England geared up for their UEFA Nations League double-header in style with a convincing 3-0 friendly win over Republic of Ireland at Wembley.
The build-up to Thursday's encounter - like many of England's fixtures this calendar year - was overshadowed by events off the field following the resignation of Greg Clarke from his roles as FA chairman and FIFA vice-president, but the result was a formality from the moment Harry Maguire headed the hosts in front (18).
Jadon Sancho doubled England's lead with a precise finish (31) before Dominic Calvert-Lewin's penalty following a foul by Cyrus Christie on Bukayo Saka (56) completed a routine win for Gareth Southgate's men.
England took their foot off the gas in the final 30 minutes and declared on three to claim a first win over Republic of Ireland since 1985 ahead of a crucial UEFA Nations League conclusion, with the trip to face Belgium on Saturday before facing Iceland back at Wembley next week.
England: Pope (6), James (8), Keane (7), Maguire (7), Mings (7), Saka (8), Mount (9), Winks (8), Grealish (9), Sancho (8), Calvert-Lewin (7).
Subs: Dean Henderson (6), Abraham (6), Maitland-Niles (6), Bellingham (6), Foden (7).
Republic of Ireland: Randolph (6), Doherty (6), Duffy (6), Egan (n/a), O'Dowda (6), Christie (5), Hourihane (5), Hendrick (5), Horgan (6), Idah (5), Browne (6).
Subs: Brady (6), McClean (5), Long (5), O'Shea (6), Curtis (6), Molumby (5).
Man of the match: Jack Grealish.
England finally overcome Ireland
Southgate suffered a blow on the eve of the match with Joe Gomez ruled out after suffering a serious knee injury in a training session at St George's Park, with the Liverpool defender now facing a race against time to be fit for Euro 2020. But a comfortable night was precisely what the England manager needed.
Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny insisted he did not feel cursed after Aaron Connolly was ruled out with a hamstring injury on the same day West Brom frontman Callum Robinson tested positive for coronavirus, before James McCarthy withdrew due to 'family reasons'.
For the past 32 years, England and Republic of Ireland had been unable to beat each other across five draws, but the hosts began brightly as Mason Mount's near-post corner was flicked on by Sancho and headed over at the far post by Tyrone Mings after just six minutes.
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Ireland arrived at Wembley having scored just one goal in five games, and they bared their teeth for the first time moments later when after Daryl Horgan's initial cross was blocked by Michael Keane, his second attempt fizzed invitingly across goal.
The visitors suffered an early blow when John Egan was forced off with a head injury, and Saka was then denied a maiden strike for his country when Reece James' teasing cross led to Christie colliding with Darren Randolph but the West Ham goalkeeper recovered to thwart the Arsenal teenager. No matter.
After Ireland failed to fully clear the ensuing corner from Mount, Harry Winks was afforded time to pick out Maguire, who rose above Shane Duffy to plant his header into the corner. The opener was Maguire's second goal for England - and he came close to a third when his header from another wicked Mount delivery forced Randolph into a fingertip save.
- Jack Grealish and Michael Keane started England's friendly against the Republic of Ireland - a country they both represented at youth level. Gareth Southgate's squad also included Declan Rice, who represented the Irish senior team on three occasions before changing nationality at the start of 2019.
- Ireland skipper Seamus Coleman and midfielder James McCarthy were both late withdrawals from the squad ahead of kick-off. Manager Stephen Kenny made four changes to the side which lost 1-0 in Finland last time out as John Egan, Cyrus Christie, Callum O'Dowda and 19-year-old Adam Idah replaced Dara O'Shea, the injured Enda Stevens, Jayson Molumby and Sean Maguire.
Kenny's side looked dazed as England threatened to run riot. Jack Grealish picked out the irrepressible Mount on the edge of the box but his low shot was blocked. Grealish then combined with James down the right, and his cut-back was met by Calvert-Lewin, forcing Duffy to throw his body in front of the shot.
Grealish and Mount were competing to steal the show in a vibrant opening that was then spiced by a second after 31 minutes. Christie was hounded into surrendering possession as Winks seized on the loose ball, allowing Grealish to drive forward and set up Sancho, who adjusted his stride to ensure maximum impact with his left foot, calmly placing the ball between the legs of Jeff Hendrick and into the bottom corner.
The same pair almost combined for a third as Christie raced across to block Sancho's shot as the half ended with another Grealish cross begging to be converted but England went into the break two ahead. Sky Sports' Roy Keane, in his role as ITV pundit, feared that it "could get messy" for his countrymen if they failed to tighten up.
But four minutes into the restart, Grealish combined with his club-mate Mings as the Aston Villa defender showed his awareness to release Saka with a devilish flick but the Arsenal wing-back poked his shot wide of the near post. England were enjoying their night's work as Saka turned provider but his cross was flicked off the head of Calvert-Lewin by Matt Doherty.
The Everton striker wouldn't be denied his second England goal, however. Mount found Mings through traffic before Christie dangled a foot at Saka inside the box leaving referee Carlos Del Cerro Grande with no option but to point to the spot. Calvert-Lewin, in the absence of Harry Kane, took responsibility to finish emphatically into the top corner.
A raft of substitutions failed to stem the tide towards Randolph's goal as Saka's inviting set-piece deserved the finishing touch from Maguire, but he flicked wide from close range. It took 72 minutes for Ireland to muster a shot of any note as Dean Henderson, on for Nick Pope at the interval, was called into action to keep out Alan Browne's snap-shot with his right boot.
That preceded Jude Bellingham's introduction to become the third-youngest player after Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney to play for England - aged 17 years and 136 days. It was the final foot note on an impressive night's work for Southgate's youthful team.
England boss Gareth Southgate: "It was an important experience for seven of the players. We knew that we had three experienced centre-backs and goalkeeper and that was important to give stability to the team.
"In front of that, we weren't physically as strong as we sometimes are but we had good technicians. The two midfield players used the ball really well and their combinations with the wing-backs and the three forwards were at times really exciting.
"We got players in between the lines turning and running at their defence. We weren't tested defensively as much as we might have been but we created a lot of good opportunities and used the ball really well."
Republic of Ireland boss Stephen Kenny: "I think we were beaten 3-0, we are disappointed to lose the game but we can't complain really about anything.
"We can't complain about the result in any way, shape or form but we are disappointed with the goals we conceded. The first one hurt us because we had started reasonably OK - we started well enough.
"The fact we went two down was disappointing and we gave ourselves a lot to do once that happened. England were very good, their system is interesting and they played well."
Man of the match - Jack Grealish
Grealish made 19 appearances for Republic of Ireland under-age teams before eventually pledging his allegiance to England. At 25, Southgate appears to now finally appreciate the midfielder's unique talents.
Grealish has been involved in 12 goals in 11 appearances in all competitions for club and country so far this season, scoring five and assisting seven.
He enjoyed an excellent and industrious evening, and the Villa playmaker told ITV: "I know I could've scored myself and assisted more, but hopefully I've saved it for when it really matters.
"Training with these guys, it just steps up everything in your game - watching how Harry (Kane) and Raheem (Sterling) and Jordan (Henderson) train day in, day out, it helps you raise your standards.
"All I can do is try to impress the manager as much as I can. He's constantly telling me what he wants me to do, so fingers crossed [I'll play against Belgium]."
Withdrawn after an hour, Southgate had seen enough to be convinced of his worth in the forthcoming Nations League double-header.
Ireland's goal drought goes on - Opta stats
- England earned their first win over the Republic of Ireland since March 1985, ending a run of seven without victory against them.
- Republic of Ireland are without a goal in their last five matches in all competitions, their longest run without scoring since another run of five between November 1995-May 1996.
- Harry Maguire became the 33rd different Manchester United player to score for the England men's team - no club has provided more different goalscorers for the Three Lions (level with Tottenham).
- Jadon Sancho became the first player to score for England at Wembley while playing for a non-English club side since Steve McManaman v Luxembourg in September 1999.
- Each of England's last four penalty goals have been scored by different players (Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Dominic Calvert-Lewin), the longest such streak of different penalty scorers since a run involving Terry McDermott, Kevin Keegan, Phil Neal, Bryan Robson and Gary Lineker between 1980-1990 (excluding shootouts).
England are back in UEFA Nations League action away to Belgium on Sunday November 15 at 7.45pm, live on Sky Sports Premier League and Sky Sports Main Event, before hosting Iceland on November 18.
England's game against Iceland was in doubt due to travel restrictions concerning Denmark, where Iceland play this weekend - but the UK Government has granted elite sportsperson exemption to the Iceland squad.