By Rob Wright
It was a weekend of contrasting FA Cup fortunes for two of Ireland’s most capped internationals as Shay Given rolled back the years with a stunning performance for Aston Villa, while John O’Shea’s Sunderland own goal helped to create an upset.
Given was handed a rare start for Villa in front of new manager Tim Sherwood and on the display he turned in during his side’s 2-1 victory over Leicester, he may convince his new boss to give him an extended run in the side.
The Villa goalkeeper was named man-of-the-match following a string of fine saves which were crucial to his side’s progress to the quarter-finals.
The pick of the bunch came in the first half with the game scoreless when the Donegal man made a stunning fingertip save to deny Matty James what looked to be a certain goal.
The only blot on Given’s copybook was the lack of a clean-sheet but there was little that he could do about the Leicester goal, which came in injury time courtesy of an unstoppable header from Andrej Kramaric.
Ciaran Clark also impressed in Villa’s back line. Despite a nervous start, the centre-back grew into the game and with defensive partner Ron Vlaar looking rusty after a lay-off with a knee injury, Clark stepped up and took charge of the defence, helping to frustrate Leicester.
Jack Grealish was also used as a late substitute but didn’t really have the time to make any kind of impact. However, in an interview afterwards Sherwood revealed that he sees a big future for the attacker at Villa.
“I know him from youth football. I haven’t seen him on the training field but I know he is a talented boy and potentially one of the best young talents,” the new Villa boss said of Grealish.
Sunderland skipper O’Shea had a much less memorable afternoon as his side were dumped out of the Cup, losing 2-0 to League One side Bradford.
The Black Cats got off to the worst possible start when O’Shea put the ball into his own net after just three minutes when he deflected in from Billy Clarke’s shot, taking the ball past goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
Corkman Clarke gave O’Shea plenty of trouble throughout the afternoon and at times had the Sunderland defence struggling to cope with his surging runs and his strength in holding up the ball.
O’Shea had received the public backing of manager Gus Poyet in the build-up to this game but given the way in which he and his defence failed to cope with a League One frontline, he may now find himself under pressure.
There was a further Cup upset at the weekend as Shane Duffy’s Blackburn Rovers claimed a comprehensive 4-1 victory over a Stoke City that featured Glenn Whelan.
Despite seeing his side go behind to an early Peter Crouch goal, Duffy rallied the troops at the back and helped to build the defensive platform on which Blackburn would claim their victory. The Irish defender also played his part in Rovers’ opening goal, heading on from a corner-kick, and allowing Josh King to nod home the equaliser.
Whelan, meanwhile, endured an undistinguished afternoon and the most notable thing he did was to be shown a red card with six minutes to go, only for the referee to call him back and instead issue a yellow.
Reading overcame 10-man Derby County in the other fifth round Cup clash with Simon Cox getting the better of Derby duo Cyrus Christie and Richard Keogh.
Cox went within inches of opening the scoring in the first half when he struck the post, while Keogh was lucky to avoid conceding a penalty when the ball bounced up onto his outstretched hand just before the break.
Cox then helped to create Reading’s opening goal while Christie and Keogh were both left chasing shadows for Derby at times after they were reduced to 10 men on the 38th minute when Stephen Warnock saw red for picking up a second booking.
In the Championship Daryl Murphy kept up his incredible run of scoring with his brace of goals helping Ipswich to a 2-1 victory away to Fulham and maintaining their push for a promotion place.
Murphy headed his side in front from a Jay Tabb corner kick before a cool finish at the end of the first half doubled his side’s lead. Manager Mick McCarthy is delighted with Murphy’s form and has now challenged him to score 30 goals this season.
“He’s got 21 but he won’t rest on his laurels, why can’t he go on and get 30 now?” the former Ireland manager said. “He played well but so did the team. We deserved the win and played very well, especially in the first-half,”
McCarthy will be concerned about the fitness of Tabb who was replaced just before half-time through injury while second-half substitute Noel Hunt also limped off after he picked up a knee injury.
There were goals aplenty in the clash between Blackpool and Nottingham Forest, with seven second-half goals in their 4-4 draw.
Blackpool defender Darren O’Dea was stretchered off with ten minutes to go with and there were major fears over his ankle, but it has since emerged that O’Dea only suffered bruising and should be back in action soon.
Thanks for all the messages from @BlackpoolFC supporters. Myself and physios feared the worst but I'm ok. Great support today!!— Darren O'Dea (@odea_darren) February 14, 2015
The goals also rained in during Watford’s 4-3 victory over Bolton and while Andy Lonergan conceded four goals, his side would have been dead and buried long before Troy Deeney’s 90th minute winner were it not for his efforts between the posts.
With the scores level at 0-0, Longergan produced two fine saves to first deny Almen Abdi with his feet before he got down low to hold on to a powerful drive from Matej Vydra. The only goal that the former Ireland Under-16 international could be blamed for was Watford’s third when he looked static and slow of feet as Joel Ekstrand headed past him.
Huddersfield held league leaders Bournemouth to a 1-1 draw but could have taken all three points had they been able to take their chances in the first-half.
Sean Scannell was Huddersfield’s most creative player in those opening 45 minutes and fashioned chances for Tommy Smith and Jacob Butterfield but neither were able to take their opportunities. Forced to focus more on defensive duties in the second half, Scannell was limited as an attacking force after the break.
Harry Arter again impressed for Bournemouth and was a constant threat going forward for the Cherries. The 25-year-old must have thought he’d won the game late on for his side only to see his thunderous effort from outside the penalty area just turned behind by goalkeeper Alex Smithies.
At the other end of the table, Millwall remain in the relegation zone after suffering a 1-0 defeat to Leeds. David Forde, Alan Dunne and Shaun Williams all started for the Lions but they were on the back foot for larger periods of the game.
Forde could do little about the game’s only goal which was scored via a wicked deflection from a free-kick and the Irish goalkeeper did well again, dominating his area and making several big saves. Millwall skipper Dunne also had a decent game, getting in several crucial challenges including a late, last-gasp challenge on Steve Morison to deny the Leeds player.
Brighton and Hove Albion were held to a scoreless draw by Sheffield Wednesday with Owls goalkeeper Kieren Westwood coming out on top in his personal duel with Leon Best.
Best struggled to make much headway up front and was replaced with just under 20 minutes to go, while Westwood was the equal of anything that Brighton could muster and never looked to be in danger of conceding.
Charlton goalkeeper Stephen Henderson kept a clean sheet as his side cruised to a 3-0 victory over Brentford. Henderson also managed to claim an assist as his long punt forward caused all kinds of problems in the Brentford defence, allowing Frederic Bulot to slot home his side’s third goal.
Dave Mooney and Jay O’Shea were both on the scoresheet in League One but it was Mooney’s Leyton Orient who edged to a 3-2 victory against Chesterfield.
O’Shea opened the scoring for Chesterfield from the penalty spot after former Ireland Under-21 Jimmy Ryan played a neat through ball for Caolan Lavery who was up-ended, leaving the referee with no choice but to point to the spot.
Former Shamrock Rovers and Longford Town frontman Mooney levelled for Orient from close range and after Chesterfield had retaken the lead, he equalised again by beating the offside trap and slotting the ball past Tommy Lee.
Ireland Under-21 international Bradley Garmston scored his first ever league goal in Gillingham’s 4-2 victory over an MK Dons side that featured Darren Potter and Samir Caruthers.
Garmston put his side back in front with a low and powerful drive with the scores level at 2-2. That goal was the turning point for Gillingham as they kicked on and would go on to win comfortably while Potter and Caruthers both had one of their more forgettable games.
Fleetwood’s Liam McAlinden was another Irish player who had a game to forget as his side went down 1-0 to Crewe. McAlinden was starved of service up front for long periods but did go close in the first-half only to see his left-footed piledriver tipped over the bar.
Scunthorpe’s Paddy Madden had more joy in front of goal as his side impressed in their 3-1 victory over title hopefuls Swindon.
After going behind to an early goal, Scunthorpe rallied and former Ireland Under-21 defender Niall Canavan flicked on for Madden who blasted a low and powerful shot to the back of the net.
Canavan then turned goalscorer, getting on the end of a free-kick with a glancing header to put his side in front. The defender impressed at the other end of the pitch too, with his positional awareness and pace helping to snuff out Swindon chances before they could develop.
Rochdale’s Joe Rafferty was another defender on the scoresheet as the right-back blasted home his first league goal from 25 yards out, but it proved to be little more than a consolation as his side went down 2-1 to Peterborough.
Enda Stevens put in an assured performance in the heart of the Doncaster Rovers defence as his side eased to a 3-0 win against Crawley Town. The Aston Villa loanee was coolness personified in the Rovers back four, helping to dominate the Crawley front line.
Midfielder Paul Keegan was also quietly impressive for Doncaster and was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet, with his shot from the edge of the penalty area forcing a fine save from Artur Krysiak.
In League Two Northampton Town’s cult hero John Joe O’Toole was honoured with a ‘John Joe O’Toole day’ in which the club encouraged supporters to come to their away clash with Mansfield dressed up in long hair wigs and headbands in tribute to the midfielder.
Sadly those fans were left looking a bit daft when O’Toole lashed out at Richie Sutton in the first-half and was shown a straight red card. Northampton still managed to claim a 1-1 draw, however, with Brendan Moloney playing a starring role in the Cobblers defence.
At the top of the table Shrewsbury overtook Burton Albion on goal difference courtesy of a 2-0 victory against AFC Wimbledon in which Liam Lawrence scored one goal and created the other.
Lawrence drilled the ball home from 12 yards just before the half-time whistle went and then crossed for Scott Vernon to head home Shrewsbury’s second as they maintained their unbeaten home record.
Barry Corr was on the mark for Southend United, heading home for a second-half goal against Accrington Stanley but his effort was to prove little more than a consolation as Accrington held out for a 2-1 win. Former Sligo Rovers man Seamus Conneely started in defence for Accrington.
In Scotland Adam Rooney was hard done by as he was denied a clear goal in his side’s 3-0 victory over Hamilton Academical. With the Dons leading 2-0, Rooney blasted the ball off the underside of the crossbar and saw it come down a good foot behind the line only to see the referee wave play-on and ignore Rooney’s claims.
Rooney was full of attacking verve with his movement causing all kinds of problems for Hamilton and he must surely be in Martin O’Neill’s thoughts ahead of his next squad selection.
Celtic’s Anthony Stokes was introduced as a second-half substitute in his side’s 2-1 victory away to St Johnstone but the Dubliner’s impact was minimal as he was reduced to a couple of long-range half chances that he couldn’t convert.
St Mirren’s veteran defender Jim Goodwin was on the scoresheet for his side but was unable to prevent them going down to a 2-1 defeat at home to Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
The 33-year-old Waterford native gave his side hope when headed home from a cornerkick with his side trailing 2-0 and although he then went close to levelling with a well taken free-kick which went just the wrong side of the right post, Thistle held out.
Mark Connolly was on the winning side as his Kilmanock team edged out a Dundee United side featuring Sean Dillon at Rugby Park, winning 3-2. In what was an open game, defenders Connolly and Dillon failed to make any significant impact as both defences struggled to cope.
Further afield and Damien Duff’s season is over and his career is now in doubt after he suffered a horrific double injury during Melbourne City’s 0-0 draw with Wellington Phoenix.
In a clash with Wellington's Roy Krishna, Duff not only suffered ankle ligament damage but ruptured a tendon in his calf. Melbourne are already looking into bringing in a replacement in the case that Duff is unable to play again this season and the signs are not looking good for the Dubliner.
Meanwhile, there has been trouble for Perth Glory’s Andy Keogh off the pitch as he was fined for disorderly conduct and arrested for causing a disturbance, along with team-mate Josh Risdon during a 3am incident outside a nightclub.
Keogh apologised for the incident and a statement from the club read: “The players admit the situation has embarrassed them, their teammates and our fans and they are accepting full responsibility for their poor behaviour.”
In Malaysia Eamon Zayed’s Sabah FA overcame DRB Hicom in the Malaysian Premier League with the former Derry City player starting before he was replaced in the 72nd minute.
On the transfer front Kevin Doyle’s proposed move to Colorado Rapids still looks to be alive with the club’s Technical Director Paul Bravo refusing to rule out a move for the Irish striker.
"Doyle's contracted with another club, so we can't technically comment on players that are contracted with other clubs," he said. "I can say that we are actively searching for a striker with experience."
Ex-Cork City striker Roy O’Donovan is a player who is on the move however and he has sign for Indonisian Super League side Mitra Kukar FC.