Early goals give England a comfortable win over brave Ireland

The hosts battled hard to get back into the game but got no reward

Republic of Ireland v England
England celebrate their second goal, scored by Lauren James (extreme right) at the Aviva. Picture: PA (Niall Carson/PA)
Uefa Women’s Euro 2025 Qualifying Group A3

Republic of Ireland 0 England 2

WHAT the Ireland players wouldn’t have done for a goal in the dying embers of last night’s Euro 2025 qualifier against England.

Trailing by two first-half goals - a sweet Lauren James strike and an Alex Greenwood penalty - the Irish rolled the dice in the second period and probably deserved to see England’s net ripple.

Just once would have sent the thousands of young Irish supporters home happy - but, in fairness, there was enough desire shown from their brave-hearted heroes to keep spirits high despite back-to-back defeats in their qualification bid against two elite teams.

The 32,742 crowd did their best to suck the ball towards the visitors’ goal in the second half.

Any forensic assessment would protest that England never really went after a third goal and seemed happy with their advantage fashioned in the opening 18 minutes.

Still, let’s not take anything away from the freedom with which Ireland played in those tumultuous last 30 minutes.

Katie McCabe, Ireland’s player of the match, went close late on. Caitlan Hayes had a header saved, a series of free-kicks and corner-kicks caused plenty of stressful moments among the English rearguard and Megan Campbell’s bullet-like throw-ins might have yielded something.

In the end, Ireland drew a blank for the second Euro qualifier running but they got another up-close-and-personal view of what elite women’s football looks like.

Ireland boss Eileen Gleeson made two changes to the side that lost 1-0 to France in Metz last Friday night.

The experienced and keen Youtuber Ruesha Littlejohn was recalled to the starting line-up to face the Lionesses with Megan Connolly dropping to the bench and Birmingham City’s Lucy Quinn coming in for Emily Murphy.

England coach Sarina Weigman may have been all smiles at the pre-match press conference on Monday, but she was clearly not happy with her side’s 1-1 draw with Sweden at Wembley.

The Dutchwoman made sweeping changes to her line-up – five in total – the biggest surprise of which was leaving England’s number one Mary Earps on the bench and promoting Chelsea ‘keeper Hannah Hampton. Arsenal’s Leah Williamson returned to the heart of the English defence after a year out with a cruciate injury in place of club-mate Lotte Wubben-Moy.

Jessica Carter came in at left back for her Chelsea club-mate Niamh Charles. Out went Georgia Stanway and in came Jessica Park in the English midfield while Ella Toone, Man United’s attacking midfielder, was a surprise starter in place of Grace Clinton.

Probably because they were playing on home soil, Ireland showed more ambition in the opening minutes than they did for the entire backs-to-the-wall night against France last Friday.

Heather Payne was full of endeavour down the right flank, Kyra Carusa busted a gut in the lone striker’s role and Littlejohn, shielding her defence, was able to get her foot on the ball and picked a couple of nice, crisp passes.

The temperature rose among the home fans every time the ball was ushered towards McCabe on the left flank.

If only Ireland could clone the 28-year-old Dubliner. When she aimed a few of her trademark cross-field passes, the home fans wished, by some weird metaphysical process, that she could be on the end of them too.

But for all of Ireland’s endeavour, it was the visitors, ranked number two in the world, who knocked the ball about with more precision and sharpness as the first half wore on.

Central defenders Williamson and Alex Greenwood had all evening to pick passes and they were never short of offers with defensive pivot Keira Walsh helping England move seamlessly up the field.

Lauren James glided around the pitch too and looked a step ahead of everyone – but it was more Irish misfortune than English guile that saw the Irish fall behind by two goals after 18 inexplicable minutes.

Keira Walsh’s back post cross looked harmless enough but Lucy Bronze’s weak downward header came off Anna Patten’s shin and James was on hand to sweep the loose ball past Courtney Brosnan in Ireland’s goal after just 12 minutes.

Six minutes later and with Ireland still reeling, Littlejohn was adjudged to have raised her arm in an unnatural manner to stop Park’s shot and referee Lina Lehtovaara of Finland pointed to the spot.

Up stepped Greenwood and with one smooth stroke of her left boot, it was 2-0.

Lehtovaara had no intentions of leaving the dancefloor and awarded another penalty to England on the half hour mark after another harsh call – this time Louise Quinn was cited for a handball.

Greenwood opted for the other corner – her right side – but the ball cannoned off the foot of Ireland’s post and away to safety which prompted the biggest cheer of the first half.

After the exertions in Metz and England being the consummate keepers of the football, fresh legs were essential from the home side’s perspective.

Megan Connolly took over from Littlejohn at the restart and Gleeson made three more changes before the 67th minute, one of which freed up McCabe from her defensive duties.

Aside from her expert set pieces, McCabe’s endeavour was magnificent on the night.

She charged down Hannah Hampton’s clearance, raced to retrieve the ball but by the time the Irish captain steadied to shoot the England ‘keeper was back on her goal-line to save comfortably.

Brosnan saved brilliantly to deny England sub Fran Kirby midway through the second period, but the remainder of the tie was played in the visitors’ half of the field.

Caitlan Hayes almost converted McCabe’s 83rd minute corner but Hampton acted sharply.

High balls rained down on the English defence. Louise Quinn pushed up to offer an aerial threat. Leanne Kiernan and Emily Murphy added a spark in attack too.

Backed superbly by their fans, Ireland couldn’t break down the English defence. It’s another steep learning curve for Gleeson’s gallant crew - but plenty of positives to console them as they look ahead to facing the Swedes at the end of May.

Courtney Brosnan Fantastic block to deny Fran Kirby in the second half. Beaten by a good strike and a penalty. Alert throughout. 6
Aoife Mannion Defended really well and was helped by Payne’s industry in the first half. A no-frills full-back. 6
Katie McCabe Set pieces were high quality, unlucky not to grab a goal when she successfully charged down England keeper Hannah Hampton’s clearance. Couldn’t have given much more. 7
Louise Quinn Gives everything she has every time she wears the green jersey. Composed when she needed to be, physical when it was demanded of her. Pushed up front in search of a late goal. 6
Caitlin Hayes Used the ball better than she did in Metz. The Celtic player defended stoutly and didn’t allow Alessia Russo much space. 6.5
Anna Patten Her distribution was off in the opening half and she was slightly unlucky to have an inadvertent hand in England’s first goal. Battled gamely in the second half. 5
Ruesha Littlejohn A surprise omission in Metz, the midfield veteran had some really good moments and protected her back-line well. Unlucky to concede a penalty. Withdrawn at the break for Megan Connolly. 6
Denise O’Sullivan The first half passed Ireland’s playmaker by but was more lively in the second half. But the Irish simply don’t play through the lines, especially against such tough opposition. Well marked by Keira Walsh. 5
Heather Payne Ireland’s best player in the opening half. Full of running down the right side and kept Jessica Carter quiet. Emptied the tank before making way for Leanne Kiernan. 6
Lucy Quinn Had to play a really disciplined role. Had to get close to Carusa but also out of possession helped form a low block across the middle of the field. Called ashore on the hour mark and her role was assumed by McCabe. 6
Kyra Carusa If you put a yard of pace into her legs, she would be the perfect front player. Full of industry but was feeding off scraps for the 67 minutes she was on the field. 5.5
Megan Connolly Kept the ball well in the defensive midfield role and was a more athletic offering than Littlejohn. 6
Leanne Kiernan Added a bit of spark down Ireland’s right side in the final quarter. 6
Megan Campbell Absolute dynamite in those arms as her bullet-like throw-ins caused England some stressful moments. Defended well and got forward. 6
Emily Murphy Took over from Carusa up front and added a lot of energy to the Irish attack. 6