Tuesday 24 October 2017

Given makes most of return to big time

Fulham 0, Aston Villa 0, Jim Brookes

A mere 16 months after his last Premier League match, it was as if Shay Given had never been away.

Another trip to London, another clean sheet, job done. When the Donegal man helped shut Arsenal out at the Emirates on April 24, 2010, it proved to be his final league appearance for Manchester City.

At Craven Cottage, he was the main reason the scoreline remained blank and manager Alex McLeish could enjoy a hard-earned point on his own debut after a far more controversial move to Aston Villa.

"It was nice just to be back playing, to be honest," said Given after his man-of-the-match performance.

"In the run-up to the game, there was all the excitement of the Premier League starting again and, for me personally, knowing I was going to be playing was pretty special.

"You train all week to play at the weekend and it's very frustrating when you don't play. Last season was very frustrating," he added. "It's nice to feel wanted again, to feel part of the team and to be playing in front of big crowds."

Given's City career was over from the moment Roberto Mancini decided Joe Hart would be his No 1.

The only surprise this summer was that bigger clubs than Villa did not make more vigorous efforts to sign a goalkeeper rated by some as the second best in the top flight.

"Who said that, Mancini?" asked Given, with a laugh. "I don't know.

"Football's all about opinions. All I can do is work hard in training and work hard on the match days and people will say good things if you do well. But if you make a bad mistake, they'll say you're over the hill."

According to McLeish, Given's experience helped him make the right choices when pulling off two fine saves from Bobby Zamora as Fulham took control in the second half of a game that was long on endeavour but short on inspiration.

Villa deserve credit for an opening 45 minutes in which they played the better football, albeit without creating many clear-cut chances.

But as they faded after the break, Fulham asserted themselves and would have won but for Given and, arguably, some indecisive finishing.

The match also marked the Premier League return of Fulham manager Martin Jol, almost four years after he was sacked by Tottenham.

He said: "I'm the same. I can't keep saying I'm excited because that is a cliche, but I really feel part of something special."

Jol also revealed that there may be some more new arrivals at Craven Cottage before the close of the transfer window. "Hopefully we can do something in the next few weeks," he said.

Irish Independent

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