Wales helps Gunter forget play-off pain

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The Independent Football

Chris Gunter could easily have cried off from international duty this weekend, claiming mental and physical exhaustion. But the Wales defender is relishing tonight's friendly against Croatia in Osijek, despite playing more than 50 games this season and suffering play-off agony.

It is less than a fortnight since Gunter and his Nottingham Forest team-mates saw their Premier League dream destroyed by Blackpool. And while Ian Holloway's men, who won a remarkable Championship play-off second leg 4-3 at the City Ground, had their Wembley date with Cardiff yesterday, Gunter is in eastern Croatia on the banks of the River Drava contemplating tonight's game.

But any suggestion the 20-year-old ought really to be on a beach somewhere contemplating a long summer holiday, is met with short shrift. "It will be nice to get it out of the system a little bit," said Gunter, reflecting on Forest's 6-4 aggregate defeat. "It won't take away the disappointment, but to come away with Wales and have one more game before we go on holiday is good.

"Croatia are a really strong team, and it will be a massive test for us, especially at this stage of the season, but it is one the boys are looking forward to. As a professional footballer, if you don't want to come away and play for your country there is probably no point in being in the profession."

Gunter believes the deflating play-off experience is a feeling Forest can overcome next season. "We didn't concede a goal in our last eight home League games, then to concede four on one night probably tells you it is maybe not your year. We will be looking to go up automatically next season. We have certainly got the ability to do that, and you can't overlook our record this season. It is a shame it came to one game, and it all sort of ended then.

"Over the course of the season, some of the performances and runs we put together show that next season we should be OK. We've got a young team, and the pain and hurt experienced after [that defeat] will stick with us. I am sure it will spur us on next season."

Gunter has to raise himself for a game that sees Wales without numerous front-line players – the likes of Craig Bellamy, Joe Ledley, Simon Davies, Danny Gabbidon, Ched Evans, James Collins, Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey – due to a variety of reasons. It contributed towards the manager, John Toshack, calling up four Wales Under-21 squad members – Neil Taylor, Mark Bradley, Christian Ribeiro and Hal Robson-Kanu – among a 17-strong playing party, with Brighton's Andrew Crofts also withdrawing. "You can't do anything about injuries, but it gives other people an opportunity," said Gunter, one of the more experienced players available to Toshack as he prepares to win his 22nd cap.

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