England embarrassed by Irish
By Alex Livie. Last Updated: January 1, 1970 1:00am
England surrendered control of Group Six with a disappointing, embarrassing 1-0 defeat to Northern Ireland.
The Three Lions have come in for fierce criticism of late and the insipid display in Belfast can only heap more pressure on embattled boss Sven Goran Eriksson.
England were expected to brush aside the challenge of a team already out of contention and way down the Fifa rankings, but the Irish came out with a real sense of purpose and David Healy's excellent strike 15 minutes from time was just reward for a wholehearted display.
England definitely lacked the passion of their opponents, but they also lacked the quality to unlock the door and World Cup glory would appear to be a world away at present for a team who entered the field with a swagger left it with their tails between their legs.
The Irish set their stall out early in the game, as they fired into a number of tackles in an attempt to knock England out of their stride.
With the midfield congested, Jamie Carragher took it upon himself to fly forward and only a last-ditch tackle prevented the Liverpool defender from carving open a chance for Michael Owen.
Wayne Rooney cut an extremely lonely figure out on the left in the early stages, and he took his frustration out on the Irish, and the ball, on more than one occasion, but he showed his class on 22 minutes when he cut inside and created a fine chance for Owen.
The Manchester United tyro clipped a sublime reverse ball to Owen, but he was prevented a shot on goal by a fine saving tackle from Aaron Hughes who showed his class again moments later with a timely intervention to deny Shaun Wright-Phillips.
David Beckham was another player who found it difficult to impose himself on the game, despite showing glimpses of his talent with his range of passes, but he almost broke the deadlock on the half hour with a free kick. The England skipper fired in a devilish curling effort, but the corner of post and crossbar came to the rescue of Maik Taylor.
As England struggled to break through, the home side grew in confidence and Rio Ferdinand had to be alert to block a Healy shot at the far post, while a long-range drive from Keith Gillespie failed to test Paul Robinson.
England's frustration in the opening 45 minutes was epitomised by Rooney's reaction to a decision failing to go his way as, seconds later, he flew in at Gillespie and was cautioned by referee Massimo Busacca. His reaction to the booking can best be described as petulant and prompted a verbal rebuke from Three Lions skipper Beckham.
Moments later England witnessed the best of Rooney as he flicked a header into the path of Steven Gerrard who drove into the box and teed up Owen. The Newcastle marksman is lacking match sharpness and his touch deserted him, which forced an ambitious overhead kick which was gathered by Taylor.
Robinson was a virtual spectator in the opening half, but he was called into action on two occasions early in the second. He had to be strong to punch clear from under his crossbar, with Stuart Elliott in close attendance, while moments later he raced off his line to smother at the feet of the same player.
Sven Goran Eriksson threw on Joe Cole and his arrival sparked England into life, with the Chelsea star delivering a couple of teasing crosses which narrowly failed to open the door.
The Irish appeared to feed off the fervent support in Windsor Park and James Quinn almost embarrassed Robinson with a rasping drive which flew just wide, while the keeper showed tremendous bravery to take a cross off the toes of the same player.
With Ireland buoyant and England falling further back, it came as no surprise when the hosts broke the deadlock through Healy 15 minutes from time.
Healy angled a run superbly to stay onside and was picked out by a quality lofted pass from Steven Davis. The Leeds striker still had plenty to do, but he kept his composure as he lashed a powerful shot across Robinson and into the far corner.
England's response to going behind was hugely disappointing, as The Three Lions failed to raise the tempo and trouble Taylor, and with Poland getting the better of Wales - Eriksson's men are now five points adrift in Group Six.
Stockport's Warren Feeney came within a whisker of rubbing salt into the wounds when dragging a shot just wide of goal, but it mattered little as the Irish secured their first victory over England since 1972 and ended Eriksson's perfect record in qualifiers in the process.
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Northern Ireland v England
|Northern Ireland||Team Statistics||England|
|0||1st Half Goals||0|
|2||Shots on Target||3|
|5||Shots off Target||8|
FIFA World Cup European Qualifying
Wed 7th Sep - Group B
Kazakhstan1 - 2Greece
Ukraine0 - 1Turkey
Denmark6 - 1Georgia
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|4||Republic of Ireland||5||8|
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