by Martin Davies © Martin Davies (May 29th 2013)
Perhaps only Ashley Cole will remember this game. It was an occasion that marked his passing a century of England caps – this his 102nd appearance – the achievement commemorated by him being presented with a golden cap from his England boss, Roy Hodgson, ahead of kick-off.
But for the majority of the watching 80,000 at Wembley it was a night to forget in a hurry. The green quarter of the stadium ensured that a lively atmosphere was created, by booing Cole, who was captain for the night. Boos for the other England players followed as their names were read out prior to kick-off.
As early as the fourth minute there were signs that England’s communication was right as Rooney and Walcott appeared to go for the same long ball from Lampard, Rooney ultimately collecting it before lobbing high and wide.
From an English perspective questions in attack turned to doubts in defense when in the 13th minute Ireland’s Walters was first to pounce on a loose ball, releasing the ever eager right-back Coleman. His perfect cross was met by Long who got ahead of both Johnson and Cahill to head the visitors in front.
The goal was against the run of play, but while creating more chances England were not emphatic. The brightest performers were deployed wide, with Walcott using his pace to unsettle Kelly on England’s right and Oxlade-Chamberlain offering guile and speed down the left. And it was from the left where England’s equaliser emerged, ten minutes after the Irish opener. Daniel Sturridge, had drifted from the centre, he drove at the Irish back line before crossing left footed, missing out Rooney for Lampard, to do what he does best – emerge late and score emphatically.
Sturridge’s evening though was cut short soon after this assist. Chasing back to challenge Whelan in midfield, he pulled-up signalling quickly to the bench that he needed treatment.
He hobbled to the side of the pitch and ended the night being stretchered away.
England were back in the game thanks to his endeavour, but found that the final critical pass to strikers was not good enough. First Walcott eased past Kelly only to fail to find the on rushing Rooney, and then shortly before half-time he turned provider for Johnson to find space on the right only for his cross to now disappoint.
This was Johnson’s last touch of note, his game was up at half-time as the merry-go-round of substitutions started with his departure along with keeper Hart, who was replaced by Ben Foster.
The tone for the game had been set by half-time: England lacking invention and penetration, Ireland looking like a side that didn’t possess a match winner. Either side of the break Rooney raised his game in glimpses – late in the first period playing the pass of the game to Walcott – after the break, showing creativity and invention with Jones to open up the Irish defense.
McGeady worked hard for the Irish trying speculative long range efforts and with twelve minutes to go the visitors may have considered themselves unlucky when Long and Walters challenge on keeper, Foster, was ruled illegal, while the ball ended up in the back of the net. For Ireland this result continued a 28 year unbeaten run against these opponents.
For England, Oxlade Chamberlain showed pace and power to turn defense into attack, but the ordinary, the forgettable, the mundane were the norm and despite late efforts from England’s two wide men it will be Ashley Cole’s caps haul that this game will be best remembered for.