitute appearance for the Mackems after 180 starts and their run without a clean sheet extends to 15 games.
Another defeat for Norwich at Swansea on Saturday means they have not won a Premier League game since beating Southampton at the start of January, a run of nine games.
Irish duo Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan both started for the Canaries. Brady, who lost two teeth in a nasty clash with team-mate Gary O’Neill in the midweek game against Chelsea, had to be taken off after 27 minutes with a knee injury against Swansea.
Hoolahan completed the full 90 minutes for the third consecutive game after being taken off on 14 occasions in the Premier League this season.
His eighth assist of the season against Chelsea on Wednesday means has more assists in the Premier League this season than players like Dimitri Payet (7), Ross Barkley (7), YayaTouré (5) and Philippe Coutinho (5).
On Sunday, James McClean came off the bench to help West Brom earn their first home league win over Manchester United in 32 years. It was the third consecutive game the former Derry City winger started on the bench for the Baggies.
Damien Delaney conceded a late penalty against Liverpool when his sliding knee made slight contact with Belgian striker Christian Benteke to give 10-man Liverpool a win to boost their European hopes. Palace’s winless run in the league now stands at 12 games
Stephen Gleeson started for Birmingham as the Blues overcame promotion-chasing Hull City 1-0. Birmingham are now just one point outside the play-offs in eighth place with Gleeson an integral part of their promotion push. The holding midfielder has started all but one of their Championship games this season.
David Meyler wasn’t included in Hull’s matchday squad. Joe Mason’s loan move to Wolves hasn’t provided the striker with as much game time as he would have hoped.
Despite scoring two goals in his first two appearances for the side he has failed to cement a place in their starting line-up. Mason scored six goals from 23 appearances for Cardiff City in the first-half of the season.
The Irish striker once again came off the bench as Wolves lost 2-1 away at Middlesbrough with Matt Doherty at left-back as their season fizzles out.
Alex Pearce and Derrick Williams were on the bench for Bristol City as the Robins lost at home to Cardiff City.
Anthony Pilkington’s side continue their rise up the Championship table, driven on by their top scorer who failed to add to his eight league goals.
The Bluebirds are just outside the play-off places on goal difference after Sheffield Wednesday lost 1-0 to relegation-threatened Rotherham United.
A Lee Frecklington cross evaded all of the Wednesday defenders for Matt Derbyshire to tap-in the only goal of the game.
Stephen Kelly and Leon Best came on as late subs for the Millers. It was Kelly’s first appearance in nearly three months after coming back from injury. Kieran Westwood and Aiden McGeady started for Wednesday. However, the Everton loanee was substituted at half-time. He has yet to finish any of the four games he has started for the Owls, having struggled to rediscover his match sharpness.
Burnley defeated Lancashire rivals Blackburn Rovers at Turf Moor. Left-back Stephen Ward has started the last 14 games for the Clarets. It was another Irish defender, Shane Duffy, who was involved in the defining moment of the match. His foul on Burnley’s George Boyd in the box allowed Andre Gray give the hosts all three points. Darragh Leinihan also started for Paul Lambert’s side.
Charlton, without goalkeeper Stephen Henderson, boosted their hopes of survival with a 2-1 win away at Brentford. An Alan Judge corner set up Brentford’s equaliser, it was his ninth assist of the season, the joint-highest in the division
Richard Keogh, who has been an ever-present for Derby in the Championship this season, kept his 15th clean sheet of the campaign against Huddersfield Town. It was his international and club teammate, Cyrus Christie, who provided the cross for Chris Martin to score the opening goal of the game. Jeff Hendrick also played the full 90 minutes for the Rams who will be aiming to make a late push for the automatic places.
Injuries for Daryl Murphy and Jonathan Douglas meant the Irish pair missed Ipswich’s 1-0 win at home to Nottingham Forest. Kevin Foley put in an impressive performance from midfield for Mick McCarthy’s side and topped it off with an assist for Ben Pringle to score the game’s only goal.
Neil Lennon’s Bolton Wanderers extended their winless run to five matches after losing 2-1 at Leeds - the Trotters remain bottom of the Championship table. Darren Potter started and Samir Carruthers came off the bench as MK Dons gave their survival hopes a boost with a 2-1 win over QPR.
Alan Browne and Greg Cunningham both started for Preston as the Lilywhites drew 0-0 with Chris Hughton’s Brighton. Richie Towell was once again excluded from Brighton’s matchday squad with Eoin Doyle making a cameo from the bench for Preston.
Injury meant Reading captain Paul McShane missed Reading’s 2-2 draw with Fulham with Brian McDermott perhaps having one eye on Friday’s FA Cup quarter-final against Crystal Palace.
Stephen Quinn started for the Royals who currently lie 11th in the Championship table. In League One, former Ireland underage international Sam Foley scored his sixth league goal of the season as Port Vale beat Colchester 2-0
Ian Lawlor kept his eighth clean sheet of the season as Bury drew 0-0 at home to Bradford.
Another point gained and a clean sheet, a positive to take from the game to!! We're looking forward to next Saturday now @buryfcofficial— Ian Lawlor (@Ianlawlor) March 5, 2016
David Forde was on the bench as Millwall beat Blackpool 3-0 with Colin Doyle in goal for the Seasiders. Injury meant Chris Forrester missed Peterborough’s 1-1 draw at Wigan.
In better news, Graham Kelly, a St Kevin's Boys graduate and Ireland U19 defender, made the bench for Sheffield United for the first time on Saturday.
Great experience being on the bench for the first team today. Hopefully more like it to come 👍🏻⚽️ #Sufc— Graham kelly (@grahamkelly97) March 5, 2016
On Sunday evening, former Ireland international Sean O’Driscoll was sacked as head coach of Walsall. The former Liverpool assistant manager failed to win any of his last six games. His reign lasted just 16 matches.
In League Two, runaway league leaders Northampton Town extended their unbeaten run in the league to 13 games thanks in part to their Irish contingent of John-Joe O’Toole and James Collins.
Midfielder O’Toole hit a double to increase his tally for 10 this season while Collins, on-loan from Shrewsbury, rounded off the win .
In the Scottish Cup, Rob Kiernan started for Rangers as the Championship side got the better off Dundee in Saturday’s quarter-final. Darren O’Dea started for Dundee in the 4-0 defeat. Rangers will now face Celtic in the semi-final.
Anthony Stokes started for Hibernian as they drew 1-1 at home to Inverness CT. The winners will play Dundee United in the other semi-final.
In the Eredivisie, Jack Byrne’s SC Cambuur returned to losing ways this weekend, going down 3-1 to Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s Feyenoord.
Byrne is by far the main creative force in the Cambuur side and it was from his bending corner that Cambuur equalised, but the visitors couldn’t hold out for a point.
Over in Cyprus, Cillian Sheridan scored twice for Omonia Nicosia to take his tally to 12 in the league this season.
This weekend saw the return of MLS. Robbie Keane started the season with a goal from the penalty spot as LA Galaxy opened their campaign with a comprehensive 4-1 win over DC United.
Kevin Doyle started for Colorado Rapids but couldn’t prevent his side losing 1-0 to the San Jose Earthquakes. Sean St Ledger wasn’t included in the matchday squad.
A stoppage time goal prevented Houston Dynamo opening the season with all three points. Owen Coyle’s men conceded a goal in the 93rd minute in a 3-3 draw with New England Revolution.