With just 10 weeks to the day until Ireland kick-off their Euro 2016 campaign against Sweden, the competition for the last couple of places in Martin O’Neill’s 23-man squad is about to intensify with players such as Shane Duffy, Eunan O’Kane, Alan Judge and Jonny Hayes all hoping to be firmly in the manager’s thoughts.
Not only form, but fitness will be an issue between now and June with none of Ireland’s regular forwards playing this weekend due to injury, while Rob Elliot is ruled out for the next six months. Here is how the rest of the players got on over the weekend.
Good weekend: Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday)
The Irish goalkeeper was left out of the streamlined 33-man squad for last month’s friendlies but maintained his fine form for Wednesday on Saturday.
Wednesday manager Carlos Carvalhal described Westwood as the best goalkeeper in the Championship at the weekend as the former Sunderland shot-stopper kept a fourth consecutive clean sheet, his sixth in the last nine games, as the Owls grabbed a late winner against local rivals Huddersfield Town to bolster their promotion hopes.
Bad weekend: Shane Duffy (Blackburn Rovers)
The Derry man impressed in the friendly win over Switzerland but was sent off for Blackburn Rovers as Paul Lambert’s men lost 2-1 at home to neighbours Preston North End. Duffy saw red for handling Joe Garner’s goal-bound effort on the line midway through the first-half.
FIVE THINGS WE LEARNED THIS WEEK:
1 Shay Given was on the bench for Stoke City in their 2-2 draw with Swansea. It was the first time he has been involved in the matchday squad since 3 October but the uninspiring performance of Danish goalkeeper Jakob Haugaard in his Premier League debut may mean the door is still open for Given to become Stoke’s oldest league debutant. The Donegal man celebrates his 40th birthday on 20 April
2 Given’s club and international team-mate Marc Wilson, who has missed Stoke’s last nine matches due to the knee injury picked up in the FA Cup tie against Crystal Palace has revealed he is closing in on a return to full training.
3 David McGoldrick made his first appearance in nearly four months for Ipswich Town after recovering from a hamstring injury, a welcome boost for O’Neill should the injury crisis among the Irish forwards continue.
4 Jonny Hayes’ superb club form continued for Aberdeen on Sunday. The Irish winger produced his eighth assist of the season in a man of the match performance as the Dons beat Hamilton Academical 3-0 to keep their slim title hopes alive.
5 Perth Glory’s Andy Keogh set a new A-League record by scoring in his eight consecutive match. The 3-2 victory over Melbourne City was Glory’s 10th win in their last 11 matches.
@PerthGloryFC piss poor league..— josh wood (@josh04678858) April 3, 2016
THE WEEKEND IN NUMBERS:
Premier League: 6 starters
Defenders (2): Séamus Coleman (Everton), Damien Delaney (Crystal Palace)
Midfielders (4): Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Eunan O’Kane (Bournemouth), James McCarthy (Everton), Robbie Brady (Norwich City)
Substitute appearances (3): Stephen Ireland (Stoke City), James McClean (West Brom), Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City)
Unused substitutes (3): Darren Randolph (West Ham), Shay Given (Stoke City), John O’Shea (Sunderland)
Goals (1): Damien Delaney (Crystal Palace)
Championship: 20 starters
Goalkeepers (1): Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday)
Defenders (7): Stephen Kelly (Rotherham United), Richard Keogh (Derby County), Paul McShane (Reading), Shane Duffy (Blackburn Rovers), Stephen Ward (Burnley), Greg Cunningham (Preston), Matt Doherty (Wolves)
Midfielders (10): Lee Frecklington (Rotherham United), Darren Potter (MK Dons), Stephen Gleeson (Birmingham City), DarraghLenihan (Blackburn Rovers), Alan Browne (Preston), Alan McCormack (Brentford), Jonathan Douglas (Ipswich Town), Stephen Quinn (Reading) Alan Judge (Brentford), Aiden McGeady (Sheffield Wednesday)
Forwards (2): Anthony Pilkington (Cardiff City), Leon Best (Rotherham United)
Substitute appearances (5): Alex Pearce (Bristol City), Sean Scannell (Huddersfield Town), Joe Mason (Wolves), Simon Cox (Reading), DavidMcGoldrick (Ipswich Town)
Unused substitutes (10): Jack Bonham (Brentford), Paddy Kenny (Rotherham United), Joe Murphy (Huddersfield Town), Stephen Henderson (Charlton Athletic), Cyrus Christie (Derby County), Kevin Long (MK Dons), Kevin Foley (Ipswich Town), David Meyler (Hull City), Samir Carruthers (MK Dons), Eoin Doyle (Preston)
Goals (1): Lee Frecklington (Rotherham United)
PREMIER LEAGUE ROUND-UP
Robbie Brady once again operated on the wing as Norwich City overcame Newcastle United in a pulsating relegation encounter.
It was from Brady’s free-kick at the end of the first-half that the Canaries took the leadas the 24-year-old’s superb delivery found the head of Timm Klose.
Brady’s only other assist this season came in Norwich’s 1-1 draw with Arsenal.
Norwich’s manager Alex Neil once again opted to start Wes Hoolahan from the bench for their most important game of the season so far; preferring to start with the more direct Steven Naismith in attack.
Hoolahan has been used to starting the matches against the top sides from the bench, including being an unused substitute in games against Spurs, Manchester City and Liverpool but would have been disappointed to only make an appearance from the bench in Saturday’s 3-2 win.
It was the former Shelbourne man’s third substitute appearance of the season in the Premier League, and he came on with nine minutes remaining while the score was 2-1 but wasn’t involved in Norwich’s winner.
It will be interesting to see if Hoolahan can add to his 22 Premier League starts when Norwich visit Crystal Palace this weekend.
Glenn Whelan started for Stoke City as their European hopes were dented at the Britannia Stadium. The Irish midfielder helped set up Bojan for Stoke’s second goalas Mark Hughes’ side threw away a two-goal lead at home to Swansea.That was Whelan’s first assist in the Premier League this season.
Shay Given was on the bench for the Potters in the 2-2 draw, as Marc Wilson nears a comeback while Jon Walters is hoping to return from his knee operation before the end of the Premier League season.
Apologies for no post op selfie. I had surgery yesterday and all went well, delighted to have moved up two cup sizes ????— Jonathan walters (@JonWalters19) March 31, 2016
A calf injury meant Ciaran Clark failed a late fitness test for Aston Villa as the Premier League’s bottom side recorded their 22nd defeat of the season. Chelsea’s 4-0 thrashing of the hosts condemned Villa to their seventh consecutive loss.
Eunan O’Kane came in for the injured Harry Arter to start his sixth Premier League game of the season.
The Achilles injury that also forced Arter to sit out Ireland’s friendlies has been to the benefit of O’Kane for both club and country but will be looking for better performances, as Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne inspired Manchester City to a comfortable 4-0 victory.
Arter is unlikely to be fit for the Cherries’ next game when they entertain West Brom this weekend with O’Kane set to get another chance to bolster his Euro 2016 credentials.
Damien Delaney capitalised on a rare mistake by West Ham goalkeeper Adrián to head Crystal Palace in front at Upton Park.
Damien Delaney scored the 800th goal of the 2015/16 Premier League season. Milestone. pic.twitter.com/EarhHxY7dw— Squawka Football (@Squawka) April 2, 2016
That was Delaney’s first goal since scoring a late consolation against Manchester City in the Capital One Cup and his first goal in the Premier League since the opening day as Palace edge another point closer to safety.
Darren Randolph was on the bench for the Hammers, with his next chance of action coming in the FA Cup quarter-final replay against Manchester United on Wednesday 13 April.
John O’Shea was an unused substitute as Sunderland claimed their first clean sheet in 17 games in the scoreless draw with West Brom.
A mix of injuries and loss of form has meant the five-time Premier League winner hasn’t started for the Black Cats since the start of last month. Prior to the game against Southampton in March, O’Shea had started the previous 10 matches for Sunderland.
James McClean came off the bench for the fifth successive game as he came up against the club that brought him to the Premier League from Derry City.
The injury Shane Long picked up against Slovakia meant he was absent from Southampton’s matchday squad, as Leicester City beat the Saints to edge closer to becoming the champions of England for the first time in their history.
Séamus Coleman was culpable for the only the goal of the game at Old Trafford, as Manchester United’s Anthony Martial scored the winner to keep alive his side’s Champions League aspirations.
James McCarthy put in another robust performance as Everton lost for only the second time away from home in the league this season.
Darron Gibson was again excluded from Everton’s matchday squad.
The former Manchester United midfielder becomes a free agent in the summer and his hopes of playing in the European Championships this summer are all but over after he failed to secure an emergency loan move to a Football League club.
Alan Judge earned his first Irish cap in the friendly against Switzerland and on Saturday helped ease Brentford’s relegation fears as the Bees beat Nottingham Forest 3-0 at the City Ground.
Judge helped to open the scoring providing the assist for Lasse Vibe’s goal after hesitancy in the Forest defence. That was Judge’s tenth assist of the season, putting him level with Charlton’s Johann Berg Gudmundsson at the top of the assist table.
Alan McCormack also started for Brentford with the 32-year-old making his 24th appearance of the season.
Shane Duffy was sent off for Blackburn Rovers as Preston North End came from behind to earn all three points and keep their faint play-off hopes alive.
Two promising Irish Under-21 internationals started in midfield at Ewood Park with Darragh Lenihan starting his 13th match out of the last 14 for Rovers as Alan Browne returned from injury to put in another impressive performance for Preston.
Felt good to be back out there today ?????? Especially in front of an away following like that ?????????? Wow! Onto tuesday now we go again???? #Pnefc— Alan Browne (@Alan__Browne) April 2, 2016
Greg Cunningham also started for the visitors while Eoin Doyle was an unused substitute in the vital win.
No Preston player has started more times in the Championship than Cunningham, the left-back has started 37 out of the 39 games so far this season.
Chris Hughton once again left Richie Towell out of Brighton’s matchday squad as the Seagull’s chances of automatic promotion took a knock as former Ireland underage defender Michael Keane scored a late equaliser for Burnley.
Earlier in the game Stephen Ward held the ball up in the box from the corner to provide the assist for Andre Gray for Burnely’s first equaliser as the Clarets remain top of the table.
Paul McShane bounced back from his disappointing performance on Tuesday with a clean sheet at Bolton as Reading claimed a stoppage-time winner over a Bolton side doomed for League One.
Stephen Quinn also started for the Royals with Simon Cox coming on in the second-half as Brian McDermott’s men searched for a winner.
Anthony Pilkington started for Cardiff City after playing for Ireland for the first time in 16 months during the international break.
The Bluebirds beat fellow play-off hopefuls Derby County 2-1 at the Cardiff City Stadium as the Rams face a second consecutive season in which theyslip out of the top six.
Richard Keogh was the sole Irish starter for Derby with Cyrus Christie an unused substitute, as the right-back found himself on the bench for the second game in a row.
Jeff Hendrick missed the game due to the shoulder injury that kept him out of the Ireland friendlies.
Stephen Gleeson failed to get any minutes for Ireland but returned to the Championship to start for Birmingham City as the Blues conceded a last-gasp winner away at Charlton Athletic.
The Addicks had goalkeeper Stephen Henderson on the bench after missing all of last month’s fixtures through injury.
As the injuries mount for Irish strikers, there could be an opportunity for forwards on the fringe of the squad.
Joe Mason is one of those strikers, but the loan move to Wolves has not worked out the way the former Ireland U-21 international would have hoped.
Mason has started only once out of the last six games for Wolves, with six of his 10 appearances coming from the bench. His only two goals for the club came from his first three appearances having scored six goals in 23 appearances for Cardiff in the first-half of the season.
Mason came on just before the hour on Saturday but failed to break the deadlock as Mick McCarthy’s Ipswich Town failed to get the win needed to rejuvenate their play-off aspirations.
Matt Doherty started for Wolves at left-back as he helped Wolves keep their sixth clean sheet in their last 18 games but missed a good chance to open the scoring for the home side.
Jonathan Douglas started for the Tractor Boys as David McGoldrick made his first appearance in nearly four months.
McGoldrick has made 17 appearances in the Championship this season but only started five of these matches.Daryl Murphy missed the game after picking up a knock on Ireland duty.
Keiren Westwood kept his 10th clean sheet of the season as Sheffield Wednesday claimed a precious win at Huddersfield Town.
Aiden McGeady played 76 minutes before being taken off but could have given the Owls the lead earlier in the match but his goal-bound effort was cleared off the line.
Sean Scannell was a late substitute for the Terriers while goalkeeper Joe Murphy remained on the bench.
David Meyler was an unused substitute as Hull City eased to a 4-0 win over Bristol City to revive their automatic promotion hopes. The former Cork City midfielder hasn’t been involved in any of Hull’s last four games.
Bristol City’s Alex Pearce came on for Nathan Baker at half-time with the score at 2-0 after a poor performance from the on-loan Aston Villa defender.
Pearce had been an unused substitute for the last five matches, having only started once since joining on-loan from Derby County.
Rotherham United had three Irish men in their starting line-up as they overcame Yorkshire rivals Leeds United to strengthen their survival hopes.
Stephen Kelly and Leon Best both started alongside goalscorer Lee Frecklington for Neil Warnock’s side.
Frecklington also won the penalty in the closing stages that sealed the much-needed three points for the Millers.
That win for Rotherham has heaped the pressure on MK Dons as they lost 2-1 to fellow strugglers Fulham at Craven Cottage.
Darren Potter started in midfield for the visitors with Kevin Long an unused substitute along with Samir Carruthers. Long has joined the Dons on an emergency loan until the end of the season from Burnley after spending the earlier part of the season with Barnsley.
LEAGUE ONE ROUND-UP
Chris Forrester started for Peterborough United as the Posh beat Crew Alexandra 3-0, his 34th start of the season in all competitions.
Paddy Madden couldn’t add to the 21 goals he has scored already for Scunthorpe United this season as the Iron’s lost to a Bradford City side that contained Billy Clarke and Josh Cullen.
Chris McCann came on in the 70th minute as table-toppers Wigan Athletic eased to a 5-1 win at Shrewsbury Town. The Irish midfielder has started 27 out of Wigan’s 40 League One matches having most of December’s action through injury.
It was announced last week that Connor Dimaio had signed a new two-year contract with Chesterfield just after the midfielder made his debut for the Irish U-21 side.
So happy to sign a two year contract at Chesterfield Fc onwards and upwards ?????? #justthestart— Connor Dimaio (@dimaio31) April 1, 2016
However it was another Irish player that stole the headlines for Chesterfield at the weekend as Jay O’Shea set up one goal and scored another as the Spireites beat Port Vale 4-2.
David Forde returned to the Millwall bench after international duty as he watched Jordan Archer keep another clean sheet in the 0-0 draw with Colchester United. It has been nearly three months since Forde started in the league for Millwall.
Striker Aiden O’Brien was replaced at half-time, the 22-year-old has scored 12 goals this season.
Stephen Hunt was on the bench for Coventry City as the Sky Blues picked up a point at Gillingham.
Ian Lawlor was omitted from Bury’smatchday squad as the Shakers drew 1-1 at Burton Albion.
Former Ireland U-21 defender Niall Canavan popped up with an equaliser in the sixth minute of stoppage-time to earn Rochdale a point against relegation-threatened Doncaster Rovers.
Jimmy Ryan assisted an early goal for Fleetwood Town as his side draw 1-1 at Swindon Town while David Norris helped set up Mark Cullen as Blackpool beat Southend United to boost their survival hopes.
LEAGUE TWO ROUND-UP
Liam Lawrence, who won 15 Ireland caps under Giovanni Trapattoni, helped Bristol Rovers beat Crawley Town with a goal and an assist. That goal was the midfielder’s first of the season. Former Limerick striker Rory Gaffney also started for Rovers.
Dubliner Jamie Devitt produced an assist for Morcambeas his side beat Barnet while Michael Harriman scored for Wycombe Wanderers against AFC Wimbledon.
Northampton Town’s Irish contingent of Brendan Moloney, John-Joe O’Toole and James Collins are now only three points away from securing promotion to League One after a 2-2 draw at home to Notts County.
FOOTBALL LEAGUE TROPHY
Cork’s Conor Hourihane led Barnsley to their first-ever win at Wembley as the League One side lifted the Football League Trophy for the first time in their history.
Walking these bunch of lads up the Wembley steps is a moment il never forget!! Lifting that trophy special feeling!! pic.twitter.com/mYSpHZbKWl— Conor Hourihane (@ConorHourihane) April 3, 2016
Irish U21 striker Callum O’Dowda had given Oxford United an early lead with a fine header but Barnsley, who also had former Irish U21 international Aidan White in their side, were too strong for their League Two opponents, as the Tykes went on to win 3-2.
REST OF THE WORLD
In the Scottish Premiership, Darren O’Dea started for Dundee as they beat Ross County 5-2 to move into the top six.
The Irish defender has started 12 out of Dundee’s last 14 matches since moving back to the UK after leaving Mumbai City last year.
Willo Flood started for Aberdeen as Jonny Hayes put in another man of the match performance, this time against Hamilton, as the Dons aim to win the Scottish Premiership for the first time in 31 years. Adam Rooney is hoping to return to fitness in the next couple of weeks to play a part in Aberdeen’s title-chasing run-in.
In the Scottish Championship, Ireland U21 goalkeeper Danny Rogers was in goal for Falkirk as they drew 2-2 away at Queen of the South. The 22-year-old is on-loan from high-flying Aberdeen.
Anthony Stokes started for Hibernian as they drew 2-2 with St Mirren. The Ireland forward helped set up the equaliser, asHibsput an end to four consecutive defeats in the league.
It looked as if Rangers were to secure their place in next season’s Scottish Premiership but their celebrations were put on hold after an injury-time equaliser by Raith Rovers in their thrilling topsy-turvy encounter.
Raith had missed a chance to equalise just moments earlier when Rob Kiernancommitted a foul in the box, only for the resulting penalty to be missed. Promotion can be secured when they face Dumbarton on Tuesday night.
Jack Byrne continued his fine form in the Eredivisie with an assist from a free-kick in Cambuur’s 2-2 draw against Graafschap, his second assist in the league this season.
176 - Jack Byrne gave more successful passes into the final third than any other Eredivisie player in 2016. Threat.— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) April 2, 2016
In Cyprus, Cillian Sheridan was booked as his Omonia Nicosia side lost 1-0 at home to AEK Larnaca.
In MLS, Kevin Doyle is expected to return for Colorado Rapids within the next three to five weeks after suffering a nasty leg injury in the friendly against Switzerland, but the Rapids didn’t miss the Wexford man too much as they beat Toronto 1-0.
Robbie Keane could miss the next six weeks for LA Galaxy after he underwent surgery on his right knee. In his absence the Galaxy stumbled to a goalless draw away to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
TEAM OF THE WEEKEND (4-5-1):
Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday); Matt Doherty (Wolves), Paul McShane (Reading), Damien Delaney (Crystal Palace),Greg Cunningham (Preston); Jonny Hayes (Aberdeen),Jack Byrne (Cambuur), Lee Frecklington (Rotherham United),Alan Browne (Preston), Robbie Brady (Norwich City); Andy Keogh (Perth Glory).
Outside of the Premier League and the Championship only selected players are included.