Incident-free stalemate ticks O'Neill's boxes
Ireland 0 England 0
Published 08/06/2015 | 02:30
More than a friendly? No, this was just a friendly.
The fans who either attended this match or watched it at home will quickly want to forget where they were for the 16th meeting between these nations.
A relatively civil atmosphere in the stands, save for some anthem-booing instigated by Irish fans, ticked the incident-free box that the organisers were looking for from a security perspective.
The hope was that the football would provide the major talking points afterwards.
Unfortunately, the scoreless encounter didn't really succeed in throwing up discussion fodder for the subdued supporters that streamed out of the ground when the final whistle relieved their boredom.
For them, this was a dross rehearsal rather than a dress rehearsal for the tests that lie over the horizon.
Martin O'Neill viewed it from a different perspective, though, and that is understandable given that his only priority from this summer gathering is to take full points from Scotland next Saturday.
A calf problem sustained by John O'Shea, which he is familiar with from their time at Sunderland, and a knock for injury doubt Jonathan Walters provided some minor cause for concern but he is confident they will heal as the week progresses.
O'Shea's unexpected knock did prevent Wes Hoolahan from getting on the pitch for a quarter of an hour and that did frustrate the Derryman.
Otherwise, he was content enough with an exercise that allowed rusty players build their match fitness and his first-choice defence to gain a further understanding that should stand to them when Gordon Strachan's charges roll into town.
"First of all, I am very, very pleased physically for a start," said O'Neill, outlining what he really wanted from this gathering. "That's probably as important as anything."
His opposite number Roy Hodgson pointed out that the 1pm kick-off under a light sun contributed to a low-tempo affair, yet his assessment that both sides were in need of a game was hard to contest.
Sluggishness was the order of the day and while the visitors kept the ball better, their crown jewels struggled with Raheem Sterling - the subject of jeers from Irish Liverpool fans which are indicative of our complex relationship with English football - way below par.
Wayne Rooney was off the pace too, his tardiness demonstrated by the manner in which he miscontrolled England's best chance of the match after the interval, an opening created by a Marc Wilson error and an alert response from Jordan Henderson.
Rooney took his eye off a simple pass with his heavy touch gratefully received by Keiren Westwood. It was that kind of occasion.
Ireland had enjoyed a clearer sight of goal in the first half with Daryl Murphy more impressive than his out-of-practice Ipswich strike partner David McGoldrick. Murphy is still looking for a first Irish strike and, while he was unlucky with a clip wide of the post that followed a purposeful burst into the area, he will regret a woefully misdirected header from a dangerous Robbie Brady delivery.
All the positives from the game come with the asterisk of its low-key nature but Brady was a plus point at left-back, faring well against Sterling in one-on-one situations and looking more assured in his role than he did in the first half against Poland.
O'Neill actually disagrees with the negative take on the Hull player's contribution to March draw, yet he concurred with the praise here.
"He's a very fine player," he said, "He hasn't a problem playing in that position and I thought he dealt with situations defensively today very well indeed. Aiden McGeady came back once or twice to help him."
McGeady had less success in the England half, despite being afforded freedom by a team selection which saw Jeff Hendrick function as a right midfielder with a brief to operate narrow and support Glenn Whelan and James McCarthy. "It allowed Aiden to go as free as possible," the manager explained.
He struggled to find space in the final third, however, and with McGoldrick unable to offer the same service that he offered against USA on his debut last November, Ireland were short of imagination.
Essentially, with a view to the Scottish selection, it means that Hoolahan could actually be the beneficiary as it served as a reminder of what he brings to proceedings.
"I don't mind us clearing the lines but once or twice when we had control, we decided to give it away fairly needlessly," explained the 63-year-old. "We tried to retain it but what Wes will give you is the ability to get in, as they say, between the lines and make something happen."
Ireland preferred a direct route in his absence, especially when McGoldrick stood aside at the break to be replaced by Shane Long. McCarthy stayed in the dressing room too, while Whelan was eventually called ashore to make way for debutant Harry Arter.
The reshuffle meant that Ireland finished up with Hendrick and Arter in the centre, with McGeady and half-time arrival James McClean on the flanks. They had their moments, including a heated one when Arter shot wide when the furious McClean was in a better position.
Walters was the most effective sub, and his persistence culminated with a right-foot drive that stung the palms of Joe Hart with McGeady caught off guard for the rebound.
On another day, that chance would never have made the highlight reels but we were short of contenders in a stalemate that petered to an inevitable conclusion.
The signal for three minutes of added time instigated a temporary increase in the volume levels while Irish fans behind the goal attempted to produce a banner about John Delaney to go with the derogatory chants that were sporadically aired.
A smattering of empty seats around the ground, especially in premium areas, functioned as an appropriate reminder of why the FAI were grateful for any 'Aviva' loan seeing as their strategy to fill the stadium turned out to be a flop.
Next Saturday should necessitate the sold-out signs but the outcome will shape the road ahead.
As O'Neill wound up his press duties, Hodgson walked through and they wished themselves well ahead of their respective qualifiers. England play Slovenia next Sunday.
"Good luck Roy, you really need it," said the Irish supremo with a tone that betrayed the reality of where things stand. It's a strange scenario when a date with England is the calm before the storm.
Game at a glance
Man of the Match: Robbie Brady
Provided the only true moments of quality in the game and, following his Polish indiscretion, adequately qualified himself for the left-back berth against Scotland. Wonderful free-kick delivery for Murphy's chance.
That there were none. The anticipation that this fixture would pass unmolested by the hooliganism that marred the February fixture in 1995 was comprehensively upheld.
The appearance of a visibly frail and emotional Jack Charlton, paraded to the crowd before the game, was a theatrically spine-tingling moment that reduced not only the great World Cup winner to tears but many of the former Irish manager's supporters, too.
Arnold Hunter from Northern Ireland was a late replacement but was not overly worked and his pea-shooter saw little action during a largely docile affair.
Ireland tackle Scotland here next Saturday (kick-off, 5pm) in their vital Euro 2016 qualifier, with the losers almost certainly resigned to a play-off, at best, while England's qualifying cruise continues against Slovenia.