Ireland 0 – 1 Wales: What did we learn from Tuesday’s Nation League derby

Despite all the pre-match attention being on the absence of both Aaron Ramsey and Gareth Bale, Ryan Giggs’ young Dragons showed signs they’re coming of age.

A cagey first 45 minutes saw opportunities hard to come by and it appeared to be a match that was calling out for a moment of magic.

Cue, 21-year-old Liverpool loanee Harry Wilson.

After scoring a famous goal at Old Trafford last month, the Derby winger struck another sublime freekick to give the visitors the lead before the hour mark.

While Ireland showed their usual amount of heart, they once again failed to make any real impact in the final third.

Now without a win in their last four, it is back to the drawing board for Martin O’Neil.

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With Ryan Giggs’ side now sat top of the group and faviroutes for promotion, what can we take away from Tuesday’s derby:

DUBLIN, IRELAND – OCTOBER 16: Ryan Giggs, Manager of Wales looks on during the national anthem with his team during the UEFA Nations League B group four match between Ireland and Wales at Aviva Stadium on October 16, 2018 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

Giggs stands by youth

With it confirmed before kick-off that both Bale and Ramsey would not be in Tuesday’s squad, all eyes were on how the visitors’ young attackers would fair.

Derby’s Tom Lawrence, who started on the left of Wales’ attacking quartet was the eldest at just 24.

Lawrence, David Brooks, Harry Wilson, and Tyler Roberts have just 29 caps between them.

Much like Sir Alex Ferguson installed in Giggs during his tenure at Old Trafford, it is clear the 44-year-old is trying to get the Dragons playing an attractive and expansive style of play.

A squad who are all still trying to find their feet on the international stage, there was no surprise they had to ride an early wave of pressure.

Even after Cyrus Christie caught 18-year-old Matthew Smith daddling with the ball on the edge of his own box after just 10 minutes, the Reds were not afraid to play out from the back.

While Giggs will be impressed by the signs of creativity shown in the final third, Wales did manage to record just one shot at goal in the first-half.

Although a young side could have been daunted playing on foreign soil, the visitors took the front foot in the second half.

With all four interchanging and showing signs of a real chemistry, particularly on the break, they will feel they should have added to their single goal.

The prospect of Ramsey and Bale playing alongside and neutering Wales’ young prospects is something Giggs will undeniably be relishing.

Ireland offer very little

Opting to stick with three at the back for Tuesday’s derby, Ireland’s intensity certainly raised the atmosphere at the Aviva Stadium in the opening 15 minutes.

While Preston forward Callum Paterson did prove to be Ireland’s brightest spark in the first half, the hosts’ lack of attacking creativity was on show once again.

Heavily criticized for only recording one shot on Denmark’s goal last week, they once again struggled to ask Wales’ defence any major questions.

Ireland’s lack of killer instinct has been epitomized by Southampton striker Shane Long’s goal drought in Green.

While the 31-year-old is an ever willing runner, Long hasn’t scored an international goal in over two years.

Although Ireland’s XI had six players playing in England’s top tier, the rest of the squad are made up of players in the Championship and League One.

Speaking before the game, O’Neil made it no secret that a lack of quality is becoming a major concern.

“Technically, we’re short. We know that and I think everybody can see that.

We were well beaten last month (4-1 in Wales) but the players have given everything they possibly can for the cause – they’re not short of heart.

But it’s a massive step to not be playing regularly in the Championship and come in overnight and raise it. I think sometimes you have to take few of those things into consideration.”

DUBLIN, IRELAND – OCTOBER 16: Martin O’Neill, Manager of Ireland looks on during the UEFA Nations League B group four match between Ireland and Wales at Aviva Stadium on October 16, 2018 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

The beginning of the end for Martin O’Neil?

Although it is unlikely that Tuesday’s defeat will be the straw that broke the camels back, Martin O’Neil finds himself in an increasingly difficult situation.

Thrashed by Wales 4-1 in Cardiff last month, the calls for change are certainly getting louder around the Aviva Stadium.

O’Neil signed a contract extension with Ireland until Euro 2020 earlier this year.

With just one win in any competition in 2018, the FAI will certainly be looking at the situation with some concern.

Dublin are a host city for the European Championships and will know the repercussions if they fail to qualify.

Picking up just a single point in their opening three UEFA Nations League matches, Ireland find themselves the overwhelming faviroute to be relegated from Group B4.

Despite O’Neils calls for urgency and his more experienced players to control the game, Ireland looked once again like they weren’t all working off the same game plan.

Even in front of their home support, Wales finished with more shots, more passes and more touches than the hosts.

Met by a chorus of boos at the full-time whistle, O’Neil will know he must find an immediate solution for Ireland’s problems if he intends to extend his five-year stay in the capital.

Also see:

Gareth Bale trains alone after returning to Real Madrid 

Aaron Ramsey won’t ‘force’ an exit from Arsenal