David Brooks pushed Wales closer to promotion in the Nations League as they beat toothless Republic of Ireland 1-0, leaving Stephen Kenny still waiting for his first win in charge.
In the sixth meeting between the teams in the last three years, Wales were second best until the introduction of Kieffer Moore with 30 minutes to play and the more direct approach did the trick as Brooks headed home after Gareth Bale kept the play alive at the back post.
- How the teams lined up | Match stats
- Nations League table | Fixtures | Results
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Republic of Ireland have now scored just one goal and are winless in seven games under new boss Kenny, failing to score in any of their last six matches. His team had Jeff Hendrick sent off for a professional foul in injury time.
Meanwhile, Wales have now kept seven straight clean sheets in competitive matches as they remain in a good place ahead of next year's European Championships.
Wales will win the group and gain promotion to the top tier if they avoid defeat against Finland in Cardiff on Wednesday.
Wales: Ward (7), Williams (8), Mepham (7), Rodon (7), Davies (7), Norrington-Davies (6), Morrell (7), Ampadu (6), Bale (7), Brooks (7), James (7).
Subs: Moore (7), Roberts (6)
Rep Of Ireland: Randolph (7), Doherty (6), Duffy (6), Horgan (6), Long (6), O’Shea (6), Molumby (6), Hendrick (6), McClean (6), Brady (7), Idah (6)
Subs: Knight (6), Collins (6), Byrne (6), O'Dowda (6)
Man of the match: Neco Williams
How Wales remained on the right track without Giggs...
Bale played as part of a fluid front three with Brooks in the false nine position and Daniel James wide on the right as interim manager Robert Page, standing in for Ryan Giggs, preferred to go with pace rather than the power of Moore.
Ireland's start, however, belied their recent results and Robbie Brady's second-minute free-kick almost led to the opening goal but Shane Duffy was unusually wayward with his back-post header.
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Wales got lucky again when Brady found space on the edge of the penalty area and his shot flew just above the crossbar.
James was providing a good outlet on the right but his final ball was lacking. Bale tried his luck from 35 yards which was the closest Wales came in the opening half but his superb effort clipped the top of the crossbar.
- Gareth Bale was back from injury to lead a Wales side that had nine changes from the 0-0 draw with USA on Thursday.
- With David McGoldrick recently retired from international football, and Aaron Connolly and Callum Robinson absent, Kenny was short on attacking options and plumped for Norwich teenager Adam Idah to lead the line.
The contest became a feisty affair as half-time approached.
Ireland might feel that Wales should have been reduced to 10 men after 37 minutes when Joe Morrell lashed out at Jayson Molumby.
Both men were booked over the incident but many referees may have chosen to show Morrell the red card instead of yellow for reacting to the Irishman's shove on him with a petulant kick.
Chances were rare and Page changed personnel and system with the arrival of Moore that sparked Wales into life.
Wales were ahead within minutes.
Neco Williams dovetailed well with James down the right and the Manchester United winger clipped a great cross into the danger zone which was met by Bale at the far post, outjumping his Tottenham team-mate Matt Doherty, and Brooks bravely headed home his second Wales goal.
The result leaves Ireland - who had Hendrick sent off for a professional foul on Tyler Roberts in the final minutes - facing a relegation decider against Bulgaria in Dublin on Wednesday.
Man of the match: Neco Williams
With the current injury problems at Liverpool, Williams may have sent a bit of a message to Jurgen Klopp that he's ready to fill the void left by Trent Alexander-Arnold down the right. Full of enthusiasm and energy, he was defensively solid when called upon and provided a good outlet in attack especially when teaming up down the right with Dan James in the second half. It was via that angle of attack that the all-important winning goal came from.
What the managers said
Wales interim boss Robert Page: "To have a fully-fit David Brooks is absolutely brilliant.
"He showed glimpses of his quality again. He can mix it up, and he can score headed goals in the six-yard box as well.
"He scored two for his club last week and he's come in and scored a really big important goal for us.
"I was with him in Ireland when he went over on his ankle and saw how low he was after that, which was frustrating for him and horrible for us to see.
"He had a little setback, but thankfully, he's come back and growing stronger as the weeks go on."
Asked if he was confident he would be successful going forward, Stephen Kenny, whose squad has been depleted by both coronavirus and injuries over the last two months, replied: "Yes, I have no doubts I will be a success, absolutely no doubts.
"We have a clear vision of what we want. Between this camp and the previous camp, we have been in quite unprecedented circumstances, in modern times anyway. Certainly, it's quite unprecedented.
"Nevertheless, the players have come out against a good Wales team today and put in a good performance overall.
"We didn't create a load of chances, but you're not going to against a good Wales team. We probably had the better chances up to the last five minutes, when they had two on the break.
"That's how I see it. We have to dust ourselves down and get ready for Bulgaria.
"And for the World Cup campaign we will have Seamus Coleman, Enda Stevens, John Egan, and attacking options like Aaron Connolly, Alan Browne, an emerging Troy Parrott coming into what we have. James McCarthy as well.
"That will give us a lot of encouragement."
- Republic of Ireland have gone six consecutive matches without scoring a goal for the very first time.
- Republic of Ireland have lost three of their last four matches against Wales (D1), this after having only lost one of their previous 11 meetings beforehand (W6 D4).
- Bale has been directly involved in 13 goals in his last 13 home games for Wales, scoring nine and assisting four.
- Ireland have received a red card in both of their last two international games against Wales.
Wales host Finland, live on Sky Sports Premier League, while Republic of Ireland face Bulgaria at the Aviva Stadium, live on Sky Sports Arena. Both Nations League games take place on Wednesday at 7.45pm.