Nine-man Irish hold Wales
By Richard Jolly
Last Updated: 01/01/70 1:00am
Robert Earnshaw equalised as Wales drew 2-2 with nine-man Northern Ireland.Goals outnumbered red cards, but only just, as Wales and Northern Ireland fought out a 2-2 draw after three dismissals in the first 21 minutes.
John Hartson and Robert Earnshaw completed a comeback from Mark Hughes' side after goals from Jeff Whitley and David Healy for the visitors on a night of high drama and high farce, but the high hopes Wales had of qualifying for the World Cup are fading fast.
So close to Euro 2004, they have stumbled against unfancied Azerbaijan and Northern Ireland, no hopers before Lawrie Sanchez's appointment.
They deserved credit for a spirited display but infamy beckons for Italian Domenico Messina, who dismissed Michael Hughes, Robbie Savage and Healy in a 12-minute frenzy; only the former could have few complaints. To say Messina lost control of the game would be to suggest he ever had it and both sides will feel the consequences of the card-happy referee in their World Cup qualifying campaigns.
Red cards have been a constant in Savage's career, but the agent provocateur had always escaped the ultimate sanction. His crime appeared nothing more than a tug while Hughes compounded a scything challenge with a punch but the Italian offical, with two flourishes of the red card, dismissed both. Sent off for the first time in his career, Savage was crying before he left the pitch but few victims of the melodramatic midfielder will shed tears for him.
The double dismissal was followed by a fine strike. After drawing a blank in their entire Euro 2004 qualifying campaign, Northern Ireland had a comparative goal glut of two in 21 minutes. James Collins, a surprise choice by Mark Hughes, played a part in both. His defensive header on 12 minutes fell to Whitley, who drilled in his first international goal for five years.
Nine minutes later, Collins' costly slip let in Healy and though Paul Jones saved his first effort, the rebound fell for the striker to head into the unguarded net. But Northern Irish joy was shortlived, swiftly replaced by anger as Healy was red-carded by the manic Messina, deemed guilty of a gesture which offended the referee, though few others.
Until then, the deceptive, bobbling free kicks of Jason Koumas had been the only Welsh threat. But while Northern Ireland reorganised in a 3-4-1 formation, Mark Hughes introduced Earnshaw and Wales went on the offensive.
Craig Bellamy's chipped cross was headed in by Hartson to halve the deficit. Gary Speed, Earnshaw and Hartson all missed the target as attack followed attack.
The onslaught continued as Earnshaw, Koumas and Bellamy missed the target after the interval. Northern Ireland's counter attacks were isolated but, led by the indefatigable wing-back Tony Capaldi, more dangerous. He drew a sharp save from Paul Jones and should have had a penalty when tripped by Danny Gabbidon.
Another flashpoint, another refereeing error. Northern Ireland's nine men could ill afford it, though debutant Mark Clyde rivalled the outstanding Capaldi for his defensive heroics.
The pressure finally told as John Oster crossed, Earnshaw evaded his markers to head an emphatic equaliser. Though both Bellamy and Collins had golden chances to steal the points and Northern Ireland were temporarily reduced to eight men when the bloodied Colin Murdock went off, they hang on. The match, however, will not be remembered for their fine defending, but the remarkable refereeing.
| ||Wales||Northern Ireland|| |
|Shots on target||4||6|| |
|Shots off target||16||1|| |
|Blocked shots||7||0|| |
|Yellow cards||1||3|| |
|Red cards||1||2|| |
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