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Wales 2 - 1 Scotland: Gareth Bale brace sinks Scots
By STEPHEN HALLIDAY
SCOTLAND last night saw their prospects of World Cup qualification diminish almost to the point of complete hopelessness as the brilliance of Gareth Bale secured a dramatic but deserved Welsh victory in Cardiff.
Wales - Bale (pen 80, 88)
Scotland - Morrison (27)
Referee: F Meyer (Germany)
Leading through James Morrison’s first half goal, if a little fortunately, Scotland looked on course for the victory they surely required to maintain Craig Levein’s hopes of success in a devilishly difficult Group A.
But Bale, who tormented the Scottish defence throughout the evening, earned his reward for a stunning individual display as he scored twice in the closing 10 minutes to give Wales manager Chris Coleman his first victory in five attempts.
Scotland now go on to face Belgium in Brussels next Tuesday night in an utterly desperate situation from Levein’s perspective. Five points off the pace after just three games, there appears no way back for the Scots now. Whether there can be any long term future for Levein as manager must also come under the most intense scrutiny yet.
On a night when the context of the group demanded that both teams were fully committed to the pursuit of nothing less than three points, Scotland made an encouragingly positive start in front of a travelling support who
predictably were able to impose their vocal superiority on the home fans from the opening moments.
Even if he had been pushed into by necessity, Levein’s approach was as gung-ho as any Scotland follower could reasonably have hoped. He tinkered with his favoured 4-1-4-1 formation, deploying a more flexible 4-2-3-1 system which saw the advanced midfield trio of Kris Commons, Morrison and Shaun Maloney intended to provide attacking support for central front man Steven Fletcher.
Wales, as might be expected of a team coming off the back of a 6-1 drubbing to Serbia in their last outing, appeared nervous at the back as the Scots began proceedings on the front foot.
But although the visitors were the sharper and more purposeful side during those initial exchanges, the threat posed by the often electrifying Bale on the counter attack was soon apparent. The Tottenham man, who began the evening on the right of a five-man midfield, sent one dipping shot from distance off target and was soon providing Scotland left-back Danny Fox with a torrid examination.
Bale followed up that first attempt by cutting inside Fox with almost contemptuous ease and curling a left foot shot narrowly wide of Allan McGregor’s right hand post.
While much of Scotland’s possession was neat and precise, it was lacking in penetration. Steven Fletcher was forced to drift into wide areas at times, on one occasion holding the ball up smartly for advancing right-back Alan Hutton to blaze a shot wide from 20 yards.
Commons, called up to the squad on Tuesday after much debate over his original omission by Levein, was struggling to replicate his impressive Celtic form. In the 24th minute, he gave the ball away cheaply to Aaron Ramsey in a dangerous area but redeemed himself by getting back in time to block the shot from Joe Allen at the end of the Wales attack.
The match swung in Scotland’s favour inside a remarkable 27th minute which saw them extremely fortunate not to concede a goal and then immediately make the breakthrough themselves. It was the brilliance of Bale once again which should have led to Wales going in front. He beat Fox yet again to deliver a perfect cross to the back post. Steve Morison, unmarked around eight yards out, looked certain to score but was just too deliberate with his header which he sent wide of McGregor’s left hand post.
From the restart, a long ball forward caught out the Welsh defence and was flicked on by Steven Fletcher into the path of Morrison, who had made a smart run in behind the home side’s back four. The West Bromwich Albion midfielder displayed good composure to get the ball under control and steer a low right foot shot beyond Lewis Price’s left hand from around 12 yards.
If the lead flattered the Scots at that stage, it was no less welcome for Levein whose touchline celebrations indicated just how significant this match was for him, regardless of his pre-match assertions to the contrary.
Wales’ response was impressive, however, as they dominated much of the remainder of the first half. With the holding midfield duo of Darren Fletcher and Scott Brown unable to exert as much influence as might be expected, the Welsh grew increasingly dominant in that area through the fine skills of
Arsenal man Ramsey. He showed delightful skill to set up a chance for Allen who smacked a shot wide from around 20 yards.
Steven Fletcher’s first clear sight of goal came seven minutes from the interval but Fox’s cross from the left fell slightly behind him and he was unable to get enough purchase on his close range shot which went wide. Scotland threatened again on the counter attack in the 43rd minute, Steven Fletcher knocking down a Hutton cross into the path of Morrison, who this time shanked his shot over the top.
Scotland were forced into a change at the start of the second half, Charlie Adam replacing the clearly labouring Brown, whose availability for Tuesday night’s match in Brussels must now be extremely doubtful.
Wales resumed on the offensive, Bale’s pace and directness continuing to provide the most likely source of an equaliser. Scotland were generally defending diligently as a unit, however, and Bale’s frustration got the better of him when he was booked for dissent after a Welsh penalty claim was turned down by German referee Florian Meyer. It appeared to be a sound decision, Ramsey going down more in hope than expectation when challenged by Maloney.
There was a more plausible Welsh appeal for a penalty in the 64th minute, Craig Davies the player going down. This time there was a clearer suggestion of a foul by Adam but to the fury of the home fans and players, Herr Meyer simply beckoned at Davies to get back up on his feet.
Scottish forays into the attacking third of the pitch were becoming more infrequent but Morrison passed up a glorious opportunity to double his tally and his team’s lead in the 66th minute. Confusion in the Welsh defence presented the ball to Morrison in space on the right of the penalty area. He elected not to shoot immediately, taking a touch before firing his close range effort too close to Price who made a decent save.
How Levein’s men would have welcomed the comfort of a second goal. Wales continued to push hard for a leveller and Ramsey squandered a fine chance to claim it, fluffing a shot wide of the advancing McGregor’s right hand post after bursting clear.
The game was becoming more stretched now and there was a brief moment of joy for Steven Fletcher when he headed home an Adam cross from close range, only to discover the ball had curled out of play and back in again before it reached him.
For Wales, it was third time lucky when they claimed for a penalty again in the 80th minute. This time the referee pointed to the spot after Bale went down under Maloney’s challenge on the right edge of the area. There was a suggestion that the Welshman clipped his own heels, but nevertheless Bale converted the penalty in the most emphatic manner possible, sending McGregor the wrong way.
Levein made a double substitution in a bid to reclaim the lead, sending on Kenny Miller and Jamie Mackie. The latter almost made an instant impact, bursting into the box and dragging a shot wide of Price’s right hand post.
But it was Wales, or more accurately Bale, who would have the last word. For the umpteenth time he stormed forward, now on the left, and struck a brilliant rising shot from 22 yards high beyond McGregor into the roof of the net.
WALES: Price, Gunter, Blake, Williams, B.Davies; Bale, Allen, Vaughan, Ramsey, Ledley (Robson-Kanu 70), Morison (C.Davies 65). Subs: Brown, Ricketts, King, Richards, Church, Vokes, Wilson, Fon Williams.
SCOTLAND: McGregor, Hutton, Caldwell, Berra, Fox; Brown (Adam 46), D.Fletcher; Commons (Mackie 84), Morrison (Miller 84), Maloney; S.Fletcher. Subs: Gilks, Mulgrew, McArthur, Martin, Phillips, Webster, Forrest, Marshall.
Taken from the Scotsman