Wales 0, Republic of Ireland 0

MARK Crossley performed heroics on his Wales debut to frustrate the Republic of Ireland in Cardiff tonight.

Barnsley-born Crossley, given a chance to launch his international career in Neville Southall's absence, ensured a hard-fought friendly ended goalless with a string of fine saves.

The 27-year-old Nottingham Forest keeper had an anxious moment when he spilled Ian Harte's fourteenth-minute cross but he recovered quickly to save at Tony Cascarino's feet.

Crossley grew in confidence as the half wore on and he produced a stunning reflex save to deny Wimbledon striker Jon Goodman a debut goal.

The Forest keeper kept Wales in the game late in the second half with three stunning saves in quick succession. He dived full length to push Goodman's shot behind for a corner and tipped over headers from Cascarino and substitute David Kelly.

Crossley, who qualifies to play for Wales through his late grandfather, had gone into the game determined to push himself to the front of the queue to take over from Neville Southall whenever the 38-year-old Everton keeper decides to retire from international football.

And the Forest keeper's performance is sure to have impressed Wales boss Bobby Gould.

Republic boss Mick McCarthy also gave a debut to an English-born keeper in Bolton's Keith Branagan because of injuries to Alan Kelly and Shay Given.

Fulham-born Branagan also made an encouraging start to his international career, pulling off a fine save to deny John Hartson a first senior goal in the second half.

Branagan survived an early scare when he failed to claim Mark Pembridge's corner and Gary Speed tapped in from close range but Scottish referee William Young ruled Vinnie Jones had fouled the Bolton keeper.

Gould and McCarthy were treating the contest as a warm-up game for vital World Cup qualifiers Wales at home to Belgium next month and the Republic in Macedonia in April

But Wales fans gave the game the cold shoulder, Giggs' absence persuading many to stay at home and there was a crowd of under 10,000.

Those who did turn up saw both sides have to contend with a fierce wind, driving rain and a heavy pitch that featured several treacherous muddy strips down the wings.