Football: Gould needs victory to ease the pressure

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The Independent Online
NEVER BEFORE has Bobby Gould needed so many to do the talking for him. The beleaguered Wales manager has not lacked significant support this week but it is those wearing red shirts and not grey suits who can determine whether Gould and his adopted country have a future together beyond next Wednesday.

It is generally assumed that two indifferent results against Denmark tonight and at home to Belarus could be sufficient to pass the final sentence on a reign that has contained colour and controversy and more than a few words from the normally voluble Gould.

Despite a consistent ability to find areas of disagreement with his playing staff - Robbie Savage was just the latest in a long line that includes Ian Rush, Mark Hughes, John Hartson and Nathan Blake - Gould must pray that they can put together successive performances of the standard that fleetingly had the Italians rocking last month.

Even that may not be enough to call off the hounds and end a campaign of opposition that has escalated markedly since the Anfield game. Those Welsh supporters making the journey here yesterday appeared to have as their motivation one thing and one thing only; to turn up the heat on the Englishmen. Posters proclaiming "Gould must go" have already been placed around the streets of Cardiff in anticipation of a Ninian Park nightmare on Wednesday.

Yet for all that the army of critics have become entrenched, the Football Association of Wales remain full square behind their manager; persuaded by the strenuous efforts he has applied to the task of improving the layers of Welsh football underneath the seniors who have won just five times in 20 attempts under his stewardship.

John Owen Hughes, the president of the FAW, has come out publicly in his support of Gould while acknowledging the crucial nature of these two fixtures. "I'm really hoping everything goes right for Bobby because I believe he has done a lot of good work for Wales," he said.

"No way am I saying that his neck is on the chopping block. Definitely not. But these two matches are the critical part of his career. We've got to get one good result at least and I'm confident we will if the team show the same spirit they displayed against Italy."

Gould has been strangely quiet of late but his resilience and determination remain intact despite a self-imposed period of silence. "The past few weeks have been a challenge and you have to be prepared to accept that challenge and get on with the job," he said.

"Can I handle it? How have I coped? You should study my record. You only have to look at the scrapbook of my career and see how I've handled things."

With both Hartson and Ryan Giggs out injured Wales' facility for goalscoring is rendered even more spartan than usual. Savage looks certain to be restored after last month's demotion when he incurred Gould's wrath for contemptuously tossing aside an Italian shirt in a stunt at the end of an interview with Sky TV, while Mark Pembridge is likely to be asked to lend his newly acquired Champions' League experience with Benfica to the cause.

Denmark have undergone a transformation since the World Cup where they lost in the quarter-finals to Brazil. The Laudrup brothers are no longer part of the international scene, Peter Schmeichel is out injured and Mikkel Beck returns for the first time in a year following a glowing testimonial from his Middlesbrough manager, Bryan Robson.