LEAVING it to the penultimate minute of full time, an injury plagued Wales dashed hopes of a first away win in a decade for the visiting Northern Irish.
In a friendly organised to test the mettle of the Welsh in a home nations clash ahead of Euro 2016 (and the pending England group stage match), both teams had the opportunity to draw first blood and send a message of intention in the build-up to the tournament. With pride on the line and injuries stacking up, Chris Coleman fielded a lesser-capped side, giving players a chance to impress in front of a home crowd and possibly cement a place in the squad for Paris.
Without stars Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey in the starting XI last night it was the turn of Football League players such as winger George Williams to take to the field and he rose to the occasion with a great individual performance. Currently on loan at promotion- hunting League One Gillingham, he established himself as the bane of the opposing defence for the evening, firing in crosses for the solo striker Sam Vokes and causing havoc himself when given the chance for a shot.
Northern Ireland last won away against Finland in 2006 and it looked like it was going to stay that way after a tame first 45 minutes, but when Watford’s Cathcart found his way past Wayne Hennessey for the opener early in the second half the crowd and momentum swung behind the underdogs.
It was becoming an end-to-end affair as the clock wound down but what had been a recurring pattern of the Northern Irish eventually led them into trouble; one of their many fouls, this time Gareth McAuley on Simon Church, landed Wales the penalty and lifeline they’d been playing so hard for. Converted by the substitute Church, there was no time left to go in for the finishing blow, and although NI didn’t take what would’ve been a deserved win, both teams have been give some food for thought.
Speaking after the match, Coleman was pleased with the performance of the journeyman team, but when quizzed about his possible 23 men for the Euro’s he said he had even more to consider, having been impressed by many of the boys on the night.
He promised yet more changes rotating in for the upcoming friendly in Ukraine, making it clear that there is a lot of players in the mix for a place in his summer squad and that the mounting injuries aren’t a concern given the teams depth and progress even just this year.
Wales play Ukraine on Monday night and Sweden away on June 5th.