In his nine years as the overworked last line of an unorthodox Newcastle defence, Shay Given has come to expect the unexpected. In the 14th minute of Thursday's 2-1 Uefa Cup win against Celta Vigo at St James' Park, for instance, one miscued swipe of Titus Bramble's boot left the man from Donegal having to cope with the unintended party trick of a back-heeled goalmouth "clearance". With his customary efficiency and minimum of fuss, he calmly gathered the ball to safety.
It was much the same when Given was on international duty for the Rep-ublic of Ireland in Tehran in 2001. Warming up for the second leg of the World Cup play-off tie against Iran, he dodged what he presumed to be a hail of smoke bombs which turned out to be grenades. It failed to knock him out of his serenely assured stride.
Perhaps it should be little surprise, then, that Given has made such a remarkable recovery from the bombshell that struck him at Upton Park on 17 Sep-tember. In attempting to deny Marlon Harewood a goalscoring opportunity, the 30-year-old keeper suffered the agony of a perforated bowel. He had to undergo emergency surgery to repair the damage.
Three games into his comeback, only two top-drawer goals have beaten Given: Thierry Henry's free-kick at the Emirates Stadium eight days ago and Fabian Conobbio's superb curled shot for Celta on Thursday night. The Irish goalkeeper is not just back but back to his best - as Newcastle may well need him to be against Ports-mouth at St James' today as they continue their slog to pull clear of the Premiership relegation mire.
"I'm not too bad, just getting back to normal," Given reflected, with typical understatement. "What happened at West Ham was pretty horrific. I got stretchered off and thought I was just badly winded, but when I was having a shower my bowel started to leak into my system.
"I didn't know what was happening at the time. It was really bad. My body just shut down with the pain. It's not as if it's your ankle or your knee, when you know what's causing it. If it's internal, it's more frightening.
"I was in so much pain but the doctors couldn't give me anything because they didn't know what was wrong with me. They stuck a camera in first and had a look down and said there was a leak. They had to open the whole thing up and stitch it back together.
"It was scary, yes. It was the worst pain I have ever felt. It's difficult to describe it, but if your body shuts down it's pretty horrific.
"The surgeon was a West Ham fan who was at the game. He operated straight away, which was good, because I'd been thinking of flying back to Newcastle with the rest of the lads. If the leak had happened when I was in the sky there are not too many hospitals up there, so things might have been a lot worse.
"When I came around I had tubes and drips hanging out of me everywhere. It was a major operation. I was on morphine to kill the pain and I lost about 10lb because I didn't eat for five days. The weight is pretty much back on now and I'm glad it's all behind me now."
Glenn Roeder and the Toon Army are delighted that Given is back too. He might occupy Old Kent Road territory in the new Newcastle United edition of Monopoly, but the Magpies' longest servant is simply priceless to his Tyneside club.Reuse content