England and the Republic of Ireland shared the spoils in Wednesday’s end-of-season friendly at Wembley as the two nations met for the first time in 18 years. It had been the Republic that began the better and deservedly went ahead through Shane Long’s fine 13th minute header. England, though, gradually improved and got back on level terms as Frank Lampard produced a close-range finish just 10 minutes after going behind. Despite never truly impressing, England had the better of the second half but were denied a winner late on by Irish goalkeeper David Forde.
Headlines before the match had been made by unfortunate memories of the crowd violence that led to the last meeting between the neighbors being abandoned in 1995 as well as controversy over the awarding of the captain’s armband to Ashley Cole. There was little that happened during a tightly fought but low key contest to garner such interest.
There was a rare moment of real quality early on, however, that put the Republic in front. Seamus Coleman supplied a threatening near-post cross and with Glen Johnson caught out, West Brom striker Long got to the near-post first to flick a stylish header past Joe Hart.
At that point Giovanni Trapattoni’s men were looking good. Yet, without having created anything of note, England soon struck back. In his short appearance before going off injured, Daniel Sturridge made an impact as he took a pass down the left, performed a step over and poked the ball into the box where Sean St Ledger missed a simple interception and Lampard was typically right on the spot to control and finish coolly from inside the six yard box.
If the first half had been competitive, if not spectacular, the second 45 minutes was even more uninspiring. The closest thing to any excitement came when it looked as if Cole might get a first goal to celebrate his 100th cap -- although on his 102nd appearance. Wayne Rooney produced perhaps his only genuine moment of quality with a clever pass over the top to Theo Walcott, who helped the ball first-time across the six-yard box, but Cole was denied a tap-in by a last-ditch clearance.
At the other end, there was an inglorious return to the international arena for Ben Foster as the West Brom goalkeeper spilled a cross and Jonathan Walters headed toward goal but hit Simon Cox in an offside position.
It was Ireland who will likely be the happier of the two sides as they worked tirelessly to restrict England, but they were grateful to two good saves to ensure a draw in the closing minutes. First Rooney’s deflected pass found its way to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, whose low shot was blocked by the Millwall goalkeeper before he pulled off a similar stop from Walcott.
England now head off to Brazil to face the World Cup hosts in Rio de Janeiro on Sunday, while the Republic will likely take heart before hosting Georgia in a friendly before a World Cup qualifier against the Faroe Islands.