Giggs dazzles as Wales burst Irish bubble

Northern Ireland 2 Wales 3
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The Independent Football

After John Hartson had missed from the penalty spot and Wales had let slip a 2-0 lead in the first five minutes of the second half, a Ryan Giggs free-kick earned Toshack his first competitive victory in his second spell as coach to the Welsh team.

It ended a big drought all round for Wales: their first win outside of friendlies for two years; their first points following six successive defeats in Group Six; and their first goals after five depressingly barren games.

"To score three goals away from home is particularly satisfying," Toshack reflected. "We knew it would be a difficult game and thankfully it worked out for us."

It did, indeed, and deservedly so - even if Paul Jones and his defence were obliged to absorb a barrage of late pressure as Northern Ireland went all out to sustain the mood of celebration generated by their historic victory over England in Belfast last month.

In Giggs, Wales had the game's most influential player and they mustered the more fluent football, despite enduring a shaky opening. Michael Duff flashed a header narrowly off target in the second minute and it took the Red Dragons time to draw breath after a spirited start by Lawrie Sanchez's Northern Ireland side. When they did so, however, they were quickly breathing fire.

Giggs and Sam Ricketts had already made inroads on the left before the latter scorched up the flank on the overlap in the 27th minute and squared a pass for Simon Davies to drill a first-time shot past Maik Taylor. It was Wales' first goal since Craig Bellamy struck twice in a 2-0 friendly win against Hungary in February. And the second goal soon followed.

Giggs nutmegged Duff and hared up the left before drilling the ball into the penalty area for Carl Robinson to produce another clinical first-time finish. It was the Sunderland midfielder's first goal for his country and it put Wales 2-0 up after 38 minutes.

They should have been three up three minutes later. From Taylor's weak kick, Davies was clearly pulled back by Tony Capaldi and, although the tugging started outside the area, referee Ruud Bossen pointed to the penalty spot. Fortunately for Northern Ireland, Hartson's weak kick allowed Taylor to redeem himself with a diving save.

The tide might have been turned before half-time when Stuart Elliott managed to bundle the ball past Jones from close range, but he was deemed to be offside.

The Irish, however, were not to be downhearted and after just five minutes of the second half they had thrillingly wiped out the deficit.

Keith Gillespie was the first to strike, taking a lay-off from James Quinn, then playing a one-two with David Healy and bursting into the Welsh box to score a collector's piece of a goal - only his second in 65 internationals and his first for 11 years.

It was swiftly followed by Steve Davis's first for Northern Ireland, the young Aston Villa midfielder lashing in a right-foot shot as the Welsh defence - missing the injured James Collins - failed to clear a throw-in from the right.

Windsor Park went wild, scenting another famous victory, but when Robert Earnshaw collapsed in a heap just outside the home penalty area, Giggs stepped up to curl a sublime free-kick past the wrong-footed Taylor.

Not that the drama was over. Far from it. There were a couple of desperate saves by Jones and a couple more desperate shouts for a Northern Ireland penalty before Wales were assured of their first win in Belfast since Gordon Davies scored in a 1-0 victory in 1983.

It was, in fact, their first trip to Windsor Park since that particular Home International. And after yesterday's humdinger, their next visit can hardly come too soon.