An injury-time winner from Wales teenager Neco Williams clinched a second consecutive 1-0 win for Wales in UEFA Nations League in their match against Bulgaria.
Hal Robson-Kanu held the ball up nicely just inside the box before laying it off to Neco’s namesake Jonny Williams who curled a cross into the onrushing Neco Williams at the back post, heading it into the back of net emphatically.
Not only does the win put Wales top of the group on six points, but it also adds to what has been a brilliant year for Williams due to him breaking into the Liverpool first-team squad and making 11 appearances last season.
The sheer passion in his goal celebration was demonstrative of the importance of his winning goal both to himself and the team despite the game at the Cardiff City Stadium being played behind closed doors. It also vindicates fans who were disappointed to see Connor Roberts start ahead of him at right-back because of how well Williams played out of position in right midfield when making his international debut on Thursday in the win against Finland.
Wales fans will be relieved to come away with a win after a fairly uninspiring display, particularly in a dull first half that was largely devoid of quality and during which it could be argued Bulgaria were the better side. But after half-time Wales looked a completely different team and substitutions injected some energy and creativity into a team who beforehand were largely dependent on long balls to their target man Moore, who was repeatedly penalised by the referee for his physicality. He departed the pitch on the 61st minute to allow Robson-Kanu to make his first Wales appearance since 2017 after retiring from international football the following year.
All eyes were also on Gareth Bale, with the Wales captain and star man making headlines recently due to a very public fallout with his club Real Madrid that has left him with extremely limited competitive footballing action. While he managed to play the whole game this afternoon compared to just 45 minutes on Thursday, he still clearly has a lot of rustiness to shake off and seemed much less direct and confident than usual; often choosing to play a simple pass rather than bombing down the wing as he typically does.
The result for Ryan Giggs’ men may have papered over some cracks but they are most likely glad to have at least secured a win. When they line up on 8th October at Wembley Stadium in a friendly against England that could prove to be a much sterner test.
Patience required in Giggs project: Opinions on Giggs’ performance as Wales manager so far have been very mixed with detractors being concerned by the supposedly boring style of football on offer, while others have sought to give him credit for tapping into the wealth of young footballing talent that Wales currently has coming through as well as grinding out results - this win makes it eight consecutive games unbeaten for Wales under Giggs now. The team may well be undergoing a transition to a certain extent and the squad is very young, so perhaps a degree of patience is still necessary, as hard as that might be to hear.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Neco Williams (Wales): The 19-year-old showed why he is so highly rated by Liverpool and Wales fans alike, making a positive impact in his 30-minute cameo off the bench before popping up to score a really good winner in injury time during only his second appearance for Wales and first at home.
Wales: Hennessey 6, Roberts 6, Lockyer 5, Ampadu 6, Davies 6, Morrell 6, Smith 5, Brooks 7, James 5, Bale 5, Moore 5 Subs: Robson-Kanu 7, N. Williams 8, J. Williams 7
Bulgaria: Georgiev 5, Cicinho 7, Dimitrov 6, Nedyalkov 6, Goranov 7, Karabelyov 6, Kostadinov 5, Ivanov 6, Karagaren 5, Kraev 5, Nedelev 5... Subs: Iliev 6, Delev N/A, Krastev N/A
Yanis Karabelyov of Bulgaria battles for possession with Connor Roberts of Wales during the UEFA Nations League group stage match between Wales and Bulgaria at Cardiff City Stadium
Image credit: Getty Images
44’ - CHANCE! A long pass from Ampadu finds Moore, but he's unable to gain control of the ball and the clearance falls to Brooks who tries a first-time volley from around 20 yards out. It wasn't hit cleanly enough though and goes far wide. Definitely still Wales' best chance in what has been a drab first half.
58' - CHANCE! James manages to pick out Bale in the middle of the box but he's so heavily marked that he's forced to guide the ball out of the box where he's fouled, resulting in a free-kick that is subsequently cleared away easily.
63' - CHANCE! A deep cross from Bulgaria makes its way to Karabelyov who rises to head the ball over.
69' - CHANCE! Another nice move involving David Brooks, as he plays a one-two with James who drills a first-time shot directly at the Bulgaria 'keeper. This has been a good spell for Wales.
74' - CHANCE! Fantastic cross-field pass from Bale to James on the left. He knocks it down for Brooks who then creates the space to fire a powerful effort towards goal on his left foot. It brushes the bar and goes over.
85' - CHANCE! A low darting cross from Iliev is met by a diving header from Karagaren who sends it miles wide.
90+3’ - GOALLLLL!!! Great hold-up play from Robson-Kanu enables him to pass it to the nearby Jonny Williams on the left wing who produces a beautiful cross on his right foot that finds the onrushing Nico Williams and it's headed brilliantly past Georgiev and into the back of the net! What a moment for the 19 year-old on only his second Wales outing!