Republic of Ireland crash to Welsh defeat
Uefa Nations League Cup League B Group 4: Republic of Ireland 0 Wales 1
BOOS rang around the Aviva Stadium last night as Wales claimed a Nations League double over the Republic of Ireland thanks to Harry Wilson’s second-half free-kick that ended the home side’s faint hopes of progressing in the inaugural tournament.
With relegation staring them in the face in Denmark next month, Republic manager Martin O’Neill will be looking ahead to next March when, he says, Euro 2020 will begin “in earnest”.
But, given their results in the Nations League, their seeding is likely to take a battering ahead of the draw in December.
While there was audible discord among the home fans at the end of last night’s tie, the Republic played significantly better than they did against Denmark a few nights earlier.
But a bad goalkeeping error by Darren Randolph proved the difference between the sides. The Middlesbrough man took a fatal step to his left, obscuring his view of the ball, and Harry Wilson’s left-footed free-kick on 58 minutes had enough pace to find the back of the net.
Up to the goal, the Irish played with more verve and far higher tempo than against the Danes. In their 50th outing at the redeveloped Lansdowne Road ground, there was no happy ending as the visitors could easily have added to their lead while the Irish threw caution to the wind in search of an equaliser.
O’Neill made two changes from last Saturday’s scoreless draw with Denmark – one enforced after Callum O’Dowda joined the injury list – for last night’s penultimate Nations League clash with the Welsh.
Preston’s Callum Robinson, a late substitute at the weekend, earned a recall to the starting line-up as the manager shook up his attack, with Millwall’s Aiden O’Brien also gaining promotion from the bench.
Despite the absence of key players Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Ethan Ampuda for last night’s return meeting between the Celtic neighbours, Wales boss Ryan Giggs was still able to field nine of the side (including two substitutes) who hammered the Irish 4-1 last month.
The fact that Wales’s marquee players were missing might have contributed to a more lively display from the home side than last weekend’s turgid encounter with the Danes.
In the build-up to last night’s clash, O’Neill demanded the Irish defence play higher up the field than they did against Denmark.
They did and it made all the difference as the Republic players harried the Welsh into umpteen mistakes in the early stages, one of which almost led to Cyrus Christie opening the scoring after nine minutes.
James McClean, playing with typical energy and verve, pressed James Chester in the corner of the field. Young Matthew Smith failed to deal with Chester’s short pass and was robbed by Christie.
The Fulham man, playing once again in an unfamiliar midfield role, might have brought the ball closer to goal but his low, curling shot still forced a save out of Welsh ‘keeper Wayne Hennessey.
McClean, Harry Arter and Kevin Long didn’t spare any of their opponents in a series of aggressive tackles while Jeff Hendrick showed glimpses of his Euro 2016 form, demanding the ball from his defenders, spraying passes left and right and getting forward on one notable occasion.
Robinson also caught the eye, dropping off his strike partner O’Brien and causing indecision in the Welsh defence with some neat passes and movement.
Wales, undoubtedly missing the leadership of Bale and Ramsey, didn’t find any rhythm in their play in the first half, which was largely due to Ireland’s collective harassment.
It was also encouraging to see several passages of play from the home side, as if they'd decided over the last few days that they would no longer treat the ball like a hot potato.
The visitors slowly gained a foothold in the game in the second half and their youthful forward line of Tyler Roberts and Harry Wilson always carried a threat.
But it was Connor Roberts’ storming run that led to the only goal of the night. With Harry Arter not sure if James McClean was in a position to make a tackle on the attacking right back, the Cardiff City man hauled him down just outside the penalty area.
With Randolph’s generous assistance, Wilson sized up the Irish wall and the goalkeeper’s position before finding the back of the net. It was a soft goal to lose a game.
The Irish kept pressing forward but with not a lot of creative edge to their play.
In the 66th minute Hendrick dribbled in the Welsh penalty area but his drive was straight at Hennessey in goal.
The Irish were all at sea every time the Welsh broke forward. James Chester clipped the post with a header, the lively Tom Lawrence and Tyler Roberts should have done better when in good positions in the 75th and 76th minutes, respectively.
The home side forced a few corners in the dying embers but they never looked like breaking down the Welsh defence. There is much to ponder as O'Neill prepares for next month's friendly game with Northern Ireland and Denmark.
Rep of Ireland: Randolph, Keogh, Duffy, Kevin Long (Hogan 76), Doherty, Christie, Arter, Hendrick, McClean, Robinson (Maguire 60), O'Brien (Shane Long 55)
Subs Not Used: Doyle, Derrick Williams, Meyler, Shaun Williams, Browne, Stevens, Egan, Hourihane, McDermott
Booked: Kevin Long, McClean, Shane Long
Wales: Hennessey, Connor Roberts, Chester, Williams, Ben Davies, Smith (Thomas 75), Allen, Wilson (Gunter 84), Brooks (King 87), Lawrence, Tyler Roberts
Subs Not Used: Ward, Richards, Vokes, Woodburn, John, Rodon, Edwards, Freeman,Adam Davies
Booked: Ben Davies
Goals: Wilson 58
Ref: Bjorn Kuipers (Holland)