Sixteen months proved an unbearable period without Premier League action for a player of Shay Given's distinction.
There can be few, if any, top-flight managers besides Roberto Mancini who would not welcome the 35-year-old between the posts. Yet after a season at Eastlands in which he appeared more times for his country than in cup competitions for his club, the Republic of Ireland international has returned to the club scene in rude form.
"I was genuinely excited," he said after a debut for Aston Villa against Fulham that was defined by his saves. "I left home at 16 and even before I left home I'd been playing football all my life. I was pretty regular at most clubs I'd been at, so it was a bit strange and frustrating last year. But it's great to be at Villa and feel part of the group."
Given's prowess was in evidence in both halves of a dour goalless draw. He pushed Andrew Johnson's thumping drive to safety before twice thwarting Bobby Zamora at close range. Asked if he considers himself the best keeper in the league bar Joe Hart, he quipped: "Who said that, Mancini?" The fact is, he may still be.
A draw represents a solid start to the season for managers Alex McLeish and Martin Jol. And although the walk across the pitch to the dug-outs at Craven Cottage can be a gauntlet, particularly for new managers, even the turncoat of the Midlands, McLeish, received an ovation before and after this match.
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