Slovakia 1-1 Wales: Kieffer Moore goal keeps Wales’ Euro 2020 hopes on track

Slovakia 1-1 Wales: Kieffer Moore goal keeps Wales’ Euro 2020 hopes on track

Kieffer Moore of Wales and Peter Pekarik of Slovakia compete for the ball

Kieffer Moore was preparing to sign for then non-league Forest Green when Wales were at Euro 2016

Wales kept their Euro 2020 qualification hopes on track in Slovakia despite the hosts coming from behind to earn a point in Trnava.

A first international goal from Wigan’s Kieffer Moore gave Wales the advantage as he firmly headed home from Dan James’ excellent cross moments after Gareth Bale headed against the crossbar.

Slovakia equalised with a goal from nothing as Juraj Kucka smashed home a volley after Wales failed to clear a cross eight minutes into the second half.

The hosts dominated after the interval, but their momentum was lost when Norbert Gyomber was sent off for a second yellow card, allowing Wales to finish the contest as the most likely winners.

The draw means Wales stay fourth in Group E, behind Hungary who lost 3-0 to group leaders Croatia.

Slovakia sit three points above Wales and a point above third-place Hungary, but Wales have a game in hand and a superior head-to-head record over Slovakia.

Giggs the international ‘Tinkerman’

Wales’ draw at Slovakia was Ryan Giggs’ first away point as manager in Euro qualifying

Move over Claudio Ranieri, world football has another ‘Tinkerman’ and he manages the Wales international team.

Ryan Giggs has already lamented in this campaign that the nature of international football is that you never know who will be available for selection, but he continues to tinker with both his formation and personnel.

However, whereas Giggs’ selections have had supporters questioning him in previous matches in this campaign, Wales were excellent in the first half before Kucka’s equaliser changed the game.

Giggs made four changes from the side that narrowly edged Azerbaijan in the last qualifier, though three of those switches were enforced.

Eyebrows would arguably have been raised at the decision to replace the injured Chris Mepham with Charlton’s Tom Lockyer, the 24-year old having never played competitively for his country, in preference to the fit again and in-form Ashley Williams.

That decision almost backfired on Wales after only 10 minutes when Lockyer dawdled and was dispossessed by Albert Rusnak; but an incredible defensive block by Ethan Ampadu – think Ben Davies in the Euro 2016 opener – denied Robert Muk from close range. Lockyer improved after his early error.

Aaron Ramsey’s continued absence meant Jonny Williams earned a first competitive start since playing Slovakia in the first game of Euro 2016, while a formation reshuffle saw Wigan’s Kieffer Moore complete his journey from non-league football, with Harry Wilson and Tom Lawrence not deemed fit enough to start.

Williams settled quickly and his energetic display gave Slovakia plenty to think about, though referee Carlos Grande was well placed to dismiss Williams’ penalty claim on 36 minutes when Norbert Gyomber just managed to take the ball as Wales screamed for a penalty.

Wales faded as the contest wore on and were restricted in the chances they created, but Joe Rodon was close from James’ free-kick, with his goal-bound header blocked by Gyomber.

Moore quality in attack, but defensively frail

Wales have only kept one clean sheet in Euro 2020 qualifying, their 1-0 home win against Slovakia

The idea of selecting Moore – a former England C international who was toiling at non-league Forest Green Rovers when Wales reached the semi-final of Euro 2016 – was that his physicality and presence as an orthodox number nine would allow more space and time on the ball for Bale and Daniel James and the plan worked well.

With Slovakia playing a compact 4-3-3 formation, Bale and Dan James were given yards of space in wide areas and Wales looked a menace, especially on the counter-attack.

They were a whisker away from leading when Bale’s firm header from Connor Roberts’ cross struck the crossbar, but less than 60 seconds later they did go in front when James crossed for Moore who expertly planted his header into the net.

It was no less than Wales deserved and they restricted the hosts to half chances as the half wore on with Wayne Hennessey equal to Mak’s weak effort and Juraj Kucka firing wide in added on time, while Newcastle’s Martin Dubravka had to save efforts from Bale and James.

Wales were breached when the dangerous Mak cut inside, but Roberts denied him with an inch-perfect tackle.

However, Wales’ resistance was broken after half-time when Roberts’ diving header fell to Kucka who lashed the ball home with a volley that gave Wayne Hennessey no chance.

Hennessey made a terrific save to deny Kucka a second 10 minutes later as the hosts ramped up the pressure and the home fans increased their volume by several decibels.

While Wales were potent in attack they again looked vulnerable defensively, perhaps not surprising as Giggs has made 16 defensive changes in nine competitive fixtures since succeeding Chris Coleman.

However, Slovakia’s momentum was lost when Gyomber received a red card for a second booking, with defender Rodon within a whisker of scoring a winner, but his acrobatic overhead kick just skimmed past the upright.

Moore also came close to flicking home from Roberts’ cross, but Slovakia held on for a point as James lashed wide with the final chance of an enthralling match.

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