Jack Grealish lined up for England against the Republic of Ireland on Thursday evening knowing he could have been doing so among the opposition ranks.
The Birmingham-born Aston Villa schemer, who qualified through his grandparents, represented Ireland up to Under-21 level – he was Player of the Year in 2015 – and was courted assiduously by then manager Martin O’Neill before ultimately opting to play for his native country.
Having earned rave reviews for his performances in Villa’s rise to and subsequent presence in the Premier League, he won his third cap against Stephen Kenny’s side at Wembley.
Here, the PA news agency takes a look at how he fared during his 61 minutes before being replaced by Phil Foden.
We'll be keeping a close eye on Wembley tonight. 👀@OfficialTM_3 and @JackGrealish start for England against @ConorHourihane's Republic of Ireland. pic.twitter.com/PAWdfDHegx— Aston Villa (@AVFCOfficial) November 12, 2020
Grealish was asked to provide the width on the left side of a front three in which Jadon Sancho lined up on the right with Dominic Calvert-Lewin the central striker. He was threatening when floating in the space in between the Irish defensive and midfield lines.
The Villa playmaker signalled his intention from the off by dispossessing full-back Cyrus Christie deep in enemy territory and after a couple of early forays which came to nothing, gradually started to pull the strings. Always available and often dropping deep to pick up the ball, he probed repeatedly at a porous Irish defence, setting up chances for team-mates and creating more than one opening for himself.
It was Grealish’s astute first-half pass which put Sancho in position to make it 2-0, and his ball which was deftly flicked into the path of Bukayo Saka by Tyrone Mings to set up another good opportunity after the break. However, he might have helped himself to a goal in first-half stoppage time having carved his way into the penalty area, opting to pull the ball back rather than shoot, but with no blue shirt on hand to benefit.
A cultured display in which one of England’s rising stars showed flashes of his talent – and Ireland what they are missing – to suggest he could play a significant role when it comes to the serious business of qualifiers and tournament football. Invention coupled with confidence on the ball and work-rate proved a heady mix.
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