A good day for the Irish boys and the Premier League talking points

Louis van Gaal is on borrowed time, and Stoke’s big signing hasn’t taken long to find his feet.

Wes Hoolahan and his Norwich team-mates (file photo).
Wes Hoolahan and his Norwich team-mates (file photo).
Image: Jon Buckle

1. Key Irish players among the goals

THERE MAY still be four months until Euro 2016 kicks off but the time between now and then will be spent fretting over the form and fitness of those most likely to be included in Ireland’s 23-man squad.

In that regard, it was pleasing to see three players who are certain to play pivotal roles in France, provided they are available, all score big goals for their clubs today.

Robbie Brady has emerged as one of Martin O’Neill’s most important assets over the past 18 months and just like in Zenica back in November, the St Kevin’s Boys product produced a top class finish against West Ham.

Canaries team-mate Wes Hoolahan then bagged his fourth goal of the season but it wasn’t enough to earn them a much-needed win and Alex Neill’s men are involved in a relegation dog fight.

Shane Long started for Southampton away to Swansea and was guilty of missing a number of chances but popped up with a fabulous glancing header for the decisive goal.

And while he didn’t get on the scoresheet, Jon Walters was excellent in Stoke’s win over Bournemouth and provided an assist for Ibrahim Afellay.

2. United losing ground on top four

The win over Stoke and last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea suggested Manchester United could possibly mount a challenge for the Champions League spots over the final 14 matches.

However, their abject display against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light leaves them six points adrift of fourth-placed Man City, who play Tottenham tomorrow.

Louis van Gaal has admitted a top four finish will now be “difficult” before adding that they will prioritise the Europa League as a route back to the continent’s elite club competition, with a trip to FC Midtjylland to come this Thursday.

If the Dutchman does hold onto his job for the next three months, it is impossible to see him still in charge beyond that and reports this week suggest Jose Mourinho has agreed to take over in principle.

3. Toffees punished for inconsistency again

Having won their last two league games while scoring six and conceding none, Everton fans could have been forgiven for thinking the Toffees would finally put a decent run together starting at home to West Brom today.

However, boos rained down when the full-time whistle went at Goodison Park as the Baggies came away with a 1-0 win.

The home side had 76% and recorded a whopping 34 shots (6 of which were on target) but wasted chance after chance and they have now conceded more goals at home than any other team in England’s top flight.

Roberto Martinez undoubtedly has a talented young squad at his disposal but they have been criminally inconsistent — as their league position in 10th suggests.

4. Potters new boy settling in well

AFC Bournemouth v Stoke City - Barclays Premier League - Vitality Stadium Imbula looks a good buy. Source: Steve Paston

It was Stoke City and not Chelsea, Manchester United or Manchester City who were responsible for making the most expensive signing of the January transfer window.

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The Potters shelled out €23.5m (£18.3m) to Porto for Frenchman Giannelli Imbula and the defensive midfielder was named alongside Glenn Whelan away to Bournemouth today.

In only his second outing in English football, Imbula looked composed and got his name on the scoresheet with a classy volley past Artur Boruc from distance.

“It was a great goal from Giannelli Imbula who all game showed great calmness and an understanding of what’s required,” Mark Hughes said at full-time.”I’m pleased for him and pleased for his team-mates as well.”

5. Chelsea win comes at a cost

The evening game between Chelsea and Newcastle at the Stamford Bridge wasn’t 20 minutes old and the home side had already effectively wrapped up the result with three goals.

The reigning Premier League champions went go on to win 5-1 against the Magpies but interim boss Guus Hiddink will be cursing the fact that his captain John Terry limped out before the first half was over.

With Kurt Zouma already ruled out for the season, Chelsea could do without losing another one of their best central defenders with the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie against Paris Saint-Germain coming up on Tuesday before an FA Cup meeting with Man City in a week’s time.
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Ben Blake

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