ENGLAND’S first trip to the Republic of Ireland in 20 years passed off without incident on the pitch and in the stands as the two neighbours played out a goalless bore draw at the Aviva Stadium.
England’s 3,000 supporters inside the stadium respected the Football Association’s plea for good behaviour.
Thankfully for all concerned, they refrained from singing the anti-IRA chants which marred England’s visit to Glasgow last November.
England boss Roy Hodgson said on the eve of the game that he was expecting an “electric” atmosphere, but there was barely a flicker of excitement from the stands during the match due to the poor quality football on display.
England started in an attacking 4-3-3 formation, but offered little up front with Wayne Rooney and Raheem Sterling particularly disappointing.
Ireland, who are 47 places below England in the FIFA rankings, had the better chances.
Sheffield United’s Daryl Murphy wasted two good opportunities to score in the first half and Joe Hart did well to save Jon Walters’ fierce shot after the break.
England managed just three attempts on target all match.
They will end the season unbeaten if they avoid defeat to Slovenia next Sunday, but their supporters will demand a much-improved performance.
Ireland will also need to up their game when they host Scotland in their crucial Euro 2016 qualifier here on Saturday.
It was clear from early in the afternoon that there would be no repeat of anything remotely like the shameful Lansdowne Road Riot of 1995.
When then Republic manager Jack Charlton tried to quell the rioters 20 years ago, he was labelled “Judas” by the right-wing yobs in balaclavas who ruined that day for everyone.
But on Sunday, the Englishman received a warm reception from all four corners of a sparsely-populated stadium when he was introduced on to the pitch before kick-off.
With the pubs in Dublin shut until half an hour before the first whistle, there were plenty of sober heads inside the stadium and there was a strangely quiet atmosphere.
Both national anthems were largely well-respected, and hush then fell on the stadium for most of the first half.
It was easy to understand why the supporters were subdued, for they had to bear witness to one of the dullest halves of football in recent memory.
Ireland had a couple of early corners, but Hart remained untested in the England goal.
Rooney tracked back to deny David McGoldrick a shot on goal from Robbie Brady’s free-kick.
Keiren Westwood lumped a ball long and Daryl Murphy wriggled free from his marker but shot wide.
Up the other end, England offered nothing.
John O’Shea and Marc Wilson kept Rooney quiet and Sterling, who has booed with every touch, could not get into the game.
Jack Wilshere made a run into the box after laying the ball off to Adam Lallana but the Liverpool midfielder over-hit the return pass and the ball drifted out of play. It summed up England’s woeful lack of creativity in the lack of the final third and Wilshere shook his head in disappointment.
Murphy wasted the best chance of the half nine minutes from the break when Brady swung the ball into the box but he headed wide after losing Phil Jones in the box.
Republic coach Martin O’Neill brought on James McClean and Shane Long at the break, but little changed on the pitch. Both teams were still poor.
Jordan Henderson nicked the ball off O’Shea and squared to Rooney, but his first touch let him down and the ball dribbled into Westwood’s arms.
Hart nervously fumbled Brady’s free-kick at the near post but performed much better moments later when he stood strong to beat away Walters’ volley.
With 65 minutes gone, Hodgson finally made changes, with Andros Townsend and Ross Barkley coming on for Sterling and Wilshere.
It was the same old story on the pitch though. Barkley curled a shot wide and despite the introduction of the in-form Theo Walcott, England continued to toil.
Townsend made an impact off the bench, drawing a save from substitute Shay Given and Chris Smalling also had a header saved, but there was to be no breakthrough and the fans’ misery ended with the final whistle.