Monday, October 11, 2004

The big shut-out

Given the scorn and derision usually reserved for our backline - which, while too leaky and frail for a team with Champions League aspirations, is not quite as bad as is made out - it was pleasing to see key members of our defensive personnel performing well in the weekend's international matches.

Nicky Butt turned in a typically solid if unspectacular shift in front of his back four in England's 2-0 victory over Wales. The rock on which most of Wales's few attempted attacks foundered, Butt also contributed some telling passes whilst allowing Lampard and Beckham to play their more natural attacking game.

Meanwhile Northern Ireland captain Aaron Hughes helped prevent Azerbaijan from registering on the score sheet - just a shame that his team-mates at the other end couldn't find the net.

But the highest praise should go Stephen Carr, Andy O'Brien and Shay Given, who formed three-fifths of the Republic of Ireland defensive unit that kept out France in Paris, restricting Thierry Henry and company to a very few real chances. When the back four were breached, Given pulled off some great saves, while O'Brien was rightly incensed when, jostling for position at a corner, he took a deliberate elbow to the neck from Fabien Barthez which should have resulted in a penalty.

Incidentally, it was interesting to see Bellamy deployed on the right hand side of a five man midfield for Wales. Presumably he was looking forward to having a run out up front with Hartson, but Mark Hughes had other ideas. Though his finishing was wayward on the one occasion when he had a clear sight of goal, he can probably claim to have caused Butt and the English defence at least as many problems as any of his team-mates, Giggs included.


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