Chris Coleman registered his first victory as Wales manager after Gareth Bale stunned Scotland by scoring two late goals sealing a precious win in their World Cup qualifying campaign.
Both teams started the night in need of a first Group A victory and it was the Scots who took a first-half lead through James Morrison. Seizing on Steven Fletcher’s flick, Morrison pounced and finished low past Lewis Blake in the Welsh goal giving Scotland a morale boosting lead in their Group A crunch match.
Boosted by the return of the two Fletcher’s, Scotland started brightly as the two players came to the fore. Scotland’s early grip on the game was largely down to Darren Fletcher sitting just in front of his defence and spreading the ball wisely, while his striking namesake lurked on the shoulders of the Welsh defenders. Wales endured some nervy moments in the opening exchanges before they broke clear as Bale flashed a volley a couple of feet above Allan McGregor’s goal. Cutting on from an unfamiliar position on the right of midfield, the Tottenham winger went even closer after being picked out by Chris Gunter’s lofted pass down the flank, cutting inside Daniel Fox and unleashing a curling left-foot shot that went just wide of the far post.
Scotland’s best chance of the opening quarter fell to Alan Hutton, but the full-back’s speculative shot caused Lewis Price no discomfort, sailing harmlessly over the cross bar. Scotland’s adventurous full-backs left spaces for Wales to counter and Aaron Ramsey, stripped of the Wales captaincy in favour of Ashley Williams, took advantage of the space, surging upfield before playing in Joe Allen on the left. Experienced centre back, Caldwell was able to stop the Liverpool midfielders goal bound effort with a fine sliding challenge.
While the Welsh players were shaking their heads, McGregor thumped the ball downfield where Steven Fletcher pounced on the opportunity. Outmuscling his marker, Fletcher flicked the ball into Morrison’s path and the West Brom man buried the ball low past Price. Fletcher had the opportunity to double Scotland’s lead but scuffed his shot into the chest of a grateful Lewis. Scotland could have doubled their lead when the in-form Steven Fletcher scuffed his shot into the chest of a grateful Lewis with the goal at his mercy. In a breathless last five minutes of the half, both sides should have added goals, first Allen blazed over after Bale had produced another barn-storming run down the right, then at the other end Morrison could not keep his shot down after being picked out by Hutton.
Ramsey wasted a gilt-edged Wales chance after racing on to Ben Davies’ clearance but he shot wide when through on goal. Steven Fletcher thought he had doubled Scotland’s advantage but an eagle-eyed referee’s assistant ruled the ball had just gone out before the striker bundled home. Bale, enjoying a stunning performance then earned Wales a lifeline, driving into the area before being clipped by Maloney. The Spurs wide man grabbed the ball and sent McGregor the wrong way to level the scores. Bale was not yet finished with Scotland yet, as the clock ran out, Bale was allowed to run at the defence and, while falling back, unleashed an unstoppable left-foot curler that sailed into the far top corner.
Player of the Match – Gareth Bale
Gareth Bale was a constant threat, menacing Fox with his pace and singlehandedly gave Wales a valuable three points. Throughout the match, his pace and power was too much for the beleaguered Fox to handle and his two goals were a just reward for a sterling performance. The Spurs wide man is beginning to hit some good form and Villas Boas will be hoping he comes through the current internationals injury free.
Scotland were wasteful, they gave themselves a good chance of winning the match after scoring after only 20 minutes had past. However, when presented with the chance of doubling their lead, the in-form Steven Fletcher scuffed his shot into the chest of a grateful Lewis with the goal at his mercy. A 2-0 advantage may well have finished off the game for Scotland and they will look back at a good chance that went begging.
Craig Levein will need to find a win soon if Scotland want to make a decent go of it in the World Cup qualifiers. They face Belgium on Tuesday and another defeat will see any chances of qualifying for Rio vanish in what is a particularly tough group where Croatia still lie in wait.
What They Said
Chris Coleman: “He [Bale] keeps on producing swashbuckling performances and doing things that not many other players are capable of doing. He’s a special player, we all know that, and if you think, he is 23 – he has not even peaked yet.”
“Overall, the performance over 90 minutes – if we had come away with nothing it would have been a travesty. Scotland scored against the run of play, we showed great belief, great character and great strength and got what we deserved. Two great times to score, two great goals and a great player [Bale]. When you’ve got that threat in the team, then you always have a chance.”
Craig Levein: “It was a sickener first and foremost, I just could not see us losing the game. It is a real blow to us, the lads are absolutely devastated. Admittedly, in the second half, we maybe went too much back to front. I think the 1-0 lead made us a little bit edgy and that second goal was oh so crucial and we just didn’t manage to get it.”