Ireland slump continues as Wilson goal seals double for Wales
Martin O’Neill’s side heading for relegation after another Nations League defeat
Harry Wilson fires home a free-kick to give Wales the lead in the Uefa Nations League match at the Aviva Stadium. Photograph: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
Republic of Ireland 0 Wales 1
Having been in charge for 27 of the 49 games played since Lansdowne Road was rebuilt and renamed, it is no huge surprise that Martin O’Neill had been about for both the Aviva’s best and worst nights to date. Game 50 won’t live long in the memory as the win over Germany or defeat by the Danes but it might not be forgotten quickly enough for the manager.
It was nothing on Cardiff, of course, but then Wales did not have their best players from that night. Instead, a side that included fewer Premier League regulars than Ireland scored just once, then held on in the face of some determined attacking by the locals.
The crowd got behind the home side as it chased an equaliser and there were moments when there was at least a recognisable echo of the famous old roar but it did no good; Ireland simply did not have the wherewithal up front to save themselves. They might well, indeed, have conceded a second on the break as the game moved into injury time.
The goal, from a free by Harry Wilson 58 minutes in, had inevitably changed things but the bigger question is what it will do to the position of O’Neill. His side has now lost three of its last four competitive games, two of them at home, and requires both a win in Aarhus against the Danes next month and a favour in the group’s other remaining game if they are to avoid relegation in the Nations League and being third seeds in the qualifiers for the European Championships.
The manager had hoped that Saturday’s draw would restore confidence and give his side something to build on but Ireland suffered spells of uncertainty in the space in front of their own area throughout the game. There was also one rather baffling period midway through the first half when the two sides repeatedly exchanged possession, with the hosts having to keep hauling themselves out of a hole that they themselves were digging.
On their right, David Brooks posed the major threat for the visitors and James McClean risked an early card for a couple of rough challenges on him. Kevin Long then got one for his first, with the Dutch referee seeming to feel he was the repeat offender. But McClean, sure enough, was eventually shown one too and so misses next month’s game while a Harry Arter foul on the Welshman brought the free kick from which Ryan Giggs’s side scored the game’s only goal.
Wilson had shown form from dead balls this year, with his stunning strike for Derby County against Manchester United in the Carabao Cup. This time the 21-year-old lifted the ball over a well populated wall and Darren Randolph, having taken what proved to be a fatal step in the wrong direction, left rooted to the spot.
The pity was that while it was not dramatically better game than Saturday’s, there had been some positives for Ireland. Giggs had made five changes to the side so well beaten by Spain while Callum Robinson and Aiden O’Brien came in for Ireland. The latter, despite his strong showing in Poland and the slight doubt there had been about Shane Long’s fitness, was something of a surprise. Robinson, for a while, was quite a revelation.
Together they worked well as Ireland sought to press Wales high up the pitch for spells but it was the Preston player’s work on the ball that really caught the eye. Others, O’Neill had acknowledged on Monday, find the transition from Championship to international football a tough one but here was a player who seemed to thrive on it with the 23-year-old showing enormous composure through the first half in what was only his third cap.
Had Cyrus Christie shown as much composure, Ireland would have been ahead after 10 minutes. James Chester, under pressure, played the ball inside to Matthew Smith, whose first touch on the edge of his area was terrible. Christie pounced on the loose ball but then immediately tried to pick his spot and Wayne Hennessey got across well to save when there had been nothing to prevent the Fulham player driving towards goal then finishing with more conviction.
The debate on whether or not he is a midfielder continues, but Christie is not, it seems, a striker.
Through the first half and into the start of the second, Wales, for the most part, proved more effective at keeping the ball, but the home side went into the break having had one more shot on target, the tally being a very modest two to one.
There were glimpses of the passing game O’Neill always insists he aspires to and Wales looked rattled more than once. Sadly, though, there was nobody to add the required finish and when Robinson tried himself he should actually have fed Matt Doherty who was arriving into open space down the right hand side of the area.
Ultimately, they were Ireland’s best efforts with McClean producing the only one of note in the late surge and even that didn’t ask too much of Hennessey. The Derryman did well, meanwhile, to prevent Brooks tapping home at the other end and from the resulting corner on that occasion Chester headed just the wrong side of the left hand post.
It was, in short, another disappointment; part of a slide that O’Neill is struggling with and one that may yet take engulf him.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Republic of Ireland: Randolph (Middlesbrough); Keogh (Derby County) Duffy (Brighton), Long (Burnley); Doherty (Wolves), Christie (Fulham), Arter (Cardiff City), Hendrick (Burnley), McClean (Stoke City); Robinson (Preston); O’Brien (Millwall).
Subs: Long (Southampton) for O’Brien (56 mins), Maguire (Preston) for Robinson (60 mins), Hogan (Aston Villa) for K Long (75 mins).
WALES: Hennessey (Crystal Palace); C Roberts (Swansea City), Chester (Aston Villa), Williams (Stoke City), Davies (Tottenham Hotspur); Smith (Twente), Allen (Stoke City); Brooks (Bournemouth), Wilson (Derby County), Lawrence (Derby County); T Roberts (Leeds United).
Subs: Thomas (Scunthorpe United) for Smith (73 mins), Gunter (Reading) for Wilson (85 mins), King (Leicester City) for Brooks (87 mins).