Friday 27 April 2018

Gunter: This group will go to wire - and we can deliver in high-pressure situations

Wales manager Chris Coleman Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images
Wales manager Chris Coleman Photo: Michael Steele/Getty Images

Jeremy Wilson

After what Chris Coleman called a "reality check" on the pitch, the Wales squad stayed near Cardiff yesterday and certainly had football placed in perspective during a group visit to the Aberfan Memorial Garden.

The trip was planned regardless of their 1-1 draw with Georgia on Sunday but, ahead of the 50th anniversary of a tragedy that was caused by the collapse of a colliery spoil tip, it was another example of how this Wales squad under Chris Coleman have developed such a deep appreciation of their country's history.

It is usual for players to head home immediately once international matches are over but, as they did two years ago in Belgium for a visit to the war memorial where the Welsh poet Hedd Wyn is buried, they all stayed on to travel to the scene of a disaster that killed 116 children at Pantglas Junior School.

Their team spirit has never been in question, even if the previous evening had underlined some worrying on-field limitations. Hamstring injuries had ruled out both Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey against Georgia and, as the performance unravelled after such a bright start, it was also evident that match fitness could become a major issue for certain players.

Coleman described his team as "shattered" and, while the turnaround after a 2-2 draw against Austria in Vienna was short, it drew attention to how players such as Neil Taylor, Ben Davies, Andy King and Hal Robson-Kanu have had few league starts this season.

Wales have slipped to third place in a congested Group D qualification for the 2018 World Cup but could climb above leaders Serbia should they beat them in Cardiff next month.

With the Republic of Ireland well placed and Austria impressive against Wales, there is already a sense that the group could go down to the final round of matches next October.

"I don't think there will be one team that runs away with this group," said wing-back Chris Gunter. "I think it will go the distance almost and we need to make sure that, come the last games, we are in a position where we are in and around it because we have shown in the past that we can deliver in big-pressure situations."

Coleman felt his players became too comfortable when they were leading against Georgia.

"I'm normally sat here super-proud," said Coleman. "I'm still proud but I know they can do better. We will push them because they want it."

Gunter pointed to Wales's last big setback, against England at Euro 2016, and how they responded so positively.

"We, as a squad, didn't need a reality check," said Gunter. "We don't get too down when things go against us and we don't get too high when things are going well. "

Davies stressed that Wales must now take points from Ireland, Serbia and Austria.

"Serbia is one we really have to get something out of," he said. "It's still early days and it just means we are going to have to take points off one of the so-called bigger boys in the group."

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