SoccerOutside the Box

Ken Early: Patient England show how far Ireland have to go

England calmly and methodically won the game despite a late barrage inspired by Megan Campbell’s long throw-ins

Three moments that summed up Ireland’s first half at the Aviva.

It’s 0-0. England think there’s been a foul just outside Ireland’s box but the referee surprises them by waving play on. Ruesha Littlejohn suddenly has the ball in a huge amount of space in midfield. Lucy Quinn has space to run on to a pass into the left channel - but Littlejohn overhits it and Quinn has to run all the way to the sideline to keep it in, by which time England are back in shape.

England lead 1-0. Katie McCabe hustles Lucy Bronze into a mistake, Ireland win the ball back, McCabe races down the left into space, but Lucy Quinn plays the pass too far ahead of her captain and England collect.

England lead 2-0. Ireland switch it from right to left through the back line and finally a ball is spinning out towards McCabe, who is unmarked and finally going to receive the ball in space - this is what the crowd’s been waiting for... but McCabe mis-controls the ball out of play. Louise Quinn gestures desperately from the centre circle to FOCUS.


Ireland’s game plan is pretty much as it was against France - as it’s been in all their big matches over the last year, whether the coach is Eileen Gleeson or Vera Pauw - contain and counter.

Playing mostly without the ball is ok if you can be efficient when you win it back, but Ireland have not been. Just before half-time, McCabe gets the ball in midfield, tries to dribble, is surrounded by three English midfielders and dispossessed.

In the spaces between these moments, England had calmly and methodically been winning the game. There was no great ingenuity to the goals they scored. They came from the patient application of simple, effective, method football. Build up patiently from the back, push the wide players high, pin the opposition back, switch the play, get crosses into the box, see what happens.

The first goal came from a big inswinging cross from Keira Walsh on the left which found Lucy Bronze waiting on the far side. Bronze’s header struck Anna Patten and fell at the feet of Lauren James, who cracked it into the net first time.

The second came from the penalty spot after Ruesha Littlejohn handled a Jess Park shot. Ireland couldn’t complain too much about the decision. Alex Greenwood sent Courtney Brosnan the wrong way from the spot.

Soon after it transpired that the Finnish referee, Lina Lehtovaara, was something of a handball fundamentalist. This time Louise Quinn was the unfortunate Irish player penalised, but the ball had been kicked directly onto her arm by Alessia Russo from less than two feet away and the award was ridiculously harsh.

It’s not always easy scoring two penalties in one game, though. Even Harry Kane has been known to struggle. Greenwood, who had shot into the bottom left corner with her first effort, decided to change direction. She struck it well, but the ball hit the base of the post and bounced across the goal to safety.

3-0 would have felt harsh at that point, particularly on Brosnan, who earned the acclaim of the crowd after saving a James shot from range and would go on to make a second superb stop from Fran Kirby in the second half.

Looking back, that save seems a turning point in the game. If the first 60 minutes was a rather depressing display of English superiority, the last half-hour turned into a game in the ancient tradition of Lansdowne.

Megan Campbell comes on and her long throws give Ireland a new weapon. The first, from the left, is headed away from under the English bar. The second is from the right. With the English players defending in the box, Katie McCabe runs over to offer the option of a short throw and an inswinging cross. Campbell ignores her and goes with the throw, again England scramble it away, but not far. Play is quickly halted for a foul on Kiernan.

McCabe’s free-kick is knocked back across the six-yard line by Louise Quinn...just the wrong side of Caitlyn Hayes. It was the best Irish move and chance of the game. Hayes would go close again at the far post from McCabe’s cross. Now Ireland are playing with confidence, England’s method has deserted them and they are struggling to deal with an aerial bombardment.

McCabe nearly has her moment of glory when she charges down Hannah Hampton’s attempted kickout and chases the ball across the open goal. She gets there, turns and shoots from a narrow angle, straight at the keeper. Three team mates in the middle shout their frustration.

There are no more goals. 2-0 is respectable. In the last half-hour Ireland made it a real contest. As for the familiar Irish problems of the first hour, it comes back to what Damien Duff keeps saying: academies, player development, patience. It’s encouraging that nearly 33,000 fans came to watch this game on the night of the biggest men’s Champions League matches of the year so far. For the women’s team, the future might not be long arriving.