By Ed Leahy
A week can be a long time in football but it must have felt like an eternity for Republic of Ireland and Birmingham City keeper Darren Randolph following last weekend’s 8-0 thrashing by Bournemouth.
Gary Rowett took over at the managerless midlands club in midweek and it would have been easy to point the finger at the keeper ahead of the weekend’s derby clash with Wolves at Molineux.
But Randolph held on to the number 1 jersey and repaid his manager in full by producing a man of the match performance as high-flying Wolves were kept scoreless in front of their home supporters.
Fellow Blue Stephen Gleeson had been hauled off at half-time in the demoralising defeat to Bournemouth with the score at 3-0, and is another who should benefit from the arrival of the new manager as the former MK Dons midfielder played the full 90 in a bruising encounter against Wolves.
The 26-year-old Dubliner won two Ireland caps back in 2007 and will be hoping a solid season in the Championship will raise his profile, following his summer move to the club. Ireland U-21 midfielder Callum Reilly played the last 30 minutes for City who held on for a moral-boosting point.
Matt Doherty played the full game at right-back for Wolves in the that derby clash with Birmingham, and with a severe lack of full backs in the Ireland set-up, the former Bohs youth will be worth keeping an eye on.
Ireland boss Martin O’Neill named five goalkeepers in his squad for the upcoming games against Scotland and the USA.
With two of the five spending most of the season on the bench, you must wonder does the Ireland manager know his top three, or perhaps he is still not 100% convinced that David Forde is his true number one.
Forde shipped three at the weekend as Millwall were well beaten by league leaders Watford and while the Ireland keeper made a fine early save, he was caught out for equaliser after the forgotten man of the Ireland midfield, Keith Andrews, produced a sublime, deft chip with the outside of his right foot, which led to the goal.
Alan Dunne and Shaun Williams also played the full 90 for Millwall, while Aiden O’Brien came off the bench for the final seven minutes.
Staying between the posts, it was battle of another of the five, and probably Ireland’s sixth-choice keeper as Kieran Westwood and Stephen Henderson came head to head at The Valley for the mid-table clash between Charlton and Sheffield Wednesday.
Westwood has looked sharp since his move to the Yorkshire club and made some fine saves on Saturday. The Ireland keeper could do little about Charlton’s equaliser and likewise, Henderson could not be faulted for the Wednesday goal that flew in from distance.
The other two of the five, Rob Elliot and Shay Given spent the weekend on the bench, although the Newcastle reserve keeper played and kept a midweek clean sheet as the Geordies knocked Man City out of the League Cup. Granted, it was a poor City performance, leaving Elliott with little to do, but the performance was an assured one and will give Martin O’Neill some food for thought.
Other Irish and potential Irish senior internationals to enjoy the view from the bench were Ciaran Clark and the much-hyped Jack Grealish who didn't feature for Villa in their defeat to Spurs.
In Monday night’s game, John O’Shea was the only Irish starter as Kevin Doyle was left on the bench as Crystal Palace were beaten 3-1 at home.
It would appear that the Ireland manager is happy with his striking options as Cillian Sheridan is still left out in the cold in Cyprus.
The unbeaten league leaders APOEL Nicosia enjoyed the perfect preparation for their Champions League clash away to Paris Saint Germain with a comprehensive 4-0 victory over Ethnikos Achnas at the weekend. Sheridan bagged a brace in the facile victory.
There was 36 players named in the Ireland squad for the upcoming games – surely another one, and particularly one who is scoring regularly and playing in the Champions League, would have been worth adding.
Straying further overseas, Ireland captain Robbie Keane had an uneventful encounter as LA Galaxy took on Real Salt Lake city in the western conference semi-final – the first leg finishing 0-0.
Back home, or eh, in England and spare a thought for Ireland left-back Stephen Ward who endured a torrid time getting turning upside down and inside out by a very impressive Arsenal outfit. Ward was, to be fair, just one part of a Burnley XI that were lucky to only lose by three on Saturday. To rub salt in the wounds, Theo Walcott was sent on for the final ten minutes to really make Ward earn his corn.
Martin O’Neill’s side success will certainly depend on the fitness and form of the Everton contingent and while the Toffees were held to a 0-0 by Swansea, the Ireland boss will be heartened to see James McCarthy and Seamus Coleman get through the 90 as the Scotland clash edges closer.
Aiden McGeady started and played 68 minutes although Darron Gibson failed to make the matchday squad and the midfielder’s fitness will be a concern as Glenn Whelan is still ruled out for Stoke and is a serious doubt for the trip to Glasgow.
Stoke threw away a two-goal lead to draw 2-2 with West Ham and in Whelan’s absence, Marc Wilson and Jon Walters both played the entire game with Stephen Ireland watching from the sidelines. Joey O’Brien was an unused sub for West Ham.
There was a lot of Irish interest at the KC Stadium as Hull City welcomed high-flying Southampton. A goalkeeper error and a fine finish settled this contest after only three minutes as the visitors took a 1-0 victory. And they could have won by more had Ireland striker Shane Long taken his chances in the 62 minutes he was on the pitch.
Hull boss Steve Bruce was true to his word by naming Robbie Brady and the Irish midfielder played 81 minutes before being replaced by compatriot Stephen Quinn. Paul McShane returned and played the full ninety against the Premier League’s second-placed Saints. David Meyler was an unused sub.
Richard Dunne appears to have steadied the ship to an extent at QPR and again played the full 90 as the Rs were narrowly beaten by leaders Chelsea in the west London derby. Brian Murphy remains as the QPR sub-keeper.
Back in the Championship and Blackburn Rovers enjoyed another victory, which sees them move up to seventh and centre-half Shane Duffy again played the full match against Reading and is certainly a player that O’Neill could have a look at in the upcoming USA match.
Reading are struggling again this season and that won’t do much for Alex Pearce’s chances of making a case for Ireland inclusion. The centre-half played in the 3-1 defeat to Blackburn, while Simon Cox came off the bench for 30 minutes and Stephen Kelly was an unused sub.
Bournemouth are having an extraordinary season so far in England’s second tier as they sit in second place, just two points behind leaders Watford. And former Ireland Under-19 international Harry Arter is receiving rave reviews for his midfield work and is another who could be called upon by O’Neill sooner rather than later.
Another Championship encounter with plenty of Irish interest saw Brentford put a dent in Derby’s promotion campaign with a 2-1 victory, Alan Judge setting up the winner for the Bees.
The “Irish Messi”, Judge, has established a midfield partnership with the eight-capped Ireland international Jonathan Douglas as the London side got the better of Jeff Hendrick and Richard Keogh who both played the full match for Derby.
Sean Scannell’s profile is continuing to rise with another impressive performance as Huddersfield beat Nottingham Forest 3-0, the tricky midfielder providing an assist for third goal. Andy Reid remains out injured for Forrest.
Injuries remain a concern for the Ireland boss ahead of the Scotland game and Wes Hoolahan remains out of contention as he is nursing damaged ankle ligament, while Anthony Pilkington was subbed at Cardiff at the weekend at half-time and will not play in their midweek fixture as he is struggling with a virus.
Better news for the Ireland boss as Daryl Murphy’s neat finish helped Ipswich to a win against lowly Blackpool, with Ireland hopeful Luke Chambers also playing the full match for Mick McCarthy’s side. Stephen Hunt also put in a lively shift for the Tractor Boys, while Conor Sammon got 10 minutes off bench, while recent Trilby Tour winner Jay Tabb was an unused sub.
Paul Green and former Ireland B international Lee Frecklington played the full match for Rotherham but they were well-beaten by an impressive Middlesbrough side, while James McClean was left out of the Wigan starting XI and came on for 30 minutes with his only major involvement was getting involved in an altercation with Fulham’s Ross McCormack, leading to the latter’s sending off and a yellow for McClean. Former Ireland Under-21 international Rob Kiernan played the full match for Wigan.
North of Hadrian's Wall, Anthony Stokes played the 90 as Celtic beat Inverness Caledonian Thistle, while Adam Rooney’s diving header was the only goal of the game as Aberdeen beat Hamilton. Willo Flood and Jonny Hayes also played for the Dons in the Cup win.
Sean Dillon and Callum Morris both helped leaders Dundee United to a 3-0 win over Jim Goodwin’s St Mirren. Graham Carey scored for Ross County in the Cup in midweek, although they remain bottom of the Premiership.