Wales v Montenegro: Five Things We Learnt From Gary Speed’s First Victory

Gary Speed’s resurgent Wales look like they’ve turned the corner with the manager’s first competitive victory. With England up next what would he have taken away from the game against Montenegro?
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Gary Speed’s resurgent Wales look like they’ve turned the corner with the manager’s first competitive victory. With England up next what would he have taken away from the game against Montenegro?

While England were making easy work of the Bulgarians, their rivals across the Severn were doing them a massive favour by beating Group G rivals Montenegro in Cardiff.  Inspired by Welsh wizard Gareth Bale, Gary Speed’s side picked up their first win of the campaign thanks to goals from Steve Morison and Aaron Ramsey. Pete Evans was there to sum up what the Welsh can learn.

Wales Haven’t Forgotten How To Win A Competitive Game

So there we are. 35 months after the last qualifying victory on home soil and 23 months after picking up three points anywhere across Europe, Wales were finally victorious. And it was an unusual feeling to enter the final 10 minutes and see a side in red defending a lead rather than chucking centre-backs forward in an ‘sod it we’ll lose anyway’ last throw of the dice. The nervous tension crackling around the Cardiff City Stadium as the clock ticked down and the sparse crowd’s joy at the final whistle felt alien but oh so very enjoyable.

Bellamy Vaughan Will Be Missed At Wembley

Gareth Bale’s injury, suffered days before the Millennium Stadium visit of Fabio Capello’s men earlier this year, disrupted Welsh hopes of a shock upset and this time they’ll have to travel to Wembley without another key man in Craig Bellamy. Liverpool’s new signing seemed nonplussed by the deadline day drama (helicopters from the Welsh training camp and all) and put in a display typical of the 32-year-old. But, as is often the case with Bellamy, his frustration was clear for all to see when he was handed a harsh yellow by referee Luca Banti. While he was a constant menace going forward for the Welsh, it’s his constant talking, finger jabbing, shouting and organising that will be missed on Tuesday. And, of course, you can’t imagine Chris Smalling losing sleep at the prospect of facing Hal Robson-Kanu rather than the snarling figure of Bellamy….

It’s Bellamy's constant talking, finger jabbing, shouting and organising that will be missed on Tuesday.

Sunderland summer signing David Vaughan, impressive against Montenegro in the defensive midfield position with that cultured left-foot, will also miss the Wembley midweeker. So election headaches aplenty for Speed in the coming days with yellow cards, handed out by a pernickety ref, robbing him of two of his star performers.

‘We Are Premier League’

It sounds obvious to say but one of Wales’ problems has always been the strength of their XI. Depleted resources have previously meant League One regulars and Championship reserves totting up caps for fun but tonight’s squad shows that the tide may be turning.

Of the 18 man squad there were no players from League One or League Two, only five from the Championship and two from the Scottish Premier League. Eight of the starting line-up are at Premier League clubs. And one of the others, Joe Ledley, will be playing in the Europa League.

And with the top-flight duo of James Collins and Danny Gabbidon both missing, Speed had something close to an entire Premier League XI to choose from. That experience of playing regularly in the top-flight can’t be scoffed at and we saw that, when injuries and suspensions allow a strong line-up, they are certainly not an embarrassment.

Alan Pardew’s Summer Pursuit Of Neil Taylor Makes Perfect Sense

One of the Newcastle boss’ first moves of a frustrating window was an attempt to snaffle Swansea’s young left-back. A bid of over £1m was made for the former Wrexham defender who has only played 31 Football League games in his fledgling career. But after a move north seemed certain Taylor snubbed Pardew’s interest and signed a four year deal at the Liberty Stadium. And we saw this evening just what the Newcastle scouts saw in Taylor who put in an assured and classy performance despite having barely featured previously for the principality. He linked up well with Bellamy on the left hand side and seemed sharp and confident. With Sam Ricketts in the studio rather than on the pitch, the final games of this qualification game are a perfect opportunity for the Premier League new boy to make that slot his own. If he survived the Ashley Young test on Tuesday evening then it wont just be this Sabotage Times columnist singing his praises.

To say the Welsh public weren’t bothered about the visit of Montenegro is a bit like saying Arsene Wenger has had a tough week.

Interest Was At A Record Low

To say the Welsh public weren’t bothered about the visit of Montenegro is a bit like saying Arsene Wenger has had a tough week.

Consistently poor performances and results have meant that, somewhat unsurprisingly, interest in Speed’s side just wasn’t there. A fact reflected in the dire ticket sales.  The 8,193 other supporters that joined me at the Cardiff City Stadium were record breakers for all the wrong reasons. This slip into four figures was the lowest crowd in the history of competitive Welsh internationals and over 2,000 below than the previous record low.

The raised eyebrows of Bellamy and Ledley as they surveyed the thousands of empty blue seats while waiting for the anthems said it all. But then Wales let their football do the talking and served up the sort of edge-of-your-seat display that means this unwanted record is unlikely to be smashed again in this calendar year.

Personally I’d shell out £15 any day of the week to watch Gareth Bale’s text-book display of direct and breathtaking wingplay and the exciting football that his talents sparked. We’ll soon find out of the people of Wales are singing from the same hymn sheet.

Bulgaria vs England: Five Things We Learnt From Capello’s Cruise In Sofia

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