Nothing friendly about this meeting of equals, so let’s do it again
It was well worth everyone travelling all the way to Wembley
Republic of Ireland’s James McCarthy and England’s Jermain Defoe battle for the ball during the international friendly match at Wembley Stadium. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA Wire.
Enjoy that? Feel equal to them? We should.
I see this as a bonus at the end of a long, hard season. Worth flying home from California and Moscow. Worth falling out with your employers to play at Wembley one more time.
A simple letter would suffice this morning:
Dear Football Association,
We really should do this more often.
Did your blood boil last night on hearing God Save the Queen? Did you let a roar from the deep when Shane Long deftly nudged Seamus Coleman’s beautiful out-swinger past Joe Hart? Did your heart sink when Frank Lampard profited from Seán St Ledger’s error?
No, it didn’t feel one bit like a friendly.
There was nothing friendly about Glenn Whelan horsing through the back of Wayne Rooney. Nothing friendly about the intent of Killybegs’ finest down the right side.
Thankfully David Forde became Ireland’s hero, denying what looked three certain goals with some strong bodied saves.
Nothing friendly about England’s raids forward in those final 10 minutes.
Okay, there was a bit of friendly fire when Simon Cox got in the way of a possible winner. Ah well.
Formations, as you may know, are my favourite topic in this column. Apologies, but it mattered again last night. We simply couldn’t get hold of the ball when we really wanted it.
We were not going to get schooled by England, even with their raft of Champions League quality. Familiarity bred enough contempt for that advantage to be cancelled out.
Still, they owned the ball around the middle third for those crucial last 25 minutes.
Robbie Keane dropping in to cover Michael Carrick wasn’t always successful – in fairness, not many clubs were able to deny the Manchester United midfielder’s influence this season – but Robbie tired eventually.
At least our back four was reasonably solid. They were not swamped by a lack of cover or the fact that our midfield was out-numbered.
England’s equaliser was avoidable. There is no fault on Whelan as he matched Lampard all the way into the box. At the highest international level the game can pass Glenn by – like last summer in Poland – due to his lack of speed and mobility but that wasn’t the problem here. He just thought St Ledger would clear it. But he missed it (at least Seán recovered thereafter).
We all slinked back into our seats. Especially our green clad brothers, sisters, cousins and friends who were getting a little lairy in London boozers.
As the first half wore on James McCarthy’s influence began to tell. He was getting a grip on proceedings, dictating our passing, matching his FA Cup final performance also at Wembley.
He so obviously wanted to own the midfield and after half-time some of his interceptions made him the dominant force for a time.
I feel like Spurs or Liverpool would suit James’ style next season. Their squads aren’t outstanding so he would be an immediate passing and tackling asset. They are passing teams and that’s where I think he would thrive.
Aiden McGeady was another trying to make a big statement. Of course he has never played in the Premier League. So they may not have rated him. They should now, and even if he lacked consistency in his passing and delivery he still looks a better option than James McClean.
But it was a huge physical effort by everyone. Long was amongst it. The English know him by now. And centre backs don’t like having to deal with his confrontational approach.
Shane’s effort, graft and pace was evident but he still needs to add a subtly to his runs, general movement and first touch. Still, his current ability was enough last night for us to be glad to have him leading the line.
Loyal to favourites
I was very pleased to see Trap put Jeff Hendricks into the midfield duel. He took far too long to trust Coleman, Long and McCarthy. And look how they repaid him when given the chance.
Our Italian leader is still reliant, loyal may be a better word, to favourites like Jonathan Walters and Whelan, while Robbie Brady and Wes Hoolahan are not deemed to have the right stuff for his system.
Some of us would change that system to cater for such creative talent.
But let’s not go there. Let’s savour the moment – even if it’s only a draw – as these nights are rare. Especially nowadays. We are a growing football squad and there are green shoots covering the horrors of last summer.
The embarrassment of the Euros was rattling around their brains last year so at least this time the players can return to pre-season with their heads held high.
The pair who go back to Los Angeles and Moscow can feel justified as well.
Now, to avoid another hammering against Spain at the Giants Stadium.
The Faroe Islands game on June 7th still means more than last night. But try telling that to our thousands upon thousands of expats across the water last night.
Work tomorrow in the city with their hangovers will be bearable. If any of your native colleagues start jabbering, just do the sums.
Count up the value of each starting XI and they will be the one’s slinking into their seats.
And give your Ma a call more often!