Dylan O'Connell reporting from the Aviva Stadium
It was to be a red ending at the Aviva Stadium on Friday night, as a team of Liverpool Legends overcame a Republic of Ireland XI 2-1. Goals from John Aldridge and Valdmir Smicer gave the Reds the win after Keith Andrew had given Ireland an early lead.
It was a relaxed atmosphere from the early moments as both teams were cheered for the cause of Sean Cox. Innocently caught up in fan violence and having suffered terrible injuries prior to last season’s Champions League semi-finals, tonight was a night of celebration and fundraising for Sean’s treatment.
The relaxed vibe was apparent from the whistle as Stephen Hunt and Patrick Berger competed in the centre circle, each calmly dictating the play for their side.
For all of Hunt’s control in the centre of the pitch, it was Robbie Keane impressed early on. Narrow misses from a cross by Kevin Doyle and a blazed effort over the bar after a darting run, belied the player’s age.
The same could be said for Robbie Fowler as he connected with Berger to go one v one on the Irish goal, with only the outstretched arms of Wayne Henderson denying the Liverpool favorite a shot at goal.
As the first half wore on, the skill of Stephen Hunt showed time and time again. A run past Jermaine Pennant saw Hunt send Kevin Doyle through, who in turn squared it to Keane. However, the tightest of angles left Keane frustrated as Liverpool tracked back.
Ireland finally went ahead when Keith Andrews knocked on a cross from Stephen Hunt and passed Sander Westerveld to make it 1-0.
After Kenny Cunningham toppled Jermaine Pennant over inside the area, Liverpool were handed a penalty and a golden chance to draw level. The opportunity fell to John Aldridge who only had to brush the ball into the net with a flick of his foot to equalize.
Substitutions saw an unsettled second half with Robbie Keane swapping green for red John Aldridge did the opposite. Despite all of the quality within the visiting side it was Valdmir Smicer who would give Liverpool the lead.
Following a chipped through ball down the center Smicer ran on, dodging the tackle of Kenny Cunningham to curl the ball into the bottom right hand corner and give Liverpool the lead.
Ireland pushed for an equalizer with Stephen Elliot now anchoring the attack. Kevin Doyle swung the ball in for Niall Quinn, with only the cross bar denying the former Arsenal and Man City striker.
As Ireland pushed forward, Liverpool countered and Robbie Keane was let through on goal, but an alert Shane Supple smothered the ball as Keane walked away frustrated. It would be the same again in the final moments when Keane took down a superb cross by Neil Mellor and, were it not for the assured stance of Supple, would have surely found the back of the net.
There was no regret at the final whistle as the two teams gathered together to applaud the Aviva Stadium crowd of 26,000.
Republic of Ireland XI (1st half): Wayne Henderson; Steven Reid, Ian Harte (Ray Houghton 35), Kenny Cunningham, Ronnie Whelan (Graham Kavanagh 16’) (Colin Healy 46), Stephen Hunt (Kevin Kilbane 31), Kevin Doyle, Robbie Keane, Kevin Foaly, Lee Carsley (Keith Fahey 31), Keith Andrews (Liam Lawerence 31).
Republic of Ireland XI (2nd half): Wayne Henderson (Shane Supple 58), Kenny Cunningham, Sean St. Ledger, Kevin Kilbane (Niall Quinn 75), Colin Healy, Niall Quinn (Alan Quinn 60) (Phil Babb 75), Keith Fahy, Ray Houghton (Keith Andrews 60), Stephen Hunt (Kevin Doyle 59), John Aldridge (Kevin Doyle 60), Stephen Elliot.
Liverpool Legends (1st half): Sander Westerveld; Bjørn Tore Kvarme, Jason McAteer, Sami Hyypia, Phil Babb, Steve McManaman (Ronnie Whelan 46), Robbie Fowler, Jermaine Pennant (Ritchie Partridge 42), Vladimir Smicer (John Aldridge 34), Patrik Berger, Michael Thomas.
Liverpool Legends (2nd half): Sander Westerveld, Sami Hyypia, Bjørn Tore Kvarme, Phil Babb (Valdmir Smicer), Steve McManaman (Jermaine Pennant 60), Robbie Fowler (Stephen Gillespie 70), Patrick Berger, Robbie Keane (Robbie Keane 88), Ronnie Whelan (Michael Thomas 59), Michael Thomas (Neil Mellor 60), Ritchie Partridge.
Subs not used: Ian Rush.
Referee: Tomas Connolly.