A VIRTUOSO display from Gareth Bale saw Wales come from behind and rescue not just their World Cup qualification prospects but possibly manager Chris Coleman’s job.
With ten minutes left the under-fire boss appeared to be sinking into the mire when Scotland led 1-0 in a contest they had largely dominated, only for Bale’s brilliance to utterly transform the contest.
In a fixture with a history rich with controversy – Joe Jordan, tragedy – Jock Stein and false dawns – the last meeting at the Cardiff City Stadium, the stakes could barely have been higher for the two men in the hot seats, Craig Levein and Coleman.
And when the pressure is on, history tells us it is the Scottish fans whose support is more unwavering, 10,000 members of the Tartan Army making the trip down.
With pockets of supporters all over the Cardiff City Stadium they comfortably drowned out the natives in the noise stakes.
When choosing to play at Cardiff’s home rather than the Millennium for the improved atmosphere, this wasn’t exactly what the Football Association of Wales had in mind.
Wales under Coleman rely almost exclusively on Gareth Bale’s pace and when Shaun Maloney’s theatrics failed to bring a freekick, they broke.
Chris Gunter’s pinpoint pass released Bale who cut inside Christophe Berra and curled only inches wide of the far post in the game’s first meaningful exchange.
Wales’ look for Bale strategy coupled with their 4-2-3-1 formation that matched Scotland like-for-like, made for a frustrating first half in which neither side were able – or even willing – to try and keep possession.
Only from mistakes and misplaced passes were either side capable of conjuring chances, Joe Allen’s smart interception and link-up play with Ramsey giving him a sight of goal but Gary Caldwell was well placed to make the block on 22 minutes.
Five minutes later and in 30 seconds the game shifted dramatically and disastrously for the hosts.
Bale’s wonderful burst and cross should’ve provided Steve Morison with a goal, but he headed inexplicably wide from seven yards.
Cue a punt from Allan McGregor and a flick-on by Steven Fletcher that sent James Morrison clear, the West Brom man keeping his head where his almost namesake couldn’t to put Scotland ahead.
Fletcher’s rightly receiving plaudits this term following his £12 million move to Sunderland but shortly before the break he wasted a glorious opportunity to double Scotland’s advantage, firing tamely at Lewis Price after Daniel Fox’s enterprising run.
Bale’s skill and sheer pace represented Wales’ plan A, B and C and from another blistering ascent into the Scottish box he put the ball perfectly into the path of Ramsey, but the Arsenal man blazed over.
And it was quickly Scotland’s turn again, Morrison also shooting too high after another Fletcher knockdown.
It left Coleman with a second half likely to define his tenure but in the opening 20 minutes Wales failed to mount a single attack.
Ramsey picking up a stupid booking to rule himself out of the Croatia game was the only incident of note as momentum fell away for the hosts.
The former captain could even have received his marching orders for diving when challenged by Kris Commons but the referee gave him the benefit.
Scotland soon swept to the other end and when Vaughan blocked Williams mistakenly, Commons was only denied by a splendid Price save after nicking the ball.
Ramsey was having a torrid night that continued on 68 minutes, Ben Davies’ long ball putting him clear but he made a mess of things, shanking the ball harmlessly wide.
Scotland had the hosts where they wanted, desperately chasing and committing forward, and they looked a threat on the break.
Thankfully Charlie Adam’s cross went out of play before Steven Fletcher headed home what would’ve been a killer second, though replays suggested the goal should have stood. A key moment indeed.
Wales were bereft save for Bale but with ten minutes he was the saviour, his jinxing run resulting in the slightest touch from Maloney with the referee awarding a penalty.
Ramsey went to get the ball but was brushed aside by the Spurs man who calmly sent McGregor the wrong way.
It set up a grandstand finish with the draw no good to either Group A struggler.
Alan Hutton’s curling effort went just over the bar as the visitors showed the greater intent and both sides gambled.
However, genius on your side is nothing to be sniffed at and on 88 minutes a moment of wonder from Bale brought the house down.
Seconds after being clattered by Adam – his great mate – Bale received David Vaughan’s freekick and simply took off, skinning Adam and Gary Caldwell before driving imperiously across McGregor into the roof of the net from the edge of the box.
It was a marvellous individual effort from a player whose stock is rising and rising, and for boss Coleman it was simply priceless.
Wales: Price, Gunter, B Davies, Williams, Blake, Vaughan, Allen, Ledley (Robson-Kanu 70), Ramsey, Bale, Morison (Davies 61) Subs not used: Brown, C Davies, Ricketts, King, Richards, Church, Vokes, Wilson, Fon Williams Booked: Bale, Ramsey, Allen
Scotland: McGregor, Hutton, Berra, Caldwell, Maloney, D Fletcher, Brown (Adam 46), S Fletcher, Morrison (Miller 82), Commons (Mackie 82), Fox Subs not used: Mulgrew, Gilks, McArthur, Miller, Mackie, Martin, Phillips, Webster, Marshall, Forrest Booked: Caldwell,
Referee: Florian Meyer (Germany)
Argus star man: Bale