Wales 1-0 Republic of Ireland
Wales inched nearer to promotion to League A of the Nations League tonight with a hard-fought victory over Ireland, thanks to a second-half header by David Brooks.
UEFA Nations League: Wales vs Ireland pitched together two teams with contrasting form and objectives. The Dragons knew that a win this evening would pretty much open the door to promotion whereas Ireland were hoping to avoid defeat and fight off relegation.
It’s fair to say that the Wales vs Ireland highlights package was never likely to be the biggest extravaganza ever, and here at SBOTOP we predicted 0-1 goals, with the odds on a 1-0 win at 4.45, and so it turned out. But there was no lack of fight from either team, and Ireland will feel unlucky to come away empty-handed; but after dominating the first half they ended the game with ten men and, once again, no goals.
Highlights of the game
Having failed to score in the last five games Ireland had a glorious chance to go ahead with just three minutes on the clock. Burnley winger Robbie Brady, back from a long term injury, swung in a dangerous cross where an unmarked Shane Duffy met it but headed wide when he should have hit the target. Duffy was the last Irish player to score a goal and he should have been the first today.
Ireland certainly had the better of the first half with the lively Daryl Horgan testing the Wales defence, and when Neco Williams cleared Brady took a swing but fired narrowly over. The big news as the kick-off approached came from the Wales camp where it emerged that Gareth Bale was in the starting line up. And he rolled back the years with a speculative free-kick from 35 yards which swerved and dipped inches over Darren Randolph’s bar.
Brady was pulling the strings for Ireland and he found James McLean with a beautiful ball, and the Stoke City wide man tested Danny Ward from a tight angle, and just before half time Brady fed Adam Idah who was about to pull the trigger but Joe Rodon made a brilliant last-ditch tackle.
Bale had the first effort of the second half, but his low effort was weak and Randolph collected comfortably. In the run-up to this game Wales battled to a 0-0 draw with the USA and it began to look like that might be the outcome again tonight, but on 66 minutes the Dragons broke through. Dan James drove into the right side of the penalty area and chipped over a cross which Duffy part cleared, but Bale managed to redirect it into the danger area and Brooks nodded gleefully home.
Ireland were not out of the game and James Collins forced a save from Ward with a 20-yard effort, and Jeff Hendrick had a low shot blocked by a packed Wales defence. With the clock ticking down Collins had another shot saved.
The Irish had fought hard but had nothing to show for their efforts and they finished the game with ten men after Hendrick wiped out Tyler Roberts as the young Wales striker broke at speed.
The pre-match Wales vs Ireland betting odds backed a home win but a tight one. And the statistics tell a story of a game which could have gone either way and probably should have ended in a draw. Ireland shaded the possession at 52 percent and also the shot count at 11 to ten, with each side registering four attempts on target.
It was Stephen Kenny’s seventh game in charge of the Irish, with only one goal to show for it; they created plenty of chances tonight but lack a cutting edge.
It was the second time Ireland finished with ten men against Wales after James McLean was dismissed in the 0-0 draw in Dublin in October, but it was a great night for Rob Page, who earned his first win as Wales’ caretaker boss.
The Group B4 fixtures come to an end on Wednesday when Wales host Finland in a deciding tie. The Dragons just need to avoid defeat to secure promotion but Finland does carry a threat. Norwich City striker Teemu Pukki scored an early goal in their match tonight which ended up a 2-1 victory over Bulgaria.
Wales’ influential defender Ben Davies picked up a yellow card tonight which means he’ll be unavailable for that game.
Meanwhile, the Republic of Ireland host Bulgaria and they too just need to avoid defeat to preserve their position in League B. They are due a goal and I think the Irish will get one, and do the job!
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