The pressure on England manager Don Revie was eased slightly as his side ran out comfortable 4-0 winners over a woeful Northern Ireland team. However with a championship defining match to come at Hampden Park in a few short days, it was a brief respite for the beleaguered England boss.
After receiving heavy criticism in the press for his sides performance against Wales the previous weekend, Revie for once resisted the opportunity to make too many changes. Only 2 new faces lined up at Wembley on a balmy evening, Colin Todd and Mick Channon coming in for Dave Clement and Tony Towers. It was Northern Ireland who overhauled their side following a 3-0 hammering by Scotland, with manager Dave Clements picking himself for his first international in six months as one of four changes to his side. He also handed a first start to Manchester United teenager David McCreery.
Ten days after refereeing the FA Cup Final, Clive Thomas was back on duty at Wembley and got proceedings underway in his trademark style. TV coverage of the game was provided by the BBC as part of the Sportsnight programme, with Barry Davies on commentary duty.
England started proceedings on the front foot, with Stuart Pearson and Gerry Francis both having half chances, however it was Ray Clemence who was forced into the first real save of the match. Derek Spence, plying his trade with Bury in the 3rd division, broke down the left hand side and fired in a cross which Bryan Hamilton turned goalwards, only to be denied by the legs of the Liverpool goalkeeper.
England though continued to press and finally took the lead ten minutes before half time through their skipper. It was a lovely move started by Ipswich Town’s Mick Mills who threaded a ball inside the full back for Channon. The Southampton man fooled the Irish defence with a back heel into the path of Gerry Francis who coolly rounded Pat Jennings before stroking the ball into the empty net.
The lead was doubled a minute later as Channon won and converted a penalty kick. His burst into the area from the left hand side was ended by a reckless challenge from Tommy Cassidy, Channon collecting himself to drill the ball down the spot kick down the middle of the goal, Jennings kindly diving out of the way of the ball, and allowing England a 2-0 lead at the break.
Nothern Ireland started the 2nd half with a decent period of play, Sammy McIlroy dragging their best opportunity wide from the edge of the penalty area. However it would not be long before England reasserted their dominance, with another quickfire double salvo.
The third goal of the night came on 63 minutes, with Pearson netting his first for his country, in typical poachers fashion. The Manchester United striker was in the perfect position to pounce after Ray Kennedy, latching on to a flick on by Peter Taylor, was denied by Jennings, Pearson on hand to poke home the rebound.
Ten minutes later the rout was complete, with Channon grabbing his second of the night. Colin Todd started the move, winning the game high up the field and finding Kevin Keegan in the box. The Liverpool man saw his shot blocked but the ball fell kindly for Channon who kept his cool to fire past Jennings and make it 4-0.
The closing stages saw a return to the international fold for Joe Royle, the Manchester City striker coming on as a substitute to win his first cap for four years.
The win lifted England on to four points, the same tally as Scotland and set up a winner takes all clash at Hampden Park three days later.