By Rob Wright
The Republic of Ireland’s frontmen gave manager Martin O’Neill a welcome boost ahead of Friday’s crucial Euro 2016 qualification game with Scotland.
Southampton’s £12m striker Shane Long may not start against Scotland, but he certainly served a timely reminder of what he’s capable of after he came off the bench to score both goals in the Saint’s 2-0 victory over Leicester.
With Southampton struggling to break down a resilient Leicester side, Long was introduced into proceedings and it wan’t long before he made his mark. He broke the deadlock with 15 minutes to go with a fine curling finish into the far corner before firing home the second goal when he slotted home past Kasper Schmeichel to wrap up the win.
Jonathan Walters was also on the mark as he scored what proved to be the winning goal in Stoke City’s 2-1 victory over Tottenham.
Walters is one of those expected to start for Ireland against Scotland. His neat finish from a Mame Biram Diouf cutback may have secured the points, but it was his all-round display that caught the eye as his physicality and willingness to chase down lost causes proved to be a headache for Spurs all afternoon.
Walter’s club-mate Marc Wilson had a less enjoyable afternoon as he was forced off with a hamstring injury after just 25 minutes and has failed to make the Irish squad as a result. Stephen Ireland was a late substitute for Stoke, but had little impact on the game.
Also a doubt for the clash with Scotland is Everton’s James McCarthy. McCarthy was the driving force behind Everton in their 1-1 draw with Sunderland as he pushed his side on from midfield as well as making a crucial late block on the line to deny Sunderland.
However, he tweaked his hamstring towards the end of the game and is in a race against time for Friday.
Aiden McGeady also turned in a solid display for the Toffees as he impressed on the left wing while Darron Gibson shone as Everton’s holding midfielder after he replaced the injured Gareth Barry. Fullback Seamus Coleman had a rare bad day at the office as he looked rusty and slightly off the pace although he did win the penalty that helped give Everton a point.
John O’Shea would have been disappointed to have been denied a clean-sheet in a Sunderland defence that he marshalled well as they kept Everton’s chance to a minimum before they conceded that penalty.
There were four Irishmen involved in Burnley’s 1-0 victory over Hull City and it was the Claret’s Stephen Ward who left the pitch happiest as his side claimed their first win of the season. Ward was at time a peripheral figure going forward as his side played through the middle but he rarely put a foot wrong and was there when needed at the back.
Hull’s Paul McShane will be less pleased with his display as his error led to the game’s only goal, H lost goalscorer Ashley Barnes, allowing him a free header to score. Robbie Brady then had to be on hand to bail out McShane as he cleared off the line after a poor clearance from the defender threatened to go in for an own goal.
Stephen Quinn also featured for Hull, but had limited impact after being introduced as a second-half substitute.
Richard Dunne helped Queen’s Park Rangers claim a point against Champions Manchester City as the side held the Champions to a 2-2 draw. Dunne’s most telling contribution came late on as he was on hand to deny Sergio Aguero a hat-trick when he cleared his goalbound effort off the line.
In the Championship Jeff Hendrick was another Irishman among the goals as he claimed a brace in Derby’s 5-0 victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers. Hendrick, who continues to impress for the Championship leaders, claimed his first with a 25-yard piledriver before he neatly finished off an intricate passing move for Derby’s fourth.
Richard Keogh and Cyrus Christie were also in action for the Rams and were both quietly impressive at the back on what wasn’t an overly taxing afternoon for the Derby defence.
There were eight Irish representatives involved as Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich edged to a 1-0 victory over Watford. Luke Chambers was again solid at the back, helping Ipswich keep a clean sheet and performed well in getting forward - indeed his cross for Daryl Murphy would have opened the scoring were it not for a stunning fingertip save from the Irish attacker’s shot.
Stephen Hunt also went close for McCarthy’s side while Jay Tabb turned in a decent shift in midfield once more. Connor Sammon only had a short cameo as he was introduced from the bench in injury time for David McGoldrick who has just had his eligibility for Ireland confirmed.
McGoldrick linked up well with Murphy throughout and looks like he could be a good addition to the Irish squad, offering another option up front and he helps link the midfield with the strikers.
Keith Andrews had a subdued game for Watford after returning to the first choice eleven and he was replaced late on by his compatriot Sean Murray.
Birmingham goalkeeper Darren Randolph claimed another clean sheet as he helped his side earn a 0-0 draw with Anthony Pilkington’s Cardiff City. One of Randolph’s first actions of the game was to deny Pilkington, getting down smartly to save his low and powerful shot. Randolph would go on to produce several fine saves on an afternoon when Stephen Gleeson and the rest of the Birmingham outfield players struggled to create chances.
Ireland’s first choice goalkeeper David Forde saw his Millwall side slump to another defeat as they went down 3-2 to Brentford.
Alan Dunne was on the mark for Millwall, levelling the scores at 2-2 after Millwall had been trailing 2-0 thanks to two goals from Brentford’s Andre Grey, the second of which was set-up by former Ireland under-21 Alan Judge.
At Wigan all the pre-match focus was on James McClean’s open letter on why he choose not to wear a poppy but on the pitch the Latic’s miserable form continued. McClean was named on the bench, but could do little to prevent his side slumping to another defeat as they were 3-0 down within minutes of his introduction, while Irish Under-21 Rob Kiernan failed to impress in the Wigan defence.
Sheffield Wednesday goalkeeper Kieran Westwood claimed another clean sheet, but it came in a game of few chances as his side drew 0-0 with Rotherham. Ireland senior international Paul Green had the game’s best chance for Rotherham, but he contrived to head wide of the post when he looked sure to score.
Meanwhile Charles Dunne and Brian Lenihan both endured another afternoon to forget for bottom side Blackpool as the Championship strugglers went down 3-1 to Leeds.
With the League One sides in FA Cup first round action, several Irish players had the chance to cut loose against lower league opposition and few impressed like Chesterfield’s Eoin Doyle. The former Shamrock Rovers and Sligo Rovers player claimed a double in his side’s 6-0 win over Braintree.
Doyle opened the scoring with a simple tap-in before rounding off a fine display with a rocket from long range. Jay O’Shea was also on the mark for Chesterfield, curling home for his side’s second goal.
Conor Hourinhane’s Barnsley turned in a similar performance, romping to a 5-0 victory against Burton Albion with Hourinhane claiming a goal and setting up another.
Scunthorpe also progressed to the second round of the cup, as they claimed a 2-0 win away to Forest Green, helped by Eddie Nolan and Paddy Madden. Madden was lively throughout and provided the cross that set-up his side’s second goal, while Nolan was solid and dependable at the back.
In an all-League One tie, Greg Cunningham was on the mark to help Bristol City to a 2-1 victory over Gillingham. Full-back Cunningham headed his side in front after 40 minutes and while Ireland Under-21 John Egan went close with a header, Gillingham couldn’t fashion an equaliser.
Sam Foley and James Berrett were both in fine form as Yeovil claimed a victory over Crawley Town that was far more convincing than the 1-0 scoreline suggested. Foley in particular will count himself unlucky not to have scored, hitting the post and forcing several good saves from the Crawley goalkeeper.
In Scotland, Adam Rooney was on the scoresheet for Aberdeen, giving his side an early lead against Celtic after he took advantage of a goalkeeping error. However Celtic hit back when Anthony Stokes set up Stefan Johansen for the equaliser before the Hoops won the game 2-1 thanks to an injury time goal.
There was further bad news for the Dons as Willo Flood was taken off after just ten minutes with a hamstring injury.
Graham Carey opened the scoring as bottom side Ross County claimed a surprise 3-0 victory over Kilmarnock. Carey blasted a shot home via the crossbar after 32 minutes and County didn’t look back from there. Ireland under-21 centre-back Mark Connolly did go close twice with headers for Killie but he couldn’t force the ball home.
Further afield and Robbie Keane was yet another Irish striker among the goals as he scored one and provided three assists in LA Galaxy’s thumping 5-0 victory over Real Salt Lake. Keane combined brilliantly with Landon Donovan, tapping in from close range for his goal and helping his team-mate claim a hat-trick setting up two of his goals.
Down Under, Melbourne City claimed their first win in five games with a 3-1 victory over Brisbane, Damien Duff was a peripheral figure and will know that more will be expected of him in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile Liam Miller has explained the reasons behind his exit from the A League and his decision to leave Brisbane Roar. Adelaidenow.com report that Miller had a falling out with manager Mike Mulvey, who he accused him of disrespect in dropping him.
Miller said: “I played the first game of the season and the manager then dropped me for the second game and the third game.
“In those two weeks he didn't come to me with any explanation as to why I was dropped which I found unprofessional and disrespectful and when I asked him he couldn't give me a valid reason, claims made by him now that I had an ongoing calf problem are completely false.
“After the Sydney game the following morning I met him at the pool recovery. I told him straight I wanted my contract terminated immediately.
"I told him there and then I had played my last game under him.
"He said, ‘I take it you’re not going to play the youth game then?’ and I said ‘No’.”