I saw all or part of four matches over the weekend and three of them were significantly effected by the warm and sultry conditions they were played in. The exception was England’s 1-0 win in Norway, but in the first of the two Play Off Finals at Wembley, Huddersfield and Sheffield United played out a turgid 0-0 draw in which caution reigned supreme with the stifling conditions preventing midfield players making runs into dangerous areas on the rare occasions when there was a willingness to do so. Crewe v Cheltenham yesterday, was better with both sides showing much more enterprise in a lively first half, but Cheltenham in particular ran out of steam from around the hour mark onwards and. in the end, Crewe’s win was fairly straightforward.
Although the game took place over five and a half thousand miles away from Wembley, Wales’ match with Mexico in New York last night followed a similar pattern, but there was a difference in that in London all four sides found it tough going, but at the MetLife Stadium, Mexico were able to defy the conditions in impressive fashion to earn a 2-0 win which did not flatter them in the slightest. Indeed, if had not been for some fine saves from Jason Brown (making a rare start in goal due to the unavailability of Messrs Hennessey, Myhill and Price) Wales’ margin of defeat could have equalled Scotland’s in their 5-1 loss to the USA, just under twenty four hours earlier.
Brown, who must have wondered why he was at Cardiff for a short spell at the end of the 2101/11 campaign as he watched fellow loannee Steven Bywater’s error strewn performances from the bench, was an obvious man of the match for his country – he had no chance with either goal and made two or three exceptional stops including somehow keeping out a second half header by Dos Santos from point blank range.
The thing that I noticed most when comparing the two sides was how much more quickly Welsh players were closed down when in possession than the Mexicans were. Obviously the conditions, which favoured the Central American team so much more than the Northern European one, had a bit to do with this, but there was a sluggishness about many of those in a Welsh shirt which suggested that the match would have gone the same way if the temperature had been, say, fifteen degrees cooler.
Wales looked like a team at the end of their domestic season and, apart from a header wide by the disappointing Robson-Kanu and a snapshot from Bellamy after he had been set up by Sam Vokes (who did quite well when he came off the bench to replace Steve Morrison) which did not miss by too much, they never threatened to score. There was no shame in losing to a Mexican side who don’t very often fail against sides they should be beating when you look at the FIFA rankings, but, historically, they seem to struggle against the “big” teams who, often, don’t look to have as good a starting eleven as they do.
If Mexico do have an inferiority complex, then it was never going to be an issue yesterday during Chris Coleman’s first game in which he has been fully in charge since taking the job in December. Although I am one of what I would guess is a large number of Welsh fans who are not overly optimistic of him being able to repeat the results and performances seen in the last few months of Gary Speed’s time in charge, it’s hard to see a great deal he could have done differently to effect yesterday’s outcome which, in the grand scheme of things, was not particularly important anyway.
In saying that though, you have to wonder whether it would have been preferable to have started with someone more used to the centreback position than Chris Gunter. I’ve already commented on the strange ignoring of Ben Turner by someone who has managed him at club level and was fulsome in his praise of our centre back after the Carling Cup Final, but even more odd was Wales’ new manager’s non use of Gunter’s Forest team mate Joel Lynch who stayed sat on the subs bench after his out of the blue call up to the squad ten days ago – you would have thought a match like yesterday’s would have been an ideal opportunity to see how Lynch, who had an impressive season at club level apparently, would cope with International football.