England 1 Republic of Ireland 1
England departed for Brazil with a whimper as they were held to a disappointing draw against the Republic of Ireland.
Having slipped further behind Montenegro in their World Cup qualifying campaign two months ago, this friendly was a perfect chance for Roy Hodgson’s men to end their home calendar with a victory.
But they could not deliver. Shane Long had two men marking him in Glen Johnson and Phil Jagielka, but neither of them could prevent the West Brom man glancing a header past Joe Hart with 13 minutes gone.
Only a defensive mix-up at the other end allowed Frank Lampard to level 10 minutes later.
The game that promised to be a thrilling end to end Premier League-style scrap ended up being a tepid affair thereafter. England failed to create any real chances until the 83rd minute, when Forde saved superbly from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Although Ireland’s organisation made it hard for England, if they are serious about reaching the World Cup, let alone progress to the latter stages of the competition, they should be winning games like this.
The Three Lions cannot afford to drop any more points in their qualifying campaign and of late they have failed to beat Poland (ranked 63rd in the world), Ukraine (37th), Montenegro (27th) and now Ireland, who sit 39th in the ladder.
England looked tired at times and their hopes of a surprise victory in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday look slim, especially after Daniel Sturridge limped off with an ankle injury.
The only plus point for England was that both national anthems were well observed despite fears there would be a repeat of the trouble that marred the last meeting between the two sides 18 years ago.
Ashley Cole, as Hodgson eventually made clear after much head scratching yesterday, led the team out and looked moved as he collected a golden cap to commemorate reaching a century of caps in February.
Most England supporters respected the FA’s wishes, with only a handful singing “no surrender” during God Save The Queen.
The colourful 10,000 travelling fans made a lot of noise and they had something extra to cheer about when Long scored.
Jon Walters fed the ball to Seamus Coleman, who whipped in a cross to the near post and Long got in front of Johnson and Jagielka to glance the ball beyond a sprawling Hart.
The West Brom striker cupped his ears in front of the England fans while one member of the travelling support at the other end of the stadium tossed a green smoke bomb on to the pitch which caused a brief stoppage in play.
England had Lampard to thank for coming to the rescue 10 minutes later. Sturridge bought half a yard with some nifty footwork and drove a low ball across the box which Lampard controlled with his thigh after a mix-up between Sean St Ledger and Glenn Whelan before flicking the ball past Forde with his right foot.
Given that Forde was hurtling off his line at full speed, the quality of the finish proved exactly why Lampard now sits joint seventh in England’s all-time top scorers list.
Then came the sight Hodgson did not want to see – one of his players hobbling off with an injury. Sturridge’s right foot got trapped under Whelan’s trailing leg and the Liverpool man needed five minutes of treatment before he was carried off on a stretcher, to be replaced by Jermain Defoe.
England improved, with St Ledger and Coleman putting in crucial blocks to deny Theo Walcott on separate occasions.
Ireland were denied a penalty in the final minute of the first half when Wayne Rooney hauled down Robbie Keane after Phil Jagielka’s poor attempted clearance.
Cole came within a whisker of scoring his first international goal three minutes into the second half, but Coleman came to the rescue again, cutting out Walcott’s cross before the skipper could tap in.
The Chelsea defender then paid his respects to the crowd after being substituted for Leighton Baines. Lampard took the armband which had caused so much confusion.
A raft of substitutions took the pace out of the game and chances were few and far between at either end.
Defoe raced at the Ireland defence and passed to Walcott, but Forde saved at the near post.
England found a way through the Ireland defence with seven minutes left when Rooney’s deflected shot fell for Oxlade-Chamberlain, but Forde saved well with his legs.
Forde then pulled off another top stop with his feet to deny Walcott and the game ended with the away fans singing “You’ll never beat the Irish”.