By Rob Wright
Hull City made it two wins on the bounce and took a big step towards safety with a 2-1 victory over fellow strugglers QPR in a game in which Robbie Brady, Paul McShane and David Meyler all featured.
Brady was the star of the show, excelling down the left wing and keeping his side on the front foot with some surging runs and great use of the ball.
After Joey Barton had been shown a red card, QPR defended stoutly and just when it appeared that the 10-men would hold out for a 1-1 draw, Brady whipped in a perfectly judged cross that picked out Dame Ndoye in between two defenders and the front man headed the ball home.
Meyler turned in a solid display in the heart of midfield for the Tigers, linking up well with the front line and often arriving late into the penalty area from the centre to provide an extra option.
It was a less impressive afternoon for the recently rehabilitated McShane, however, as he struggled to cope with the power and movement of Charlie Austin. Things calmed down for him once Barton had been sent-off but he never looked comfortable up against Austin.
Aston Villa goalkeeper Shay Given had to be content with a place on the bench after his FA Cup heroics last weekend, suggesting that new manager Tim Sherwood may just see the veteran Irish shot-stopper as a player for the Cup.
However there was probably little that Given would have been able to do about his side’s 2-1 defeat to a Stoke City side in which Stephen Ireland and Jon Walters both impressed, while Glenn Whelan and Marc Wilson also turned in solid shifts.
Ireland, who has recently returned to the Stoke first choice XI following an injury lay-off, rolled back the years with his performance against Villa and looked every inch that player that broke onto the scene with Manchester City all those years ago.
His first-time cross allowed Mame Biram Diouf to equalise for Stoke just before half-time and Ireland linked up brilliantly with both Diouf and Walters, who was almost as impressive, putting in a typically tireless and battling display up front.
Walters will consider himself unlucky not to have scored as he was denied by a fine last-gasp Ciaran Clark challenge before he saw Brad Guzan save from his back-post volley.
Clark can consider himself unfortunate to have been on the losing side as he was quietly impressive in the heart of the Villa defence, helping to cover up for an uncharacteristically poor display from defensive partner Ron Vlaar who struggled throughout.
Three of Everton’s quartet of Irish players were in action at the weekend as Seamus Coleman, James McCarthy and Darron Gibson all played a part in their team’s disappointing 2-2 draw with relegation candidates Leicester.
Following on from a star turn in the Toffees' 4-1 victory over Young Boys in the Europa League, Coleman put in a typically dynamic display from right-back.
Afforded the opportunity to break forward at will, Coleman started brightly and presented a gilt-edged chance for Romelu Lukaku in the opening minutes of the game only to see the striker spurn the opportunity.
With his midweek exertions perhaps taking a toll, The ex-Sligo Rovers man faded in the later stages of the game but remained one of Everton’s most potent attacking threats going forward as well as looking solid at the back.
With the Donegal man given such free reign to get forward it often fell to international team-mate McCarthy to cover at the back as he sat in front of the Everton back-line in a defensive midfield role, which he ably performed.
McCarthy’s forays forward were limited although he did manage to create a genuine chance for Lukaku with a clever flick-on although, again, the Everton striker was unable to convert.
Gibson was introduced as a second-half substitute for the misfiring Ross Barkley but was unable to exert much of an influence on proceedings.
McCarthy was unable to hide his frustrations over Everton’s dropped points, saying: “We want to get maximum points at home. The fans have come out in their numbers and we are trying to kick up this table. Every one of us knows that we need to address this. We know it is not good enough.”
Sunderland were unable to claim victory against a dogged West Brom side but they at least stopped their recent run of defeats and skipper John O’Shea looked to be getting back to himself after several indifferent performances as his side kept a clean sheet in a scoreless draw.
Away from home, the Baggies attacking intent was limited but O’Shea and his defence were more than equal to anything the visitors could throw at them. At the other end, the Irish international went close with a first-half header from a free-kick but his effort went just the wrong side of the upright.
Damien Delaney was another Irishman to lead a Premier League side at the weekend as he was handed the captain’s armband against Arsenal, however, against a youthful and pacey Gunners side, the 33-year-old often struggled and his lack of pace was exposed on several times by the north London side's front line.
In the Championship, Brentford knocked Bournemouth off top spot and gave their play-off hopes a timely boost with an impressive 3-1 win at Griffin Park.
Bournemouth were without the suspended Harry Arter while Eunan O’Kane was injured but Brentford were full value for their win with Monaghan native Jonathan Douglas opening the scoring while Alan Judge also started for the Bees but was wasteful in front of goal and was replaced on the hour mark.
Douglas’ goal came after just nine minutes when Alex Pritchard pounced on a Bournemouth defensive error before squaring the ball the Irishman who kept his cool to slot home a well-taken left-footed effort.
Derby County took advantage of Bournemouth’s slip-up, replacing them at the top of the Championship after a thrilling 3-2 victory against Sheffield Wednesday in which Kieren Westwood was sent-off.
Richard Keogh, Jeff Hendrick and Cyrus Christie all started for Derby, and while Keogh and Christie were both decent in the Rams’ defence, Hendrick had a rare off-day. The midfielder was at fault for Wednesday’s second goal as his loose ball gifted the ball to Will Keane who made no mistake in blasting home to put his side 2-1 up.
However, Derby battled back and piled the pressure on Westwood’s goal, forcing an equaliser before the Irish goalkeeper brought down Tom Ince in the penalty area, which led a red card for the shot-stopper and a penalty which was converted by Darren Bent.
Darren Randolph was another Irish goalkeeper who had a weekend to forget as he shipped four goals in Birmingham’s 4-3 defeat away to Brighton and Hove Albion who claimed what was their first win in five games.
Stephen Gleeson started for Birmingham and helped his side to equalise after going behind to an early goal which Randolph really should have kept out, allowing a low shot at the near post to squirm under him.
Nevertheless Birmingham were level on 13 minutes when Gleeson tried his luck from the edge of the penalty area and Clayton Donaldson stuck out a foot to deflect the ball and wrong-foot the Brighton goalkeeper.
From there on out Brighton were in control. Randolph was beaten from close range for the second and his inability to hold onto the ball was to blame for the home side’s third goal as he parried an effort straight to the feet of Joao Teixeira who slotted home. There was little he could do about the fourth, however, which was blasted past him from close range.
In Brighton Leon Best featured in the front-line but despite all his side’s opportunities in front of goal, he failed to make any kind of impression and was withdrawn with half an hour to go.
Wes Hoolahan was at the centre of everything Norwich did in their 3-0 victory away to Watford, including ‘earning’ them a dubious penalty to break the deadlock in the second half.
Watford has struggled to cope with Hoolahan’s trickery and surging runs throughout but on the 65th minute he burst into the penalty area only to go down under a challenge from Miguel Layun due to what appeared to be minimal contact.
Lewis Grabban converted the spot-kick before Hoolahan helped to set up the second goal, again with a powerful run forward. This time he was challenged outside the penalty area but the ball fell kindly to Cameron Jerome who powered the ball home.
Much of the focus after the game was on that penalty with Watford’s Troy Deeney claiming: “It’s a dive. Wes told us he dived, during the game and after. And that is frustrating. These things keep going against us.”
Norwich won’t mind however as this was a result which brought them to within two points of the automatic promotion places.
It was goalless between Cardiff City and Huddersfield as Cardiff’s run of games without a win was extended to seven but it wasn’t for want of trying from Eoin Doyle, who forced a wonder save from Huddersfield goalkeeper Alex Smithies.
Doyle looked certain to score with a powerful header only to see Smithies somehow adjust the position of his body in mid-air to allow him to tip the ball over. Doyle then saw a shot of his cleared off the line as Huddersfield defended stoutly.
Those two chances were the best of a dull game in which both defences were on top. Huddersfield’s Sean Scannell was often frustrated in his bursts forward as he found himself crowded out by overwhelming numbers in defence.
With their promotion rivals dropping points, Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich will have been disappointed that they couldn’t make up ground, suffering a surprise 1-0 defeat to a Reading team featuring Alex Pearce and Simon Cox.
Luke Chambers, Jay Tabb and Daryl Murphy all started for Ipswich but they found themselves going behind to a 14th-minute goal from Jamie Mackie. After that goal Reading put on a masterclass in defending and while Tabb and Murphy were both able to fashion half-chances, there were unable to make anything count and would eventually go home frustrated.
Fulham were another Championship side that came unstuck against a solid rearguard effort as Millwall held them a scoreless draw at The Den.
Both sides have six defeats in their last ten games so this was an understandably cautious affair but Millwall goalkeeper David Forde and Alan Dunne both impressed. Both were solid throughout and Forde made several decent saves to deny Alex Kacaniklic and Hugo Rodallega and keep his side in the game.
The Lions struggled for creativity although midfielder Shaun Williams finished the game strongly, with his crossing creating two late chances for Millwall, which they were unable to convert.
In League One a goal from Billy Clarke helped Bradford claim a 1-1 draw with Walsall which saw them move into the play-off spots.
Clarke, and Mark Yeates both started for Bradford with Alan Sheehan replacing Yeates late on, while Anthony Forde got the nod for Walsall.
Bradford hit the front in the second half when Clarke picked his spot from 25-yards out, beating the Walsall goalkeeper at the near post before Walsall levelled. Both sides had chances to snatch the game late on with Forde and Sheehan both going close but in the end they were forced to settle for a draw.
Liam McAlinden was on the mark for Fleetwood in a 2-1 victory over a Notts County that had Will Hayhurst and former Shamrock Rovers and Derry City maestro Pat McCourt on the bench.
McAlinden, on loan from Wolves, equalised for Fleetwood on 25 minutes with a cool finish from close range as he met a cross from Antoni Sarcevic at the back post. The attacker looked certain to add a second after the break only to see the ball taken off his toe just as he was about to pull the trigger.
Dave Mooney was another Irish striker on the scoresheet as his converted penalty helped struggling Leyton Orient to a 3-0 victory over Oldham which gave his side their second win in three games and took them to within two points of safety.
With the O’s already leading thanks to a third-minute goal from former Liverpool player Andrea Dossena, Jobi McAnuff was brought down in the penalty area and Mooney stepped up to send the goalkeeper the wrong way and score his 50th goal for Orient and his eighth this season.
Paddy Madden and Niall Canavan were both on the wrong side of a 2-0 scoreline as their Scunthorpe United side were well beaten by Preston North End.
Both players were on the scoresheet in their midweek 2-0 victory against Chesterfield but it was a different story on Saturday as they were outclassed by Preston. Madden did go close to scoring for his side with the scores at 0-0 but his shot through a crowded penalty area was cleared off the line and scrambled to safety.
Sheffield United came from two goals down to claim a 2-2 draw with Coventry City as Michael Doyle came back to haunt his former team with a sweetly struck chip from inside the penalty that sparked a late revival which culminated in an 80th-minute equaliser from Jamie Murphy.
In League Two, veteran Irish striker David Connolly rolled back the years to claim an injury-time winner for AFC Wimbledon in a thrilling 3-2 victory over Luton Town.
With a scores level at 2-2, the 37-year-old Connolly was sent on in the 89th minute as the last throw of the dice. That substitution paid dividends as, two minutes into injury time, Connolly collected a flick-on from a long hopeful ball forward before rounding the goalkeeper and sliding the ball into an empty net.
Southend’s promotion hopes took a setback when they suffered a 4-2 defeat to Stevenage. Michael Timlin, Barry Corr, Cian Bolger and Gery Deegan all lined out for Southend but it was Corr who made the biggest contribution, converting a penalty to put his side 2-1 up.
However, a collapse in the last quarter-of-an-hour saw Stevenage claim three unanswered goals to give their play-off hopes a boost.
Brendan Moloney was on the mark in Northampton’s 3-0 victory over York City, side-footing the ball home from the edge of the penalty area for his first goal for the club since joining on loan from Yeovil.
At the top of the table Burton Albion went three points clear of second-place Shrewsbury with a hard-fought 3-1 win away to Dagenham and Redbridge. At 2-1, the game was in the balance right up until injury time when Limerick man Damien McCrory stepped up to put the result beyond doubt with a smartly-struck goal.
Elsewhere in League Two, Sean Maguire has extended his loan spell at Accrington Stanley, with parent club West Ham agreeing a deal that will see him stay there until the end of the season.
Happy to say Ive signed on loan with Accrington until the end of season! Massive games coming up in the next few weeks for us! @ASFCofficial— Seani Maguire (@Seani_Maguire_) February 23, 2015
In Scotland, Adam Rooney continues to press his case for a call-up to the Republic of Ireland squad as he scored twice in his side’s 3-0 triumph at home to St Mirren as the Dons drew level with Celtic at the top of the Scottish Premiership.
Both goals were real poachers efforts, scored from within six yards, as Rooney continued his knack of being in the right place at the right time for his side. The only disappointment for the striker was his substitution with 13 minutes to go but manager Derek McInnes may well have had one eye on next week’s top of the table clash with Celtic.
Killmarnock put a dent in third-placed Inverness CT’s hopes of make a late title challenge as they held them to a 3-3 draw. However, they suffered a setback of their own as defender Mark Connolly had to be withdrawn in the first half with what appeared to be a serious shoulder injury.
Manager Gary Locke told BBC Scotland "We're really disappointed and it's not looking too positive at the moment.”
"It's a huge blow for us because he's a very important member of the team. Young David Syme goes on and makes his debut today which is good, but I think we'll be missing Mark Connolly now for a number of weeks.”
In Australia, Melbourne City manager John van’t Schip is hoping to convince Damien Duff to remain with the club despite a season-ending injury.
Duff ruptured a tendon in his calf and suffered ankle ligament damage during an A League game last week but van’t Schip still believes that even injured, he can be a positive influence in the dressing room.
“Hopefully he will be back soon and stick around, help us out mentally with the boys because I think he can still have his presence,” the manager said.
“Damien for sure is not going to ... jump in the plane and go back. He's here with his family, he wants to have a good rehab and recover. He will make his plans after that. It's just happened so I don't what his thoughts are."
On the pitch City were held to a scoreless draw by Andy Keogh’s Perth Glory side.
In Malaysia Eamon Zayed is still searching for his first competitive goal for Sabah FA who went down 2-1 with UiTM. Zayed had a late goal ruled out for offside, while former Liverpool striker El Hadji Diouf netted from the penalty spot for Sabah.
Also in Malaysia Billy Mehmet’s Sarawak FA were held to a scoreless draw by Pahang FA with Mehmet’s best chance of scoring coming on the 47th minute when he forced a fine save from Khairul Azhan with a header from a free-kick.