By Ed Leahy
Christmas came early for Ireland skipper Robbie Keane as the LA Galaxy captain got his hands on the Western Conference trophy following an away-goals win against Seattle Sounders.
While far from one of Keane’s most influential performances, the player of the year (MVP) finalist saw his team progress to the MLS Cup final after the 2-1 defeat [aggregate 2-2] saw LA go through on away goals.
Keane played 90 minutes for the Galaxy, up front alongside Gyasi Zardes, with the 34-year-old recording five efforts on goal, two on target.
It will be Keane’s third MLS Cup final in four years as Galaxy take on New England Revolution on 7 December in their home venue, StubHub Center.
PHOTO: Robbie Keane celebrates LA Galaxy's West Conf win as they saw off Seattle Sounders to reach the MLS Cup final. pic.twitter.com/PqipjYxSwU— The Emerald Exiles (@EmeraldExiles) December 1, 2014
Closer to home and the weekend’s action in the Premier League gave us a chance to have a proper look at Ireland reserve keeper, Rob Elliot, who started for Newcastle against West Ham due to Tim Krul’s injury.
Elliot showed some early match jitters, however, his mis-kick almost inadvertently led to a Newcastle goal as his “clearance” set a string of passes in motion leading to an early chance.
Elliott, however, had no chance for the goal as West Ham’s winner was well dispatched from close range.
And the Ireland keeper did produce a fine save from a stinging Mauro Zarate shot to keep the Geordies in the match late on, but Alan Pardew’s side could not get back on level terms despite his last-minute cameo as a centre-forward.
Hull’s Irish contingent came up against an impressive Manchester United outfit and while Robbie Brady started in a sort of inside left role, and David Meyler and Stephen Quinn came on as second-half substitutes, the Tigers were mauled 3-0 at Old Trafford.
Better news for the Ireland manager on the injury front as Marc Wilson returned to the Stoke XI for their trip to face Liverpool, while Jon Walters also started.
Glenn Whelan and Stephen Ireland were on the bench and while Whelan was thrown into the action early into the game, he was subsequently hauled off at half-time as Liverpool won 1-0.
Whelan will miss the midweek clash with Man United but his injury is not as bad as it was first thought and should be back within a couple of weeks.
Stoke boss Mark Hughes said: “Glenn is likely to be out for a couple of weeks too. He will certainly miss the game (against Man United), which isn’t ideal but thankfully he has not pulled his calf, which was what we had initially feared.
“His problem is more to do with muscle which was tightening up on him. We are hopeful that if he is not available on Tuesday or the weekend, then we hope to have him back for the game after that.”
Sunderland captain John O’Shea certainly led by example as the Black Cats held the league leaders Chelsea and the Ireland centurion will also be delighted to have kept a clean sheet against the in-form Blues. O’Shea also received plenty plaudits for not reacting to Diego Costa’s petulant kick, which probably saved the Chelsea striker from being sent off.
It was a must-not-lose kind of encounter for struggling Burnley and Aston Villa at Turf Moor and credit to both sides as they managed to share the spoils with plenty of Irish involvement as Stephen Ward continued in the Clarets’ defence alongside former Ireland Under-17 and now England-declared centre-half Michael Keane.
Ciaran Clark has enjoyed a good week at an improving Villa and the visitors looked like they would take all three points until a sloppy penalty was conceded and Burnley equalised.
The next few minutes brought the worst out of the Villa defence and the home side should have won it in the dying stages but were denied by the woodwork.
And Villa also had a chance to grab a late, late winner as another man dithering about his international allegiances, Jack Grealish, came on as a sub but blasted his shot straight at the keeper.
Shane Long looked his usual lively self as he made a 25-minute cameo for Southampton against champions Manchester City. The Saints were chasing an equaliser and Long was causing all sorts of problems in the City defence but the champions showed their class in the end to finish the game off and stay in touch at the top.
Seamus Coleman was the only Irish starter for Everton and again caused lots of problems down the right flank for the Tottenham defence, however, the Spurs manager had done his homework on the Toffees and punished Everton to win 2-1.
Aiden McGeady came off the bench for 30 minutes, while James McCarthy and Darron Gibson were out through injury.
Elsewhere, Damien Delaney missed Crystal Palace’s 1-1 draw at Swansea as he was ruled out with a calf injury.
In the Championship, Shane Duffy is making a very strong case to become the natural successor to Richard Dunne in the heart of the Ireland defence after a host of commanding performances for his club side.
The Blackburn Rovers centre-half cleared one off the line at the Riverside, while keeper Simon Eastwood pulled off a string of world class saves until the 83rd minute when he was finally breached by a strong Middlesborough attack.
Rovers then went on the attack and Duffy found himself leading the line for the final moments and almost scored the equaliser but his fine downward header hopped up and off the post.
But the visitors grabbed a late, late equaliser as Duffy barged in at the back post for an assist to secure a valuable away point. The former Everton man was fortunate not to be penalised as Blackburn somehow bundled the ball home for a controversial late goal.
Ipswich are taking over from Derby as everyone’s favourite Irish team in the Championship [sorry Leeds fans] as they moved up to second place with a great away win at Charlton.
Jay Tabb, Stephen Hunt, David McGoldrick and Daryl Murphy started for Mick McCarthy’s side, while Hunt the Younger, Noel, on loan from Leeds was on the Ipswich bench alongside Conor Sammon and new signing Sean St Ledger.
Murphy almost got on the scoresheet with a fine early effort from distance, which was well saved, while McGoldrick’s snap shot also threatened the Charlton goal.
Enter former Shamrock Rovers man Hunt for his Tractor Boys debut and within minutes he had earned himself a burst, bloody nose to show his commitment to the cause.
The change of jersey gave the crowd a sneak preview of his largely tattooed body before coming back into the fray to grab the winner in the final moments as he smashed the ball home from 20 yards, following a great first touch to trigger some amazing celebrations from manager Mick and brother Stephen as well as the large travelling support.
It was a bad day at the office for the Irish at league leaders Derby as they were badly beaten by an impressive Leeds.
Bournemouth were unlucky not to grab all three points with Harry Arter and Eunan O’Kane featuring as the Poppies popped a pair past Ireland keeper David Forde. Millwall stay just clear of the relegation zone thanks to a last-gasp equaliser.
Another side punching above their weight and on the sniff for Premier League promotion are London’s lesser known side Brentford who crushed Wolves 4-0.
Alan Judge again impressed with a goal and a lot more besides with some fine attacking play, linking up and adding the odd assist. Jonathan Douglas also played the full 90 for the high-flying Bees, who are now third in the table.
Anthony Pilkington looked lively as Cardiff won away at Watford, while Birmingham City continued their fine form under their new boss Gary Rowett, and goalkeeper Darren Randolph, again, played his part as the Blues beat Nottingham Forest at St Andrew’s.
There was no clean sheet for Randolph as he was beaten from close range by the league’s top scorer, Britt Assombalonga, although there was a strong suspicion of offside for the Forest equaliser.
City retook the lead with a controversial penalty before Randolph secured the victory with a vital save in the closing moments as Birmingham move to 17th and four points clear of relegation.
Wigan’s poor form continued as the Latics went down 2-1 at Sheffield Wednesday. James McClean started the game and his corner was headed home by Dubliner Chris McCann, giving Keiren Westwood no chance, but the home side hit back to take all three points.
Derry City old boy Stephen McLaughlin is currently on loan at Notts County but missed a great chance to seal a victory at the weekend.
With the score at 1-0 to the away side, McLaughlin should have wrapped it up for County but almost had too much time, alone in front of goal, and his shot was blocked by some desperate defending.
Darren Potter’s MK Dons scored six as they maintained their fine run of form to thrash Colchester 6-0, with the former Ireland international playing the full match for Karl Robinson’s side
The League 1 top scorer Eoin Doyle could not add to his tally of 16 league goals as his side played out a 1-1 draw with Crawley, while Dave Mooney was on target for Leyton Orient as the former Norwich man picked the pocket of the Bradford defender before showing great composure to finish well, but the ten men were beaten by two late goals.
Paddy Madden was on target twice as Scunthorpe beat Barnsley away. Former Bohemians striker Madden scored his first from close range before skipping through the home defence after picking up the ball inside his own half to hit the winner.
John Egan was also on target scoring twice for Gillingham as they drew 2-2 with Port Vale. The Ireland Under-21 international scored his first from distance after playing a neat one-two before hitting a 30-yard piledriver, and then followed it up with a great finish from a corner. But Gillingham couldn’t hold on and conceded an injury time equaliser.
And League of Ireland fans might be wondering about former Sligo Rovers and Shamrock Rovers striker Padraig Amond who departed the Irish domestic scene to play in the Portuguese top division.
Well the former Carlow minor hurler has swapped the sunny climes of the Iberian Peninsula for the English seaside town of Morecambe in League 2 and grabbed a late equaliser for with a fine headed effort to share the spoils with Stevenage.
In Scotland, Anthony Stokes was again on target as Celtic thrashed Hearts 4-0 in the Scottish Cup.
In Australia, Damien Duff’s Melbourne City were hammered 5-1 by Wellington Phoenix, while Liam Miller was not involved.
PHOTO: Eamon Zayed made his Sabah FA debut today, coming on as a sub in their 2-1 friendly win against Sarawak. pic.twitter.com/3I4YEtu8kA— The Emerald Exiles (@EmeraldExiles) November 30, 2014
And to finish, while one Irish man in America is looking for MLS Cup glory and will discover if he has been named MLS MVP later this week, another is also in line for an end of season award as former Sligo Rovers midfield Richie Ryan is nominated for his club’s goal of the season award.
Ryan has made an immediate impact with the NASL [league below MLS] side and is the current Ottawa Fury captain.
His goal, a trademark free-kick that was often witnessed around the grounds of the league here at home.
If you do plan on voting for the fine left-footed effort, make sure you select Richie Ryan and not Ryan Richter, who is also nominated.