Republic of Ireland boss Martin O’Neill hopes Stoke City goalkeeper Shay Given can make the most of an unexpected chance of first-team action before the end of this season.
Veteran stopper Given, who came out of international retirement in 2014 to help guide Ireland to a place at Euro 2016, has not played a competitive match since suffering a knee injury in the qualifying win over world champions Germany last October.
The 39-year-old’s club team-mate Jack Butland had his Euro 2016 dream shattered over the weekend when a fractured ankle sustained during England’s 3-2 victory against Germany in Munich left him facing around three months on the sidelines.
Jakob Haugaard is expected to make his Stoke debut against Swansea City this weekend as Given continues to build his fitness in training, but Mark Hughes’ regular understudy should soon be ready to take the gloves.
O’Neill will start Newcastle United’s Rob Elliot between the posts against Slovakia on Tuesday after West Ham’s Darren Randolph saw the Republic to a 1-0 triumph over Switzerland on Friday, but the manager would welcome his most senior keeper’s return.
“It’s unfortunate about the young goalkeeper at Stoke, and I’m not picking Stoke City’s team,” O’Neill said.
“But if that does give Shay an opportunity to play regularly between now and the end of the season it gives him a really good chance.”
If he is on the cusp of impressive options for the last line of defence, O’Neill is facing a headache in attack after the Swiss encounter saw Kevin Doyle and Daryl Murphy join Robbie Keane and Jonathan Walters on the injury list.
Southampton’s Shane Long is the only recognised striker remaining with Ireland’s depleted group, but the former Celtic and Sunderland boss is happy to make do.
“We can adjust things,” O’Neill explained. “James McClean has played up front before, I’ve seen him play for Wigan there where he’s done exceptionally well so I think that we can change things around anyway.
“It’s been a bit of a disruption. For a start, I wanted Kevin Doyle to start the game [against Switzerland] and I wanted him to play at least for an hour if not the whole game, depending on how fit he was and how he was feeling.
“I thought he started the game quite well and was obviously unfortunate to get injured. I was probably thinking that Robbie Keane would be involved at some stage or another in one of the two games.
“I really thought that Jon Walters would’ve been fit as well so yes it’s been a disruption but these things happen.”
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