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Jan 8, 2013

Given motivated by cup runs

Shay Given is relishing Aston Villa's twin pursuit of a Wembley place as it has given him something to remember a difficult season by.

• Given considers Ireland return

Given has been a virtual bystander in the club's Premier League survival battle and questions have been raised about his future in the West Midlands, but he says that his full part in a Capital One Cup journey, which continues at the semi-final stage at Bradford on Tuesday night, has given him a much-needed fillip.

"I have played in the last three or four rounds (of the cups) and hopefully I have done enough to play at Bradford," he said. "It's difficult when you don't play and. You can only keep reminding the manager that there's life in you and plenty of years ahead.

"These cup games have been good for me. I knew early in the week I would be playing against Ipswich and it gives you something to work for. This is a huge game....I hope I have a chance. It's a carrot to keep working hard and pushing Brad (Guzan). He has played well and it's a tough one for the manager but he has gone with Brad and it has been difficult for me this season.

"Working hard then not playing can be soul-destroying on a match day. I'm not used to it. I can't say I'm happy to stay on the bench because I'm not."

Given has played in three of the four games Villa have played in this season's Capital One Cup, as well as in Saturday's FA Cup victory over Ipswich.

Ironically, Guzan was the preferred man in the competition throughout 2009-10, only to suffer the heartbreak of being replaced by Brad Friedel for the Wembley final against Manchester United.

Now the American is wondering whether he might face disappointment in different circumstances at the hands of a 36-year-old who admits he has had a couple of pep-talks from the manager this season.

"I have not looked too much long-term," Given said of his Villa Park future. "We will see what happens in the next few weeks. We're one step away from a Wembley final. The manager has had me in the office a couple of times and been supportive....there are no complaints on that front. Sometimes, you have bad days. It's hard to put into words... it's difficult to keep going sometimes."

Tuesday's semi-final first leg takes Given on a nostalgic journey - and he is expecting it to be a rousing occasion.

"It's going to be a red-hot atmosphere," he said. "I had my first professional trial with Bradford at 15. It was the first stadium I went to when I left home. Dean Richards, who is no longer with us, was the leader of the under-17 and under-18 groups and we went on tour to Germany. Frank Stapleton was the manager but I went to Celtic in the end. I went to a few more clubs after Bradford for a trial.

"If we take them lightly in these games, we'll be punished. Arsenal in the last round had their full-strength team out and they lost."

Villa boss Paul Lambert has remained grateful through a trying first season at the club that his goalkeeper department is high-class.

Having selected Guzan for every league game since the draw at Newcastle at the start of September, he appears to have decided who he sees as his No. 1, but he said: "The two of them are playing unbelievable at the minute.

"Brad has been excellent in the League and Shay has been different class in the cup. Even on Saturday, Shay... the two saves he made were incredible.

"I won't be the first and I won't be the last to say that he's a world-class goalkeeper. His shot-stopping is incredible. I wouldn't swap the two of them for any pair in the Premier League, not the way they are. This club is really fortunate to have two world-class goalkeepers."

Asked whether there had been any complaints from Given about his long absences from the side, Lambert added: "He's a fantastic pro. You can see why he has been an absolute top, top goalkeeper.

"I left him out against Newcastle and it was a really tough decision. You're telling someone who has got 100 odd caps for Ireland that, after a couple of games, he's not going to play. I just thought that it might have been the right thing to do at that time. It was a big call to make, no two ways about it.

"Brad and me spoke and there was no big thing. Disappointment was probably what he'd feel and I understand that. I've been through that and I know exactly how he's feeling. The highest compliment I can pay him is that he has been brilliant. I know that sounds strange when he has only played in the cups but he has been absolutely fantastic."

• Pick your Premier League fantasy squad for the second half of the season now and challenge your friends.

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