RYAN GIGGS HAILED the performance of skipper Ashley Williams after Wales’ 1-0 win over Ireland at the Aviva Stadium on Monday night.
The skipper has endured a tough 12 months. He was partially at fault for the goal when Ireland beat Wales 1-0 during a World Cup qualifier in Cardiff last year, while a £12 million move to Everton in August 2016 has failed to work out, with the player sent on loan to Stoke ahead of the 2018-19 season.
But despite his recent woes, the 34-year-old marshalled his backline well last night, ensuring they were comfortably able to deal with everything Ireland threw at them in attack. Afterwards, the Wales boss said he was “most proud of” his team’s clean sheet and singled out Williams for praise.
“Outstanding, outstanding,” Giggs said of Williams. “Man of the match by a million miles. I wasn’t happy with the first-half performance — he was the only one, really, who showed the things that I was looking for, winning challenges.
“He was just magnificent, a real captain’s performance. I get asked all the time about the young players coming in — the older, experienced players are just as important and this showed that tonight.
“I said that to the players: ‘They’re the players that you’ve got to look up to.’ He was magnificent. There were a lot of good performances, but his performance stood out.”
Despite missing key players in Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Ethan Ampadu, Giggs felt his side coped admirably in the absence of these individuals.
“It’s not easy when you’re missing quality players like that, and there have been results which have not gone our way without Gareth and Aaron, so it was a chance for the players to come in and prove that that’s not the case going forward, and they did that tonight.
“At times, we just looked a little bit nervous on the ball. You have got to give credit to Ireland as well. I thought they were really good in the first half, making it difficult for us, closing the gaps, compact.
“We just changed a few things in the second half and the players were outstanding. You don’t want to be greedy, but we could have had more goals.
But I’m really pleased with the clean sheet because we got put under pressure. We knew that we were the smaller team, we knew that we had to be organised and determined to win those set-pieces, and we did, Wayne [Hennessey] coming for crosses, players putting their bodies on the line.
“We had to really dig in in what is a really tough place to come.”
Giggs fielded a very young side, with five of the starting XI 23 or under, including two teenagers. But regardless of their lack of experience at international level, the former Manchester United star felt these players coped admirably with the pressure.
“I just felt that no matter what happened tonight, it would be a really good experience for the likes of Matty Smith and Tyler Roberts to expose them to this sort of environment, and they both did really well.
“I’m really pleased with both of them — and it’s not easy, it’s not easy at all.
“When I took the job, I knew that we had good young players out there and if we could bring them through together, that would be a bonus.
“But you can’t do it without those experienced players. I talked about it yesterday, about that balance in the team, and we have got a really good balance in the squad at the moment.
I think we’ve got a really talented group coming through. I was given the chance, at a young age. I was under a manager [Alex Ferguson] for many years who would give young players the chance and I believe in that.
“But also the balance. I keep saying you can’t do it without the experienced players, you can’t just do it with all young players. I was helped when I was younger.
“I’ve got no qualms about age or if they’ve not played many games. If they’re good enough, then I’ll give them the chance — and then it’s up to them to take that chance and stay in the team.”
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