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At Long last riot is history


Shane Long heads the ball past Joe Hart of England. Photo: Getty

Shane Long heads the ball past Joe Hart of England. Photo: Getty

Shane Long heads the ball past Joe Hart of England. Photo: Getty

NOT just put to bed but buried in a crypt. The tawdry and terrible images of Lansdowne Road 1995 have been replaced in the memory by something new and altogether more wholesome.

Football reasserted itself after an 18-year hiatus and a great rivalry can now run free again, those awful snapshots of blood and mayhem finally consigned to the archives.

Ireland delivered a performance full of heart and endeavour with not a little skill laced through the 90 minutes and pointed everyone towards the future and away from bitter memories.

If there was one sour note, it was the fact that Giovanni Trapattoni couldn't find a place for Wes Hoolohan at any time during the 90 minutes but favoured Conor Sammon when he looked to his bench late in the game.

At a time when Ireland were under severe pressure and logic dictated that Hoolohan's ability to keep possession would be crucial, he threw a journeyman into the game. Within minutes of the substitution, David Forde had to make two big saves to keep the match at 1-1.

It was quibble which has significance over the long haul but perhaps not so much on a night when old wounds were healed. A fantastic swathe of Ireland supporters filled a big chunk of this monumental stadium from an hour before kick-off and behaved themselves perfectly.



Security was low-key, even in the approaches to the ground where the police normally gather in numbers and the Irish supporters were bracketed by a desultory scattering of stewards to separate them from the locals.

Anthems were bellowed out with feeling and respected to a fault by both sets of fans. Scarf sellers hawked doubled up strips of cloth celebrating Ireland and England. We've all moved on.

Wembley truly is a magnificent place and worth every inch of the sacred status it has been awarded in the hearts and minds of all football fans.

So many things are different. Even the fast food. Strolling up Wembley Way, everything from pot roast pork to gourmet burgers tantalised the senses and made you wonder how anyone would ever have time to start a fight in between mouthfuls of prime rib. The last time we were here, it was chips, chips and pies.

The programme for the game, which ran to more than 70 pages, managed to avoid all mention of a night frozen in time in Dublin 4 and that was fair enough. On a night for new beginnings, enough time was spent dwelling on the past in the build-up.

The English FA is big on inclusiveness and they do like their fine details. Referee William Collum from Scotland was joined by assistants Phil Thomas from Wales and Eamonn Shanks from Northern Ireland, making sure that every corner of these islands was covered and nobody left out.

Once the whistle went though, all niceties were placed firmly to one side. Ireland pushed forward early, keen to establish some sort of momentum and they achieved that without troubling Joe Hart.

But Hart was more than troubled during the first serious attack of the game on 13 minutes when Seamus Coleman dropped a delightful cross into the path of Shane Long, bursting into the England penalty area.

At full stretch, Hart was still two yards away from Long's header as the ball travelled towards the top left corner and into the net.

It was a goal to grace any occasion and all the better for the fact that it was carved from skill and Coleman's acute vision.

That goal signalled a sharp response from England. Daniel Sturridge lead the charge down the left, putting Coleman under pressure and winning a couple of corners.

With momentum building, Sturridge once again raced past Coleman and fired in a cross in the 23rd minute which Sean St Ledger missed in a fumble of legs. Lurking behind him was Frank Lampard who didn't have much to do to slot the ball past Forde from eight yards for the equaliser.

Sturridge was undoubtedly the main threat for England and it was with some relief among Ireland supporters that he had to leave the pitch with what looked like a serious muscle strain after 33 minutes.



That signalled the start of another good spell for Ireland, notable for a decent Aiden McGeady snapshot and a great shout for a penalty when Wayne Rooney manhandled Robbie Keane in the six-yard box while a corner from McGeady ricocheted around the box just before half-time.

Trapattoni chose to leave well enough alone at half-time but Hodgson, already discommoded by Sturridge's early withdrawal, replaced 'keeper Hart with Ben Foster and later captain and cap centurion Ashley Cole with Leighton Baines.

The game was now delicately poised and Trapattoni finally reached into his subs bench for someone to break the deadlock. Simon Cox came in for Robbie Keane and James McClean brought a roar from the Irish support when he replaced McGeady.

But neither team could manage anything more than half chances before Theo Walcott, increasingly influential for England, broke down the left and was fed beautifully by Lampard. A rasper from 20 yards was well saved by Forde.

The game opened up in the last 15 minutes and England looked menacing. Oxlade-Chamberlain tested Forde to the limit with an 81st-minute shot and suddenly, Ireland were under siege.

Walcott finished off a silky move with another sharp shot, again well saved by Forde, who was rapidly becoming Ireland's hero.

But they held on and took the draw they deserved. Honours even and honour upheld.