Chris Coleman’s Wales side were made to come from a goal down to secure a 1-1 draw with Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland on a soaking wet night at the Cardiff City Stadium.
The away side went ahead after 58 minutes, as Wales struggled to clear a Northern Ireland corner and Craig Cathcart was on hand to fire Northern Ireland in front. The defender’s shot made it through a crowded box, which was obstructing the view of second-half substitute Danny Ward, and into the back of the net.
Substitute Simon Church equalised for Wales from the penalty spot with minutes to go before added time, giving Coleman’s men a deserved draw.
Many features of Wales’ game-plan in the first half were very encouraging, as the variety of the Dragons’ play was giving the opposition plenty to think about.
David Cotterill and George Williams were as busy down the flanks as Tom Lawrence and Joe Ledley were in breaking the lines through the middle, with Sam Vokes holding up the ball well or playing neat flicks to teammates on a number of occasions.
George Williams curled an inviting cross into the box after just 52 seconds, showing great skill to leave Jonny Evans flat-footed; the cross evaded everyone in the box, but the energy shown by the winger set a trend early-on in the game as Coleman stood in his technical area giving his players more instructions.
With over 60% of the possession in the first half, Wales swung numerous crosses into the box whilst also creating good openings from the space the likes of Ledley and Lawrence were able to find for themselves, looking the most likely to score, but failing to do so as Northern Ireland’s frontline were well marshalled by the Welsh defence.
Wales’ best chance of the first half came from a Cotterill free-kick after a foul on Lawrence who was able to find acres of space behind the opposition midfield. The Birmingham City winger’s effort bounced right in front of Northern Ireland’s Michael McGovern, forcing the stopper to push the ball out for a corner.
Chris Gunter and George Williams had good fortune down the right flank for Wales, creating some two-on-one situations which led to the home side getting more crosses into the box, but the away side defended resolutely.
The interplay between the home side’s front line was very easy on the eye at times also, as Vokes, Cotterill, Lawrence, Williams and Ledley were all involved in a neat passage of play just after the half hour mark which saw the play switch flanks from right to left, before George Williams was able to get a shot off, only to have it deflected out for a corner.
The teams went into half-time with the scores level, and Coleman rung the changes in the second half, with the impressive trio of Ledley, Lawrence and George Williams exiting for Jonny Williams, Lloyd Isgrove – making his debut on the night – and Andrew Crofts to enter the fray. Wayne Hennessey also took a seat on the bench at half-time for Danny Ward to make his debut between the sticks for Wales.
Having to chase the game somewhat after going behind, Wales were more than good value for the draw and had the game under control for the majority of the second half, until their persistence paid off and Simon Church struck the equaliser much to the happiness of the 21,855 that were in attendance.