When Ben Woodburn entered the field with 69 minutes played of Saturday’s crucial World Cup qualifier against Austria, there was a sense of expectation for all those watching. No one could’ve predicted what would happen just five minutes into his debut.
For Welsh supporters, Woodburn making his full competitive debut has been a long-time coming. Despite being just 17-years-old, the expectations of Woodburn reach the levels set by Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey have existed for a long time.
So when he hit the ball into the back the Austrian net from outside the penalty area just five minutes after coming on, the jubilation was not coupled with surprise. We’ve known what Woodburn is capable of for a long time and we know the talent we have on our hands.
It was a must win game for Wales, who were looking to keep their World Cup dreams alive. It had been a tense, tight match up until that point, with neither Ramsey nor Bale able to make a difference. Coleman had to roll the dice, throwing on Woodburn and fellow forward Hal Robson-Kanu in place of Sam Vokes and Tom Lawrence.
Woodburn, as we now know, would go onto have an immediate impact. When the Austrian defender’s clearance fell to his feet outside the box, he took one touch to get it out of his feet before smashing the ball home.
Coleman would’ve been absolutely delighted with the impact Woodburn had, despite the pressure on his young shoulders.
Tomorrow’s game against Moldova is equally a must-win game for Wales, who sit four points behind group leaders Serbia. In Moldova, Wales have the group’s easiest opponents, as the 4-0 home win proved.
The emphasis will be on Coleman to put out a side capable of breaking down the defensive Moldovans, something Wales have struggled to do at times.
Wales play best when on the counter attack, there’s little doubt about it. They like to sit deep, to absorb pressure and then use their pace to punish teams on the counter attack.
When teams have reversed this and forced Wales to break them down, they have struggled. Introducing Ben Woodburn from the start could help, with the young Liverpool forward able to bring an added level of guile and composure, something the likes of Hal Robson-Kanu fail to provide.
PRESSURE ON WOODBURN
One thing Chris Coleman will be wary of his putting too much pressure on Ben Woodburn too early. Club manager Jurgen Klopp had similar worries after the Welshman became Liverpool’s youngest goalscorer last year, saying: “It was only after the game that I remembered it’s now really difficult to keep him back again, not for Ben or for me, but for the public.”
Nobody has any doubt over Woodburn’s talents, but it is imperative to let him grow as a player and not to heap too much pressure on his young shoulders. For that reason, I think Chris Coleman will start with Woodburn on the bench tomorrow night, but there’s little double we’ll see the star at some point in Moldova.
By Scott Salter.
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