Collins injury boost lessens Welsh woes

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The Independent Football

The Wales and Aston Villa defender James Collins has escaped serious injury after apparently being elbowed in the face during Wales' 1-0 defeat away to Montenegro in their Euro 2012 qualifier on Friday night.

The 27-year-old was taken to hospital after a clash with Montenegro's Miodrag Dzudovic in the second half, but although he has a bad black eye he has not suffered a fractured cheekbone or broken nose, as the Wales manager, John Toshack, initially feared. Wales do not have a game this week, and Collins will return to Villa to be assessed by club doctors.

The pressure is building on Toshack, as Friday's opponents were regarded as the weakest in Group G, which also includes England, Switzerland and Bulgaria. "The next game at home, if we don't get the win that we need with the Bulgaria match [in Cardiff on 8 October] then we're virtually right up against it," said the Wales manager.

The former Wales striker Iwan Roberts believes Toshack is living on borrowed time. "Our optimism is gone in one game, I don't think there were any positives," Roberts told BBC Radio Wales. "Toshack has taken the squad as far as he can. He's been with them since November 2006 and have we progressed? I'm not too sure. I would say his position is untenable if we lose to Bulgaria; we have to get six points from the next two games."

The former Wales midfielder Mickey Thomas also sees the Bulgaria match as a watershed. "If Bulgaria doesn't go well then the pressure mounts and maybe his time is up. Only two men could change things around quickly – Ryan Giggs and [Wales Under-21 manager] Brian Flynn. That combination could get the Welsh team going."

In contrast, the Northern Ireland manager, Nigel Worthington, was in buoyant mood after his team ended a run of seven games without a goal by beating Slovenia 1-0 away in their Group C game in Maribor. He promised Italy "a hell of a game" in the next qualifier, at Windsor Park next month.

The Manchester United midfielder Corry Evans was the match-winner, scoring in the 70th minute, and 11 October cannot come quickly enough for Worthington, given Northern Ireland's home record against some of the top nations – England, Spain and Sweden have all been beaten in Belfast in recent years. Worthington said: "We have three points in the bag and a hell of a game coming up. We will make it that way.

"We had people running until they dropped so we could get the victory against Slovenia. That is what makes us hard to beat at times."

Northern Ireland also face Serbia, Estonia and the Faroe Islands in the group and Worthington added: "We have a lot of games to come so we have to be focused and very professional. If we do that we can get good results."

The Republic of Ireland also earned a hard-fought away win, against Armenia in Yerevan, Keith Fahey scoring in the 76th minute after coming on as a substitute eight minutes earlier, and their veteran goalkeeper Shay Given is confident they will not be the only side to find the going tough against their Group B opponents.

Asked if he expected the likes of Russia and Slovakia to be equally stretched, Given said: "I would hope so. I don't think there will be any teams who will go there and leave with an easy game, that's for sure.

"They have got some very good players and they caused us a lot of problems. But as a team, we stuck together and fought really well.

"We are really pleased with the way we have started. Hopefully we can get three points against Andorra on Tuesday night and that will set us up for next month, which is a tough month."

Russia at home and Slovakia away await the Republic in October. Given said: "We said before this game that if we have got ambitions to win the group, we had to get three points, and that's not an easy thing to do.

"People say, 'Armenia, you should beat them no problem', but I think teams will find it difficult. A clean sheet and three points, we are happy with that."