Ireland and England draw a blank as friendly fails to fire
Martin O’Neill’s side with the best of the few chances created at the Aviva
Republic of Ireland striker Daryl Murphy heads at goal during the friendly international against England at the Aviva Stadium. Photo: Eddie Keogh/Reuters/Livepic
Republic of Ireland 0 England 0
Perhaps these two sides could have injected a little more life into this Sunday lunchtime encounter by agreeing beforehand to play for Jack Grealish.
If the 19-year-old midfielder really is finding it so difficult to make a decision on his international future then it might have spared him the agony of actually making a call. There being something at stake could well, in any case, have spared the rest of us a friendly that justified neither the hype nor the high ticket prices.
Martin O’Neill, as expected, used the occasion to weigh up a few of his options and he will have been generally pleased by the intelligence he got back, even if, in a few cases, it suggested that he should be looking to players who weren’t on the pitch here when it comes to his selection for Scotland next Saturday.
Generally, though, there was little for the manager to complain about. A few of his stalwarts were quiet enough and Marc Wilson provided the moment of madness that seems to characterise so many of his games, but for the most part the Irish team competed very much as equals with a side that, in terms of transfer values, should simply be in a different league.
The energy put into Ireland’s start briefly suggested that we might have been in for the sort of vaguely competitive encounter that everybody feels obliged to talk about in the run up to game like this. But the moment passed, pretty swiftly, and within a matter of minutes the match had settled into the sort of pedestrian passing we have come to fear from these occasions.
If the tameness of what followed on the pitch was a cause for complaint then we had at least to be grateful for the way everything passed off in the stands. Things have changed a great deal since 1995 but there wasn’t the slightest hint of any serious tension, let along actual trouble.
John Delaney might regret the FAI’s decision to hand a portion of the Irish team’s most dedicated fans their own specially designated singing section a few years back given that those who occupy it primarily sing about their dislike of him these days. But the odd snippet of their own national anthem aside, the closest the visiting fans came to anything that might have been classed as provocation was a brief number about Sepp Blatter having paid for the stadium.
They had, it seemed, misjudged the public mood here.
The stuff in the stands stood out that little bit more due to the lack of anything more compelling from the teams. This wasn’t awful stuff by any means but nothing about it conveyed the sense of a game we had waited 20 years for. The clumps of empty seats in a few parts of the ground, though, suggested that, at the prices being charged, not everyone had bought into the hype.
Both teams have bigger fish to fry next week with Ireland’s chances of qualification now effectively hanging on the outcome of their Scotland game and so perhaps it had been foolish to expect the bit of bite that would have enlivened things a little. Still, it was frustrating at times to see the pace, or lack of it, and the basic nature of some of the mistakes.
For all that, the Irish probably just about edged it, certainly through the first hour, in terms of application and chances created. It’s quite possible they simply wanted a result, ideally a win, more than their opponents and if Daryl Murphy had done better with a rushed shot, they may well have come out on top.
At the back, they looked solid for the most part and Robbie Brady will come away from this performance at left back with more satisfaction that he did after the one against Poland in March. True, he never quite delivered on the early promise when a fine ball down the left for Aiden McGeady had left Gary Cahill having to close the winger down quickly, but his set-pieces were a regular threat and it took a well-timed touch from Wayne Rooney at one point to prevent one floated in from an angle on the right reaching David McGoldrick at the far post.
McGoldrick had a later shot blocked after winning possession well to start what was a good break involving James McCarthy and McGeady, but he made nothing like the impact here that he had against the USA on his debut and it was no great surprise when he made way at half-time.
Murphy went not long after having failed to do enough to threaten the standing of any of those considered to be ahead of him in the pecking order and Jon Walters announced his arrival with a reminder of the power he can pack into a shot when, 62 minutes in, he hit one that Joe Hart could only parry towards McGeady who failed to control when really he might have scored.
While Ireland has been preoccupied, yet again, with the FAI, its leadership and the way in which they do their business over the last few days, the talk in England before the game had, in part at least, been focussed on whether Rooney might edge a little closer to, or even overtake, Bobby Charlton’s national scoring record.
He needed two to draw level but never came close to even halving the gap with a curling free hit straight at Keiren Westwood almost an hour in about as good as it got.
That was as much as Westwood had had to do on his return and while a Chris Smalling header proved fractionally more challenging for Shay Given a little later, there wasn’t too much for the Donegalman to worry about either.
Hart, meanwhile, had to make a scrambled save from a Brady free and late on, Phil Jagielka reprised a little of his World Cup form with a slip that briefly threatened to allow Walters in to steal a winner but the game had long since seemed destined for a draw by then.
No surprises there then. Maybe we could just toss for Grealish.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Westwood (Given, 61 mins); Coleman, O’Shea (McShane, 71 mins), Wilson, Brady; Whelan (Arter, 63 mins), McCarthy (McClean, half-time); Hendrick, McGoldrick (Long, 57 mins), McGeady; Murphy (Walters, 56 mins).
ENGLAND: Hart; Jones, Cahill (Jagielka, 74 mins), Smalling, Bertrand; Wilshire (Barkley, 67 mins), Milner; Sterling (Townsend, 67 mins), Hendrick, Lallana (Walcott, 82 mins); Rooney (Vardy, 74 mins). Attendance: 43,486
Referee: A Hunter (Northern Ireland)