Republic of Ireland 0 England 0 reaction: James Milner’s shuttle service let down by spluttering Wayne Rooney in Dublin

New Liverpool man was one of the few to impress in tepid performance

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The Independent Football

With the sun out and England clad all in white, this June fixture in Dublin was redolent of that golden summer of 1970, when the nation’s footballers were held in the highest regard and harboured serious aspirations at the Mexico World Cup.

Regrettably, the only attribute this generation has in common with the Bobbies Moore and Charlton is the short back and sides preferred by the Premier League’s beau monde. Even then there are no combovers for this lot. At the first sign of a receding hairline, the Wayne Rooneys of this world make straight for Harley Street and a reconstituted quiff.

This was always going to be a soporific duty too far, a game notionally required to bond the squad ahead of Sunday’s European qualifier in Slovenia and loosen limbs at the end of a long season. But in this era of the beautiful game, when international football is subservient to club matters and the Champions League, there was little appetite for the contest on and off the pitch. “Waste of an afternoon, an end of season waste of space” was how Independent columnist Paul Scholes described it.

Arguably this was a more valuable enterprise for Brendan Rodgers, the Liverpool manager handed an early opportunity to see how his new signing, James Milner, might dovetail in a midfield that, to a large degree, will be at his disposal next season, surrounded as the former Manchester City midfielder was by new team-mates Jordan Henderson, Adam Lallana and Raheem Sterling. Milner is an intelligent footballer, neat and tidy in possession, practised in the art of recycling the ball and with an engine as reliable as a Volkswagen Golf.

The problem is one of casting. Milner’s aerobic attributes were seen by coaches as perfectly suited to the wing-back role, a willing runner up and down the flank, keeping the opposing full-back quiet while getting out wide to supply the crosses in attack. Theory and practice rarely dovetailed successfully. The choice of Milner on the wings was more a defensive reflex since he has never had the pace required to open defences. Neither, you will argue, had David Beckham, the man who did the job before him. But Beckham compensated for a lack of velocity with a historic right boot, the accuracy of which we had never seen.

Milner is effectively Steven Gerrard with legs, if not goals; the kind of versatile player the modern coach so admires and who might yet keep Rodgers in a job. He has been signed to give Liverpool ballast where he is most effective, in the middle of the park, and to provide the likes of Lallana and – who knows? – maybe even Sterling, licence to roam.

Milner was back and forth here, a shuttle service on the left of the midfield triangle in the first half, knitting the play alongside Henderson and Jack Wilshere. In this kind of low-key engagement, Milner is almost guaranteed to shine on work rate alone. With Wilshere, he was one of the few to emerge in credit during a torpid opening 45 minutes.

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England captain Wayne Rooney endured a hard afternoon

Up front, England were dire. The puzzling inertia that gripped Rooney towards the end of the season at Manchester United shows no sign of abating. His first touch has disappeared. Rooney was always more busy than quick, his sense of anticipation and intuitive grasp of the game seeing him to the ball first. That is no longer the case and, unless he can conjure the urgency and hunger of his younger days, it is hard to see how he will survive in the vanguard of England’s or United’s attack.

Compare Rooney to the man at the point of the most feared trident on earth – Luis Suarez at Barcelona – and you begin to see how deep the problem lies. Suarez was never the quickest from A to B, but football is not played in straight lines and his footballing radar – his sense of space and ability to read play – makes him the sharpest striker in the game today.

If we persist with the Barça comparison, Lallana is asked to fill the Neymar role and Sterling approximate to Lionel Messi. This being impossible on both counts it is easy to see where England need to improve most. Against modest opposition, they enjoyed plenty of possession without threatening a goal.

It is not all bad for Roy Hodgson. There is pace on the bench in the shape of Theo Walcott and Andros Townsend, and purpose, too, when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is firing. It is almost 12 months since England last lost a match and they take a 100 per cent qualifying record to Ljubljana. The team will not look a lot unlike yesterday’s starting XI and if they all give it as much as Milner they are likely to maintain the percentages and the gap at the top of Group E, which presently stands at six points.

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