Thus time last year Wales had just been beaten 2-1 at Cardiff City Stadium by Australia in a game that I remember now for Darcy Blake’s only goal in senior football and how slow Wales’ build up play was for all but the last quarter of an hour. Shortly after that defeat, the FIFA World rankings for August 2011 had us in 117th place. Gary Speed had been in charge of the team for about nine months and had won one (by 2-0 over what was virtually a Northern Ireland B team) and lost four of his games in charge – the general consensus was that Wakes had definitely picked the wrong man to replace John Toshack.
I say all of this to point out that things can change very quickly in football – Speed’s Wales entered a golden autumn which saw them win four out of five (the only defeat coming by a solitary goal at Wembley), but, just as impressively, they did so while playing some excellent football. Therefore, last night’s miserable 2-0 loss to Bosnia-Herzegovina at Llanelli need not mean that yet another qualifying campaign will be over almost before it’s begun, but it has to be admitted that there was precious little on show to suggest that Wales have it in them to surprise Belgium, Serbia, Croatia and Scotland over the next couple of months (the Belgians and Scots both enjoyed morale boosting wins last night) or to dispel the feeling that many, including myself, had on Chris Coleman’s appointment – that is, that he was someone who would prove incapable of taking up and then building on the legacy that Speed handed him.
Coleman can quote reasonably argue that the 1-0 defeat to Costa Rica in the Gary Speed memorial match should not be held against him – it was an occasion where, even for a “meaningless” friendly, the result mattered less than normal and, anyway, the new manager took a back seat for that match, preferring to allow Osian Williams to oversee the preparation. However there have been worrying similarities in the two subsequent matches and I’m not just talking about the 0-2 scorelines there either. The defeat by Mexico in May was, just like last night, a lot more decisive than 2-0 suggests and, once again, it was hard to detect a coherent strategy as to how Coleman wants Wales to play – the possession which was valued so much under Speed last autumn is given away far more under Coleman for a start.
Of course, Wales’ inability to keep hold of the ball could be more down to ineptitude than any change to a more, direct, “British” style Coleman wants to impose because, from the moment Ashley Williams trod on the ball to present Dzeko with an opportunity he should have put away inside the first minute, they were wretched last night. Ramsey and Allen were erratic and Crofts anonymous in a midfield that struggled throughout as Wales relied almost exclusively on Gareth Bale to come up with something that would challenge the Bosnian’s superiority, while defensively Wales were a shambles – the error by Williams I mentioned was by no means his only one on the night, Blake had one of his poorer games for his country and both full backs made basic mistakes which contributed to the visitor’s goals. Up front Vokes struggled (why didn’t Morrison start?) and Simon Church was asked to play in a wide left position which I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play in before.
Boaz Myhill can be pretty satisfied with his night’s work I suppose, but. him apart, I’d say only Bale came close to recapturing the form and confidence of last autumn. Whether this is down to a group of players who feel they’d be better served being back at their clubs preparing for this weekend’s big kick off I don’t know, but certainly, for now, ex coach Raymond Verheijen sniping Twitter comments about the transformation in approach and attitude since Speed’s passing and his own departure are being made to look bang on the mark – Coleman really needs a result against Belgium in three weeks time.