An ugly game in Dublin, put into perspective by one horrible moment. Seamus Coleman suffered an awful break and had to go off receiving oxygen after a dreadful challenge that Neil Taylor was deservedly sent off for, just a minute after Wales were lucky not to see Gareth Bale receive a red card too for a foul on John O’Shea.
The Real Madrid star will miss his country’s crunch match away to Serbia, while Ireland will wait to see how long the hugely unfortunate Coleman will miss, and all of that feels much more consequential than a dismal 0-0 draw that keeps things so tight in this group.
Ireland do lose top spot to Serbia but did not lose the game. Wales at least kept in touch but barely kept their heads, even if an abrasive Glenn Whelan challenge was probably the start of the proper aggression.
It was far from pretty, and far from the type of helter-skelter derby that had been expected.
Rather than the local nature of the rivalry bringing out the best in one team that had been first in the group and another that had made history in reaching the semi-finals of Euro 2016, it only brought out the worst. It said much the aggressive nature of the game had an effect on Bale and dragged him down rather than him affecting it, but he was as culpable as anyone for how confrontational it got.
One player who came out of the game with credit was James McClean, who was wearing the number-five to commemorate his former Derry City teammate Ryan McBride, who tragically died last week. The West Brom winger played the match with the right spirit from the start, with his supremely clean early tackle on Bale so out of kilter with what was to follow, and his late double strike almost winning it.
In between that, there was very little good football. Ireland mostly sat back and negatively invited Wales on, but Chris Coleman's side never looked like having the wit or adventure to do anything positive about that.
The game was already bubbling in the wrong way throughout the first half, until it properly erupted with the incident that probably summed it up. Glenn Whelan and Joe Allen are Stoke City teammates, but that didn’t stop the Irish midfielder appearing to go in with his elbow, leading to the first proper flashpoint.
On coming out for the second half, at least, Bale initially had the look of a man trying to use that in the right way and lift it. The very next time he got the ball, he just decided to run at the Irish defence and produce what was undeniably the highest-quality moment of the game at that point as his low shot bounced just wide of Darren Randolph’s net.
The next time Bale was in the box, though, he brought the game right down again. On 67 minutes, Bale went in aggresively on O’Shea in the Irish box, and received the booking that will put him out of that Serbia game. He looked relieved when he came out.
If Bale was actually lucky to stay on the pitch for that, Coleman was awfully unlucky to be on the receiving end of an even worse attempt at a challenge by Taylor, who seemed to catch the Everton full-back with both legs after one had been raised above the ground. The red card immediately and deservedly came out, as Long held up Coleman’s head to avert his eyes from his leg. The Irish captain had to be carried off with oxygen.
Ireland would never have wanted a man advantage in that way, but now had to press on and try and win it.
McClean was once again the player fired up in the right way, and twice went close in the space of ha few seconds, an initial shot in the box parried back to him before his second was deflected narrowly wide.
The gap between the teams in the group remains the same. The gap between this and what they both did in the last year was a chasm.
This is a match both will want to forget.