Ireland 0-0 England
England’s failure to beat the Republic of Ireland in over thirty years continued as Roy Hodgson and Martin O’Neill fielded strong teams that both performed well below par.
With the national anthems both sung with the crowd at peace, the fans in the Aviva Stadium looked more focused on the match than on local bragging rights or to repeat past spectator hooliganism. With Ireland preparing for their vital qualifier with Scotland, and England looking on to a tie in Ljubljana, Slovenia, both managers had clearly stated they saw it as a warm-up of sorts.
It was over half an hour before the first true opening arrived. And sure enough it went to the Republic. As the ball fell kindly for Daryl Murphy, the Championship’s leading goalscorer at Ipswich Town fired a volley which Joe Hart tapped wide. His header from Seamus Coleman’s well delivered free-kick went well wide. From a well worked England interchange, Adam Lallana’s drive arrowed just over the crossbar before Northern Irish referee Arnold Hunter brought a dismal half of football to an end.
It was clear that summer holidays in luxurious parts of the globe were playing on the players’ minds. England first tested goalkeeper Kieran Westwood when Wayne Rooney’s tamely struck free-kick was easily caught. Raheem Sterling could not forget his troubles off the pitch with a similarly forgettable afternoon to that of his captain. Rooney’s best chance in some ways never actually came. As Jordan Henderson did well to steal the ball to get ahead of every Irish man in green, he passed forward to Rooney. The Manchester United captain was to go one-on-one with Westwood of Sheffield Wednesday, but his touch was awful and the ball trickled into the grateful goalkeeper’s clutch.
The only serious save that Joe Hart needed to make came from substitute Jon Walters. His powerful drive was beaten away by Hart and luckily the bounce deceived the incoming James McClean. The danger was over. Jamie Vardy was brought on for Wayne Rooney, to make his England debut. The Leicester City man, playing his trade in the Conference just three years ago had few sniffs of goal but proved a nuisance to the Irish full-backs. Lively substitute Andros Towsend sent secondary goalkeeper Shay Given [a substitute] scrambling with his low strike.
No chances followed, and although England had not lost, this draw could be taken as a moral defeat. Their performance in Slovenia must be better otherwise serious questions will arise.