Wales the first of the top four in qualifying group to blink.

Coymay

I think there was a general acceptance that Wales v Georgia would not be as straightforward an affair as most pot one v pot six matches are. Shorn of their two representatives from the UEFA selected best eleven for this summer’s Euros, Wales always looked a little vulnerable against improving opponents with an ability level that should never have got them outside the top one hundred in the FIFA rankings in the first place.

Georgia always looked the strongest of the pot six sides and, before a ball was kicked in the group, were, pretty obviously, a stronger outfit than Moldova, but, nevertheless, it came as a shock to me to see just how good they were as they emerged with a deserved point after a 1-1 draw at Cardiff City Stadium last night.

In fact, the general consensus among many of the pundits and journalists was that Georgia were worth three points, not just the one they ended with. Indeed, when you consider their strong second half showing in which they missed a one on one and also hit the crossbar, you have to concede that there might be something to such an argument.

Overall though, I’d say a draw was fair because the visitors were certainly second best during a first half in which Wales started much the stronger and, although Georgia came into things more in the game’s second quarter, the home side undoubtedly deserved their lead after forty five minutes. Wales also enjoyed a dominant spell after Georgia’s fifty seventh minute equaliser, so I’d say their point was merited and, you never know, I suppose it could turn out to be vital come twelve months time.

Whoever deserved to win though, I thought it was a good game for any neutrals who were watching and, while accepting that it has had very little competition for such a title, it was the best match seen at Cardiff City Stadium this season.

I believe the important question to ask is does it signal that Wales are entering a decline back towards their more “normal” levels after a two year spell that has, arguably been the best in our footballing history? Speaking for myself, I’d need more evidence before I became convinced of that.

Gareth Bale hasn't always been at his brilliant best for Wales this year. Truth is, he wasn't quite there yesterday either, but he certainly did his bit, and more, to get Wales their win - he could have scored four or five times on another day, but this time luck wasn't on his side.*

Gareth Bale hasn’t always been at his brilliant best for Wales this year. Truth is, he wasn’t quite there yesterday either, but he certainly did his bit, and more, to get Wales their win – he could have scored four or five times on another day, but this time that little bit of luck wasn’t on his side.*

However, for all that I have said about how impressive Georgia were, the fact is that Austria were able to beat them in Tblisi last month and Ireland edged them out, albeit quite fortunately, in Dublin on Thursday. People were saying after last night’s game that Georgia will take points off others among the top four seeds in coming weeks and months, but they hadn’t before last night and, as things stand, Wales are the only ones not to have beaten one of the two lesser lights in the group when they’ve played them.

If Georgia seriously entertained any hopes of qualifying for the 2018 Word Cup, they really needed to be winning last night I feel. Therefore, the possibility has to remain that they will become less competitive as the group goes on and qualification becomes more of a lost cause, they may not prove to be as awkward opponents as some think they will.

Certainly, Georgia began like a team not expecting much from their trip to Wales as we swarmed all over them in the opening stages and they could easily have conceded before they eventually did in the tenth minute, when Gareth Bale demonstrated his aerial ability once again to nod in Joe Ledley’s corner.

While Georgia were able to have a comparatively comfortable fifteen minutes in the lead up to half time as Welsh intensity faded, I don’t think there were many at the interval who foresaw anything other than a pretty comfortable home win. However, after a misleadingly bright start to the second half by Wales, Georgia began to take a grip on things to the extent that when Okriashvili headed his side level, there was a definite feeling that a goal had been coming from the visitors.

For a while, Wales reacted well to being pegged back and it looked like the goal they conceded had been something of a wake up call, but it didn’t last.

Once it was 1-1, both sides tried to win the game by differing means, Wales threw on attacking players and really went for it, whereas Georgia looked to exploit the counter attacking opportunities this provided and it has to be said that it was the visitors approach that looked the more likely to succeed as the minutes ticked away – while Wales huffed and puffed, Georgia so nearly got the win through their more subtle methods.

Whatever else you may think of Chris Coleman, he has always struck me as someone who is very honest in his post match comments and he admitted that he may not have helped matters by making three such attacking substitutions once Georgia had scored.

That said, the introduction of Hal Robson-Kanu for Andy King coincided with the upturn in our football after their equaliser that I mentioned earlier, but then the subsequent substitution of David Cotterill for Neil Taylor as Wales switched to a 4-4-2 manifestly did not work. This wasn’t wholly down to Cotterill who managed to get over one cross from the left that was as good as anything his team mates produced throughout the match, but, Bale, so good before then, was less influential on the right and, with Emyr Huws replacing Ledley as the 4-4-2 morphed more into a 4-2-4 with each passing minute, we were, more than anything else, playing right into Georgia’s hands.

Laughably, there were City fans saying Joe Ledley wasn't good enough for City when his name was linked with the club in the summer, but he showed why he is Chris Coleman's preferred starting eleven every time yesterday. The midfield may not have functioned well as a unit, but Ledley was not to blame for this as he reminded everyone what he brings to a team - he needs flair players alongside him and, Bale apart, we did not have them against Georgia.*

Laughably, there were City fans saying Joe Ledley wasn’t good enough for City when his name was linked with the club in the summer, but he showed why he is in Chris Coleman’s preferred starting eleven every time yesterday. The midfield may not have functioned well as a unit, but Ledley was not to blame for this as he reminded everyone what he brings to a team – he needs flair players alongside him and, Bale apart, we did not have them against Georgia.*

To be fair to the manager, his usual 5-3-2/3-5-2 had not been working perfectly even when it was 1-0 as, just as in Vienna, the left side of our defence were having an uncomfortable time of it. Neil Taylor’s evening had started so well as he skipped past his marker to swing a threatening cross over in the opening seconds, but his lack of game time at Swansea has to be a contributory factor in what have been two below par showings from him in the last few days and,with Ben Davies alongside him being in the same boat at Spurs, we may have to look at either a change to a flat back four or a change of personnel if the pair of them are still struggling to get into the club teams when Serbia (who have scored eight times in their three matches) come calling next month.

Certainly, the left hand side of the Welsh defence was nowhere to be seen as they appealed vainly for an offside flag when Okriashvili was given yards of space to nod past Wayne Hennessey (who has probably been Wales’ best player over this pair of matches) and so I don’t believe it’s a simple as just saying get Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey back and we’ll be fine.

In saying that, there can be no doubt that those two players bring a subtlety and class to the Welsh midfield that just isn’t there when they are missing. With Georgia being able to cope with the aerial stuff without too many problems, Sam Vokes’ shortcomings in other areas became more relevant and, consequently, the attacking burden was carried almost exclusively by Bale who, when you think back, was responsible for nearly all of the meaningful goal attempts we had.

With Ramsey and, to an increasing extent, Allen there we have a goal threat in other areas, but their replacements, Andy King and Dave Edwards, both seem unable to ask defences the questions they once used to these days as they develop into deeper lying midfielders.

For a while, Ledley, King and Edwards buzzed around industriously to deny the Georgians the time on the ball they wanted, but for the last two thirds of the match, the Welsh midfield was struggling as the fact that we had three players who were all pretty similar in there became clearer.

With Ramsey now close to entering his third month of injury absence from the Arsenal team, I think there has to be doubts as to whether he’ll make the Serbia game and, if he’s not there, I’d give serious thought to using Bale in a number ten role behind a front one or two. Hopefully, Allen will be available to give us more steadiness and quality because I would not be optimistic if we faced Serbia in what I’d now say is a must win match with the same central midfield three or with Huws in there for, say, Edwards.

I daresay that there will be some who’ll say it’s far too early to be labeling games as “must win” – after all, our next match will only be our fourth out of ten. However, we’ll only have two home games left after we face Serbia and, with four of the following five of them being away, anything but a win next month could see us in a position where’ll we’ll go into the return game, and the one in the Republic of Ireland, needing to win.

At the moment, Serbia, Ireland and Austria have that little bit of wiggle room that we don’t because we were unable to follow up a very good result in Vienna with a good one yesterday. Having only managed four points from two matches at home to them, we cannot afford to drop any more when we go to Georgia and Moldova next year – yesterday’s result is far from a fatal blow to our qualification hopes, but, for now at least, the three sides seeded immediately below us have to have a better chance of making it than us.

*pictures courtesy of http://www.walesonline.co.uk/

 

 

 

 

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9 Responses to Wales the first of the top four in qualifying group to blink.

  1. Colin Phillips says:

    Agree entirely with your report and conclusions, Paul.

    By the way I think the Bale throw is being over-used, it was alright when it wasn’t expected but it takes our best goal-scorer out of the play.

  2. Anthony O'Brien says:

    I wish our left back had the nickname “Olly” because, using an anagram with a bloody big question mark, I could write “Olly! Retain?” After a poor pass he went into panic mode in an effort to rectify the situation, but in so doing he lost both concentration and his proper position — and Georgia scored their goal! Even so, I take Paul’s excellent point that both left-sided defenders are not having regular football. I was also impressed with Ledley’s corner kicks — not overhit as is often the case at Cardiff. In some respects it was something like a Cardiff game because, as Colin rightly says, there was continued reliance on long throws from Bale in this instance, which thereby removed him from the goal area.

  3. Lindsay Davies says:

    Paul – almost flawless report (see later)…for which, the usual heartfelt thanks.
    At the risk of sounding like Christopher Hitchens criticising Mother Teresa (not May!), I found myself wondering what it is that Coleman does at half-time. In Vienna, we scored on the stroke of half-time, “a brilliant time to score” (uncontested football folklore). Did we come out, in the second half, organised and committed – primed – to defend that advantage? No – we emerged distracted, and meekly allowed Austria back into the match, almost immediately.
    Last night – Georgia coming back strongly in the twenty minutes leading to half-time.
    Did we emerge organised and committed to reversing that? No – we allowed Georgia to pick up where they had left off…and get even better.
    Unaccompanied by stardust and skill (Bale, Ramsey, Allen), decent footballers like Vokes, King, and Edwards are blunt instruments at this level.
    Reluctant to pile even more misery on his shoulders, I have to say that Neil Taylor looks, and plays, like a man living on his nerves. I was going to detail his inadvertent ‘contribution’ to Georgia’s goal, but Anthony has nailed that.
    Cool, assured, wonderful, Ashley Williams was rushing around trying to find which pesky, skilful, low centre-of-gravity, Georgian had the ball.
    My view is that we’re vulnerable to these technically assured, sophisticated Central and Eastern European footballers (I’m dreading the Serbian games).
    Davies, I’m glad to say, appeared to have his best game since the summer.
    2-2 in Vienna – merited.
    1-1 last night – lucky.
    I don’t, however, think it’s a turning-point of an era…it all just demonstrates how much we need our ’stars’ at all times.

  4. Dai Woosnam says:

    Thanks, Paul.
    Were this a world championship boxing match, it would have been stopped halfway through the eleventh round to stop Wales taking further punishment.
    And I could not help musing that the Georgians wasted no more time than we would have (had the roles been reversed), in marked contrast to the disgraceful Lithuanians who made a mockery of a weak referee a day earlier at Hampden.
    And I also thought how the admirable Georgians would make Neil Warnock proud. Just his sort of team. Wonderful centre backs in particular.

    Indeed, I fancy only Hennessy and Bale would have made it into a joint team based on the performances on the night.

  5. Dai Woosnam says:

    Apols to Wayne for my misspelling his surname to match that of KARE-diff’s very own Frank H. I must remember Wayne has an e in his Hennessey.
    A thought on the national anthem.
    Now normally the singing is ahead of the accompaniment, and we all need to slow down and not go veering into the chorus like a drunken uncle at a wedding reception. But whoever dug out that rare instrumental recording used on Sunday, found perhaps the only one in recording HISTORY that had ditched the normal andantino tempo for one that was positively ALLEGRO.
    It certainly caught the Wales players as well as us fans on the hop, and it took many of us till the third line of the anthem to catch up.
    I suggest this recording be ditched for the incomparable Bryn Terfel’s version, or better still, for the great Paul Robeson singing it in my mother tongue.
    But hey, don’t take the bait with that last sentence: I am just being provocative there folks!
    (That said…if South Africa can have their anthem in their three languages, why cannot we in our two? And as the late great Glyn Jones said to me when I once drank tea with him and his charming wife in the parlour of their Manor Way (Cardiff) home, “the Dragon has two tongues”.)
    Mind you…I am loath to see the back of that great opening line of the late Nigel Jenkins…”My hen laid a haddock on top of a tree”.
    An image worthy of Salvador Dali at his very best, is that little beauty.
    DW.

  6. The other Bob Wilson says:

    Colin, agree with you completely about Bale’s long throw – despite us getting a goal with it against Austria, I think it’s a weapon which should be used sparingly because we are, in effect, throwing away (sorry!) our ace.
    AMO, too many people forget how good a footballer Joe Ledley is. Peter Whittingham gets lauded, rightly, for his dead ball delivery, but his corners haven’t been a patch on Ledley’s this season, that’s two goals from Ledley corners in two home games for Wales now.
    Lindsay, I think you have to give Austria and Georgia credit for the fast starts they made to the second halves, but we have been more open at the back than normal in our last two games and, the more I think about it, the more I believe that there is something to a point I mentioned in my piece after Austria match. Football can be a bugger at times because you can work and work on the weakest part of your game (in Wales’ case a lack of goals), put things right and gain confidence from this to the extent that your weakness starts to become a strength, only to discover that your previous strongest element (the thing you took for granted while you tried to put other matters right) is fraying around the edges. We wouldn’t have conceded goals like Austria’s first one and Georgia’s equaliser during our Euro Qualifying group because there wouldn’t have been so many spaces to be found within forty yards of our goal in open play.
    Dai, I believe current thinking by the people who decide on such things is that the crowd sing the anthem so well these days that there’s no longer any need for someone to “lead” the rendition – agree that the recording used on Sunday caused a bit of a problem though.
    Not heard about the hen laying a haddock before – the opening line will never be the same for me from now on!

  7. Lindsay Davies says:

    Paul – really sound point about weakness-strength/strength- weakness.
    I think it was in Vienna that our boys ‘kept the opponents waiting’, and emerged late…I remember thinking “not a successful ‘mind game’, more that we’re causing ourselves a distraction”.
    Dai – the haddock line…a gem. Thanks
    In the old days, when someone chose our anthem for, say, Desert Island Discs, it was almost invariably a version featuring the Arms Park crowd singing entirely unaccompanied.

  8. Dai Woosnam says:

    Dear Paul and Lindsay,
    Glad you liked that great line from the pen of the late Nigel Jenkins.
    Here is his “national anthem made easy”, in full.

    To be honest, that dynamite opening line, is never quite matched in the rest of his verse and chorus. If you start with the dynamite, you have to end with the TNT…and frankly after that zinger of an opener, it falls away badly…though the first line of the chorus is a belter too

    And do you know what, folks? Were you to listen to what a good percentage of the fans are singing, you might find it closer to Nigel Jenkins than the Welsh language original !!

    Please go to the Paul Robeson masterpiece performance of our anthem on YouTube. How I would love a verse and chorus in both languages at all our games.
    ‘…
    My hen laid a haddock on top of a tree,

    Glad barks and centurions throw dogs in the sea,

    My guru asked Elvis and brandished Dan’s flan,

    Don’s muddy bog’s blocked up with sand.

    Dad, Dad! Why don’t you oil Aunty Glad?

    When oars appear, on beer bottle pies,

    Oh butter the hens as they fly.
    …’
    DW.

  9. Lindsay Davies says:

    Dai, Paul – if you have a moment, check out Nolwenn Leroy singing the ‘Hymn Breton’ (same tune, different words/language) before the French FA Cup Final of 2014, unaccompanied, in front of 80,00 people…Rennes v. Guingamp, an all-Breton affair. It’s on YouTube under “Nolwenn Leroy chante Le Bro godzh…etc.”.
    As the commentator says, the Stade de France became the Stade de Bretagne for an evening…something we Welsh could identify with.
    At the risk of sounding like Donald Chump, it’s beautiful in more ways than one.

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