Ireland take on Scotland tonight in a crucial Euro 2016 qualifier. It is simply a must-win tie for the Irish, and even the smallest mistake could prove costly. Martin O’Neill is likely to select veteran Shay Given between the sticks, despite Keiren Westwood’s impressive form throughout the season. But why is the Sheffield Wednesday shot-stopper not automatically regarded as first choice for the Boys in Green?
Following Shay Given’s initial international retirement, Giovanni Trapattoni looked to Westwood as the goalkeeper who would help Ireland to Brazil in 2014. The wheels came off the wagon early in the qualification bid however, with a 6-1 drubbing at home against Germany. Westwood took much of the blame, and David Forde assumed the goalkeeping responsibilities for the remainder of the campaign. It was unfair to solely blame Westwood, considering the poor defending. Certain defenders in that game did not lose their place, despite being equally culpable.
But sport isn’t fair, and Westwood entered international exile.
In recent times, David Forde’s selection has been justified time and time again by the mantra ‘he hasn’t done anything wrong.’ This is true. But his club form paints a different picture. Following Millwall’s relegation, Forde now faces life in League 1 of England. This is not an acceptable standard to be deemed good enough to start for a team with ambitions of mixing it with Europe’s elite. All due respect to Forde and the performances he has put in to date, but suddenly the ‘he hasn’t done anything wrong’ theory has taken on a negative connotation. It seems to suggest that the something ‘wrong’ is impending.
Shay Given’s return to international football was initially taken with a pinch of salt by the football public in the country. A journeyman who is past it could not cut it in the side. But Given turned in some impressive performances as Aston Villa reached the FA Cup Final, and claimed Villa’s number one jersey as Brad Guzan struggled for form.
Against Poland, the Donegal native was thrown back into the mix. Sławomir Peszko’s effort beat Given following some suspect defending from Robbie Brady. Brady was blamed, but in all honesty, it was a shot an international goalkeeper should have saved. Given did not.
Given was a world class goalkeeper. He carried Ireland for years, and probably should have achieved more in his club career. However, he slowed down, and was exposed badly. When Ireland went to Euro 2012, Croatia scored three goals. A younger Given may have saved two of them. He owes nothing to this country, but perhaps he is no longer the best keeper at Martin O’Neill’s disposal.
Keiren Westwood had an impressive season with Sheffield Wednesday, earning a place in the Championship Team of the Year, and showing that he is finally ready for Premier League football.
Last Sunday, Westwood put in a flawless display against England, but was inexplicably replaced in the second half. Understandably, the manager wanted Given to have game-time if he is to start against Scotland. But why overlook such an impressive display by Westwood?
Kieren Westwood is Ireland’s best goalkeeping option, and the one likely to start in future campaigns, yet is being disregarded for Shay Given, a goalkeeper with his best behind him. Given will start tomorrow, but it should be Westwood. This writer just hopes that he won’t be proven right.
Brian Barry, Pundit Arena.