Written by Rhys Paul
Wales are through to the Quarter-Finals of Euro 2016 after overcoming Northern Ireland 1-0 in the second Round of 16 contest. The match between the two home nations was a largely cagey affair with neither side really being able to claim they were the better side. From a Welsh perspective, Chris Coleman will know his side can perform better, but it speaks volumes that Wales still managed to progress despite putting in a relatively tepid showing. Substitutions played a big part in Wales’ success and the standout player in a red shirt happened to be a defender rather than the usual headline performers.
Wayne Hennessey – 7
Another flawless display from the Welsh No.1. He was only really called into action twice, but on both occasions he pulled off fine saves in the first-half – the first from Stuart Dallas at his near post and then tipping over Jamie Ward’s effort. His distribution could have been better, or at least quicker, to allow the team to unleash their counter-attacking style, but this is a minor criticism of an otherwise strong showing.
Chris Gunter – 6
Gunter continues to get himself into dangerous attacking positions. He delivered a couple of promising crosses into the area, but the defender within reared its head when he opted to pass the ball instead of shooting on one of the few occasions Wales breached the Northern Irish defence. I still think he remains a bit of a liability defensively and he allowed Kyle Lafferty to bully him – giving away a needless free-kick at one stage.
James Chester – 9 (Man-of-the-Match)
Chester put in a man-of-the-match performance and continued to show why he is arguably Wales’ best natural centre-back. Admittedly, he was guilty of releasing a couple of stray passes and he wasn’t quite as dominant in the air as Williams or Davies. He won everything on the ground, however, winning 7 tackles (the highest in the match) and his passing was generally very good. The pick of these challenges came on the 71st minute when he calmly and expertly held off the advancing Lafferty in the Wales box to regain possession for his side.
Ashley Williams – 6
Once again, the captain put in an uninspired performance. The biggest positive was the way in which he marshalled the defence to ensure they remained organised throughout against a team also capable of launching their own counter-attacks. A nasty clash with team-mate, Jonny Williams resulted in him clutching his left arm tightly to his body for the final 10 minutes, but his refusal to go off so he could guide his team across the finishing line has to be admired. He wasn’t brilliant, but he will be missed if he is ruled out of the Quarter-Final clash.
Ben Davies – 8
Davies continues to be the player I am personally most impressed with. He seems to slot in effortlessly as the third central defender and, like Chester, he hardly put a foot wrong. Davies’ most notable moment in the game came when a defensive header in the first-half denied Northern Ireland and he also played a vital role in steadying the ship early in the second-half when Michael O’Neill’s men made a bright start.
Neil Taylor – 6
Like Gunter, Taylor enjoyed an overall solid performance. As always, the Swansea left-back provided important support for the likes of Ramsey, Allen and Bale. Question marks remain over the defensive side of his game as Ward just edged some of their battles down the left flank, but these often amounted to nothing and Taylor gave as good as he got.
Joe Allen – 7
Always looking to receive the ball, Allen put in a real shift as he continued to make space in his quest to get the ball from a teammate. He wasn’t quite as influential as he was against Russia or Slovakia, but his passing was accurate – if unspectacular. He faded as the game wore on, but it was another assured and confident performance from another player who has enjoyed an impressive Euro 2016 campaign.
Joe Ledley – 5
Unfortunately for Ledley, this was another game in which he looked off the pace. He was quiet in the first-half and struggled to win any loose balls in the middle of the park. For a player of Ledley’s mould, you’d expect him to play a big part in the often crucial midfield battle, but he is clearly struggling for match fitness. Withdrawn in the 62nd minute for Johnny Williams, the pace of the game improved soon after.
Aaron Ramsey – 6
It’s telling that this was probably Ramsey’s least effective performance so far. A 19th minute strike was ruled offside and he provided a touch of class when creating chances for his teammates. The best of which was a cross from the right on the 52nd minute into Vokes who really should have done better with the chance. Played a part in releasing Bale for Wales’ winner, but this was not his usual high-energy performance.
Gareth Bale – 7
As expected, Northern Ireland – particularly Jonny Evans – stuck tightly to the Real Madrid star. They did succeed in keeping him quiet in the first-half and for periods of the second-half, yet once Bale did get on the ball he was able to stride forward with ease. Another free-kick would have gone in had it not been for one of the tournament’s in-form goalkeepers, Michael McGovern, who in the end made it look fairly comfortable. In a game of fine margins, Bale always seemed like the only player capable of producing something to split the two teams and so it proved as his brilliant low cross forced Gareth McAuley’s own goal.
Sam Vokes – 6
Definitely the right choice to start the game, Vokes did a good job of holding the ball up to allow his teammates to join the attack. Found himself up against it with McAuley and Jonny Evans capably coping with him when the ball was crossed into him and he probably should have done better with his 52nd minute effort. Substituted two minutes later and in a similar case to Ledley, the change contributed to Wales success.
Hal Robson-Kanu – 7
Robson-Kanu once again showed how effective he can be from the bench. As a far more agile and quicker player than Vokes, his movement disrupted the organised Northern Ireland defence. He can probably count himself unlucky that he didn’t net the winner, but he can take credit for forcing McAuley’s intervention.
Jonathan Williams – 8
Replacing the struggling Ledley, Williams immediately injected some much needed energy into the game. A 20 yard dribble soon after coming on unlocked the Irish defence, but a last-minute slip saw the solo effort come to nothing. He began the move which lead to the goal and his introduction ultimately swung the game in Wales’ favour.
Do you agree with these ratings? Let us know in the comments below!
featured image by Nazionale Calcio