Clinical England pick off Ireland in front of 30,000 at the Aviva

Lauren James and Alex Greenwood strike in the first half as Sara Wiegman’s England hold off a late rally to keep a clean sheet

Ireland’s Leanne Kiernan dejected after defeat to England in the Euro 2025 qualifier. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Republic of Ireland 0 England 2

Ireland had one glorious chance to score. Naturally, it came from a Katie McCabe free-kick. As usual, the target was Louise Quinn at the back post.

Some clever decoy runners caught England cold as Quinn’s ball back across Hannah Hampton’s area was met by Anna Patten and Caitlin Hayes, but the Irish defenders failed to make sufficient contact to nudge the ball into a gaping net.

It would have left England leading 2-1 with 11 minutes to play. It would have brought the house down.

Thereafter, Quinn stayed up front, as did McCabe, to give the 32,742 crowd their money’s worth.

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McCabe pulled a sneaky move, late on, when she pick-pocketed the English goalkeeper only for Hampton to recover and deny a consolation goal.

Chastising or an educational night in Dublin. Glass half empty or half full? The gulf in class between English and Irish football was laid bare at the Aviva Stadium.

Sarina Wiegman’s smooth-as-silk outfit struck early through Lauren James and Alex Greenwood before taking Ireland on a tour of their own national patch of grass.

It was just the second women’s international at the Aviva. The Irish battled themselves to exhaustion. The English strolled about, never leaving third gear. And still, they owned the night.

The problem was clear, Ireland had no out-ball. No respite. Backs to a green wall with Kyra Carusa always disconnected up front, miles from her teammates as the England back four quickly became a defensive two marshalled by the unflappable Leah Williamson.

It was only a matter of time.

Ireland were organised but never equal to the European champions. The Lionesses reached last year’s World Cup final with an array of stars, each one technically superior to their marker here.

It took 11 minutes for James to tiptoe into the box, where the brilliant Chelsea player shot first time, a low laser beam that silenced the crowd.

It was created by Keira Walsh being granted enough time to check and cross to the back post where Lucy Bronze outjumped McCabe. The Barcelona right-back’s header hit Patten’s shin and sat up for James to pounce.

That’s how it went, upside down for Ireland, attackers like McCabe forced to mark defenders like Bronze.

Ireland could not escape. The second goal proved as inevitable as the first; Jessica Park left fly with a volley that hit Ruesha Littlejohn’s arm, prompting Finnish referee Lina Lehtovaara to award a penalty, which Alex Greenwood cooly finished.

Greenwood’s strike was neither high nor low but Brosnan dove the wrong way.

England’s players relished the chance to keep McCabe under wraps, with James and Park taking turns forcing her to turn and recycle possession. They seemed delighted by the Irish skipper being positioned 90 metres from their goal, a good 70 metres out of her lethal range.

The switch forward came too late. McCabe in the Lucy Quinn role, running off Carusa, would have forced Wiegman to think again.

There was one early chance, a brief moment at 0-0, when Carusa rushed towards halfway only to spread a wide pass that Lucy Quinn put her foot on, both of them missing Denise O’Sullivan’s lung busting sprint up the opposite flank.

England slowly reformed and regained possession. Granted, the moment demanded the sort of pass only McCabe or Walsh could unleash.

Still, Eileen Gleeson’s team made it too easy for the visitors to dominate the opening 45 minutes. Irish possession never lasted longer than three passes.

It should have been 3-0 by the half hour. Another English penalty was given after Lauren Hemp skinned Aoife Mannion down the left and picked out Alessia Russo whose touch hit Louise Quinn’s forearm. This time Greenwood slammed the ball off the butt of the right post.

Gleeson made one change at the turn, Megan Connolly replacing Littlejohn, as Ireland persisted with Mannion at right-back although McCabe was freed from defensive duties.

The arrival of Megan Campbell’s long throwing abilities and Leanne Kiernan’s vigour suggests that the starting line-up might have been different.

Ireland’s Courtney Brosnan makes a save against England. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

It should have been 3-0 again on the hour mark. A gift; Brosnan’s short kick out to Quinn was shipped left for Patten who was dispossessed by James. Brosnan saved terrifically from Fran Kirby’s point blank effort after Beth Mead touched down James’ looping delivery.

It could have been a humiliation. Instead, it was just a clean lesson in how possession football is played by one of the best English sides to ever grace Lansdowne Road.

“We are disappointed with the results,” said Quinn after a Nations League window that yielded two defeats, three goals conceded and none scored. “We know the level now.”

Ireland: Brosnan; Aoife Mannion, Hayes, Louise Quinn, Patten, McCabe; Littlejohn (Megan Connolly, 46), O’Sullivan; Payne (Megan Campbell, 60), Lucy Quinn (Leanne Kiernan, 60); Carusa (Emily Murphy, 70).

England: Hampton; Bronze, Williamson, Greenwood, Carter; Toone (Georgia Stanway, 75), Walsh, Park (Fran Kirby, 56); James (Chloe Kelly, 87), Russo (Rachel Daly, 87), Hemp (Beth Mead, 56).

Referee: Lina Lehtovaara (Finland).

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey

Gavin Cummiskey is The Irish Times' Soccer Correspondent