Monday 22 January 2018

Walters seeks upper hand over Bosnian pal Begovic

Republic of Ireland and Stoke City striker Jonathan Walters
Republic of Ireland and Stoke City striker Jonathan Walters

John Fallon

Jonathan Walters has Chelsea in his sights tonight, hoping the League Cup tie marks the start of a double triumph over his old pal Asmir Begovic.

Although the Stoke City striker is suspended for the first leg of Ireland's Euro 2016 play-off next month, he'll be available to spar against the Bosnia and Herzegovina goalkeeper back in Dublin on November 16.

Walters and Begovic were Potters team-mates for five years until the goalkeeper joined the Premier League champions in the summer.

The Irishman is still livid at having to miss the opening salvo in Zilina, insistent Polish striker Robert Lewandowski made a meal of the challenge which led to his third booking of the campaign, but is determined to help Martin O'Neill's side reach France.

"It's a blow to miss the first leg," explained the 32-year-old. "I was very conscious not to get booked and tried not to touch him (Lewandowski). "But he threw himself on the floor and got me booked.

"Hopefully I'll be in the manager's plans for the second leg. Bosnia are a good side with quality players but we're aiming to qualify because it means so much to a lot of Irish people."


While Walters may also follow Begovic's example by seeking a fresh challenge should his contract stand-off go unresolved, in the meantime there's Jose Mourinho's rocky Blues blocking Stoke's route towards potential silverware.

"Chelsea got beaten again at the weekend and we want to progress in the cup competition," he noted.

Unlikely to feature at the Britannia Stadium is Marc Wilson, who came off the bench and made a blunder which allowed Watford to score their second goal and seal victory.

The Ireland defender apologised to Stoke's fans for getting dispossessed for the goal but manager Mark Hughes is set to restore Ryan Shawcross to central defence.

Elsewhere in tonight's ties, Keiren Westwood will sit out Sheffield Wednesday's game against Arsenal after Owls boss Carlos Carvalhal admitted the keeper remains in pain.

Westwood missed the recent double-header against Germany and Poland, and his fitness will be a consideration for O'Neill when he announces his squad for the play-off later this week.

One player almost certain to be selected is in-form Brentford star Alan Judge.

Saturday's brace against Charlton brought the Dubliner's tally to six goals, a remarkable feat for an attacking midfielder part of a Bees side yet to rediscover last season's form that earned them a play-off spot.

Irish Independent

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