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Christmas comes early as Given prepares to make Boro bow
IT is not quite December yet, but Christmas will come early for Shay Given when he makes his Middlesbrough debut against Bolton Wanderers this afternoon.
Given will go straight into Aitor Karanka’s starting line-up despite only arriving on loan from Aston Villa yesterday morning, and is set to make his first competitive start since appearing for his parent club in an FA Cup defeat at Millwall in January.
The last ten months have been extremely frustrating, with Given finding himself frozen out of the first-team picture by Villa boss Paul Lambert but unable to leave on loan despite interest from a number of Championship clubs.
He was eventually given the green light to join Boro a matter of hours before Thursday’s Football League deadline, and is thrilled at the prospect of getting back in the match-day routine later today.
“I can’t wait to be honest,” said Given, who will be making his 600th career club appearance when he lines up against Bolton. “I want to get the talking out of the way.
“I’ve played football all my life, and recently it has been very frustrating. It was like Christmas Eve (yesterday), and it’ll be like Christmas Day (today) when I get back in the thick of the action.
“It’s been a long time for me, but I’m very excited about it. I’m looking forward to the game. Three o’clock on a Saturday is what you live for, what you strive for, and the buzz of playing football again is what you want as a footballer.”
Given will become only the sixth player to have represented Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Sunderland when he replaces the suspended Jason Steele this afternoon.
Joseph Blackett, William Agnew, Tommy Urwin and Stan Anderson recorded a North-East hat-trick in the pre-Second World War years, with Alan Foggon the only person to complete the set in the last half-century.
Given made just 17 appearances during a loan spell at Sunderland, but the Irishman became a firm fans’ favourite during more than a decade of service at St James’ Park.
He looks back at his time on Tyneside with undisguised fondness, and is proud to be cementing his status as one of the North-East’s key footballing figures from the last 20 years.
“I didn’t realise that,” said Given, when told of his impending place in the region’s record books. “That’s a pretty select few and not many players will do that (play for all three clubs).
“Everyone knows that the North-East is a hotbed of football. I know that having played up here for so long. But that was in the past, and I want the fans at this football club to judge me on what I do for their club, not what I’ve done in the past.
“I want to do well for the fans, that’s the bottom line. It’s not about looking back – it’s about looking forward.”
Having not made a single senior appearance this season, there must be a risk of Given suffering from ring-rustiness as he returns to the first-team environment after such a lengthy break.
The 37-year-old is grateful Karanka has overlooked his lay-off to give him an opportunity to prove his enduring talent, and is adamant the Spaniard’s faith will not be misplaced.
While he has not been involved on a match day in the Midlands, Given has been working closely with Aston Villa goalkeeping coach Terry Gennoe and is confident his reflexes remain as well honed as ever.
“I’m grateful to Paul Lambert and Randy Lerner (Aston Villa owner) for giving me a chance to play,” he said. “You have to be ready to play at any time, and I’ve kept my head right as well. That hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve had help from Villa’s goalkeeping coach and owe thanks to him. They have all wished me well, and think this is a great opportunity.
“As for it being my 600th appearance if I’m selected, there’s nothing special about that if we don’t win or I don’t play well. It’s about doing a job for Middlesbrough.”
Given took part in his first training session as a Boro player yesterday, and admits he has had to take something of a crash course in order to be prepared for today’s game.
“I don’t know the names of all the players yet,” he said. “But they’ll know me as I’ll be screaming behind them, hopefully putting all my experience to good use.
“I’ve seen Woody (Jonathan Woodgate) and he’s not changed a bit, maybe aged a bit. It’s always nice to know someone in the changing room, but all the lads have made me feel really welcome.
“I just want to repay the faith people at this club have put in me. A goalkeeper’s position is pretty simple, just keep the ball out of the net. My body feels fresh, and I’m ready to go.”