Cup carrot helps Given cope with frustration

Shay Given admits Aston Villa’s cup success has helped him cope with the frustration of being number two goalkeeper this season.

Given lost his place to Brad Guzan in August and the American has played in all of Villa’s Premier League matches for the past five months.

Former Republic of Ireland international Given concedes it would have been difficult to keep going without the compensation of being involved in the Capital One Cup and FA Cup matches.

But the knockout competitions have acted as a big carrot for the 36-year-old, who hopes to play in the first leg of the Capital One Cup semi-final at Bradford tonight.

Given said: “It is a tough one for the manager to pick one of us. He has gone with Brad this season and it is has been difficult for me at times.

“I can’t stand here and say I’m quite happy to sit on the bench, because I’m not. When you work hard all week and, come matchday you are not playing, it can be soul destroying.

“You miss the buzz of playing games. I’m not used to the position but these cup games have been important.

“Had we been knocked out in the first round of the League Cup, I might not have been so happy. It would be difficult to keep yourself going.

“These little games coming every now and then have really kept me working hard. At the back of your mind, you know these big games are coming up. Please God, I’ll play on Tuesday night.’’

Given showed he is still a force to be reckoned with when producing two saves described as world-class by Villa boss Paul Lambert during the weekend FA Cup win over Ipswich.

He said: “When I get the chance, it’s important I remind the manager that there is still plenty of life left in me and still plenty of years left ahead of me.”

Despite being second choice, Given is full of praise for the way Lambert has handled the situation.

He said: “The gaffer has been supportive, had me in the office a couple of times and there are no complaints on that front.

“He says ‘Keep your head down, keep working hard and see what happens.’

“Sometimes you sulk about it and have bad days like all people do, but the cup games have been a big carrot for me. I’m looking forward to Tuesday.”

Given has good memories of Bradford and knows Villa cannot afford to take the clash lightly, especially after the Bantams’ shock win over Arsenal in the previous round.

He said: “I had my first professional trial at Bradford City when I was 15 so it is good memories going back up there.

“It was the first team I ever went to when I left home. Frank Stapleton was the manager at the time. It went well, they wanted to sign me but I decided to go somewhere else. I went to Celtic.

“We know how lively the atmosphere will be up there. Arsenal had their virtual full strength team out there and were beaten so if we take it lightly, we will get punished.

“But Wembley is touching distance away and we’ve done ever so well to get this far with some great away results at Man City and Norwich.”

Bradford manager Phil Parkinson is hoping tonight’s clash with Villa will remind the nation the West Yorkshire club are on their way back up.

The spotlight shone brightly on the Bantams during one of their finest hours last month when the 110-year-old npower League Two club stunned Arsenal in a thrilling penalty shoot-out triumph in the quarter-finals.

It has been a long 13 years since Bradford escaped relegation on the final day of the 1999/2000 season to survive a second campaign in the Premier League after a famous 1-0 home win over Liverpool.

The Bantams were relegated the following season and then followed a calamitous slide into administration (twice) and English football’s basement division. From top to bottom in seven forgettable seasons.

But penalty shoot-out wins over Arsenal and Wigan have given Parkinson a taste for more success.

“The win against Arsenal certainly reminded everybody that Bradford City is up and running and starting to get going again,” he said.

Bradford, three points off an automatic promotion spot in League Two, are again massive underdogs tonight but Parkinson said: “The lads have shown that they can compete against the best teams, we also know we have to be right at our best and Aston Villa will have to be well below par for us to progress, but anything can be achieved and we’ve got a group of lads who are going to relish the challenge.”

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