It was dour, rather than sour but our recent unbeaten record against England is intact
There was a satisfaction that always comes with not losing to England, and a generous bonus in the fact that the atmosphere between the two sets of fans was at the very least amiable, but Ireland will need to be operating at a greater intensity when Scotland come to town next weekend. That the biggest cheer of the day was reserved for the legend that is Jack Charlton just illustrates what an end of season knees-up this was.
Apart from a few first-half passages this game wasn’t at all pretty on the eye and by full time the momentum had slowed to a crawl. Of most importance, however, is that we’re headed towards a Pot 3 seeding for the upcoming World Cup qualifying draw. This will become a certainty if we beat the Scots on Saturday because both they and England are ranked higher than us on FIFA’s system.
But back to the match and it’s quite obvious that the hosts will take more from this fixture than the travelling English party who really looked like a group at the end of a long hard season. Jack Wilshere alone came away from the game with his head held high, with the Arsenal’s man technical proficiency and drive from midfield a constant threat to the Irish rearguard. Apart from a sluggish Wayne Rooney, Raheem Sterling was probably the biggest disappointment for the Three Lions as he consistency failed to beat his marker Robbie Brady at left back. On the few occasions he wriggled free he was met by the unusual presence of Aiden McGeady, who displayed the defensive side to his game that is rarely seen.
Ireland’s best moments came in a bright first half that was marked by the team’s intention to keep the ball on the ground rather than hoof it skywards. It was far removed from the Trapattoni days and while we still look shaky when stringing the passes together it is certainly a step in the right direction. On the rare occasions when the ball went long it was generally for good reason, and in the case of James McCarthy good precision as he sprayed a couple of balls from right to left that were inch perfect. McCarthy’s presence is certainly becoming more felt of late and in the first half he was tireless in his pursuit of the white shirts around him, harrying and disrupting before ultimately picking out the pass that moved Ireland forward. Whelan beside him was equally tactile when it came to the English man on the ball with the result that England often found it difficult to build from the middle of the park.
Further back Ireland looked solid with the centre-half pairing of O’Shea and Wilson proving impervious, even if they were a little lucky that Rooney’s touch failed him in the second half when clear through on goal. Behind them Kieren Westwood was his commanding self for the time he was on the pitch and will have given Martin O’Neill something to think about. His replacement, and current No. 1, Shay Given dawdled on the ball on a couple of occasions and still looks a little off his old self. The aforementioned Robbie Brady had a fine match and his crossing and set-piece deliveries were Ireland’s chief source of English disquiet. On the opposite side Seamus Coleman looked lively, especially early on, unveiling some nice tricks which worked for the most part but there were a couple of dispossessions which will need to be stamped out.
Murphy In The Frame
Up front Shane Long didn’t start which was a surprise given that he’ll surely be our main attacker against the Scots. That said it was good to see Daryl Murphy getting a run and he made the most of his chance as he posed plenty of problems for the rocky English defence. He even had a pair of decent chances to give Ireland their first win over the auld enemy since 1988. His first came via a headed Jeff Hendrick through-ball which left Murphy with only Joe Hart to beat, albeit from a tight angle. His resultant shot was true but disappointingly went wide of Hart’s post with the suspicion that the Manchester City goalkeeper got the slightest of touches. Murphy’s second chance was even better as he found himself unmarked from a cross by Robbie Brady but seemed to be caught unawares and badly skewed his headed effort wide.
Martin O’Neill will have been satisfied with this workout but it means the team have gone a full 180 minutes, when you include the training game against Northern Ireland last Thursday, without scoring. That we have not conceded in the same period of time is of some solace, but given that a win is mandatory next weekend against Scotland we quickly need to find our shooting boots.
Republic of Ireland: Kieren Westwood (Shay Given, 61 mins), Seamus Coleman, John O’Shea (Paul McShane, 71 mins), Marc Wilson, Robbie Brady, Glenn Whelan (Harry Arter, 63 mins), James McCarthy (James McClean, half-time), Jeff Hendrick, David McGoldrick (Shane Long, 57 mins), Aiden McGeady, Daryl Murphy (Jon Walters, 56 mins).
England: Joe Hart, Phil Jones, Gary Cahill (Phil Jagielka, 74 mins), Chris Smalling, Ryan Bertrand, Jack Wilshire (Ross Barkley, 67 mins), James Milner, Raheem Sterling (Andros Townsend, 67 mins), Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana (Theo Walcott, 82 mins), Wayne Rooney (Jamie Vardy, 74 mins)
- Author: Kevin Dunphy