February 7th 2009, and “moneybags” Manchester City play a televised match against Gareth Southgates Middlesborough. City needed to bounce back after a 1-0 loss to stoke, and they very nearly lost it had it not been for one of Mark Hughes’ shrewdest of signings.
Irish international Shay Given was making his first appearance for the Blues. It was a crisp, light, winter’s day which the former Newcastle United man might have been enjoying until half an hour in where he made an exquisite save from Brazilian Alfonso Alves. Two more followed and City played out a nervy one goal win.
Then he was wearing number 37, now he wears the number 1 for City with pride. Considering some of the astronomical amount of money spent on some players joining Hughes’ new look City side, 6 million for arguably their most important and influential player seems ridiculous, not even thinkable for any football fan who has seen the Lifford born shot stopper.
But alas he week in week out puts in performances and saves that have gifted him 100 caps for his national side. One excellent save from a high curler by Matt Jarvis in city’s first home game of the season brought yet more acclaim for Given who it is joked is keeping Manchester City out of the relegation zone. While this may be a slight exaggeration, Given’s penalty save at Birmingham showed yet again why Mark Hughes brought the 33 year old to Eastlands.
Here are arguably his five best saves of the season:
1. Matt Jarvis-Wolves- after a succession of City chances, Wolves attack towards the north stand and Matt Jarvis comes in from the left onto his favoured right foot, charges away from Richard Dunne and curls a perfectly placed shot towards the top right hand corner.
For all the world it looked like it would go in but for a flying left hand from City’s number one, diverting the ball around the post, earning him a huge round of applause from the City faithful.
2. Freddie Sears-Crystal Palace– a potential banana skin tie for City after two embarrassing cup exits the season before to Brighton and Nottingham Forest. Not this year with a point blank save by given after on loan striker Freddie Sears was put through on goal.
Not a fashionable save from a tight angle, with the ball ballooning off his chest, but another valuable stop preventing another lower league team boasting about beating the world’s richest club. City went on to win 2-0 with Given making a few more excellent saves just for good measure.
3. Ryan Giggs-Manchester United- with United on a high after just going ahead 2-1 from a Darren Fletcher header City were stretched and unorganised. Wayne Rooney found himself holding the ball up on the edge of the penalty area, he fed it to the evergreen Welshman who’s shot was saved by the legs of given. It is possible that City would have been taken to the sword had it not been for Given’s heroics that day.
4. Dimitar Berbatov-Manchester United- after a close range save from the Bulgarian a few minutes before, Given had to be on his toes again the former Tottenham man placed a header towards goal. Given dived across and not only kept the ball from going over the line but also pushed it away from goal, Just like he’ll have been taught as a youngster.
5. James Mcfadden-Birmingham city- a lacklustre performance from City probably deserved a defeat, especially with Birmingham showing real promise and desire in an overcast Sunday kick-off at St Andrews.
A handball from Dutchmen Nigel De Jong gave the Scotsman a golden opportunity. Perhaps the penalty wasn’t as good as it could have been but Given went the right way and won his team a point.