Friday 6 December 2019

Randolph underlines credentials to be No 1 for Euro finals

Darren Randolph makes one of his many outstanding saves against Liverpool. Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images
Darren Randolph makes one of his many outstanding saves against Liverpool. Photo: Glyn Kirk/AFP/Getty Images
Daniel McDonnell

Daniel McDonnell

The link between West Ham's English FA Cup run and Ireland's Euro 2016 campaign is an unlikely one.

But Martin O'Neill will have enjoyed the late winning goal from Angelo Ogbonna that gave the Hammers' a dramatic extra-time victory over Liverpool on Tuesday night.

Darren Randolph is the link here, of course, with the Irish stopper reliant on cup opportunities to get match practice between now and the end of the regular season.

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Slaven Bilic has lavished praise on the Bray native for the form he has shown in his sporadic appearances this term, which have included a clean sheet in the initial meeting at Anfield followed by a stirring contribution to the replay.

"He is Republic of Ireland number one and because of him Ireland are in the European Championship finals so we have a great goalkeeper," said the Croatian.

However, in the same discussion, he stressed that Spanish netminder Adrian "is our first goalkeeper - no doubt about that".

It means that, barring injury, suspension or a dramatic change of heart, Randolph will have to rely on the FA Cup and the March friendlies with Switzerland and Slovakia to get competitive gametime under his belt.

This could plant a slight seed of doubt in the mind of O'Neill, although the 28-year-old was so impressive in his cameo against Germany and subsequent games against Poland and Bosnia that he deserves be considered as the first choice at this juncture.

Shay Given is out of the Bosnia match

The goalkeeping picture has altered significantly during the Derryman's time in charge, with the story at the start of the Euros adventure revolving around Shay Given's emergence from retirement and the impact on David Forde.

O'Neill stuck with the Galwegian for the opening four matches and he did little wrong.

Given then assumed control from the visit of Poland in March of last year until he sustained his unfortunate injury in the first half of the famous defeat of the Germans. That allowed Randolph to come out of the shadows.

His rivals have seen their circumstances altered.

Forde stayed with Millwall last summer after their relegation to the Championship and he has since fallen out of favour with manager Neil Harris. Sitting on the bench in League One has severely weakened his claims.

Given finished last season on a high at Aston Villa, getting the nod for their FA Cup final date with Arsenal, and he then accepted a move to Stoke knowing that he would be the deputy.

Injuries have prevented him from fulfilling that role for a good portion of the season and he recently admitted that he has to think about a loan switch.

Republic of Ireland's David Forde and Keiren Westwood during squad training ahead of their qualifer against Gibraltar on Saturday. David Maher / SPORTSFILE

Supporters of Keiren Westwood would argue that he should have won more caps seeing as he's been first choice for his club, Sheffield Wednesday, in the past two seasons. O'Neill selected Westwood for his debut friendly against Latvia.

The problem is that a variety of ailments have led to the player pulling out of squads where he might have received the opportunity to further his claims. Wednesday have not used him in cup competitions because of niggling problems.

Giovanni Trapattoni's goalkeeping coach Alan Kelly was unimpressed with the ex-Sunderland goalkeeper's attendance record, arguing that "you have to be here to have an effect" and the same questions could be asked of Westwood now.

Stephen Henderson is on the radar of the current goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh and has accepted calls to fill up squads, but he may to wait until the next campaign to become a regular part of the furniture.

In reality, the real form alternative to Randolph is Newcastle's Rob Elliot, who is lining out every week in the Premier League for Newcastle because of Tim Krul's long-term issues and is winning a lot of admirers in the process.

Elliot missed Bosnia because of a thigh complaint, with Newcastle reluctant to let him go because he has become so important to them and with 16 Premier League appearances this season and more to come then he has earned a chance to add to his three caps next month.

A competitive debut in the Euros for Elliot would be a leap of faith, though, especially with Randolph having built up an understanding with the Irish defenders in the autumn.

Under pressure, he was a safe pair of hands and he showcased that ability again on Tuesday. His time is now.

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