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Defender benefits from battlefield promotion but Wales will remain under fire if they fail to stop Scotland
ASHLEY WILLIAMS pauses for effect but his words were undeserving of any grandeur.
The Wales captain's contention that tonight's World Cup match with Scotland is "definitely a must-win match" sounded hollow inside his national team's hotel, if only because it goes without saying. Or it should have done, at least.
The defender was perhaps only reaffirming the situation in his own mind and the need to gain a result at the Cardiff City Stadium will be echoed inside the Scotland dressing room ahead of the match as well. Neither Craig Levein's side nor their hosts can claim to have been sure-footed while taking their first steps on the road to the finals in Brazil, but the Welsh are also carrying the baggage of a 6-1 defeat against Serbia a month ago.
Such a humbling result has cooled any enthusiasm among supporters about Wales' prospects in Group A and the mood could well turn mutinous at the sight of Scotland making off with the points. Chris Coleman's tenure as manager was always going to be rocky given the death of his predecessor Gary Speed but he has risked an avalanche of discontent after leading his side to five straight defeats. A frosty relationship with one of his strikers would likely have felt like light relief.
The battlefield promotion of Williams is an admission that something needs to be done. Taking the armband from Aaron Ramsey – who assumed the role despite only being 20 – might seem like a frivolous act, but Coleman will feel more comfortable leaning on the sturdier shoulders of Swansea City defender Williams. Whether he can carry his side to a win over Scotland tonight remains to be seen.
"I thought Aaron was doing a good job. I was just concentrating on trying to play my best for Wales, but I'm happy," said Williams, whose side will follow the match with Scotland with a trip to Croatia on Tuesday night. "He [Coleman] asked me if I wanted to do it, he didn't tell me I had to. He called me and said he had spoken to Aaron. Obviously I was over the moon, and he just said we would have a chat when we got to camp."
Being afforded such prestige will also foster a fierce loyalty to Coleman. It comes with the job that a national manager will feel exposed by poor results, but Williams was not about to seek cover from the flak. He will know the main threat from Scotland will likely come in the form of returning striker Steven Fletcher – the Sunderland forward scored twice against Swansea earlier this season – and keeping the Scot quiet will help drown out the growing criticism of Coleman.
"After the results I think you are always going to get criticised like that, especially him. Being the manager, it is obviously going to fall on his shoulders," said the defender, who will not be joined at the back by Celtic full-back Adam Matthews tonight. "But I think all the boys really like him and we have enjoyed working with him. We really want to win for him as well – I think that is true in this case.
"He is going to be criticised and we would like to turn that around for him because I don't think it's really deserved. I think we have kind of let him down on the pitch and we would like to put that right."
Coleman will be grateful for the support but is aware that similar noises will be made among the Scotland squad; despite finally ending the impasse with Fletcher, Levein is not yet heralded by suppporters. More is at stake for either manager than simply three points, then, but Coleman does not expect that to affect their focus.
"Craig is a big boy like me," said the Wales manager. "We know as soon as you walk in the door there is more scrutiny because there are fewer [games] and less time to get things right. Scotland are not going to lie down for us.
"It is going to be a typical British game, I imagine – fast, probably aggressive, and with a fantastic atmosphere. We have to use that to our advantage."
Taken from the Herald