England and the Republic of Ireland played out a very scrappy, disappointing goalless draw at the Aviva Stadium, which would have left Roy Hodgson with plenty of questions to ask himself ahead of the upcoming European Championship qualifier with Slovenia next week.
Hodgson’s desire to win this game was evident as soon as the starting lineups were announced. There was no place for any of the uncapped trio – Jamie Vardy, Charlie Austin, and Tom Heaton – as the England manager decided to go with experience.
It was the home side however, that created the better opportunities during the opening minutes of the game. Martin O’Neill also went with tried and tested combinations, as he started Ipswich Town pair Daryl Murphy and David McGoldrick – who hit the back of the net 34 times between them in the Championship last season – up front.
Wayne Rooney was forced to hook a dangerous free-kick away with an Irish attacker lurking unmarked at the back post. And his Manchester United teammate Chris Smalling had Joe Hart to thank, as his fingertip save denied Murphy, after he comfortably won an aerial duel with the England defender.
The half-time whistle appeared to do Roy Hodgson a favour as Ireland appeared to be the side most likely to find the back of the net, while England failed to even consider testing Kieren Westwood. Their only hint of an effort came when Adam Lallana – who had a very quiet first-half – hit a speculative strike from just outside the box, right before the break. However, the Liverpool winger’s hit summed up England’s half, as it looked sweet as it left his boot, but ended well off target.
They looked a lot brighter at the start of the second-half however, and should have gone ahead when Jordan Henderson won the ball back on the halfway line. The Liverpool man’s run saw him go wide, and slot a good pass into the path of Rooney. The skipper’s first touch was terrible though, and allowed Westwood to comfortably collect the ball.
Ireland took the initiative back on the hour mark, having soaked up a lot of England pressure – the first period of sustained pressure from the away side for the entire game – and Joe Hart once again had to be alert as one of the few Premier League players wearing green, Stoke’s Jon Walters fired a shot from the edge of the box. Luckily for the Manchester City stopper, the effort was drilled straight at him, and he was able to punch the ball away from the goal.
Unlike O’Neill, who made several changes before the hour, Hodgson held off bringing on any substitutes until 66 minutes. One of the men initially brought on was Everton playmaker Ross Barkley. And he nearly created the opening England – and the game – desperately needed. His darting run breathed a bit of life into a second-half that was starting to settle into the mediocrity of the first.
And – just when it seemed the chance to shoot had gone – he slid an excellent pass into the path of James Milner, who appeared to have the goal gaping. However, James McClean managed to save the situation with a last-ditch challenge.
After that, the only incident of note came when Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy was handed his international debut in the closing stages. Like Barkley, he brought an energy that the game had been crying out for, but he was unable to test the goalkeeper at any stage.
Meanwhile, Queens Park Rangers striker Charlie Austin remained on the bench, possibly suggesting that Hodgson is hoping to keep him fresh for the game in Ljubljana next week.