London: England beat the Republic of Ireland for the first time in 35 years as Harry Maguire enjoyed a moment of redemption and Jack Grealish sparkled in Thursday’s 3-0 friendly win.
Just 48 hours after the resignation of English Football Association chairman Greg Clarke following his offensive comments about the BAME and LGBT communities, Gareth Southgate’s side showed no signs of being distracted by the controversy.
After being sent off in his previous England appearance against Denmark, Maguire captained his country for the first time and scored the opening goal at Wembley.
It was a welcome boost for Maguire, who has endured a difficult campaign marred by his Greek court case and poor form for Manchester United and England.
Jadon Sancho bagged England’s second goal before the interval and Dominic Calvert-Lewin made it three with a second-half penalty.
That was enough to seal England’s first success against the Republic since 1985.
There was a landmark moment for Jude Bellingham, who became the third youngest player to represent England when the 17-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder came on for Mason Mount in the 73rd minute.
Bellingham, who left Birmingham to join Dortmund earlier this year, is behind only Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney in the list of England’s youngest players.
The teenager is one for the future, but Southgate will have been more encouraged by the way his understudies impressed after he rested Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Jordan Henderson before the Nations League games against Belgium on Sunday and Iceland next Wednesday. Grealish, starting against the country he represented at youth level, caught the eye on the left flank as he justified the constant calls from fans and pundits for the Aston Villa star to be given a sustained run in the team. Southgate had urged England to put the focus back on football after Clarke’s self-inflicted demise triggered a “turbulent week” and his team were always in control in their first meeting with the Republic since 2015.
Tyrone Mings had a chance to give England the perfect start when the defender rose to meet Sancho’s flick, but he couldn’t keep his close-range header on target.
England’s delivery into the Ireland area was causing problems and when keeper Darren Randolph missed a deep cross to the far post, Bukayo Saka’s scuffed effort was scrambled away for a corner.
It was only a temporary reprieve for Ireland as Maguire put England head from the resulting set-piece in the 18th minute.
When Ireland could only half clear the corner, Harry Winks crossed back into the area and Maguire rose above Shane Duffy to head past Randolph for his second goal in an England shirt.
Maguire almost scored again with a carbon copy of the opener as the centre-back won another aerial duel with Duffy and forced Randolph to tip over.
Sancho has been struggling to find his peak form for Borussia Dortmund this season, but the winger showed his quality to double England’s lead in the 31st minute.
Grealish teed him up on the left side of the Ireland area and Sancho shifted the ball onto his right foot before curling a low strike past Randolph.
He clipped just wide of the far post early in the second half before starting a flowing move that ended with Saka shooting just wide from Mings’ back-heel.
Saka won a penalty in the 56th minute when he wriggled past Cyrus Christie, who responded with a clear trip on the Arsenal wing-back.
Everton striker Calvert-Lewin stroked the spot-kick high into the roof of the net for his second England goal.
Manchester United’s Dean Henderson had come on for his England debut at half-time, replacing Nick Pope in goal, but he was barely tested as the hosts cruised to the final whistle. — AFP