International round-up as our Villa heroes shine.
Attempting to finish up some work yesterday, I put the Russia vs Ireland match on the background hoping I wouldn’t get too distracted. Within minutes my optimistic plan had failed as I was drawn to the action, and 90 plus minutes of something pretty special from our Villa heroes, Shay Given and Richard Dunne.
Initially I was keen to see if Given would show any adverse reactions to the niggling injuries he has been carrying recently. The first half answered that in pretty emphatic fashion with the keeper making a number of top draw saves to frustrate the Russians. He moved easily, and showed tremendous agility to fling himself to his right to keep out a testing half volley that was destined for the bottom corner. He went on to make a number of top top saves, including a point saving effort in the last few minutes. I’ve touched on it before, but I also love seeing how vocal he is and you can see the difference it is making to the Villa defence already.
If Given was impressive, then Dunne was something else as he produced a quite incredible performance that just may well rank as one of the finest Irish defensive displays of all time. He was sensational, and as the match went on, you started to realise that you were witnessing something very very special. We’re all familiar with another Irish centre-half here at the Villa, and Paul McGrath indeed produced a number of inspired performances for his country, most notably against Italy in the world cup back in 1994. When he says the following then you know that what Dunne produced, was pretty special:
“Congratulations to Richard. That was the best performance I have ever seen from any Irish centre-half – and that includes myself.”
He really was that good, winning header after header, breaking up play and producing one of the best goal-line blocks you will see in a while. With around fifteen minutes left he suffered a nasty looking injury, head-butting the ground as he made yet another tackle. He received a number of stitches, dusted himself down and went back on to the pitch to ensure that the Irish team would keep yet another clean sheet (7 in a row now). It was something quite amazing and a game I was proud to watch. These words from Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni sum up just how good our Villa representatives were:
“I thank God that we had Richard in this game. He was fantastic.
“He sacrificed himself because he went back on to the pitch with four stitches. He understood the need to stay on the pitch.
“Shay Given also saved two or three goals. They were fantastic saves.”
If that wasn’t enough, rising star Barry Bannan also had a night to remember as he inspired Scotland to a narrow 1-0 victory over Lithuania. I didn’t watch the game at the time, but from what I have seen and heard since, Bannan was incredible. Us Villa fans know talent when we see it, and for a couple of seasons now it’s clear that our little Scottish star has the potential to be very special. He’s blessed with one of the finer left foots around, and he deserves an extended run in the first team sooner rather than later. Indeed if Bent is out this weekend I’d love to see him come in with Gabby moving up top. Bannan (along with Dunne and Given) must be absolutely buzzing after starring for their countries, and he deserves a chance in my opinion.
Bannan was a threat with his deliveries all night, and it was his free kick that brought around a penalty for Scotland after a Lithuania player inexplicitly handled the incoming ball. Bannan actually wanted to take the penalty himself, a sign of the confidence he possesses in his abilities. Scotland should have perhaps listened as Fletcher went on to see his penalty saved. Bannan went on to set up the only goal of the game, playing a delightful chipped ball into the box for Naismith to volley home in some style.
We wrote this on our Facebook page last night and here it is again, courtesy of the BBC text updates:
‘A standing ovation for Barry Bannan as he is replaced by Scotland in the 84th minute. He has been the hosts star performer bar none this evening.’
Bannan himself was clearly overjoyed with the outcome in his competitive debut:
“It’s a marvellous feeling, this is my first competitive game and after playing in the friendlies to get out there and start at Hampden, it’s what dreams are made of.
It’s a great result for us. We knew what it was going to be, a tough game, and we got what we came for.
To get the three points is a big result and hopefully we can kick on from there.”
Sadly Stiliyan Petrov couldn’t make it a perfect night for our Villa stars as his Bulgaria side tasted defeat against Switzerland.
We here at Up the Villa want to offer our congratulations to all our international stars on a great night. They’ll come back to Villa full of confidence and that can only be good for us.
Up the Villa!