City stars Andrew Crofts and Steve Morison can – on the evidence of tonight’s events at Wembley – look forward to an exciting future on the international stage as Gary Speed’s revolution of Welsh football continues to gather pace.
Indeed, but for a shocker of a miss by Robert Earnshaw deep into the second-half, Crofts and Morison could have returned to Colney tomorrow with a big, big Euro2012 point to their name having played a significant part in an excellent Wales performance – one that made a mockery of both their lowly status in world football and England’s own top four spot in the latest FIFA rankings.
In the end, it was only Ashley Young’s smart, near-post finish in the first-half that divided the two teams with the Canary pair handed starting roles at Wembley – Crofts benefitting from both Craig Bellamy’s suspension and a shift in Speed’s tactical thinking following last Friday’s Group G win over Montenegro.
Morison selflessly ran the channels in that lone striker role until being substituted for the hapless Earnshaw in the 68th minute, while Crofts anchored a young and inventive Welsh midfield with the specific aim of disrupting the supply line to the in-form Wayne Rooney. That and barring Frank Lampard’s path to goal as he mopped up neatly in front of Speed’s back four.
With Morison aged 28 and Crofts a year his junior at 27, both can now look forward with relish to further international adventures – in particular, a 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign in which the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey are expected to shine.
The fact that both players appeared to come through the night’s events unscathed will be a big bonus for Canary chief Paul Lambert whose thoughts are solely trained on having all hands on deck for Sunday’s big Premier League home clash with West Bromwich Albion.
“I’m really proud of the way the players played,” Wales boss Speed told Sky Sports afterwards.
“Second half we controlled the game, we were comfortable on the ball and we passed and moved really well and created chances against a top-four team in the world.”
But for Earnshaw’s horror miss as he spooned the ball over the bar from ten-yards distant with two-thirds of the goal gaping, Wales might have earned even greater reward for their efforts.
At the very least, both Morison and Crofts can take heart from both the team’s overall display and their own, individual efforts within that; fresh to the top flight of English football, both continue to hold their own in some exalted company.
“We came here knowing that, against England, you would be under pressure at times, but we kept it compact, we kept it solid and were unfortunate to lose a goal,” added Speed.
“But we knew in the last half-hour that if we were still in the game that we could get a result and that’s exactly what happened.”
Wales certainly looked a completely different beast to the side that lost lamely 2-0 to England on home soil back in March. Speed is building a belief and a togetherness into his squad – founded on some genuine, world class talents.
Bale, on his day, can rip sides apart – as he has proved time and again for Spurs. Ramsey is no slouch either. And Bellamy can always be relied on to give his all in the Welsh cause.
“The last game, with all due respect, was sort of our first game together,” Speed insisted as he looked back at that last meeting of the two, age-old rivals.
“We had another game before that with only one day training so we were still developing, and are still now developing, but that game very early for us in the development process,” he added, as he looked forward to a World Cup qualifying campaign rich in possibilities.
“I’m glad that we have progressed since then and hopefully by this time next year we can progress even more for the start of the next World Cup campaign,” he said.