“Pitiful” is the word that best sums up Wales’ first half performance against England yesterday. For me it was as bad as anything seen under John Toshack – in fact, given that we were playing a side that should get even the poorest of Welsh teams to at least show some fight, it was probably worse. I had been hopeful of a good showing beforehand. Even before Gareth Bale dropped out I never contemplated a win for Wales, but I did think a combination of the new manager effect, a full house and a game against England would draw a performance from the team which offered the hope of better days for the future. Instead of that though we got an abject capitulation as any confidence and spirit the side had (and there wasn’t much evidence of that in the little time when the score was 0-0) evaporated as soon as Frank Lampard’s penalty hit the net.
I’ve seen heavier defeats for Welsh sides against England, but I can’t remember anything as dismal and depressing as yesterday’s meek surrender. For me this is not a great England team – their efforts in the last two World Cup Final tournaments and the fact that they didn’t even reach the latter stages of Euro 2008 show that their team of the last five years or so is not as strong as many of those sides I have seen play Wales down the years and yet, in the first half in particular, Wales approached their task as if they were up against the 1970 Brazilian World Cup winning team in their pomp!
Although I don’t have a high opinion of the current English team, the painful truth is that they were much, much too good for us. They had the match won in the first quarter of an hour and then effectively “declared” after that as they saw out the game in a manner which suggested to me that if, miracle of miracles, Wales actually began to inconvenience them a little, they could have stepped things up and scored again if they needed to. Those who tried to take comfort from an improved second half display by Wales need to bear this in mind – for me, England were perfectly happy to keep us at arm’s length after the break content in the knowledge that we had nothing that could trouble them.
No doubt yesterday’s result will mean a further slide down the FIFA World rankings and, having talked about the poorest of Welsh sides a little earlier, I daresay that there will be many who would say that this unwanted award should go to the current side, but, even without the likes of Bale and Collison, this side should be better than they are showing, so are they failing to play to the level they should because they are poorly managed? I’m not so sure of that myself – I supported John Toshack longer than most other Wales fans, it was obvious though that there were problems with his relationship with many of the players and with Gary Speed having now followed his uninspiring debut game in Ireland with this dreadful defeat, it is tempting to point the finger of blame at the man in charge when looking for reasons as to why the team has done so poorly since their win over Scotland in 2009. However, there has to come a time when the players have to take responsibility for their part in proceedings as defeat follows defeat.
Yes, Gary Speed got it wrong yesterday in selecting Andy King to play in an unfamiliar position that nullified his greatest asset (i.e. his ability to make late runs beyond the strikers) and it’s not with the benefit of hindsight that I say that David Vaughan should have been in the starting line up. I thought the non selection of a player who has been very impressive as a regular pick for a Premiership team was a strange decision even before a ball was kicked and watching Joe Ledley and Andrew Crofts labouring away without ever looking like establishing anything vaguely resembling an element of control in the middle of the park only confirmed this. It’s no coincidence that Wales were able to finally put the England defence under some of pressure after Vaughan was, belatedly, introduced.
However, if Speed did show his managerial inexperience a bit then I’m afraid that, like Toshack before him, he was very poorly served by the players who now should be providing the experienced guiding hand to help those in their early twenties through games. I am talking in particular here about the two Collins’ in our back four. Although I reckon he’s had a poor club season this time around, James is an established Premiership standard defender now, but he has looked nothing like that in recent Wales games where his habit of making at least one major error per game makes him an accident waiting to happen – to be fair, his fall in the lead up to the penalty he gave away was down to a pitch which should have the FAW looking to play all games away from the Millennium Stadium from now on, but these sort of things are happening too often at this level to a player who should be providing an example to his team mates.
As for Danny, well he threw a strop when Toshack didn’t pick him for some friendly game and did not come back into the fold until after Tosh had gone. Collins’ reaction makes it obvious that he thinks he is better than the other candidates for the left back role in the Welsh team, but, nine games into his International career, I am still waiting to see any evidence that suggests he is right in believing this. Yesterday’s was a pretty typical Danny Collins Wales display in that he was probably the worst player in the side. To be caught out like he was in the build up to England’s second goal was very disappointing, but for him to lose his man in an identical manner shortly afterwards was criminal – people ask how many of the current City side could cut it in the Premiership if we went up, well, Collins is someone who has played the majority of his football in the top flight, so I would say that, based on his example, the answer to that question has to be all of them!
I’d exempt Craig Bellamy, who turned in a six out of ten performance which probably made him our best player and at least looked like he cared about what was happening, from any criticism of the senior players, but it also has to be said that the likes of Gunter and Ledley should be becoming more influential now given the number of caps they have. As for Aaron Ramsey, I think he showed last week and yesterday that, while he is fit enough to look a class act at Championship level, he is still not back to match sharpness at the next step up and he probably won’t be until he has the benefit of six weeks pre-season training behind him. The way in which he took on too much himself when things were going wrong was pretty predictable, but it also showed his bravery as a footballer because he was still looking to get on the ball and play despite things often not working out for him in the manner they usually do.
Finally, the most galling thing for me about yesterday was that the team’s craven performance justified all of the platitudes, delivered in a condescending manner, directed at Wales by English pundits before the game. Who can blame the English based media for looking down on us when their team comes to our capital and wins as comfortably as they would do when playing in San Marino or Andorra (I was going to say Liechtenstein, but I seem to remember them giving England a far tougher game when they went there than we did yesterday!)? Wales were not England’s “little brother” yesterday (little brothers can be an annoyance), they were the baby brother that teenage boys barely look at while saying “yeah he’s nice isn’t he” before moving on to more important matters.