England 1-1 Republic of Ireland: Baines Stakes a Claim on Cole's Big Night
England played out a diplomatic 1-1 draw with overseas neighbours Republic of Ireland on Wednesday evening, forcing England manager Roy Hodgson to rethink a few things ahead of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Ireland took the lead through Shane Long after great work by Seamus Coleman, but Frank Lampard pegged England back after Daniel Sturridge's through-ball squeezed into the box.
The game started slowly, but Ireland soon took the upper hand: The atmosphere generated in the away section of the crowd was immense, aiding their side's ascendancy. They did most of the running and most of the passing in the opening 10 minutes and looked by far the more comfortable side.
It became clear early on that Ireland manager Giovanni Trapattoni had set up his side to attack down the right, with key players Seamus Coleman and Jonathan Walters situated there.
Walters was to win the aerial mismatch against Ashley Cole, feed Coleman and allow room for the cross.
The opening goal couldn't have been more akin to what "Trap" draws out on chalkboards, as the two right-siders combined, Coleman crossed and Long's looping header beat Joe Hart.
Despite the poor start from the home side, and the fact that the goal had been coming, three quarters of Wembley stood in stunned silence.
The root of the Three Lions' problems was in the formation: The 4-4-2/4-4-1-1 Roy Hodgson set up didn't suit his midfield duo of Frank Lampard of Michael Carrick, as neither has the pace or stamina to shuttle the ball up the field.
Every time Carrick turned to pass, he only saw the backs of Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney's shirts. Both strikers were running the channels relentlessly, and rarely did they turn and face to receive the ball.
It was a self-defeating tactic that pinned England into their own half and placed immense pressure on individual brilliance to make any offensive progress.
The wide channels were clearly the area England were targeting too, slipping Sturridge down the left or Theo Walcott down the right. Both had an iffy first half, but a little bit of luck aided the Three Lions' recovery.
Sturridge roamed down the left, cut inside and his pass (flukily) found Frank Lampard just five yards from goal. The Chelsea stalwart made no mistake from that distance, and England went into the break level with the visitors.
Hodgson made changes at halftime, bringing Phil Jones on for Glen Johnson and Ben Foster for Joe Hart.
Minutes later, he replaced the opposite full-back too: Ashley Cole, on his 100th appearance for England, departed in favour of Leighton Baines.
For England, switching the full-backs was a game-changer: Neither Johnson nor Cole provided any forward thrust or consistent attacking width, leaving both Sturridge and Walcott with too much to do.
Baines' overlapping skills immediately came to the fore, letting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain drift inside and worry the central defenders. It meant England were no longer playing an odd variant of 4-2-4 when punting the ball long, and only desperate Irish defending was keeping the home side at bay.
It's sad to say, but on Cole's momentous occasion, he was outshone by the player many hope will take his mantle in time for Brazil 2014.
Carrick had options in midfield; the onus was no longer on Lampard to physically carry the ball forward.
But as much as the tactical changes opened new avenues, Hodgson could do nothing about the finishing on the night: Jermain Defoe, Chamberlain and Walcott all spurned glorious chances to win the game for England, and the home section of Wembley filtered out in a disenchanted fashion.
You couldn't say the same for the Irish support, though—they were absolutely overjoyed at the 1-1 draw.
Before the game, Hodgson told The Metro that no one was guaranteed a place in his squad should England qualify for the World Cup. On Wednesday night, it's arguable only two or three players took a step in the right direction.
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