Gareth Bale underwhelms
Coming into the game, Wales would have been confident they would be seeing the best of Bale in Dublin. The Welsh talisman is fully recovered from his foot operation and also fully rested after his red card playing for Real Madrid in La Liga reduced the danger of burnout before the fixture. However, he was restricted to long-distance strikes and his first-half performance was summed up when Aaron Ramsey robbed Stephen Ward of the ball to set up a rare three-on-three scenario and it was Bales’ lax touch which ground the attack to a halt. He also picked up a yellow card which crucially rules him out of the trip to Serbia.
Joe Allen proves his worth
In the build-up to the game, all the talk was about Bale and his sidekick Ramsey and what damage the pair could inflict on Ireland. Irish legend John Giles said the pair weren’t great but it was Allen who looked the closest to being great on the night. He controlled everything for the Welsh and found plenty of holes in the five-man Ireland midfield. He even had a little dust-up with Stoke teammate Glenn Whelan after the latter elbowed him in the jaw and showed that he had no club loyalties when playing for Wales. All the fire you’d expect from a local derby.
Welsh control but no cutting edge
Wales dictated the play for the majority of the first half, settling in and their three-man midfield controlling possession. However, there was no penetration, no cutting edge in their attacks like there was in the Euros last summer. Bale was shackled and Ramsey forced to come deep as Ireland set up two banks in front of him. When Bale did find space in the deep, he played a wicked ball to left-back Neil Taylor who was unable to control the ball with the goal at his mercy.
A proper local derby
This was the fiery derby of two Celtic neighbours. The crowd were up for it and so were the players, shown by James McClean’s hunting down of Bale in the opening minutes. Then you had the clash between the two Stoke teammates Allen and Whelan before the latter needed his head heavily bandaged after a cut from the boot of Ramsey in a second-half challenge. Bale could have seen red for the tackle which bought him a yellow card and the potential leg-breaker from Taylor on Seamus Coleman was too brutal to be shown back by television replays.
Shape of the group
Serbia’s earlier 3-1 away win to Georgia sent them top of the group and Wales all-but out of contention for a place in Russia next year. They’ve got to go away to the league leaders next – without Bale and Taylor – with Austria right on their heels too. Ireland could have done with the victory but at the half-way point of qualification they are in a very healthy position. A World Cup without a global superstar like Bale is looking more and more like a reality.