MATT DOHERTY STAKED a real claim for a place in Martin O’Neill’s next Republic of Ireland squad this week, with a devastating second-minute thunderbolt in Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat to Cardiff City.
The former Bohemians youth, recently converted from right to left-back by Wolves manager Paul Lambert, has form in this regard, having won last season’s goal of the season award for the Midlands club.
Although the 20th-placed Championship strugglers were boosted by a 2-0 weekend win over Nottingham Forest, in which Doherty also played well, the full-back’s scorcher was eventually rendered moot by fellow countryman Anthony Pilkington’s late winner.
Pilkington, out-of-form and out in the cold with Ireland of late, duly followed up his first goal since September 10 by scoring another late goal against Barnsley on Saturday, to level that game at 3-3.
Alas for the former Norwich City winger – now a converted centre-forward – Conor Hourihane’s side bit back with an injury-time winner to salve the pain of their 2-0 midweek defeat to Keiren Westwood’s Sheffield Wednesday.
Hourihane, incidentally, bagged his ninth assist of a marquee season in that Cardiff victory, increasing his lead over Huddersfield’s Tommy Smith to two, at the top of the goal-creator’s chart.
Meanwhile, at the top of the division, Newcastle’s Ciaran Clark and Brighton’s Shane Duffy continue to duke it out, as both defenders’ sides secured two wins out of two this week to pull away from the chasing pack. Duffy was on the scoresheet in the seaside club’s 3-2 midweek win over Darragh Lenihan’s Blackburn, but Clark’s Toon remain just one point ahead at the summit.
In that chasing pack sit Derby County’s centre-back pairing of Richard Keogh and Alex Pearce, who secured their umpteenth clean-sheet of Steve McClaren’s relatively young tenure against Queens Park Rangers, before Pearce rescued a 2-2 draw against Fulham to extend the club’s unbeaten run to eight.
In mid-table, Ipswich Town saw striker David McGoldrick come off the bench against Wigan and change the game, setting up Brett Pitman’s equaliser and scoring a late winner to end a six-game personal scoring drought.
That’s a struggle the out-of-favour Shane Long knows all too well, as the Southampton striker failed to capitalise on a rare start against Stoke in midweek with an anaemic performance, and watched on as replacement Jay Rodriguez won the club’s weekend encounter with Bournemouth single-handedly.
James McClean also remains frozen out of the starting lineup at the Hawthorns, sitting firmly behind Nacer Chadli in the pecking order after the Moroccan was handed Chris Brunt’s wide berth when the Northern Ireland international was asked to stand-in at full-back against Swansea in midweek.
John O’Shea was handed a rare start during the week too, as manager David Moyes temporarily switched to a back three for Sunderland’s 1-0 defeat to Premier League leaders Chelsea, but the centre-back was summarily dropped again for the Black Cats’ victory over Watford.
On the good news front, after being omitted from the 18 against Arsenal despite his stunner against Burnley, Jonathan Walters started both games for Stoke City last week, again faring quite well as a lone-striker battering ram in Mark Hughes’ 4-2-3-1.
Glenn Whelan also made his first start since his November 5 own goal against West Ham United, in the scoreless draw with Southampton, and the midfielder also retained his place for the subsequent 2-2 draw with Leicester City.
It was also a good week for Everton pair Seamus Coleman and James McCarthy, as the former scored in the Toffee’s dramatic 2-1 victory over Arsenal, while the latter drew praise from manager Ronald Koeman for an aggressive second-half performance. Given the frequency with which the Gunners’ reached the byline with third man runs down the inside-left channel however, question marks still remain about McCarthy’s marking and positional nous.
Finally, a word for West Ham’s Darren Randolph, who followed up last week’s characteristically topsy-turvy performance against Liverpool with two consecutive clean-sheets against Burnley and Hull. Considering the Hammers’ porous defence this season, weeks like this one might be thin on the ground for O’Neill’s first-choice shotstopper.
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