Poland descend on Dublin at the end of the month for the Euro 2016 qualifier and Ireland manager Martin O’Neill will be delighted to see Robbie Keane, Daryl Murphy and Wes Hoolahan all hit the back of the net over the weekend.
Keane got off the mark in LA Galaxy’s 2-0 win over Chicago Fire in the champions’ MLS campaign opener, while Murphy upped his tally for the season to 22 with the goal in Ipswich’s 1-1 draw against Brentford in the Championship.
Hoolahan, meanwhile, put one past his Ireland team-mate David Forde in Norwich’s 4-1 demolition of Millwall, also in the Championship.
With only one match in the Premier League, QPR losing at home to Spurs and with no Irish players involved, Irish Abroad’s attentions this week begin with the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Shay Given, as is the custom in the Cup for Villa, came in for Premier League incumbent Brad Guzan and kept the house in order with a clean sheet, in a mostly tight and tetchy midlands derby which saw Villa book a semi-final spot and a Wembley appearance with a 2-0 win.
The Donegal man’s reflexes were tested early with a neat save to the right post from Brown Ideye’s low curling header coming from Simon Dawson’s right-wing cross.
In the second half, Given was left stranded at his near post when West Brom’s Joleon Lescott missed a golden opportunity to put the Baggies in front when, from a flicked on corner and with the goal gaping, the centre-half headed wide of the right upright.
Later Ciaran Clark, who had his hands full on the night coping with the physicality of West Brom’s well-drilled set-pieces, had Given to thank for getting him out of jail.
The centre-half was easily duped by Saido Berahino after Clarke over-committed and the pacey youngster broke free - only for the razor-sharp Given to show all his years of experience, charging to the edge of the area to dive at Berahino’s feet and extinguish the threat.
Jack Grealish’s appearance off the subs bench on 74 minutes was no mere cameo, the talented midfielder’s short spell on the pitch included manufacturing the second goal, soon to be followed by the ignominy of a red card from referee Anthony Taylor.
It all started so brightly for Grealish, who latched on to team-mate Ashley Westwood’s headed knock down in the Villa half to outsprint Yousouf Mulumbu, and slot a perfectly weighted ball to the advancing Scott Sinclair down the left, who bore down on West Brom ‘keeper Boaz Myhill’s goal, checking back inside and curling home the game-sealing second goal.
However, a crazy six-minute spell saw the 19-year-old pull back Calum McManaman for a needless yellow and then, very harshly, have a another yellow brandished for diving and get his marching orders.
The Under-21 international had appeared off balance as he deftly flicked the ball past the incoming Lescott and seemed to be jumping out of his way before sprawling to the ground, though ref Taylor clearly didn’t see it that way.
Although, by then being back in the dressing room, the banished Grealish escaped the pathetic pitch invasion scenes at the end of the tie.
BBC co-commentator Mark Lawrenson summed up the culprits perfectly when he quipped: “Loads of villages have lost their idiots tonight.”
Earlier on Saturday, League One cup upset specialists Bradford couldn’t quite pull another rabbit out of the hat, after Phil Parkinson’s side played out 0-0 draw with Championship outfit Reading in their quarter-final on an appalling surface at Valley Parade.
Billy Clarke started for Bradford, Mark Yeates – scorer in the shock 4-2 win at Chelsea – came on as an 83rd minute sub, while for Reading defenders Stephen Kelly and Alex Pearce both started, Kelly coming in for Chris Gunter for what was the Royals sixth successive away cup-tie of the season.
Kelly showed both his attacking and defensive qualities; firstly the right-back fed Daniel Williams who’s deflected cross almost beat Ben Williams in the Bradford goal.
The Dubliner was involved in Reading’s best move of the first-half, chesting down an incoming high-ball and volleying to Darren Mackie down the right flank with Pavel Pogrebynak meeting his cross on the half-volley, thundering a shot that clipped the left post.
Reading captain Pearce had a fair amount of aerial bombardment to deal with in the heart of defence.
Kelly came to his rescue after Pearce stumbled from a bouncing ball under pressure from Jon Stead, and with the goal opening up for former Sunderland frontman, Kelly swung out his right boot in a last ditch dive to nick the ball from Stead’s feet.
Billy Clarke’s most notable contribution for the Bantams came in the second-half when the midfielder caught Reading’s Oliver Norwood in possession.
Clarke played a neat one-two with his captain Stephen Darby, the Corkman looped the return over the Reading defence finding Stead in space, who pulled the ball back for James Hanson to shoot just inches wide of the post.It was Pearce who nearly broke the deadlock at the death after a free-kick from the left caused mayhem in the Bradford box.
The Russian Pogrebynak’s subsequent handball onto the post went unnoticed by the referee and Pearce, sandwiched between two Bradford defenders, lunged for the ball but couldn’t connect just two yards from the Bradford goal-line, leaving the match to go to a replay.
In the Scottish Cup quarter-finals, Anthony Stokes was in the thick of the action in Celtic’s 1-1 draw at Dundee United, which saw three red cards with the home side finishing with nine men and Celtic with ten.
Great performance and win for us today and Ireland beat England in the rugby! It's been a good sunday so far!!!— Anthony Stokes (@stoksey10) March 1, 2015
Stokes didn’t get on the scoresheet but did give away a hotly-disputed penalty after being adjudged by ref Craig Thompson to have clipped Aidan Conneely in the six-yard box.
Later in the game, the former Sunderland striker help earn the Bhoys a spot-kick after his cut-back was fired goalward by Leigh Griffths, which struck the arm of Dundee United’s Paul Dixon.
However, Griffiths saw his penalty brilliantly saved in the bottom corner by Radoslaw Cierzniak.
Stokes went close on a couple of occasions, a bobbling first-half effort hitting the goalframe with Cierzniak beaten and in the second period the inspired ‘keeper beat back Stokes close-range bullet.
The 26-year-old’s game ended with in the 67th minute when the Dubliner was replaced by John Guidetti, with Griffiths heading the equaliser into Cierzniak’s far corner four minutes later.
Elsewhere in Scotland, there were no Irish in action in the weekend’s two Premiership games.
Back over the Atlantic in MLS, Robbie Keane scored with a glorious volley from LA Galaxy team-mate Baggio Husidic’s flick-on, however, his goal celebration cause a bit of a stir with angry hand gesticulations and swearing instead of his customary cartwheel.
The 2014 MLS MVP’s strike sealed the 2-0 win over Chicago Fire on the first day of the season and stretches Galaxy’s unbeaten run at home to 17 games, which goes back to 8 March 2014.
Keane’s former international team-mate Sean St Ledger made the briefest of MLS debuts, coming on in the 93rd minute of new franchise Orlando City – captained by no other than former real Madrid striker Kaka – in the 1-1 draw with fellow MLS new boys New York City.
Brazilian Kaka rescued a point in front of a 62,000 sell-out crowd with a 91st minute equaliser.St Ledger wasn’t the only Irishman on the pitch, former league of Ireland referee Alan Kelly was the man in the middle, and in the thick of the action brandishing one red and six yellow cards.
Just like being back at home then Mr Kelly! Defender Shane O’Neill was also in action over in the opening weekend, playing 74 minutes in Colorado Rapids’ 0-0 draw at Philadelphia Union.
Back to closer shores, the big game in the English Championship saw a sprinkling of Irish on show at Portman Road for Brentford’s visit to Ipswich in their promotion battle.
Mick McCarthy’s men came into the game on the back of three losses in the previous four matches, while Brentford had the reverse – three wins from four.
Daryl Murphy pushed his cause further for an Ireland starting berth with his 22nd goal of the season giving The Tractor Boys an early lead.
The Waterford man pounced at close-range from a Richard Chaplow corner after reacting quickest to team-mate Christophe Berra’s downward header.
The former Celtic and Sunderland man won’t be happy with his return of one goal, it should have been at least two if not more, with the normally predatory 31-year-old skying an open goal chance on the six-yard line before an empty net with goalkeeper David Button beaten.
That miss came after Jonathan Douglas had levelled the scores for the Bees.
Midfielder Douglas showed the qualities of a centre forward with his strike, anticipating the ball would fall to him following Stuart Dallas’ rasping shot parried by ‘keeper Dean Gerken, the 33-year-old coolly nestling the rebounding ball into the net.
The initial looping cross for Dallas was smartly delivered by Alan Judge from the right wing, Judge himself going close to scoring when he headed over from 10 yards just before the break.
Earlier, Jay Tabb almost engineered a goal for Ipswich when the midfielder disposed Judge from an under-cooked pass from a free-kick, Tabb broke down the field slipping a pass to Freddie Sears, who found Chaplow but Button just got his fingertips to push the effort wide.
Judge was substituted after 67 minutes, the Spaniard Jota coming on instead, and Ipswich continued to press for the winner, Murphy again working an opportunity after shaking off the attentions of Jake Bidwell to fire a low shot from the near post which the impressive Button got down smartly to save and guarantee his side a point.
Captain Luke Chambers put in a solid performance for Ipswich, marshalling his charges in a match they were unlucky not take all the three points on offer.
Derby’s automatic promotion hopes took a further dent with a 2-2 draw at home to Birmingham, after back-to-back defeats to Fulham and Brighton.
The Rams’ Irish contingent all featured with starts for defenders Cyrus Christie (back after being dropped for the trip to Brighton) and Richard Keogh, and Jeff Hendrick in midfield.
Steve McClaren’s side surrendered a two-goal lead in second-half injury time, conceding a 91st minute penalty and then shipping another goal in the 97th minute, Birmingham and Ireland-squad goalkeeper Darren Randolph proving to be the catalyst when the former Motherwell netminder went up field as the clock ticked down on a throw-the-kitchen-sink corner.
Randolph beat Derby’s Christie in the air to the looping corner with breaking ball hooked away for another corner.
Randolph stayed up for the resulting last-ditch corner, this time outmuscling Keogh and as the ball bobbled around, and Derby hitting the panic button, the Blues’ Wes Thomas chipped a cross to the far post where Clayton Donaldson scrambled a header home to a cacophony of boos from the crestfallen 30,000-plus Rams crowd.
Derby had been coasting to victory and on target to go top of the Championship.
At the rear, Keogh, Christie and company had rarely been taxed by the Birmingham offence, while Hendrick and his midfield partners had a stranglehold on the game for virtually all of the regulation 90 minutes.
There was little Randolph could do about the Derby goals, the opener came after the stopper’s parry from Johnny Russell’s powerful drive landed at the feet of Jamie Ward, who duly slotted the ball home.In the second half, on-loan Hull winger Tom Ince slipped his man to cut inside and rifled his shot to Randolph’s far post for the second.
It could, and should have been game over when Hendrick’s pass presented Russell with a close-range snap-shot, his drive beating Randolph only for Lee Novak to hook the ball off the line.Bournemouth are back on fire after a topsy turvy past few weeks, blasting five goals past Fulham in a 5-1 win at Craven Cottage and now sit top of the table on goal difference ahead of Derby.
Harry Arter played a part in the Cherries second goal, taking possession in midfield and finding Matt Ritchie out on the right flank who pulled inside and fired home a long-range deflected shot for a 2-0 lead.
Sean Kavanagh played in what was a frequently over-run Fulham midfield, the youngster getting his second consecutive start following his impressive showing after coming on in the recent win over Derby.
First-choice Ireland goalkeeper David Forde appears to be staring down the barrel of relegation after Millwall slumped to record 11th successive home league game without a win, after a 4-1 trouncing by Norwich at The New Den.
The Galwegian had no chance of stopping Jonny Howson’s 38th minute thunderbolt and was picking the ball out of the back of the net again from Gary Hooper’s penalty before the break.
The spot-kick resulted from Alan Dunne felling Cameron Jerome after Ford palmed away Graham Dorrans’ long-range strike, only for Dunne to upend Jerome as he pounced for the rebound.
Wes Hoolahan made it 3-0 when the attacking midfielder capitalised on Sid Nelson’s loose pass, jinking inside and rifling past the diving Forde into the bottom right corner from 10 yards.
Forde could do little to prevent Norwich’s fourth goal either as the Canaries tore the Lions apart, with Howson slotting home from six yards.Wolves and Watford squared up in another promotion battle at Molineux, Matt Doherty starting for the home side and Tommie Hoban for the Hornets, while the apparently Colarado Rapids-bound Kevin Doyle came on as a 79th minute sub for Wolves.
The sides finished all-square at 2-2 with Hoban taking an early bath after seeing red for a second yellow card following a scything tackle on Rajiv van La Parra.
Down at struggling Wigan, James McClean failed to get on the scoresheet, but not for the want of trying, in the 1-0 home defeat to Leeds.
The Derry wide-man could have had a hat-trick on another day as Wigan laid siege to the Leeds goal.
McClean’s left-footed drive from inside the box brought a good save from Marco Silvestri, while soon after he just failed to get on the end of Marco Antoine Fortune’s wonderful cross.
Finally, in the game’s dying moments McClean’s snap-shot agonisingly nestled in the side-netting, leaving his side still firmly rooted in the relegation zone eight points from safety alongside Millwall and ahead of stragglers Blackpool.
Kieren Westwood, who will be hoping to dislodge Forde for the Poland qualifier at the end of the month, was rarely tested in the Blackpool sunshine as his Sheffield Wednesday side beat a lacklustre Tangerines side 1-0 at Bloomfield Road.
Westwood easily gathered David Perkins 30-yard effort in the first half and there was no other save of note needed in the game, the 31-year-old having Grant Hall’s late header well covered as it flew wide of the left upright.
Another Irish stopper had little to do, but for an unfortunate reason, as Charlton’s Stephen Henderson was forced off at half-time due to an ankle injury picked up in the 2-1 victory at Cardiff.
Before his untimely exit Henderson had time to coolly tip over Craig Noonan’s 20-yard effort and, despite the obvious discomfort after falling awkwardly, he was on hand again to deny Conor McAleny with a smart stop to the bottom right.
Despite being a goal behind, Cardiff didn’t call upon Eoin Doyle’s services from the bench.
The former Hibernian and Sligo Rovers man, who has failed to score since his £650,000 move from Chesterfield in January, was dropped to the bench with Bluebirds’ boss Russell Slade opting for a front two Federico Macheda and Kenwyne Jones.
Huddersfield winger Sean Scannell and his team-mates had a fruitless day at home to Rotherham with Conor Sammon easing the Millers’ relegation worries after the on-loan Derby striker grabbed the second goal in a 2-0 win.
The former UCD player’s strike had a ‘made in Ireland’ feel to it with Lee Frecklington teeing him up to score with a 20-yard low drive that sealed just a second win in 17 away games for Rotherham.
Frecklington’s first start in 2015 ended on a sour note, however, when the 30-year-old midfielder was sent off 16 minutes from time for a second yellow after following through on the Terriers’ Conor Coady.
In League One, Derek Williams lined out in defence for tabletoppers Bristol City’s 2-1 win at Crawley, Greg Cunningham coming off the Robins’ bench in the final moments of what was their fourth straight win.
Sheffield United captain Michael Doyle had a frustrating afternoon, with Nigel Clough’s charges losing 2-1 at home to Fleetwood.
Play-off hopefuls United fell 2-0 behind before Doyle supplied the cross for Matt Done to head home.
Doyle went agonisingly close to grabbing an equaliser when his eight-yard volley was tipped over the bar by Fleetwood ‘keeper Chris Maxwell.
Centre-half John Egan started for Gillingham in the 1-1 home draw with Doncaster, who fielded Enda Stevens in their ranks at left back.
Conor Hourihane was on hand to provide the corner from which George Waring headed Barnsley’s second goal in a 3-0 win at home to Walsall, a fifth consecutive victory which leaves the Tykes just out of the play-off places on goal difference.
Sam Foley played in bottom-placed Yeovil’s 2-1 win over Oldham, picking up a yellow card in the process, while Conor Wilkinson came on up front for Oldham just after the hour mark.
Stephen Dawson came off the bench for the last 20 minutes of Rochdale’s 2-1 home victory over Colchester, and defender Niall Canavan and striker Paddy Madden both played the full 90 mins in Scunthorpe’s 2-0 defeat at Crewe, a fifth game without a win for The Iron.
In League Two, Southend’s top marksman Barry Corr bagged a brace in the 2-2 draw with Wycombe at Roots Hall.
The 6ft 3in striker headed the fourth-placed Shrimpers in front early on from close range and on the hour the Wicklow-native bagged his 11th goal of the season, his fifth in six games, to make it 2-1with a toe-poke from five yards.
Plymouth’s Anthony O’Connor grabbed a memorable first senior goal with a thumping 18-yard drive to open the scoring in a 2-0 victory at home to Northampton. Carl HcHugh started for Plymouth, while John Joe O’Toole (subbed on 61 mins) and Brendan Moloney were in the Northampton ranks.
James Collins can claim a goal assist for second-placed Shrewsbury, firing in the cross from the byline for goalscorer Bobby Grant in the 1-1 draw with Cambridge Utd.
Meanwhile, former Ireland striker Clinton Morrison teed up the second goal in Exeter’s 3-1 win at Carlisle, in typical fashion the veteran held off two defenders with his back to goal before laying off to Ryan Harley who fired home for a 2-1 lead.
Compatriot Graham Cummins came off the bench on 77 minutes to replace 35-year-old Morrison.
Oxford provided an upset with a 1-0 win at promotion chasing Bury, former Dundalk striker Patrick Hoban supplying the through ball which broke the offside trap for Callum O’Dowda to slot home the winner with five minutes to go.
Michael Collins also played the full game in centre midfield for Oxford.
Midfielder Mark Byrne lined out for Newport in their 2-1 defeat at fellow play-off hopefuls Stevenage, while Morecombe’s team in the 3-2 defeat at Luton featured Jamie Devitt (subbed 74 mins) and striker Padraig Amond, who came on for the briefest of moments in the 97th minute.
Elsewhere abroad, in Cyprus former Celtic forward Cillian Sheridan appeared as a 53rd minute substitute while his Apoel Nicosia side stayed top of the Cypriot league with a 1-0 win over Anarthosis.
Andy Keogh continues to score for fun in the sun Down Under in the A-League, the former Wolves and Millwall striker netting his 11th goal of the season for Perth Glory in the 1-1 draw at Melbourne Victory. The draw keeps Perth a point clear at the top of the table.
Finally, Barry Maguire got on the scoresheet in the Netherlands, slotting home a belated 86th minute penalty for mid-table Den Bosch in a 2-1 defeat at Achilles ’29 in the Dutch First Division.