After a disappointing match lacking technical ability, Wales after being reduced to 10 men, take a point in Dublin, and now after 5 matches are 4 points behind joint leaders, Ireland and Serbia. Is qualification possible from this position?
Prior to the game, Ireland had to make a late change to the starting line-up when Everton player James McCarthy had to be replaced by Hull City player, David Meyler in the Irish midfield. Wales started the game, brighter than the home team with plenty of possession, but as was the way the whole game, the passing was slow and lethargic. Balls were just rolled into players, so the player did not have the speed of the pass to be able to run into dangerous areas and more often than not, had to check back out and pass back to where it had come from.
Due to the passing and poor touches from a number of players, the game at times seemed to be in slow motion. Wales did have opportunities and space in the wider areas where both Chris Gunter and Neil Taylor gave Wales an out ball, but due to lack of vision, or players deciding to take the safer shorter pass these opportunities were turned down. When Wales did take the opportunity, twice through Gareth Bale, Taylor almost got in, the second time, the pass Bale picked out was outstanding, but a poor first touch by a Welsh player, not the first time or the last, let him down. Ireland was very disciplined and structured, and the first half petered out, without either keeper having a save to make of any note.
The start of the second half, Burnley player Sam Vokes replaced Hal Robson-Kanu, who was isolated in the first half, but when it was played up to him, struggled to hold onto the ball, not allowing Wales to advance up the field. Vokes instantly showed more strength in possession and also in the second half, won his fair share of headers, so at least Wales got into more advanced positions. Wales started to look a bit more dangerous, managing to get Gunter and Taylor down the flanks, and getting balls into the box, at least asking questions of Ireland defensively.
The game changed in a crazy minute spell in the 68th minute. After Gunter got down the flank and delivered a cross into the box, Bale, carelessly caught John O’Shea whilst clearing the ball and was given a yellow card. Bale said afterwards he was sliding in to try to get on the end of the cross, but in my view, he had no chance of getting on the end of the cross, and carelessly threw himself into the slide, catching O’Shea on the shin. Due to this card, Bale will miss the next game in the campaign, away to Serbia. Things would get worse for Wales, though, less than a minute later, with Seamus Coleman and Neil Taylor going into a tackle, Taylor went completely over the ball, and caught Coleman high. Instantly you could see the player’s reaction and his team mates it was a bad injury. Coleman was stretchered off and his season could easily be over. It was a bad tackle by Taylor and deservedly got a red card.
After the sending off, Chris Coleman replaced Joe Ledley with Jazz Richards, clearly looking to continue playing with a wing back, and moved Ramsey back into a more withdrawn role alongside Joe Allen, who was Wales best player, in midfield. Coleman must have thought over with how the game and the group stands, moving Ben Davies to left back playing with a 4 at the back, and keeping Ramsey in a more advanced role, with the need for goals, but decided to go with the formation that has got him success.
Ireland was getting more success and the Welsh defence had to be on their toes, James McClean had two strikes at goal, and the second took a deflection that only just went wide. Wales were under pressure, but with 5 minutes left after a bad error by Richard Keogh, Vokes found Bale, who went on a long run, cutting inside and a left shot went narrowly wide, with keeper Darren Randolph at full stretch, in a poor game, it was a bright spot, seeing a player being incisive and trying a bit of magic.
There were a few scares in the last few minutes, where Wayne Hennessy looked less than commanding in a few aerial challenges, but Wales held on for a point, which is not the result they were looking for with the injuries and suspensions Ireland had in their squad.
In conclusion, it was a poor game of football tonight, both teams played very safe and kept numbers behind the ball. Wales even before the sending off seemed to lack energy and drive, which was disappointing. Ireland, even after the sending off, still seemed happy with the point, an example of this is even in injury time, it took them more than 2 minutes to get the ball into the Welsh box when all the did was pass short passes around the centre circle amongst their defenders.
Wales now need a victory in Serbia in June, and they now will be playing this game with no Bale and no Taylor. Bale stating the obvious, is a massive loss and will be interesting to see who replaces him in the side, a near impossible job. But if they are looking for someone to create something different will we see Tom Lawrence, Jonny Williams, or even maybe a start for Ben Woodburn in this must win game? Lets wait and see.