Republic held by rivals Northern Ireland in feisty friendly

AFP
Republic of Ireland's Conor Hourihane battles for the ball against rivals Northern Ireland (AFP Photo/Paul FAITH)

Republic of Ireland's Conor Hourihane battles for the ball against rivals Northern Ireland

Republic of Ireland's Conor Hourihane battles for the ball against rivals Northern Ireland (AFP Photo/Paul FAITH)

Dublin (AFP) - Republic of Ireland were held to a bruising 0-0 draw by Northern Ireland amid a toxic atmosphere as the bitter rivals clashed for the first time in seven years on Thursday.

The Republic won 5-0 in the last showdown with their neighbours from north of the border in 2011.

But goals were much harder to come by this time as the friendly ended in a fractious stalemate in Dublin.

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The Republic have won only once in their past 10 games and were booed off at full-time, while Northern Ireland have just two victories in 12 matches.

"I am proud of the team. We were terrific. We had good chances and should have won. But Darren Randolph had a good night for them so credit to him," Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill said.

In principle, the derby was simply a warm-up for the Republic's Nations League trip to Denmark on Monday and Northern Ireland's match against Austria in the same competition on Sunday.

But given the tense nature of the relationship between the countries, it was hardly surprising their latest meeting was a hostile occasion.

The political tone of the fixture was reflected by Republic boss Martin O'Neill, born in Northern Ireland and their captain at the 1982 World Cup, and his counterpart Michael O'Neill meeting Irish President Michael D Higgins at a Co-Operation Ireland dinner on Wednesday.

But there was little sign of peace-making when nearly 30,000 Republic fans drowned out the Northern Ireland national anthem with boos and whistles before kick-off.

Around 2,000 Northern Ireland fans were allowed into the Aviva Stadium and they returned fire by loudly jeering controversial Republic winger James McClean for his refusal to wear a poppy during the recent Remembrance Day.

There was blood spilled early on when Seamus Coleman and Liam Boyce needed treatment after clashing heads.

Gavin Whyte, making his first start, wasted a chance to score his second goal for Northern Ireland when the Oxford winger collected Stuart Dallas's pass and shot straight at Republic goalkeeper Darren Randolph.

Shane Duffy had the Republic's first sight of goal when he met Robbie Brady's free-kick with a header that Bailey Peacock-Farrell tipped over.

Glenn Whelan was making his farewell 85th Republic appearance before stepping away from the international stage and the Aston Villa midfielder departed to an ovation on his pre-planned substitution late in the first half.

Dallas was put through on goal by Steven Davis just before the interval, but again Randolph came to the Republic's rescue with a good save.

With neither team willing to give an inch in the second half, Callum Robinson fired over from McClean's cross.

McClean's substitution provoked sound and fury in equal measure as Republic fans saluted the Stoke player and Northern Ireland supporters gave him one last volley of abuse.

Northern Ireland forward Kyle Lafferty, disliked in the Republic for playing at Rangers, came on to more abuse from the stands.

Northern Ireland should have won it when Darragh Lenihan allowed himself to be dispossessed by Jordan Jones, but man-of-the-match Randolph saved with his feet.

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