When Giovanni Trapattoni picked a mammoth 33-man squad for the Carling Nations Cup and a Euro 2012 qualifier with Macedonia in the spring, Wes Hoolahan’s absence was as disappointing as it was predictable. The creative mastermind behind Norwich City’s promotion to the Premier League has been largely overlooked at international level, despite consistently pressing a claim since making his debut in 2008.
The 29-year-old Dubliner has thrived under the stewardship of Paul Lambert, moving from the wing to a role behind the strikers at the head of a midfield diamond and on occasion as a deep-lying forward. He has already provided four assists and was recently shortlisted for the Irish PFA’s best overseas based player award. Hoolahan netted Norwich’s equaliser on the opening day of the season in a 1-1 draw at Wigan and opened the scoring in Norwich’s 4-2 thumping of high-flying Newcastle.
Anthony Pilkington has also been a huge success since joining from Huddersfield in a £2m deal in July, stealing the shine from Norwich’s other lauded League One acquisition, Elliott Bennett. Pilkington got off the mark by opening the scoring in an impressive 2-1 win at Bolton in September, before netting a double against Swansea, as Norwich recorded a 3-1 victory. His pinpoint cross was converted by Grant Holt to secure a 1-1 draw at Liverpool, he scored a stunning free kick in a 3-2 defeat at Aston Villa and also found the net in a 2-1 win at QPR.
Lambert has moved to praise his talented winger, who has shown great mental strength in his recovery from a dislocated ankle and also by shrugging off the glorious chances he missed in a 2-0 defeat against Manchester United. “What Pilkington does with his deliveries and his influence on the team is excellent,” Lambert claimed. “To get two goals (against Swansea) after a horrendous leg break and what happened at Old Trafford, he will be delighted.”
Eligible for Ireland through his paternal grandmother, Pilkington is also hoping to catch the eye of Trapattoni, although he has appeared evasive when questioned regarding his international aspirations. Blackburn-born, he may retain the hope that England will also express an interest.
With fierce competition for places, those on the outside will have to pull out all the stops to force their way in to Trapattoni’s plans. He recently warned Gibson that it would be in his best interests to seek a new club if he is to retain his international place, and Gibson heeded this advice and promptly moved to Everton.
Nobody is likely to take their place for granted, yet Trapattoni has already demonstrated favouritism towards certain tried and tested individuals. With few friendly opportunities remaining, it will be difficult for the likes of Hoolahan and Pilkington to stake a legitimate claim, although if Norwich’s excellent start to the season continues, there will be plenty of support for their inclusion.
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