News Column

Shay's last game ... the end of a fine bromance

February 18, 2014

EXPECT a teary farewell at the Riverside on Saturday as clean sheet specialist Shay Given enjoys his swansong.

The shot-stopper supreme plays his last game on loan for Boro against Leeds before he returns to Aston Villa.

And as well as leaving a big hole at the back it is going to be an emotional wrench.

Big, hard Boro fans - former dockers and steelworkers and muscly macho types who have no intention whatsoever of getting in touch with their feminine side - will have moist and misty eyes as Shay claps and poignantly walks cinematically towards the tunnel. Roll credits.

I'm half expecting a choked chorus of last ditch pleading to waft across a distraught Riverside.

"Shay now... Shay now... won't you Shay another day?" I understand the Transporter is in lock-down and the Samaritans have cancelled all leave for Saturday night.

Shay Given has been the subject of the biggest Boro bromance since Juninho.

It was love at first sight. Most new signings are written off as has-beens, crocks or no-marks long before they pull on a shirt, it's the Boro way. It's in our cultural DNA. Boooo.

But Shay Given, a former Mackem AND Geordie star remember, sparked a collective swoon.

He was lauded from his first appearance, became an instant cult hero with his debut clean sheet against Bolton and then his weekly wonder saves reinforced the man crush.

It almost didn't matter that he leaked five goals in the next three as Boro took just one point from nine; he oozed confidence, shouted and pointed and organised and looked like he knew what he was doing.

And whenever called into action he responded in style.

In every game there was at least one awesome example of his agility, anticipation and understanding of ballistics as he made full-length, onehanded reflex saves that appeared to defy geometry and logic.

Including one so brilliant that it defied being captured by camera and passed into mythology.

And as the team tightened up he became almost unbeatable at the back.

It is a long time since we have seen such obvious Premier League quality on show at Boro.

No wonder fans worn down by the depressing parade of ineptitude of recent years became infatuated so quickly.

Shay Given was a flashback to the glory years of consistent casual brilliance.

And there is no question that a section of supporters have developed a crush on him.

You can hear the dreamy tone in their voices when they speak and see the twinkle in their eyes.

If I was sharper I'd have been knocking out "I (heart) Shay" T- shirts on Ebay.

Given has developed quite a fan club, always eager to chant his name and his arrival in the goal at the Boro end on our travels creates a bit of a buzz and pushes the volume up.

He has been serenaded throughout games - although popular early hit 'sign him on' appears to have been dropped from the repertoire since the deadline day fumble that saw an extended stay bobble away.

Nevertheless, he will get a genuine and universal heartfelt roar of appreciation as he leaves the pitch... especially if he has kept another blank.

Boro have stuttered at the sharp end in recent weeks and there have been rising levels of background chuntering over the on going goal drought and falling entertainment levels.

But no-one can accuse Shay of not delivering.

Whatever the extent that the fluttering eye-lashes and on-going game of footsie has skewed perception, the reality of his statistics is inescapable.

Shay Given has played 15 games since arriving at the end of November and has kept NINE clean sheets.

That is impressive by any standards.

That run includes a stingy shut-out sequence of eight in 10 games.

And in the last four games he has kept three clean sheets with the only one scored against him being a penalty.

But his almost impregnable form at the Riverside is simply staggering.

Given has played eight games at home and kept SEVEN clean sheets.

In his eight home games Boro have won five, drawn two and lost just once, the narrow 1-0 reverse to Brighton... and that was the only goal he has conceded at the Riverside.

No wonder Boro can't afford him: his bonuses will be bankrupting the club.

Of course, some sections of the Boro fans have always gone a little bit weak at the knees over a loankeeper.

It goes hand-in-hand with the jaundiced perspective that every netminder already on the books is and always has been rubbish.

Even Mark Schwarzer was roasted through his 10 years for being a poor kicker, no good in the air, poor coming off his line and a lack of loyalty. It was only begrudgingly admitted through gritted teeth that he was "a good shot-stopper."

It probably started with Steve Pears back in 1983 when five clean sheets in his first seven games stopped the rot and won the hearts of the Holgate.

There was a fruitless terrace campaign to try and buy the Manchester United man for borasic Boro via public subscription.

So we have form when it comes to crushes on custodians.

In 2011, with Jason Steele injured, we had two short lived flings.

At the back end of the 2010-11 season Paul Smith was drafted in from Nottingham Forest on loan and put in a perfectly good shift as the Mogganaut built up a head of steam. Smith played 10 games and Boro lost just once with a final flourish - but there was just one clean sheet and he conceded 16 goals, although the team were scoring plenty.

There was a half-hearted attempt to build a bandwagon to sign him that quickly fizzled out. His next club was Southend.

But Smith was quickly forgotten as, with Steele still sidelined, Boro kicked off the next season with Carl Ikeme in goal.

Boro was the seventh stop on Wolves second string stopper Ikeme's loan tour of the Championship.

And, it must be said, he did well.

He played 10 games too and Boro were unbeaten - it was the lunar launch of Mogga's first full season and the team got off to the best start in 110 years.

Ikeme started slowly, leaking a goal a game in his first five but then Boro stepped up a gear and he kept five clean sheets in a row before leaving, the final three coming in successive goalless draws.

Naturally he became an icon for the then fledgling anti-Steele lobby.

Plenty of people had already decided the England Under-21 keeper wasn't good enough.

Some of them suggested without a hint of irony that a player they had branded rubbish should be flogged to Liverpool or Sunderland or any of his other suitors for Pounds 3m and upwards and the money used to buy Ikeme.

On Steele's return Boro lost two of the next three - at Forest and champions-elect Southampton - and despite some superb shows as the team went on a run of just one defeat in 10, that was evidence enough.

Ikeme was used as a stick to beat Steele for the next two years.

And by proxy as a stick to beat Tony Mowbray.

But if Steele thinks that was bad he'd better start wearing body armour.

Now he faces far more bruising beatings as the greater weaponry of Given's excellence is brought to bear.

There is nothing more certain than that when he returns, Steele will play under the long shadow of Shay.

Or that his first mistake will be greeted with not just groans but sniping and scape-goating and squeals of anguish.

And keepers do make mistakes: even Shay. Look at the replay for the late leveller in the 2-2 draw at Birmingham.

Some people appear to be relishing the chance to resume their open hostility towards the keeper.

Others are just concerned at losing a rock like the Republic keeper.

But it would be unfair and unhelpful to measure him against Given every second of every game for here on in.

Steele is a good keeper. He too has made brilliant point securing saves time and again.

The goals leaked in the early part of the season - and last term - were as much because of the porous nature of a team geared to attack with cavalier full-backs bombing on and yawning gaps appearing behind them as anything inherent in Steele's skill-set.

And there were plenty of occasions when Steele prevented far more damaging results.

Cast your mind back to the way the defence used to fall apart and leave him totally exposed. Barnsley for instance.

When he returns it will be behind a rearguard far more regimented than last time he played.

And he is a Boro player in a key position. He deserves support. And time to get back up to speed.

He may not be the object of your bromantic intent but give him the chance to win hearts and minds again.

SHAY GIVEN'S FULL RECORD BOLTON (h) W 1-0 DERBY (a) L 1-2 BIRMINGHAM (a) D 2-2 BRIGHTON (h) L 0-1 MILLWALL (a) W 2-0 BURNLEY (h) W 1-0 READING (h) W 1-0 BLACKPOOL (a) W 2-0 CHARLTON (h) W 1-0 LEICESTER (a) L 0-2 WIGAN (h) D 0-0 DONCASTER (a) D 0-0 BLACKBURN (h) D 0-0 WATFORD (a) L 0-1

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Source: Evening Gazette (UK)

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