The fifth round of matches in the Fifa 2014 World Cup Qualifying Group A saw a home nations clash that produced the same scoreline as when the teams previously met in October last year. How much did Wales deserve victory on a night Scotland were relegated to ten men and conceded the equaliser through a penalty strike?
The answer: Wales thoroughly deserved their victory, and this is not just a patriotic Welshman banging the drum after a hard fought victory. Scotland started the game very poorly perhaps through a combination of losing striker Stephen Fletcher to injury, a midfield unfamiliar to each other and a new manager trying to bring across his new ideas in a very short space of time. On balance Wales’ midfield won through as Wales secured a solid 58% share of possession.
That said Scotland recovered very strongly and Grant Hanley’s début goal direct from a corner kick was a result of some brilliant positioning and movement and a very comprehensive header to beat the helpless Myhill. Wales’ poor defending, in particular Ricketts being dragged around the box by Hanley’s movement, certainly helped Scotland’s cause but take nothing away from a well worked set piece.
Robert Snodgrass’ curling effort which struck the post could easily have put Scotland 2-0 and out of site of a Welsh side desperately lacking in belief and confidence. And Snodgrass eventually did play an influential role in adding to the scoreline: by committing the foul that led to his sending off and Wales’ equalising penalty. Snodgrass was desperately unlucky: yes he caught Gunter late and inside the area but his efforts were to block the oncoming cross and not to take out the man. Understandable decision from the referee but one that could easily have gone either way.
If Wales defended poorly for the opening goal then Scotland definitely followed suite for the winning goal. A fine cross by King and a clinical header downwards from the impressive Robson-Kanu. However the Scottish defence were caught completely static: one video replay contrasts Robson-Kanu’s movement and guile compared to the army of blue shirts that were left totally stranded and caught on their heels.
A Scottish conclusion:
There is plenty of work for the début manager Gordan Strachan to do after watching a battling performance that ultimately led to defeat. The game certainly hinged on a sending off that no manager can control, however more importantly Strachan must look at the poor opening 25-30 minutes as a priority to improve heading into Scotland’s next game and beyond. Scotland now lie bottom of group A and whilst that is not Strachan’s doing it reflects the kind of position Scotland currently hold in world football and the talent pool that the new manager has to work with looking ahead to qualifying for Euro 2016 which now must be the over-arching priority.
A Welsh conclusion:
Despite this victory which surged Wales up to the table to 3rd they remain a huge 7 points behind Belgium and Croatia (13 points each) with half the campaign completed. And the words of Neville Southall ringing in Chris Coleman’s ears over his uncertain future as Wales boss should he lose in Glasgow is a sign of the times for Wales at the moment and a reflection of the nation’s frustrations following the tragedy of Gary Speed. However this was a huge win in terms of confidence and belief, and a team filled with the likes of the developing Gunter, impressive centre-back Williams, Ledley, Collison, Robson-Kanu, Ramsey and Bellamy all goes to show that Wales’ reliance on global talent Gareth Bale might not be as heavy as first expected.
Tomos Llewellyn: Follow on twitter: @tomllew