Author: Dafydd Jones
Publisher: Y Clwb Pêl Droed
Wales strengthened their grip on top spot with a 1-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland in the UEFA Nations League.
David Brooks’ second-half header sealed a valuable three points for Robert Page’s men in a game starved of clear-cut chances.
The victory takes Wales up to thirteen points from five fixtures this campaign, with Finland left to play on Wednesday.
Page’s side stretch their unbeaten run against the Republic of Ireland to four games, the last defeat coming in qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
The Boys in Green continue their disappointing Nations League campaign, having recorded just two points from their last five fixtures.
Stephen Kenny’s side, who are now without a win in nine matches, will face Bulgaria in a battle to avoid relegation.
The first chance of the game fell to the visitors, as centre-back Shane Duffy headed wide from Robbie Brady’s free-kick delivery into the box.
Kenny’s men built on a bright start and looked to have more attacking intent than in past fixtures against Wales.
An intricate move resulted in Jeff Hendrick finding space on the edge of the box to shoot, but his effort was blocked superbly by Joe Rodon.
Wales’ talisman Gareth Bale’s first involvement was a ball over the top for Dan James to chase. The latter was narrowly beaten to the ball by Randolph, as Wales grew into the game.
A huge chance then fell to the visitors however, as Robbie Brady found a pocket of space on the edge of the box, firing narrowly over with a powerful effort.
Robert Page’s side responded well to Ireland going close, with David Brooks winning back possession high in the opposition half, before firing a blocked shot at goal, which was gathered by Randolph.
Joe Morrell was then fouled mid-way in the Republic of Ireland half. From the resulting free-kick, Bale struck a brilliant effort that flew narrowly over.
Republic of Ireland winger, James McLean, who scored the decisive goal against Wales in the crucial 1-0 loss in qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup, got in-behind the defence and found space in the box to shoot, but his effort was well saved by Danny Ward.
Another attack for the visitors saw Joe Rodon isolated against Republic of Ireland striker Adam Idah. The Tottenham Hotspur defender put in a fantastic tackle to clear for Wales.
Referee Petr Ardeleanu was called into action after an altercation between Joe Morrell and Jayson Molumby, which saw both players booked.
Despite Robbie Brady going close for the Boys in Green in the first-half, it remained goalless at the break.
The start of the second period followed much of the same pattern as the first, as neither side created clear-cut opportunities.
Gareth Bale had a half-chance for Wales, as he found space in the box to fire an effort at goal, but his tame strike was gathered by Randolph.
Although the Republic of Ireland had the most possession in the early stages of the second-half, Stephen Kenny’s side failed to trouble Danny Ward.
Wales punished the visitors and broke the deadlock in the 66th minute.
Gareth Bale headed Dan James’ superb cross back across goal for David Brooks, who was on-hand to head past Darren Randolph and give Wales the lead.
Brooks’ header was his second for his country and his first at the Cardiff City Stadium.
Wales played with much more fluidity having taken the lead and continued to create chances, as the Republic of Ireland committed bodies forward.
Dan James played Brooks clear through to claim his second, only for Randolph to save superbly for the Boys in Green.
Robert Page’s men had another opportunity when James squared to Gareth Bale outside the box. The latter fired an effort over the bar.
Stephen Kenny’s side continued to commit bodies forward and could have equalised when substitute James Collins headed at goal, but his effort was caught by Danny Ward.
Wales substitute Tyler Roberts was put clear through on goal, only to be brought down by Jeff Hendrick, who was sent off in the dying minutes.
The victory sets up the clash with Finland on Wednesday, where both sides will be battling for top spot in the Nations League group.
Wales: Danny Ward, Chris Mepham, Ben Davies, Neco Williams, Ethan Ampadu, Joe Morrell, Rhys Norrington-Davies (Kieffer Moore, 67), David Brooks (Tyler Roberts, 87), Gareth Bale (C), Dan James.
Goals: David Brooks 67
Yellow Cards: Joe Morrell 38, Ben Davies 50, Kieffer Moore 65’
Ireland: Darren Randolph, Matt Doherty, Shane Duffy, Daryl Horgan (Jason Knight, 59), Adam Idah (James Collins, 76), Robbie Brady (Jack Byrne, 82), James McClean, Jeff Hendrick, Kevin Long, Dara O’Shea (Callum O’Dowda, 82), Jayson Molumby (Conor Hourihane, 76)
Yellow Cards: Jayson Molumby 38, Jason Knight 79, Jeff Hendrick 80′
Red Card: Jeff Hendrick 90+3
(Featured Image: Dafydd Jones)