reports from Cardiff
Wales have had more lows in recent times than a herd of cattle, but if you had to pinpoint a match when the heads were banging dressing rooms with greatest frustration, then the defeat by Moldova 10 months ago would be the natural choice.
That 3-2 defeat was the darkest hour that led ultimately to Mike Smith's dismissal as Welsh manager, so there is a perverse neatness about Moldova ushering in the new dawn in Cardiff tonight with Bobby Gould as manager. A good performance from the home side is not so much important as essential to restore interest as well as hope.
Disillusionment has become so ingrained as Wales have slumped to the bottom of European Championship Group Seven, that it will be a surprise if the gate at Cardiff Arms Park breaks 10,000. The team has not won for a year, Gould is unproven as an international manager and, worse still, he is English. The age of Gould is not being met with hostility in the Principality, but with indifference.
Still the new man knows enough about Welshness to appeal to the time- honoured commodity: passion. "You can't always play well," he said, suggesting he had more than a passing knowledge of recent Welsh football history, "but you can encourage effort. It's all about heart. No matter what talent you've got, what ability, if you haven't got a big heart it's a case of 'See you down the road, pal'."
The road to Gould's immediate aim - good results in the European Championship to improve their seeding for the World Cup qualifying draw - will be travelled by a familiar cast, although the new manager did imprint himself on the line-up by giving Reading's 26-year-old striker Lee Nogan his first start.
In training yesterday, Nogan played just behind Mark Hughes and Ian Rush, although that might have been a bluff as Gould also used a flat back four when his concern about Moldova's five-man midfield suggests he is more likely to pack that area by pushing Mark Bowen into the right side of midfield. That would leave Chris Coleman, Kit Symons and the sweeper, Adrian Williams, as the defensive triangle.
WALES (European Championship Group Seven v Moldova, Cardiff Arms Park, tonight): Southall (Everton); Bowen (Norwich), Coleman (Crystal Palace), Williams (Reading), Symons (Manchester City), Pembridge (Sheffield Wednesday), Horne (Everton), Nogan (Reading), Rush (Liverpool), Hughes (Chelsea), Speed (Leeds).
n Vinnie Jones, sent off in Wales' European Championship qualifier against Georgia in June, has been banned for five matches by Uefa in a major disciplinary crackdown yesterday.Reuse content