The Republic of Ireland held England to an impressive draw at Wembley in a game which bore more positives for them than their hosts. West Bromwich Albion striker Shane Long nodded the visitors into the lead early on, but Frank Lampard levelled soon afterwards, and neither team was able to break the deadlock in the second half.
This was the sides’ first meeting since 1995 – that clash, at Landsdowne Road, had been abandoned after English fans began to riot. Ireland had last played the Three Lions at Wembley in 1991, and this fixture marked the renewal of an old rivalry; although a friendly by name, they game was always likely to be hotly contested with national pride at stake more than ever.
Roy Hodgson rewarded Ashley Cole recently reaching the 100-cap mark by bestowing upon him the England captaincy – a somewhat controversial decision given the Chelsea defender’s rocky relationship with the Football Association. Ireland were skippered by a much more obvious choice: Robbie Keane, by some distance the country’s leading marksman.
It was Keane who produced the game’s first shot, on 3 minutes, but his effort flew comfortably wide of Joe Hart’s goal. England responded well, dictating possession and the pace of the game, and Wayne Rooney fired a warning to the Irish with a weighted chip that dropped wide of David Forde’s far post.
However, it was the visitors who broke the deadlock soon afterwards with a goal from nothing. Everton full-back Seamus Coleman was given time and space on Ireland’s right, and he duly made the most of it: his brilliant cross was met equally well by Shane Long, who glanced a header over Joe Hart and into the far corner.
Predictably, the Green army in the stands were ecstatic, and their joy was demonstrated as play resumed, a plume of green smoke seeping across the Wembley pitch as the Irish continued to celebrate. Their team looked to have the upper hand – the early goal had once more brought English pessimism to the fore – but the lead was to be short-lived.
10 minutes after Long had found the net, Daniel Sturridge received the ball wide on England’s left. With little to aim for in the area, the Liverpool attacker delayed his cross. He finally whipped the ball over after spotting Frank Lampard’s late run, and the veteran midfielder was on hand to poke beyond Forde after Sean St Ledger failed to clear. It was a goal arguably deserved on the balance of play.
Sturridge’s assist would prove to be his last notable action: the striker’s first international start was cut short on 32 minutes when he damaged his ankle in a challenge with Glenn Whelan, and had to be replaced by Jermaine Defoe. Theo Walcott did the most to provide further excitement, his searing pace allowing him to glide beyond Stephen Kelly on 38 minutes, but the Arsenal winger’s low centre was well cleared by St Ledger.
The first half ended in mild controversy when Keane had a penalty appeal turned down – England somehow managed to clear the ball backwards from an Ireland corner, and Rooney appeared to haul Keane to the floor as the visiting captain attempted to scramble home.
He’d been forced to make a change earlier in the game, but at half-time Roy Hodgson opted to further tinker with his line-up, introducing West Brom custodian Ben Foster for Joe Hart and Phil Jones for Glen Johnson at right-back. England started the second period brightly, and Rooney’s excellent chip found Walcott in space on the right; his first-time centre almost reached captain Cole for what would have been his first international goal, but Ireland defenders converged to intervene.
It would prove to be Cole’s final chance to score as captain, as he was replaced on 54 minutes by Everton’s Leighton Baines, the armband passed to Cole’s clubmate Lampard. England continued to threaten, and a quick counter-attack ten minutes later saw Defoe release Walcott in space, but Millwall stopper Forde made a good save from the winger’s low drive.
A momentary lull in proceedings followed, with Ireland boss Giovanni Trapattoni ringing the changes – Keane, Aidan McGeady and Whelan were sacrificed for Simon Cox, James McClean and Jeff Hendrick. The substitutions helped swing momentum back in the visitors’ favour, and Foster’s blushes were spared with ten minutes to play when he fumbled a deflected cross under pressure from Long, the referee calling a foul before Jon Walters could prod home.
England responded by creating the clearest chance of the second half: Rooney feigned to shoot before cleverly sliding a ball into Oxlade-Chamberlain’s path, but the Arsenal youngster shot into the turf and against Forde’s legs. Two minutes later they sliced Ireland open again, Lampard picking out Walcott in space, but once more Forde blocked well to preserve parity.
Further substitutions disrupted the game as it drew to a close, and a draw was the fair result on the balance of play. Clearly, however, it went down better with the visitors – Shane Long’s elated celebrations at full time served to prove that. England looked assured in possession but were worryingly wasteful in front of goal, while Trapattoni will take pleasure from his side’s fine defending.
England: Hart (Foster 46); Johnson (Jones 46), Cahill, Jagielka, Cole (Baines 54); Walcott, Lampard, Carrick, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Milner 87); Rooney, Sturridge (Defoe 33).
Ireland: Forde; Coleman, O’Shea, St Ledger, Kelly; Walters (Sammon 82), McCarthy, Whelan (Hendrick 74), McGeady (McClean 68); Long, Keane (Cox 66).
Player Ratings – England:
Hart: 6 – Little to do and not at fault for Ireland’s goal.
Johnson: 6 – Offered an occasional threat on the overlap; solid enough defensively. (Jones 6 – eager to attack but no end product)
Cahill: 6 – Rarely beaten, but occasionally caught in possession or out of position.
Jagielka: 6 – Sometimes struggled with the troublesome Long, but generally sound defensively.
Cole: 7 – Determined to impress as captain. Fierce in the tackle and almost found the net. (Baines 6 – looked good in possession, but rarely able to get in behind Ireland)
Walcott: 7 – Threatened with pace, especially in first half, but failed to take chances. Promising at times.
Lampard: 7 – Scored the all-important equalizer and used possession well; dictated pace of game.
Carrick: 6 – Efficient if unexceptional. Some good defensive work.
Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6 – Poor defensively but used pace to scare Ireland on occasion. Should have scored. (Milner 5 – not given enough time to make an impact)
Rooney: 6 – Some clever link-up play from “in the hole”, but never looked like scoring.
Sturridge: 6 – Set up England’s goal but game cut short by injury. (Defoe 5 – quiet; didn’t look like scoring)
Player Ratings – Ireland:
Forde: 8 – Some excellent saves, and could do little to about the goal. Unlucky not be Man of the Match.
Coleman: 8 – Skillful going forward and brilliant cross for Ireland’s goal. Decent defensively; given Man of the Match.
O’Shea: 6 – Sometimes wasteful in possession but defended well.
St Ledger: 6 – Could have prevented goal, but otherwise solid enough.
Kelly: 6 – Played out-of-position at left-back, but did a reasonable job on Walcott.
Walters: 5 – Worked hard, but little end product. (Sammon 4 – little time to impress, but contributed nothing of note)
McCarthy: 6 – Tidy in possession but failed to threaten England’s goal.
Whelan: 5 – Put in a shift in midfield, work was mainly spoiling rather than creating. (Hendrick 5 – little impact)
McGeady: 7 – Looked tricky, tested Johnson down Ireland’s left with mazy dribbling but dragged shots wide. (McClean 5 – failed to test Jones)
Long: 8 – Superb header to open the scoring, and was a thorn in England’s side in first half. Faded towards the end.
Keane: 6 – Quiet but some intelligent link-up play. (Cox 5 – tried hard but little of note going forward)