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Defeat to weakened Wales increases pressure on Ireland boss Martin O'Neill

A second-half free-kick from Harry Wilson made the difference tonight in Dublin.
Oct 16th 2018, 9:53 PM 36,926 112

Republic of Ireland 0
Wales 1

Paul Dollery reports from the Aviva Stadium

THE REPUBLIC OF Ireland look resigned to finishing at the bottom of their group in the inaugural Uefa Nations League after a free-kick from Harry Wilson saw a significantly weakened Wales record their second win over Martin O’Neill’s side in the space of six weeks.

James McClean dejected at the final whistle Source: James Crombie/INPHO

With one game still to play, even an unlikely victory away to Denmark next month may not be enough to move the Boys in Green off the foot of the Group 4 table in League B. That will result in relegation to League C, but a more concerning consequence for now would be the demotion to third seeds for the draw for the Euro 2020 qualifiers.

Similar to Saturday’s goalless draw with Denmark, the most positive aspects of a mostly disappointing Irish performance were the defensive discipline and the contribution of Callum Robinson. Nevertheless, a home defeat to a team that was nowhere close to full-strength will only serve to increase the pressure on manager Martin O’Neill.

The Ireland team that started the game showed two changes, both in attack. Robinson and Aiden O’Brien were selected instead of Shane Long and Callum O’Dowda, the latter having been withdrawn against the Danes due to feeling unwell.

Martin O'Neill during the National Anthems Source: Morgan Treacy/INPHO

O’Neill persisted with a 3-5-2 formation, with Cyrus Christie again deployed in an unfamiliar central midfield role. Jeff Hendrick dropped back to play alongside him and the pair were flanked by wing-backs Matt Doherty and James McClean. Harry Arter sat deeper to protect the defensive trio of captain Richard Keogh, Shane Duffy and Kevin Long.

Wales, who were without the services of several key men including Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey, fielded a side that included four players under the age of 21: Matt Smith (18), David Brooks, Harry Wilson (both 21) and Tyler Roberts (19).

After a drab contest here 72 hours earlier, many among the 38,321 in attendance would have feared the prospect of enduring a similarly forgettable affair this evening. The initial signs at least were far more encouraging.

Callum Robinson and Joe Allen Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

There was a sense of urgency from Ireland in attack early on, which was underpinned by some neat passages of play in which Robinson was generally involved. The hosts also sought to press the visitors high up the pitch, an approach that almost resulted in a goal on nine minutes.

When Smith collected a pass from James Chester on the edge of his own penalty area, the 18-year-old FC Twente midfielder was dispossessed by Cyrus Christie. The Fulham player may have had time to take an additional touch but instead struck his shot early. Wayne Hennessey dived low to his left to make a vital save for Wales.

The early optimism soon fizzled out, however, as retention of the ball came more naturally to Wales in spite of the quantity and quality of their absentees. Robinson and O’Brien remained lively up front, but Ireland struggled to bring them into the game regularly.

Cyrus Christie reacts to a missed chance Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

They may have enjoyed superiority in the possession stakes, but Ryan Giggs’ side posed few problems for Ireland during the opening period. Their only effort on goal came in the 35th minute when Connor Roberts’ low cross was directed towards goal by his namesake Tyler. The save for Darren Randolph was comfortable.

Ireland did manage to create a couple of opportunities prior to half-time, the first of which came via a corner which was awarded following some good work by Matt Doherty. Jeff Hendrick’s delivery found Shane Duffy, whose header went straight at Hennessey.

Moments later, Matt Smith made amends for his earlier error by intervening to block Robinson’s shot from just outside the box. The chance was engineered by a superb move that featured a clever series of passes involving Hendrick and O’Brien.

Aiden O’Brien and Harry Wilson Source: Ryan Byrne/INPHO

With 12 minutes of the second half played, Wales went ahead. A clumsy Harry Arter tackle resulted in a foul on Connor Roberts just outside the box. Randolph, whose view was obscured by the wall, was rooted to the spot as Harry Wilson’s free-kick found the back of the net.

Shane Long replaced Aiden O’Brien just before the Wales goal, but the decision to substitute Callum Robinson a couple of minutes after it didn’t go down well with the Irish supporters. The boos that greeted Martin O’Neill’s decision reflected a preference for seeing both Robinson and Sean Maguire on the pitch instead of one replacing the other.

As they searched for an equaliser, Ireland introduced striker Scott Hogan for defender Kevin Long for the final 15 minutes but chances to draw level were scarce. Hendrick shot straight at Hennessey after being teed up by Doherty, a Hogan header was then easily saved, as was a half-volley from McClean as the game entered additional time.

Harry Wilson scores his side's opening goal from a free kick Source: James Crombie/INPHO

It was Wales who went closest to providing the game with a second goal, first through Tom Lawrence and then James Chester. They should have doubled their lead in the closing stages when Ireland were caught on the break but Randolph got the better of substitute George Thomas in a one-on-one duel.

Ireland huffed and puffed but ultimately lacked the quality to find an equalising goal that would merely have papered over the cracks of another worryingly poor performance. 

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Darren Randolph; Richard Keogh (captain), Shane Duffy, Kevin Long (Scott Hogan, 75); Harry Arter; Matt Doherty, Cyrus Christie, Jeff Hendrick, James McClean; Callum Robinson (Sean Maguire, 60), Aiden O’Brien (Shane Long, 56).

WALES: Wayne Hennessey; Connor Roberts, James Chester, Ashley Williams (captain), Ben Davies; Joe Allen, Matt Smith (George Thomas, 74); David Brooks, Harry Wilson (Chris Gunter, 84), Tom Lawrence; Tyler Roberts.

Referee: Björn Kuipers (Netherlands)

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Paul Dollery


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