6th September saw the national equivalent of a derby, as Wales made the trip across the bridge to play England at Wembley stadium. With Wales slowly getting to grips with a new system under Gary Speed, and England coming off the back of a comfortable victory against Bulgaria, all eyes were on what many would have believed to be a one sided affair, especially if one were to go on FIFA World Rankings alone. England were indeed heavy favourites, but Welsh fans would have held on to the hope that an upset was on the cards for Fabio Capello’s men. What followed, in a somewhat subdued Wembley, was a cagey affair, with neither side truly asserting their dominance on the game with a lack of attacking threat up front, although for much of the game it could be said England were the more comfortable on the ball. Indeed an upset may well have been possible, with England’s only goal coming from the 35th minute thanks to Ashley Young’s finish from Downing’s good work down the right, putting a direct ball for Young to get his foot to. Wales may well have stolen a point when late on in the game, Robert Earnshaw failed to score from a few yards out, putting the ball over the bar at a time when Wales were looking ever more likely to grab an equaliser. After that, few chances materialised as the game drew to a close, bringing England to within a point of joining Germany and Italy in Euro 2012. With that, here are five things that may be taken from the game.
1) Gareth Bale had the best game
With regards to impact, Gareth Bale probably would have deserved man of the match, despite being on the losing side. Constantly a thorn in England’s side, he made good runs down the ring and sometimes centrally that the English midfield simply failed to deal with appropriately, a notable example being when he rans down the line just inside the opposition half, skipping past before James Milner picked up a yellow card for his challenge. Aaron Ramsey also had a solid game for a Welsh side that failed to produce much in terms of chances for much of the game, often finding themselves in attacking positions but with little option but to shoot from distance. Only late on did they begin to truly threaten, with Earnshaw spurning the best chance to bring the game level, missing from merely a couple of yards. His attempt to make amends with a curling effort with 10 minutes remaining seemed desperate as the game drew to a close with little else occurring.
2) England struggled to dominate
Perhaps it was the cautious set up with five in midfield and the lone striker up front, or perhaps it was simply the Welsh side’s ability to stifle England’s play and not allowing them too much time on the ball, whatever the reason, Capello’s men seemed to struggle to make the game their own, themselves lacking threat in attack with Wayne Rooney also being kept quiet more than he has of late. It was a far cry from the ease of victory that was experienced away to Bulgaria, but the game as a whole never truly took off, matching the subdued nature of Wembley on a wet Tuesday evening. Even with Young’s goal opening the scoring, the game failed to ignite as his team found themselves stalling on occasion, giving the Welsh fans much reason to taunt their heady position as fourth in the world.
3) Downing and Young impressed
Despite finding it difficult to assert themselves on the game, English fans could at least take encouragement from the fact that there were players on the pitch who could still pick it up where it mattered and make a difference to get the win. On this particular evening, both Downing and Young combined well to get the winning goal during a match where both put in strong shifts, using their pace to get forward and at least produce the possibility of creating a chance, even though anything clear cut was hard to come by.
4) Will the midfield prove a problem area?
With Scott Parker not starting on Tuesday night, presumably to avoid suspension, it was Frank Lampard, who was given a chance to prove himself again at a time when many have questioned his future with the national side. Unfortunately he did not produce a convincing argument for his case as he had a fairly quiet game, being wasteful with a couple of in the process. Gareth Barry, however, was effective at times but the more impressive performances perhaps came from defence as a solid performance helped keep a clean sheet, with the likes of Cahill and Smalling once again showing why they deserve more regular spots within the side.
5) Respect and the Death of a fan
It was unfortunate that once again the issue of jeering national anthems be raised as pleas by Fabio Capello fell on deaf ears with both sets of supports making their voices heard over their oppositions anthems. It is a shame that such an issue continues to be raised and that more respect is not shown with these moments before a game. Overall, though it was a fairly peaceful occasion, marred by the death of Welsh fan, Michael Dye with varying reports about what happened and by which set of fans were responsible after an attack. It is a shame that on such a night a fan loses their life on an occasion that is meant to be enjoyed. Regardless of the circumstances, it is also a shame that some have been arguing already over whether those allegedly responsible were Welsh or English. Thoughts ought to be with his family at what is undoubtedly a devastating time and indeed from the majority they certainly are.