England draw blank at Old Trafford
Rooney was expertly kept at bay by the Macedonian rearguard
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Saturday, 07, Oct 2006 08:23
England failed to convert dominance of possession and a series of clear-cut chances into goals, managing only a goalless draw against Macedonia at Old Trafford.
The visitors rarely threatened, but could have punished a lacklustre England display when Igor Mitrevski saw his header drift just wide of Paul Robinson's goal.
England looked similarly toothless in the first half as Wayne Rooney, back in the side for the first time since the World Cup, struggled to escape the attentions of Macedonia's three imposing centre-backs.
Frank Lampard came closest to breaking the deadlock with a surge into the penalty area that the visitors' 'keeper Jane Nikoloski bravely snuffed out by smothering the Chelsea midfielder's attempt at his feet.
The tempo of the game was raised after the break, perhaps with Steve McClaren injecting the promised passion into the half-time pep talk.
After watching a Mitrevski header float inches over, England should have taken the lead themselves in the 58th minute when Gary Neville blasted against the bar.
Peter Crouch's far-post header was parried into the path of the right-back only eight yards out, but his composure failed him as the ball flew into the Old Trafford crowd.
The introduction of Shaun Wright-Phillips at the expense of a largely anonymous Stewart Downing gave the home side some much needed urgency and drive in midfield.
After one slaloming run past the red-shirted defenders the diminutive winger laid the ball square to Steve Gerrard whose crisp drive rattled the bar and ricocheted harmlessly clear.
In spite of a couple of late chances for Peter Crouch, it was as close the home side were to come and they now face an unappetising trip to Zagreb to try and get their campaign back on track.